(Guest post by a concerned bunny mom) I will admit that I was irresponsible when I brought my baby pet rabbit home from the pet shop. I had no idea what raising a baby rabbit entailed. I had no idea about proper feeding, health, housing or care. I got no help from the pet shop and I naively thought that it couldn’t possibly be that difficult.
Pet rabbits are hard work
I was wrong.
I named her Defib (Defibrillator) because her heart would go nineteen-to-the-dozen when I held her. It’s the best name I’ve ever given a pet, but there was nothing cute about that heart beat. Rabbits are prey animals and do not do well when they’re held several feet above the ground. She would kick and squirm when I put her down. That kicking and squirming can become so frantic that a pet rabbit can break its back.
I kept her in a cage during the day and let her out at night. This is when she ate my telephone wires, chewed TV cables, ate the carpet and hid when it was bed time. I didn’t know rabbits are more active during the night than the day and I frustrated her beyond measure.
The penny dropped
I realised I had to do some research online, I put in some hard work, looked at the world from Defib’s perspective and got to work rabbit-proofing the place. She has the run of the house and uses her cage as her loo. She has several litter trays, plenty of hay and high quality food especially for older pet rabbits (she’s nine years old), and is pretty content. We learnt how to live together and we now have a great relationship that I wouldn’t give up for anything. She’s been one the most rewarding animals I’ve ever had the privilege to share my life with – but, phew, she’s still hard work.
I learnt through trial and error what to do with my personality-stuffed Defib, but many people don’t have the time or the patience to reach the point where hard work pays off. Many pet rabbits are dumped because they’re destructive, don’t like cuddles and poop everywhere.
And that is why I strongly caution people against buying a pet rabbit for sale come Easter time, no matter how cute the babies are and now matter how much their children beg and promise to take full responsibility for bunny’s care.
A Pet Rabbit does not make a good gift.
It’s estimated that 80% of pet rabbits bought as pets at Easter are abandoned a few weeks later. Most pet rabbits bought at Easter don’t make it to their first birthday. They either fall ill from neglect or are dumped in the ‘wild’ by people who think they can fend for themselves. They can’t fend for themselves, by the way. Rabbits bred for domestic life can’t live without human intervention. They are picked off by predators, or die of exposure or starvation.
Red Door, an organisation which specializes in the welfare and rescue of dogs, cats and rabbits, says it takes in about 50 dumped rabbits a year. Most of them are less than a year old. The American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says that thousands of rabbits end up shelters or in the wild after the Easter novelty wears off.
Inhabitots provides several reasons for not buying your children a pet rabbit (or chicken) this Easter, including:
- It teaches cruelty: Animals are perceived as commodities bought on a whim and discarded just as easily.
- It’s unhealthy: Chicks, in particular, pose a health hazard in homes with young children and pregnant women. Pet rabbits also pose a degree of risk. For example, they’re indiscriminate about where they eliminate and the poop pellets may look interesting enough for a toddler to sample. Bunnies bite if they are manhandled, especially by children who don’t know who to treat pet rabbits with respect.
- It encourages bad breeding practices: Pet shops that do a roaring trade in bunnies, keep pet rabbit mills in business. Baby rabbits and chicks are kept and transported in appalling conditions and breeding females are worked to within an inch of their lives and then either discarded or killed inhumanely.
What’s a bunny like
Keith from Bandoliers and Bunnies has written a cautionary blog post to anyone who is thinking about getting a bunny. It’s entertaining, but that doesn’t mean that you should take his experience lightly. He (fairly accurately) summed up my experience of living with and loving Defib. Keith calls rabbits a**holes and while I don’t attribute them with the same single-minded vindictive purpose, I will admit that they certainly can come across as a**hats.
Here’s what rabbits are NOT:
They are not starter pets.
Don’t think that a pet rabbit is a good way to introduce children to the joys of pet guardianship. They need a lot of special care. Buns have complex dietary requirements and they need clean living areas. Groom your rabbit, especially she gets older and can’t get to hard-to-reach areas.
Rabbits don’t cuddle, as a rule. It’s not a good idea to pick them and restrain them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t affectionate. Bunnies like ear rubs, and they like it when you gently stroke their noses. Defib likes her tail end scratched. The only thing is that it all has to be on her terms. If she doesn’t feel like attention, she’ll ignore me. If I bring her to me, she stamps at me and goes away (I learnt that lesson early on). She goes away when she’s had enough. If she’s had enough and doesn’t want to go away but wants me to stop, she’ll push my hand away. If I don’t take the hint she’ll nip my fingers. On the other hand, if she feels like reciprocating, she will lick my fingers to show me she loves me. And that is wonderful.
Rabbits are not short-lived.
A healthy, well-cared for pet rabbit can live up to 10 years old, at least (I’m hoping for much more). It’s the same lifespan of a large breed dog. Prepare yourself for the long haul.
They are not caged animals.
Rabbits don’t do well in cages or hutches, even if they are large and creatively designed. Give them access to the cool cages or ‘habitats’ by all means, but let them live free. They live longer and they are also happier. Rabbits love to zoom and it’s great fun watching them zoom around the house, around and behind (and sometimes on top of) furniture. If your bunny is very comfy in your home and happy, you will see two wonderful signs:
- The binky, which is a spirited sideways leap that occurs mid-zoom.
- The flop, which is when your bunny almost turns herself inside out to flop down on her side.
It doesn’t get cuter than the binky, followed by the flop.
Rabbits are not cheap.
Rabbits need to eat hay every day, they also need fresh veggies and selected fruits and they also benefit from specifically designed pet rabbit food, some of which is even species specific, like food for dwarf rabbits, for example. Clean and refill their litter trays regularly. Lining the trays with newspaper makes cleaning much easier. They also get sick, which, as prey animals, they will hide until the situation is dire. You need to find an ‘exotics’ vet, who specializes in animals other than dogs and cats. Sterilize your rabbit for health reasons. Spayed female rabbits are far less likely to get ovarian cancer than unspayed females.
Here’s what rabbits ARE:
They are destructive.
Defib has gone through about 6 telephone wires. It’s not like I didn’t learn my lesson after the first 3 times; rabbits are also super-fast opportunists. All she needed was 3 seconds of unsupervised time in the bedroom to nip the line and be back in the lounge in my line of sight. She has pulled books off the bottom shelves on my bookcases and eaten her way through them (she chewed the cover of my Beatles Anthology, which did not impress me), she chewed major holes in the carpets and ate her way through a binoculars case. She chewed the back out of my couch. She also chewed the baseboard at my parents’ house when we went there for a holiday. The lesson: You NEED to rabbit proof your home and then you NEED to reconcile yourself to the fact that she will still outsmart you.
Rabbits are poop machines.
Rabbits poop a lot. I was very lucky because Defib litter-tray-trained herself, so she didn’t give us any poop issues. Skittles, my second rescue rabbit, she pooped with gay abandon. She eventually learnt good, but not 100% reliable toilet habits. Interestingly, Skittles always urinated in the litter trays. Defib went through a stage when her favourite place to urinate was my pillow. The lesson: You will NEED to manage your bunny’s environment so this sort of thing doesn’t become a habit. Do NOT punish your bunny.
Rabbits are moody.
You think teenagers have mood swings; you’ve yet to see a pet rabbit. Rabbits are also prize tantrum-throwers. And they will throw things when they are throwing a tantrum. If something is in Defib’s way, like a magazine, for instance, she’ll toss it out of the way. She tosses the plate if she’s unhappy with her parsley (Italian flat leaf only, no curly stuff, please). She tosses her water bowl, and hay from her cage and occasionally tosses her litter. If I happen to be in her way, she will nip me so I move, usually my toes because my legs have intruded into her space. If she feels ignored, she will thump the floor until I come up to sit with her and rub her ears; but sometimes she’ll keep me waiting and thump for a while longer before allowing me that pleasure. And let me tell you, you’ve never been growled at until you’ve been growled at by a rabbit.
Rabbits are social.
Rabbits are social animals and do well with friends. A pet shop assistant told me that guinea pigs and rabbits get on well together. I learnt the hard way that they don’t. Granted, Defib has been a loner since birth and she really doesn’t like to share, but a trial period with a guinea pig was a disaster. I was then very nervous about bringing another pet rabbit home. Defib didn’t take kindly to the intrusion at first, so we had to monitor the girls and manage their environment for a long time, but they did settle together and spent ages grooming each other and snuggling. But bear in mind that rabbits are individuals. I maintain that Defib is content as an only pet rabbit; but she’s an interesting case. (My dad calls her a veloc-hare-raptor.) Ideally, you should have at least two rabbits. Male/female combinations work best (both sterilised).
Rabbits are brilliant, crammed with personality and a great sense of humor. When you do finally earn their trust, there is no better feeling than having your bun lie next to you. There are rumours that you can train rabbits. I’ve seen the YouTube clips. Unfortunately, I never found anything that motivated Defib enough. She’s not big on toys and changes her mind about what food she likes so often that treats are next to impossible to use. But I can imagine the joy of having a bun do cute tricks, like my dogs do. Rabbits can also surprise you with their boldness. Defib has no fear of dogs (she even gave my parents’ large breed dog a smack on the nose for invading her personal space – he never did it again), or cats and her quizzy nature means that she likes to explore all nooks and crannies.
Regrets, I’ve had a few
Do I ever regret getting a pet rabbit? Not on your life. And I will happily get more. But I do have some regrets. For example:
- I regret not doing any research beforehand. I could have saved us a lot of stress if I’d done my homework and prepared my home for a pet rabbit.
- I regret buying from a pet shop. It’s a catch-22. If I hadn’t gone to the pet shop I wouldn’t have Defib and that would be awful. I also didn’t even know you could rescue rabbits (shows how ignorant I was). But I could have saved a bunny’s life by going to an animal rescue and welfare organisation. I rescued my second bun, who was a very old girl when I got her. I only had her for 2 years and it took one of them to earn her trust, but it was worth it and I’ll do it again.
- I regret not realising the importance of sterilisation until Defib had several phantom pregnancies and developed tumours around her teats, which required an ‘emergency’ sterilisation. I thought it was about preventing breeding, and with 2 female rabbits, I thought it unnecessary.
Always do your homework before you get a pet. Research everything, including all health issues, homing, toilet training, proper care and proper feeding.
If you have considered all of the hard work, challenges, destruction and moodiness and expense and you still want a pet rabbit, then contact a rescue organisation like The Rabbit Haven and Red Door Animal Shelter. You’ll save a rabbit’s life, and welfare organisations can provide information you need to live happily with your bunny. They can advise you how to choose a companion and can provide additional support in a crisis.
Don’t have any regrets. If you want a bunny, get one the right way at the right time, not on a whim at Easter.