In two short months, “bunny season” will be among us. Backyard breeders and pet mills will be pumping out tiny, young rabbits at an alarming rate. They’ll be sold for a low price to consumers who want a fun gift. They’ll even be advertised for young children.
On the opposite side of Easter, rabbit lovers will once again try to combat the issue with scare tactics. Last year, horrifying graphics claimed “95% of all bunnies and chicks sold for Easter will die before their first birthday.” Others stated rabbits are hormonal, aggressive, live forever, don’t like to be handled … anything in an attempt to deter holiday consumers from buying.
I’m disgusted by both sides.
Rabbits are absolutely fantastic pets for families, regardless of the date of purchase. They can be responsibly managed by adults and children of all ages, and they are relatively inexpensive to own in comparison to dogs or cats. As a fellow bunny lover, I would never, ever scare anyone away from bringing a bunny home – regardless of whether it’s Easter, Christmas or a Wednesday in July. What I will do (and feel others should do) is present consumers with true and accurate facts that haven’t been twisted to generate fear. Education is important before bringing any new pet home.
Without further ado, my Easter message:
1. The lifespan of the domestic rabbit is 7-10 years.
Each of our pet rabbits has reached or exceeded 10 years old, and I’ve heard of some rabbits living into their teens. Rabbits have a lifespan similar to that of dogs. So when you’re considering whether a rabbit is right for your family, take the same care in your decision as you would when thinking about adding a new dog. Their lifespan shouldn’t scare you away, but it’s certainly a longer-term commitment than a hamster. (No hate to hamsters, of course.)
2. Rabbits require little space, but lots of care.
Rabbits are best housed in several square feet of living space per animal (exact sizes depending on breed). So they don’t take up a particularly large amount of space and can be kept in both urban or rural settings. However, they do require daily feeding, watering, and regular cleaning, as well as occasional grooming and nail clipping. The individuals in charge of care should be old enough to comfortably handle the rabbit on their own and keep a regular care routine.
3. Rabbits can be injured when not handled properly.
Rabbits aren’t quite as hardy as the family dog. If a young child lays his head on Fido, the dog may not even notice his presence. But a rabbit can’t bear the same weight. Their body structures are relatively fragile, and rabbits must be handled gently. Most children would never intentionally hurt their pet, but parents should take age into consideration. Very young children require close supervision around pet rabbits, and older children should learn from their parents how to keep their rabbit safe and comfortable. Personally, I recommend waiting until children are around elementary school age (7-8 years old) before bringing a bunny home.
In any case, the whole family should be involved in the rabbit’s well-being. Even if the rabbit is under the care of a young child, parents should be sure to remind their child daily of the rabbit’s needs and supervise their care to ensure that the chores are completed.
4. When rabbits reach maturity, they can display territorial behaviors.
Around 6-8 months old, females may become more skittish or aggressive. Males may spray urine or mount your feet. Some rabbits never display these behaviors, but new rabbit owners should be aware of the possibility and prepared if it happens. Sometimes it’s as simple as waiting it out – behaviors often wane as the rabbit ages. Or you may consider spaying or neutering to eliminate these behaviors entirely. But at least you won’t be surprised and threaten to throw the rabbit out…I warned you!
5. Rabbits aren’t as social as dogs.
I often compare their personalities to the generalization of cats. Some rabbits do seek attention, but many won’t. They do enjoy handling and can become comfortable with interaction, but you can’t wait for them to come to you. You must initiate contact and make the experience positive. Relationships are work…with both humans and rabbits. If you’re looking for an “OMG, I LUV U!!!” pet, a rabbit likely won’t fulfill your dreams.
6. It matters where you buy.
Do not buy from any ad that mentions Easter. Do not buy mixed breeds. Do not buy from someone who is not registered with the American Rabbit Breeders Association or their respective breed clubs. Do not buy from someone who is selling rabbits under the age of 8 weeks old.
Like I said, backyard breeders and mills are in full force around Easter. You have to be a smart consumer.
Ask questions. Ask where your rabbit comes from, what kind it is, how the rabbits are kept, what the breeder’s credentials are. Reputable breeders may charge more for their animals, but you know that you’re supporting someone who is raising animals for the right reasons. Most importantly, you’re gaining an animal that has been selectively bred for health and longevity, rather than the goal of a dollar. You just don’t get all that for $10.
If you’re not concerned with breed, consider adopting from a shelter or rescue. Mixed breed rabbits also make great family pets, but it’s not worth buying a “lion lop” or random “dwarf bunny” and supporting poor breeding practices. You can find a unique and interesting rabbit that is already in need of a home.
7. Unaltered rabbits cannot be housed together.
Pairs of opposite sex rabbits must be spayed or neutered to live together. Same-sex pairs of bucks must be spayed or neutered to live together.
Same-sex pairs of does may live together peacefully if they are raised together. But you must be prepared to house them separately or have them altered if it doesn’t work out.
For more information, I highly recommend The Nature Trail website. This is a treasure trove of good rabbit information. Or feel free to email me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.