Spring has sprung. It's almost Easter, and many of us are thinking about how to best fill those baskets for maximum impact on Easter morning. What could be more spectacular than a real live bunny? Not much, I agree, but think twice (or six times) before adding a bunny to your family at Easter.
Every year, thousands of rabbits are abandoned to shelters or released outside in the weeks following Easter. This is almost always due to the fact that parents who purchase them for their children have a lack of understanding about the care they require.
I have been a rabbit parent, so I speak first hand. You all know what an animal lover I am, but after having been through the process, I can honestly say that I would never have one again. I still love them, and I love pet sitting for them, but I can't see making the commitment for myself. They are a lot of work, and they are difficult to train. For me, the benefit does not outweigh the cost of time and effort, and this is coming from someone who cares for pets for a living. No wonder the average person gets in over his head.
Bunnies and rabbits are one of the most misunderstood house pets. Here we've busted ten myths:
MYTH #1: RABBITS ARE GREAT, EASY STARTER PETS.
REALITY: Rabbits are as much work as a dog or cat. They require a great deal of care on a daily basis. Each day they must be cleaned, fed, provided fresh water, and interacted with. If they live in a cage or hutch, they will also require daily exercise.
MYTH #2: RABBITS ARE EXCELLENT PETS FOR SMALL CHILDREN.
REALITY: Many children are nipped, scratched, and kicked by rabbits. This is not the rabbit's fault. Rabbits are sensitive about how they are held–even more so than dogs and cats, so they will often nip and scratch and kick to get free when they are mishandled. To make matters worse, if a child drops a rabbit, the pet risks serious injury such as a broken spine or leg. The more rabbits are socialized, the more they will tolerate handling, but this takes a lot of patience, something most small children lack.
MYTH #3: RABBITS ARE EASY TO CARE FOR.
REALITY: The poop. The food mess. The cleaning. The feeding. The exercising. The list goes on and on. Rabbits require a great deal of time and energy to care for.
MYTH #4: RABBITS DON'T LIVE VERY LONG.
REALITY: The lifespan of a rabbit is 7-10 years. Again, a statistic more akin to a dog or cat than a hamster or mouse, though they are often thought of as more like the latter.
MYTH #5: RABBITS DON'T REQUIRE MUCH VETERINARY CARE.
REALITY: Rabbits require as much veterinary care as a dog or cat. They must be spayed or neutered even if they aren't around other rabbits because they will "mark," and exhibit other generally unwanted behaviors if unaltered. They require regular veterinary check-ups, and their sensitive systems are susceptible to all sorts of issues, so they often must see a vet if they become ill. To make matters more difficult, it is hard to find a veterinarian who is versed in rabbit care. Most specialize in dogs and cats.
MYTH #6: RABBITS ARE CONTENT TO LIVE IN A SMALL SPACE.
REALITY: Rabbits need lots of exercise. Their legs are powerful, and they require daily exercise to be happy. Thinking of getting a dwarf variety so they won't require as much space? Think again. Dwarf rabbits usually have even more energy and require more space. Though a cage or hutch is fine as a "bedroom," they can't be confined to that small space 24/7.
MYTH #7: RABBITS CAN BE LEFT ALONE FOR A COUPLE OF DAYS IF THE FAMILY GOES ON VACATION.
REALITY: Rabbits require daily feeding and checking upon. If you travel, you'll have to find a pet sitter. Say they dump their food bowl or their water bottle leaks to empty. Even one day without food or water may be fatal to a rabbit.
MYTH #8: RABBITS ARE SWEET AND SOCIAL BY NATURE.
REALITY: Rabbits are wild by nature. They can be socialized with continued handling, and will become quite loving to their caretakers, but this takes time and patience. They can be quite difficult to handle at first, and may bite, scratch, and kick if mishandled.
MYTH #9: A RABBIT'S DIET IS SIMPLE.
REALITY: A rabbit requires a varied, fresh diet. Many people think they can drop a bowl of rabbit pellets into a cage each day and the pet is good to go. Feeding your rabbit pellets on occasion is okay, but they also need a selection of grass and hay daily, as well as fresh leafy greens. One true rabbit fact: they like carrots. And carrots are great for their teeth. A simple pellet diet does not meet their nutrition or physical requirements.
MYTH #10: EASTER IS A GREAT TIME TO BRING A RABBIT INTO THE FAMILY.
REALITY: Easter is the absolute worst time to bring a rabbit into the family. Easter rabbits are often purchased on impulse. Nothing is more fun than seeing a child's face light up when she sees a live rabbit on Easter morning, but we must resist that impulse and face the reality that having a rabbit is a long-term, involved situation.
What if you are TRULY ready to bring a rabbit into your family? Is it okay to do it on Easter? I'd recommend not doing that. The BEST time to adopt a rabbit is about one to three months after Easter, which is prime rabbit-dumping time. Rabbit rescues will be overcrowded and in desperate need of responsible rabbit homes. If you can provide such a home, postpone your adoption just a bit. Take that extra time to make sure you're truly ready.
WHAT CAN WE PUT IN THE EASTER BASKET INSTEAD?
Instead of bringing a live rabbit into your home for Easter, there are two great alternatives:
THE STUFFED RABBIT: They come in all shapes and sizes and levels of squishy softness. They require no care whatsoever, and they don't bite, scratch, or kick. Your kiddo can squeeze them to death, drop them, and even sleep with them. There are no ongoing costs They will usually last a lifetime.
THE CHOCOLATE RABBIT: Often met with even more excitement than the live rabbit, the chocolate rabbit can be tiny or gigantic. Though your child may require some clean-up after indulging, the rabbit, itself, only requires a cool, dry place for its lifespan, which is likely not more than a day.
The Easter bunny? Make mine stuffed or chocolate, please!