Thinking of adding an "Easter Bunny" to your family? From an early age, we see those ridiculously cute faces, twitching noses, long whiskers and, in some cases, irresistible floppy ears. They are just too cute. But many people don't realize how much it takes toproperly care for a rabbit. And, as a sad result, these adorable animals are often surrendered to shelters. Rabbits truly are great pets, but before you add a bunny to your family, here are some things to consider:
- Rabbits are not starter pets. As cute as a bunny can be, they need a lot more care than a goldfish does. They require daily food, weekly cage cleaning and lots of love. And kids should never have the sole responsibility of caring for rabbits.
- Consider the time commitment. Most domestic rabbits can live 7-10 years. They'll need daily exercise and time out of the cage, weekly cage cleaning and fresh hay and clean water daily.
- Spay or neuter. Un-neutered male rabbits are prone to prostate cancer and un-spayed females have a 60-80 percent chance of developing ovarian, uterine or other reproductive cancers. And since we all know the phrase "multiply like rabbits," you'd be wise to neuter and spay your rabbit--or else you could be very quickly outnumbered!
- Find an "exotic" veterinarian. Rabbits are considered an "exotic" pet (as are birds, reptiles, chinchillas and ferrets), and not all veterinarians treat them. Do your research to see if there are vets near you who treat rabbits. Local animal shelters and rabbit rescue organizations can help you find one. Get yearly check-ups for your rabbit until the age of 5, and twice a year after that.
- Adopt. A sad fact: Rabbits are the third-most surrendered animal to shelters. There are rabbit rescue groups across the United States, as well as rabbits waiting for homes in local shelters.
- There are lots of rabbit breeds. There are about 40-50 breeds of rabbits recognized in the United States. From the smaller Netherland Dwarfs, which weigh 2 or 3 pounds, to Flemish Giants, which can top 20 pounds, rabbits come in all different shapes, sizes, fur-length and colors. Get a feel for what your family wants and call shelters and rescue units to learn about available bunnies who need good homes.
- Cage-free time is a must. Rabbits should be kept in large enclosures, and if they don't have free run of the house, they should be offered a chance to exercise for several hours every day.
- Rabbits are "social butterflies." While you might not have a Bugs or a Roger, each rabbit has his own personality. They will bond with other rabbits and cats (dogs, not so much!). Shelters will note if a bunny is an "individual," a "couple" or a "trio" with other rabbits, so if your family falls in love with a bonded rabbit, you may want to keep the rabbit friends together.
- Not all rabbits get along. Just like humans, not all rabbits can coexist. Before you get your bunny a "friend", set up a meeting between the two on neutral ground to see if they will get along. Most shelters will offer a room to see if the two bunnies can be friends.
- Keep rabbits indoors. Every bunny deserves a nice warm place to live, and domestic rabbits should always be kept indoors, as they cannot tolerate very hot or cold temperatures. They can also become very frightened and suffer a deadly heart attack at the sight of another animal.
- Make a rabbit's home his castle. Aim to provide your rabbit with an exciting home. A multi-level cage with many areas for the rabbit to explore is a great option. You can also purchase toys, water bottles and a "cuddle cup" or a small cat bed for rabbits to sleep in.
- Don't buy cages with wire floors. Wire floors can harm rabbits' feet--they don't have pads on their feet like dogs and cats do.
- Rabbits can be housebroken. Rabbits can be litter box trained! It takes about two months, and a corner litter box or level devoted to a "bathroom" is a good way to give a rabbit a comfortable home. Certain types of cat litter can also damage their digestive systems, so never use clumping litter, and avoid cedar or pine chips. The CareFRESH brand is a good option.
- Rabbits love hay. There are two types of hay: alfalfa and timothy. From 0-6 months, rabbits can have alfalfa hay; after 6 months, they should have fresh timothy hay daily.
- Rabbits love fiber. Good quality rabbit pellets--18 percent fiber--are a must for a rabbit. When rabbits are young (0-6 months), they can have unlimited pellets. After 6 months, limit their intake. Ask a vet about the appropriate amount of pellets per day for your rabbit.
- Leafy greens are good. Rabbits love leafy green veggies. Kale, arugula, spinach, watercress, Swiss chard, parsley and cilantro are favorites. Be careful though--watery greens, such iceberg lettuce, are dangerous to rabbits (they can cause diarrhea).
- Fruits and other veggies can be treats. Dried apple slices, carrots, broccoli, celery, papaya, mango, banana slices, etc. can be given to a rabbit as a treat, but in small amounts. To see a full list of acceptable food, go here.
- Make your home un-chewable. Rabbits need to chew to keep their teeth at a comfortable length. Remove anything your rabbit might chew, especially dangerous electric wires. Go to your local hardware store and purchase electric-cord covers and PVC piping to keep wires safe.
- Keep the noise down. Rabbits are naturally prey animals, so they tend to be easily frightened. They need peace and quiet, and don't do well in noisy environments.
- Keep the smell down. Rabbits' cages can stink--and no bunny wants to live in a smelly environment. Keep your bunny neat and mess-free by cleaning out the cage one or two times per week.
- Learn how to hold rabbits. Although some rabbits are okay with being picked up, most don't enjoy it. If you do want to handle your rabbit, ask your veterinarian to show you--and your kids--the proper way. A rabbit will let you know if they are uncomfortable, so it's important to watch for cues. Moreover, rabbits have very light, fragile bones. They have to be handled in a special way, and can actually break their own bones if they squirm too much.
- Brush your bunny. Find a good quality brush and keep a rabbit's fuzz in control. Brushing regularly helps remove soft and excess hair.
- Create house rules. Because rabbits are fragile, you should create house rules about their handling. A good rule to start: Only family members can take a rabbit out of his cage. Or the kids cannot take the bunny out of his cage when only the babysitter is around. Not everyone loves rabbits, though. Check if your children's friends have allergies to bunnies before they come over to play.
- Find bunny care. Rabbits need the same love that dogs and cats do. If your family isplanning a vacation and leaving bunny behind, be sure to find a rabbit pet sitter to care for your rabbit. Some local farms and veterinarians will even watch bunnies during family trips, so ask members of your community.