With Valentine’s Day behind us, we will soon be inundated by advertisements featuring pastel colours, eggs, and adorable baby rabbits to remind us that the Easter season is approaching. It is in no small part because of uninformed rabbit purchases at this time of year that rabbits are the third-most abandoned domestic animal at shelters and rescues across the country. February is Adopt a Rescued Rabbit Month, an effort by shelters and rescues to promote adoption of the rabbits in their care into loving, lasting and educated homes. Since rabbits hold a special place in my heart I’d like to discuss a few key rabbit care facts with you here today.
First and Foremost
Rabbits are not, I repeat NOT, easy starter pets. If you are looking for a pet that requires a bit of feeding and the occasional cleaning, I’d suggest a goldfish. The average rabbit is at least as much work as a cat, if not more.
If you have a typical healthy rabbit you:
- feed it a small portion of pellets a couple of times of day
- unlimited amounts of hay (which undoubtedly sticks to your socks and gets tracked all through the house)
- fresh leafy veggies daily, meaning that every time you go grocery shopping for yourself you need to remember to grab some goodies for your long-eared buddy as well
- You clean the litter box every day or so, just like a cat, as well as their pen/cage/condo once or twice weekly
- Rabbits also vary in their demands for attention, but all of them need some level of interaction and exercise every day. Whether you have a designated play area or allow your rabbit free access to the house. Ensuring there is nothing your rabbit is likely to chew on, both for their safety and to protect your belongings from damage.
Rabbits have a lifespan of 10-15 years, depending on their breed. It is a common misconception that rabbits live something like 2-5 years. This idea is likely perpetuated that many pet rabbits do indeed die at these young ages, but often this is due to improper care rather than ‘old age’. Our understanding of the husbandry needs of rabbits and the ability to provide medical care for common illnesses have improved dramatically over the last few decades, resulting in much longer lifespans for our cotton-tailed friends. This means if you get a rabbit as your child’s first pet and if you do things right chances are the rabbit will still be around when your child is moving out.
If you are getting a rabbit you need to ensure that you will be able to provide care for the rabbit over its entire lifetime. Even if your child loses interest, or their post-secondary housing situation doesn’t allow pets (which most residences do not). Just like if you plan to buy a puppy or kitten, anticipate what will be happening over the next decade or more of your life. Ensure there are no obvious milestones that would result in having to rehome your pet.
Children and Rabbits
- They are not ideal pets for children because rabbits have a delicate skeleton and can easily fracture a leg or even their spine if they are not held properly.
- Rabbits are a prey species, so they tend to startle easily and don’t like the sudden movements or loud noises of excited children.
- Most rabbits prefer to be handled with all four legs on the ground, not picked up or carried around.
A stuffed rabbit toy is a much more practical option if you are looking for a rabbit that can handle the rough handling of a child without being injured or frightened.
What’s Up Doc?
Here is a seemingly self-serving message, but it’s true: rabbits deserve medical care too. Like all living creatures, rabbits can fall ill and medical treatments are available to treat and manage a wide range of ailments. Common illnesses include parasite infestations (ear mites, fleas, fur mites), upper respiratory infections, GI stasis, dental disease, ear infections, head tilt, urinary tract infections, and injuries.
Some of these have straightforward cures, while others require more advanced testing and ongoing management. Rabbits have very different anatomy and physiology than cats and dogs. Owing to their herbivorous nature, not all veterinarians are comfortable providing care for them. There are specialty exotics clinics for handling the more challenging rabbit illnesses.
Spay & Neuter
Rabbits benefit greatly from spay and neuter procedures. Female rabbits have a very high rate of uterine cancer, which is fatal if untreated, when not spayed. This cancer, as well as uterine infections, uterine aneurysms, and unwanted pregnancies, can be prevented by spaying. Both male and female rabbits tend to be more territorial and more likely to urine mark if not sterilized. Most sterilized rabbits are more affectionate pets. It is recommended that rabbits have annual physical exams to watch out for any developing problems. In Ontario there are no vaccines required for rabbits.
Domestic rabbits do not have the skills to survive outside. Hundreds or even thousands of rabbits are abandoned outside every year. No longer wanted as a pet by their owner; this is often done under the illusion that the rabbit will be happier free, living outdoors. This is simply not true; domestic rabbits are a different species than our wild Cottontails. Domestic rabbits have the same ‘wild’ instincts as a pet dog does compare to a wolf.
A domestic rabbit has about as much chance of surviving outside as a chihuahua. Some abandoned rabbits manage to get along for a while but the majority are quickly killed. Death by a predator attack, being hit by a car, temperature extremes and human malice often quickly follow their release. Those that do manage to survive live in constant fear of harm; often are infested with parasites, and usually are just barely getting by.
Most of the staff here have heard my stories about wandering through neighbourhoods or crawling through bushes in local parks. Fishing net and carrier in tow, my mission is trying to find abandoned rabbits. This is such an epidemic there is an unofficial team of us always ready to answer the call when a stray rabbit is reported to our local rescue.
In the end, we only manage to catch about half the rabbits reported. The rest vanishes either without a trace, or their remains are discovered, another victim of human ignorance. If you do end up with a rabbit you cannot keep PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE find a responsible way to rehome it.
There is so much more about rabbit care I could talk about! They can be loving and awesome pets but like any species, you need to know what you are in for. If you want to read more about rabbit care, hop on over to: