While our friends to the north may not be feeling it, Spring has finally arrived. As we turn our thoughts to April showers and springtime flowers, the little ones eagerly await the arrival of the Easter Bunny - and many will lobby for a "real live Easter bunny." Parents, be warned. Bunnies are cute. But before you give in, let's look at some of the common misperceptions of these seasonal pocket pets.
Misconception #1: Rabbits are low maintenance
Caring for a pet rabbit is almost as much work as caring for a puppy. Like dogs, rabbits are social animals that do not thrive when forced to live in isolation. They need live as a member of the family - meaning indoors. Your home is the ideal place for your rabbit to safely exercise, something pet rabbits must do for about 30 or so hours per week. The time he spends outside his cage must be closely supervised, as rabbits love - and need - to chew. Electrical cords, chargers, power cables, and carpets are just a few of the things that will need to be secured in a bunny-proofed home. And unless you are prepared to do a lot of cleaning, you will need to train your bunny to use a litterbox.
Rabbits require regular veterinary care and need to spayed and neutered. They eat 1-2 cups of fresh vegetables per day and their bedding must be changed daily. Since many of their most common health problems are caused by improper diet and housing, it literally does not pay to cut corners.
Misconception #2: Rabbits are perfectly happy living outside in a hutch
While most of us, myself included, grew up with this information, we now know that it is incorrect. The wire bottoms of old-school rabbit hutches can cause ulcers and sores on a rabbit's sensitive feet. Enclosures for bunnies should be at least six times the size of the rabbit. A rabbit that lives alone in a hutch is a likely to suffer depression and has little, if any, ability to cope with stress. These rabbits can quite literally die of a heart attack if approached by a predator, either real or perceived. Between stress and exposure to the elements, an outdoor rabbit has a life expectancy of about 12 months. House rabbits, on the other hand, live between eight and ten years!
Misconception #3: Rabbits are great with kids
The pet store rabbits that are sold at Easter are babies. One day, your baby bunny will grow up. When this happens, she will realize that she is a prey animal and will no longer appreciate being grabbed, squeezed, hugged, and cuddled by your children. She is likely to react the way all prey animals behave when they feel threatened - by scratching, biting, hiding, and running away. At this point, sexual maturity is right around the corner. Remember what I said about spaying and neutering? Sexually mature female rabbits may defend their territory by biting your children when they reach into her cage. Mature males will begin spraying their home - and yours. - with foul smelling urine to mark the boundaries of their perceived territory. This is the point at which many new rabbit owners start looking for the exit.
Misconception #4: Unwanted rabbits can fend for themselves in the wild
Unlike their wild counterparts, domestic rabbits do not have the stamina or survival skills to live on their own in the wild. Yet this misperception leads to thousands of rabbits being dumped in parks and green spaces every year. Most of them die of starvation or exposure, and many are killed by cars, off-leash dogs, and free-roaming cats. Thousands more are surrendered to shelters and rescue organizations. The same holds true for baby chicks and ducklings. These are living beings, NOT toys.
So does this mean no one should keep a pet rabbit? Absolutely not. Like any other pet, a rabbit is a long-term commitment. Do your research, have a family meeting, and know what you are getting into. If you have decided a rabbit is a good fit for your family, try to adopt before you shop. By Memorial Day weekend there will be LOTS of wonderful rabbits in need of loving homes. Visit your local Humane Society, or contact the House Rabbit Society at www.rabbit.org.
My wife and I adore rabbits. But at this point in time, we simply do not have a lifestyle that allows us to be suitable rabbit owners. If you are considering a real live Easter bunny, I implore you to do some soul-searching as well. If you're like me, you just might decide that a chocolate bunny suits you just fine. Preferably dark chocolate - and maybe some marshmallow chicks.
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