House Rabbit Society strongly urges parents not to buy their children live “Easter bunnies” unless they are willing to make a 10-year commitment to properly care for the animals. Each year, thousands of baby rabbits, chicks, and ducks are purchased as Easter gifts only to be abandoned or left at shelters in the days, weeks and months that follow Easter.
Margo DeMello, president of HRS, encourages rabbit lovers to support the “Make Mine Chocolate” ™ campaign created by the Columbus, Ohio, chapter of HRS .“Rabbits are not ‘low maintenance’ pets,” says DeMello; they require at least the same amount of work as a cat or dog, and often more. Chocolate rabbits are a great alternative; kids can enjoy them for 10 minutes, and they won’t have to take care of them for the next 10 years.”
Mary Cotter, vice-president of HRS, says that many of the rabbits purchased as Easter pets will never live to see their first birthday. Some will die from neglect, while others will be abandoned in local parks or left at animal shelters. “It is irresponsible for pet stores to push rabbits and other so-called Easter animals during the holiday,” says Cotter. “Unless parents are willing to take full responsibility for the possible 10-year lifepan of a live rabbit, they should buy their children chocolate rabbits instead.”
Most children want a companion they can hold, carry and cuddle, but rabbits are fragile, ground-loving creatures who break easily when dropped. Additionally, rabbits are easily frightened by loud noises. It is unreasonable to expect a small child to make a 10-year commitment to taking care of a rabbit. All too often, the child loses interest, and the rabbit ends up neglected or abandoned.
Does this mean no families with children should never have pet rabbits? “Not at all!” says DeMello. “But what it does mean is that parents must be actively involved on a daily basis, and willing to supervise any interactions between rabbits and children. Otherwise, chocolate is the way to go!”
For families willing to make the long-term commitment, here are a few points to consider before acquiring a rabbit:
**Housing: For rabbits who use a cage, the cage needs to be at least six times the size of the adult rabbit. It should not have a wire bottom, as the wire can cause sores on the rabbit’s feet. There should be room for a litterbox, toys, food and water bowls. Others may choose to forgo a cage entirely, using instead a pen for the rabbit’s home base.
**Playtime: Rabbits need plenty of exercise and should be allowed at least 30 hours out-of-cage or pen running time in a rabbit-proofed area of the home per week.
**Outdoors: Rabbits should never be left outdoors unsupervised. They can, literally, be frightened to death when approached by predators such as dogs, cats, raccoons and owls. They can also dig under fences to escape.
**Litter Box: Rabbits, once spayed or neutered, will readily use litterboxes that are place in one corner of the rabbit’s space; the rabbit’s running space should contain at least one additional box. Use dust-free, natural litter–not the clumping kind, and no softwood shavings.
**Diet: Rabbits need fresh water, unlimited fresh, grass hay, 1-2 cups of fresh vegetables, and a small serving (1/4 c per 5 lb. rabbit) of plain rabbit pellets each day.
** Health: Like dogs and cats, rabbits should be spayed or neutered. The risk of uterine cancer in unspayed female rabbits is alarmingly high, and unneutered males are likely to spray.
**Grooming: Rabbits shed their coat 3-4 times per year; use a flea comb and brush away excess fur.
A person who chooses a baby rabbit as a companion must:
**Have lots of time, a household that can withstand some chewing, and a stable residence.
**Expect an unneutered/unspayed baby will spray urine. Know that neutering/spaying (at four to six months) will stop the problem.
**Expect accidents when baby forgets the location of the litterbox.
**Allow the energetic young rabbit at least 30 hours a week of free time outside her pen, habitat, or cage.
**Know the cute baby will soon be an adult rabbit and may have a different personality.
If you think you would enjoy sharing your home with a rabbit, please contact HRS, your local animal shelter, humane society or rabbit rescue group for information about adopting a rabbit. No matter where you live, you are probably within 10 miles of a rabbit who desperately needs a safe, indoor home. If you are not sure you can make this kind of commitment, please consider buying your child a chocolate bunny this Easter instead.