Most of us can agree that rabbits are adorable. You can find images of rabbits on greeting cards, clothing, food, decorations, you name it. Something about that twitchy nose and those big ears makes us feel all gooey inside. And so they should!
Rabbits are amazing creatures. They have an excellent sense of smell and boast a 190-degree field of vision. Not only are their ears structured to give them extremely acute hearing, but the large surface area of each ear also aids in the regulation of body temperature. The largest known rabbit resides at a horse sanctuary in the United Kingdom and weighs in at 55lbs. It is estimated that as of 2014, there were somewhere between 6-9 million pet rabbits in the United States. Rabbits are typically viewed as the perfect pet for a child – cute, fluffy, low-maintenance. All you need is a cage, some sawdust, and some brightly colored rabbit-mix, and our children will be entertained for hours! Right?
Unfortunately, no. There are profound misconceptions about pet rabbits in our society. So much is known about dogs and cats that most of us understand what is required to provide them with a good life. In contrast, we are constantly catching up in our knowledge about domestic rabbits; we’re still learning what they require as pets. All too often they sit alone in “hutches” in backyards, in cages in corners of bedrooms – forgotten, ignored. Here are three important considerations to make before adopting a bunny!
1. They Don’t Like Being Held
Rabbits are a prey species, and as such, often protest to physical restraint. Picking up and cuddling a rabbit feels like affection to us but feels like an attack to them, and many use all the force they can to escape our grip. Some rabbits can become accustomed to the practice with regular, gentle handling, but many are never able to be held without showing signs of fear and distress. This causes many children to become disinterested in interacting with them.
In contrast to their flighty behavior when being handled, rabbits can actually learn to love human contact with all four feet on the floor – encourage your kids to get down to their level and let the bunny come to them! This requires patience but is extremely rewarding; many rabbits can even fall asleep having their nose and cheeks gently rubbed.
2. They Have Sensitive Stomachs
Rabbits have notoriously fragile digestive systems, and the wrong diet can quickly lead to a potentially fatal condition called gastrointestinal (GI) stasis, which involves intestinal blockages and the proliferation of harmful bacteria in the gut. Rabbits with severe cases can die within just 24 hours, racking up huge vet bills in the meantime. Contrary to popular belief, rabbits should never eat the colorful muesli‘s or “yogurt”-type treats sold in pet stores. In fact, all rabbits need is unlimited, good quality hay and washed, fresh greens each day. Check out this great bunny food pyramid for more information! Young, senior or underweight rabbits should be supplemented with high-quality timothy pellets but be sure to consult your vet before adding anything new to their diet.
3. They Need A Lot Of Space & Exercise
Most commercially-produced rabbit cages are totally inadequate as they provide very little space for the bunny to move. Those huge hind legs are designed that way for a reason! Check out these bunny condos to give you an idea of the minimum amount of space required. X-Pens are also a great way to house rabbits in a way that does not restrict their movement, provided that measures are taken to ensure that they are safe (i.e. some rabbits may need netting over the top to prevent them from jumping out). Bear in mind the space that these enclosures will take up in your child’s bedroom and whether you are willing to house them elsewhere in your home.
In addition to this, rabbits need a minimum of four hours supervised “free-range” time each day, outside of their pen or cage. Watching and interacting with free-ranging bunnies is incredibly rewarding – they display all sorts of positive behaviors such as “flops” and “binkys” (think elevated 360). Be sure to bunny-proof the free-range area first; rabbits just love to eat anything from wires to baseboards!
Bringing a Bunny Into Your Home
Although they are typically smaller than cats or dogs, rabbits require the same amount of attention and commitment that these animals do. Many people do not understand the demands that come with being a bunny guardian, and as a result, these animals frequently end up abandoned in shelters. As prey animals, life in a loud, cramped shelter can be extremely stressful and overwhelming. If you are thinking about adopting a bunny, you shouldn’t just run to a shelter and take one home; consider spending some quality time with a rabbit over the course of a few days to get a good sense of what their personality is like and if your lifestyle is really appropriate for their needs.
If you are fully equipped to take in a bunny, you are sure to have a loyal, loving fuzzy friend for life!
Image Source: Flickr/Lauri Rantala