With Easter just around the corner, bunnies are pretty much inescapable – the iconic “Easter Bunny” is used to decorate homes and to delight young children during the holiday. Parents are often inspired to bring them home as a first pet for their little ones, sometimes unaware of how much care a happy and healthy house bunny realistically needs.
Bunnies make wonderful additions to households, but, while they are small in size, they don’t necessarily make great “starter” pets. However, they do make great pets for families that are prepared for their care requirements. In order to make sure fewer bunnies end up in shelters after the Easter novelty wears off, here are a few insights for prospective owners before they bring home their new twitchy-nosed fluff.
For an animal full of so much fluffy charm, it comes as a shock to many that they aren’t exactly the cuddliest of animals. If you want a pet to hug and hold, a bunny might not be your best bet. While there are always exceptions to the rule, most bunnies do not enjoy being held. They are animals of prey and may feel threatened when confined. Bunnies show their love by sitting or lounging near you and occasionally giving you sweet bunny kisses if you are lucky and share a special bond with your rabbit. For some this is just fine, but others who desire more cuddles—especially young children—may lose interest in their new fluffy friend.
New owners may also be surprised to learn there is very little difference between the amount of care required for rabbits, cats and dogs. Bunnies also require regular vet visits, and, like most pet owners know, a vet bill can be expensive. Rabbits are considered “exotic animals” and your vet bills will reflect this on check-ups and on their neuter/spay.
Yes, you read that right. At around six months old you should schedule your rabbit to be fixed, and there is very important reasoning behind this – domestic rabbits are extremely susceptible to reproductive cancers. Females are especially susceptible if preventative measures are not taken to protect them against cancer. Fixing your bunny also helps alleviate any behavioral ticks they may have, such as spraying their urine, territorial aggression and humping, a worthwhile investment to keep your home smelling fresh and keeping your bunny’s life with you a long and healthy one.
Bunnies also require nail clippings (and sometimes teeth filing), brushing, feeding, training and even exercise if you predominantly cage your rabbit. Their litter boxes need to be changed out at least every other day, and their cages should be scrubbed clean regularly to keep their environment neat and as odor-free as possible.
Brushing is a care requirement that might seem unimportant, but is actually incredibly important to your bunny’s health and your sanity. When rabbits shed their coats a few times a year, it is impossible to avoid getting it all over your clothes, carpet or furniture.
Because bunnies are clean creatures at their core, they take grooming themselves very seriously. If you don’t regularly brush your bunny, you put them at risk of ingesting too much of their own fur, which leads to hairballs. Unlike cats, bunnies cannot vomit, so, if hairballs are allowed to form in their stomach, it creates a blockage that can lead to death.
Hairballs aren’t the only threat to a bunny’s digestive system. A rabbit whose digestive system slows or stops is in danger of a potentially life threatening condition called gastrointestinal stasis (GI) which painfully bloats your bunny, decreasing its will to eat or drink. So, because a rabbit’s digestive system needs to be moving at all times, a 24/7 access to food is very important. As long as you are around enough to ensure your bun gets plenty of hay and their daily dose of pellets and veggies, there’s no cause for concern.
Now, let’s talk exercise. Rabbits require this daily if they are caged and will need to be supervised during playtime if you forego a play pen or the designated play area has not been bunny-proofed. Caged rabbits are known to be voracious chewers if they are not stimulated regularly with play and are known to go after wires, furniture, rugs… you name it.
A wonderful plus about domestic rabbits is that they have the ability to be litter boxed trained, which leads a lot of owners to give their rabbits free-range of a designated, bunny-safe area of their home. Keep in mind, bunnies will still leave surprises every now and then, but these little gifts are pellet-like poops and are easily dealt with by a quick vacuuming.
Bunnies are exceptionally gentle, sensitive creatures full of spunk and sass. They have the ability to bring you and your home much joy, but the daily care and maintenance can be overwhelming if you are unprepared. Once you’ve determined a bunny will make the perfect companion animal, please visit your local shelters (where bunnies most often come fixed already, by the way!) and give a nose-twitcher in need a loving home. — Ahnika White
Photo credit: Karen Arnold
This article was originally published March 2018.