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Thinking about getting a pet rabbit? If the answer is a resounding yes, you are not alone.
Many people enjoy the company of these intelligent, affectionate, funny, and social animals. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)’s pet ownership statistics, there were 1.4 million rabbit households in the U.S. with a combined 3.2 million pet rabbits in 2012. And it just so happens that February is Adopt a Rescued Rabbit Month.
But before you take that leap, learn as much as you can about these long-eared and relatively long-lived animals.
For example, did you know that rabbits shed? That some people are allergic to rabbits? That rabbits chew on electric cords, among other things? That they have specific care requirements and need daily attention?
If those extra descriptions come as a surprise, you need to learn more. You don’t want to have what should be a happy occasion—adding a new member to the family—become a frustration at best.
Often, people don’t know what they are getting into when they take on a rabbit, and that is why many pet rabbits eventually end up at rescues and animal shelters, says Mary Cotter, vice president of the House Rabbit Society, a nonprofit organization based out of Richmond, Calif. Here, she corrects a few of the most common rabbit misconceptions.
Rabbits are not low-maintenance pets.
In Cotter’s experience, dogs are often easier to care for. She offers one example: If a dog does not eat for 12 hours, he might just be feeling a bit off. If a rabbit goes 12 hours without eating, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Additionally, she says, rabbits need to be spayed or neutered by a veterinarian experienced in their specialized care. A rabbit is considered an exotic pet with different needs, such as possible dental work, that must be taken into account.
All breeds of rabbits can be pets.
You can choose from dozens of breeds of rabbits, many sizes, and a variety of temperaments. An easy-going New Zealand White “lab” rabbit can be just as much of a pet as the Silver Fox, American Chinchilla, or Rex “meat” rabbits.
Rabbits and small children are not a good mix.
Children love to explore, pick up, cuddle, and examine. Rabbits, however, are timid prey animals and often feel vulnerable. When their space is invaded and they want to show human approaches are not welcome, they cannot bark, growl, or hiss. Instead, they do what they can—lunge, nip, or bite. “Someone who thinks that a rabbit is aggressive may actually have a very bright rabbit who has learned to keep hands away,” says Cotter. For that reason, she says rabbits work out better as pets for older children who have been taught about rabbits, as well as for adults who are ready to take on both the responsibility and the fun of bunny ownership.
Learning proper rabbit care is easy.
Many resources are available to help you learn about pet rabbits and discover whether one is right for you. The House Rabbit Society, which has many state and international chapters with volunteers ready to assist, is a great place to start. The group works to rescue abandoned rabbits and find permanent homes for them. It also educates the public and assists humane societies through publications about rabbit care, phone consultations, and classes upon request.
Get a fun start on your research with informational rabbit care videos featuring Cotter and actress/comedian, Amy Sedaris.
Once you learn what goes into caring for a rabbit, then make your decision about rabbit ownership. If you hop to it, a house rabbit may be the best pet for you and your family.
Maureen Blaney Flietner
It is important to bring your bunny in for a check up soon after adoption. Dr Sara Gonzales and Dr Elaine Salinger have many years of experience with rabbits and can help advise you on the best diet and care for your bunny.