Every year just after Easter shelters and adoption centers face a flood of abandoned “Easter bunnies”, chicks, and baby ducks that were purchased as gifts during the season.
Unless the recipient is ready for a ten-year commitment a rabbit is not an ideal gift. The House Rabbit Society, a international non-profit that promotes the welfare of animals, specifically rabbits, warns against gifting rabbits or adopting them without being properly prepared. Rabbits have a surprisingly complicated set of care requirements.
Why rabbits at Easter?
Rabbits are closely associated with Easter for a few reasons. The first is their reputation for being prolific procreators, and their ancient
symbolism of both fertility and new life. Some sources, according to History.com, have also tied their popularity to the first arrival of the Easter bunny in America with German immigrants in Pennsylvania in the 1700s. These immigrants brought with them the tradition of an egg-laying rabbit called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.” Children would make nests in which the Osterhase would lay colored eggs. Eventually the tradition expanded in both geography and the types of gifts left for kids by the Easter Bunny.
For those looking to take the leap into rabbit ownership, here are some bunny basics. Rabbits that you find at the shelter or pet store are very different from their wild relatives. The House Rabbit Society recommends keeping your pet rabbits indoors instead of in an outdoor shelter. Releasing a pet rabbit into the wild is usually a death sentence for the rabbit, they do not have the appropriate coloring or survival ability to live outside of human care. Wild rabbits are also not the same as domestic rabbits, they need specialized care and should not be “adopted” from the wild.
Rabbit digestive systems are surprisingly delicate. Bunnies do not have the ability to vomit and Gastrointestinal Stasis (GI Stasis) is often fatal without specialized veterinary care. Contrary to popular belief rabbits can’t live off of carrots alone. A daily diet for a rabbit should consist of 75% hay, 15% pellets and 10% green leafy vegetables.
Carrots and other vegetables high in sugar should be given to rabbits sparingly. Oxalic acid and calcium found in some vegetables also need to be limited. Tomato plants and leaves are toxic, any plant in the onion family is poisonous and many different wood types (watch out specifically for cedar in bedding) and flowers are also dangerous. A simple Internet search usually reveals detailed information on almost anything you could dream of giving your bunny to eat. If you aren’t sure if something is safe always do research before giving it to your rabbit.
Most house rabbit owners recommend getting your rabbit spayed or neutered before they turn two-years-old. Veterinary care for rabbits comes from specialized veterinarians that care for small animals. This often improves negative behaviors like litterbox training trouble and inappropriate chewing.
Rabbits can actually kick their powerful back legs hard enough to break their own spine, so proper handling is a must. Their back legs should always be supported when carrying or lifting them, this ensures that they do not kick out and hurt themselves.
The front teeth of a rabbit continuously grow. They need proper chewing materials to keep their teeth at the right length. Their need to chew can also cause major issues with finding sturdy cage making supplies or protecting furniture from a roaming house rabbit.
Litter box training is possible for rabbits. They usually find an area within their enclosure to make their bathroom space. Surprisingly they tend to have an “organizational” system for their cages and enclosures. Most rabbits will arrange their toys, dishes, and bedding in a way that they enjoy. If you have something placed in the “wrong” spot they will let you know by moving it.
Cages for a house rabbit should ideally be four to six times the size of your rabbit when they are fully stretched out. The bigger the space you have for your rabbit the happier they will be. Wire cage bottoms should be covered so that their feet don’t get caught in the gaps and they don’t develop sore spots from standing on wires. There is a way to bunny-proof your home and have them use their cage space as a “home base” while roaming your home. This takes time, patience and creative solutions to keep your bun out of trouble.
An excellent starting point for those looking to find out more about rabbit care is the House Rabbit Society web page at rabbit.org.