Bunnies are cute. Bunnies are clean. Bunnies, next to dogs and cats, are the third most popular animals to be euthanized at kill shelters, as found in a 2012 study by the House Rabbit Society.
While the thought of buying a bunny for springtime sounds harmless enough, the actual responsibility of rabbit ownership can be overwhelming for many first-time bunny owners. That’s why Dr. Darryl Heard, associate professor of zoological medicine at the University of Florida, highly encourages people to think twice before they go anywhere near the pet store. According to Heard, Easter bunnies are better in theory than in practice.
“Buying rabbits on a whim will result in a misunderstanding of husbandry and of the potential disease problems that these animals have,” Heard said.
In addition to making sure your bunny won’t end up in a shelter or worse, Heard noted that there are several rabbit-specific housing and care qualifications to be taken into account by potential owners.
“If they’re outside, you need to have caging that prevents them from escaping and fencing that will prevent the animals from escaping underneath the fence,” Heard said. Because bunnies are prey animals, the caging must also be sturdy enough to keep out natural predators in the area.
Then, there is the bunny’s health to take into account.
“We recommend spaying the females because as they get older, the likelihood of developing uterine cancer grows,” Heard said. Castration is also suggested for males: “It makes them more acceptable pets and more likely to interact with other animals appropriately.”
When asked what the right age is for a child to own a bunny, Heard suggested 6 years of age as a general marker, adding that parents should still have primary responsibility for taking care of the animals. Heard also warned families to watch out for poor handling, as rabbits can violently resist, lash out and be dropped, leading to back and leg fractures.
This isn’t to say that rabbits are inherently rough. With the right caretaker, the doctor believes that rabbits can make great pets.
“They can be litter trained, they are quiet (and) they can be very affectionate and playful,” Heard said. “And, in general, once you know what they require, they’re pretty easy to look after.”
A good pet owner is one who is able to do the appropriate research, be reliable and deal with financial and medical concerns, Heard said. Exceptional owners are both caring and perceptive of their pets’ normal behaviors.
Before you adopt, Heard recommended asking the following questions: “Can I provide the care the animal needs to lead a healthy and happy life? Can I provide the appropriate housing, appropriate food, appropriate attention and veterinary care?”
If your answers to the above were “yes,” congratulations! Make sure to stock up on fresh hay and quality pellets for the next 10 years with your new Thumper.