It’s official, South Florida - Spring has arrived! As our thoughts begin turning to warmer weather, our little ones eagerly await the arrival of the Easter Bunny. Some will undoubtedly plead for a “real live Easter bunny”. Parents, be warned - bunnies are cute! But before you give in, let’s look at some of the prevailing myths surrounding these adorable holiday icons.
Myth #1: Rabbits are low maintenance pets.
Caring for a pet rabbit is almost as much work as caring for a puppy. Like dogs, rabbits are social animals that do not thrive when forced to live in isolation. They need to live as a member of the family. And in South Florida especially, that means living indoors. Your home is the safest place for your rabbit to exercise - something they must do for about 30 or so hours per week. The time he spends outside his cage must be closely supervised, as rabbits love - and need - to chew. Electrical cords, chargers, power cables, and carpets are just a few of the things that must be secured in a bunny-proofed home. And unless you are prepared to do a lot of cleaning, you will need to train your bunny to use a litterbox.
Rabbits require regular veterinary and dental care. They should also be spayed or neutered; they are springtime fertility symbols for a reason! They require 1-2 cups of fresh vegetables per day. They need to eat fresh timothy hay for optimal intestinal and dental health, and their bedding must be changed daily. Since many of their most common health problems are caused by improper diet and housing, it literally does not pay to cut corners.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates that roughly 80% of bunnies bought as Easter gifts are ultimately abandoned or re-homed. It’s a lot more sensible to buy plush Easter bunnies - or better yet, chocolate ones!
Myth #2: Rabbits are perfectly happy living outside in a hutch.
While most of us, myself included, grew up with this information, we now know that it is incorrect. The wire bottoms of old-school rabbit hutches can cause ulcers and sores on a rabbit’s sensitive feet. Enclosures for bunnies should be at least six times the size of the rabbit. A rabbit that lives alone in a hutch is a likely to suffer from depression. Deprived of opportunities to develop coping skills, solitary rabbits have little, if any, ability to handle even minor stress. These rabbits can literally die of a heart attack if approached by a predator - either real or perceived. Between stress and exposure to the elements, an outdoor rabbit has a life expectancy of about 12 months. House rabbits, on the other hand, live between eight and ten years, and many live substantially longer.
Myth #3: Rabbits are great with kids!
The rabbits sold by pet stores during the Easter season are babies. One day, your baby bunny will grow up. When this happens, she will realize she is a prey animal, and will no longer appreciate being grabbed, squeezed, hugged, and cuddled by your children. She is likely to react the way all prey animals behave when they feel threatened - by scratching, biting, hiding, and running away. At this point, sexual maturity is right around the corner. Remember what I said about spaying and neutering? Sexually mature female rabbits may defend their territory by biting your children when they reach into her cage. Mature males will begin spraying their home - and yours! - with foul smelling urine to mark the boundaries of their perceived turf. This is the point at which many new rabbit owners start looking for the exit.
Myth #4: Unwanted rabbits can fend for themselves in the wild.
Unlike their wild counterparts, domestic rabbits do not have the stamina or survival skills to live in the wild. Yet this misperception leads to thousands of rabbits being dumped in parks and green spaces every year. Most of them die of starvation or exposure, and many are killed by cars,
wildlife, off-leash dogs, and free-roaming cats. Thousands more are surrendered to shelters and rescue organizations.
The same rules apply to baby chicks. Yes, they are adorable little peeping fluff balls! But they grow up to be chickens. While “urban chickens” have become very popular, they too will lose interest in being snuggle-buddies for the kids. Like rabbits, they have specific housing, dietary and exercise needs. Remember also, that many communities have local ordinances that prohibit keeping chickens. They can easily fall prey to hawks, foxes, even our pet cats and dogs. And if you’re thinking it’s worth the hassle for the sake of fresh eggs, note that hens do not produce eggs indefinitely. While the stats vary widely depending on breed, health, and husbandry, most go into “henopause” between three and seven years of age. This has led to an increasing problem of abandoned chickens being dumped at local animal shelters and rescues.
So does this mean rabbit and chickens are horrible pets? Absolutely not! Like any other pet, these special little souls are long-term commitments. Do your research, have a family meeting, and know what you are getting into. If you have decided a rabbit is a good fit for your family, try to adopt before you shop. By Memorial Day weekend there will be LOTS of wonderful rabbits in need of loving homes! Visit your local Humane Society, or contact the House Rabbit Society at www.rabbit.org.
My wife and I adore rabbits. When she told me that one of her favorite books was “Watership Down” by Richard Adams, I knew I had found my soulmate! But at this point in time, we simply do not have a lifestyle that gels with responsible rabbit ownership. If you are considering a real live Easter bunny, I implore you to do some soul-searching as well. If you’re like me, you might decide that a chocolate bunny suits you just fine. Preferably dark chocolate - and maybe some marshmallow chicks!
Dr. Ian Kupkee is the owner and lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic.
Do you have a question for Dr. Kupkee? Send him an email by clicking here.
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