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Easter & Bunnies
With Easter right around the corner, many people are considering purchasing a live rabbit as a fun gift idea. Though buying someone a live companion animal may seem like a great decision at the moment, the reality is that bunnies are not easy pets, nor are they an ideal first pet for young children.
Surprising your friend or family with a live animal could create a burden in the long run because after the excitement of a new furry addition wears off, the likelihood of regretting a long term pet commitment is high.
As a result, shelters across the country see a huge influx of unwanted rabbits surrendered throughout the months of April and May. Below we will educate you on the realities of rabbit ownership, and what really happens to the unwanted majority of those purchased as Easter gifts.
The overall outlook for bunnies purchased for Easter is very grim. In the United States, rabbits are the third most frequently surrendered animal at shelters. Sadly, 95 percent of bunnies bought during this time of year are either dumped at shelters or they are released into the “wild” within their first year as pets.
The harsh truth about those dropped off at shelters is that the majority are euthanized due to overcrowding and minimal likelihood of adoption. As for the rabbits that are “released into the wild,” they will not survive for a multitude of reasons.
The underlying fact is that domesticated rabbits who are bred in captivity for multiple generations lack the vital skills needed to survive. Domesticated rabbits do not learn how to scavenge for their own food and water while growing up, they are not familiar with the outdoors environment, and they do not have the typical camouflage coloring that their wild counterparts possess to help them hide from attackers.
These hindrances cause them to not only fall victim to the elements but also makes them easy targets for predatory animals. Also, keep in mind that not only are survival rates for pet rabbits released outside slim to none, but it is also actually illegal to release a domesticated animal into the wild.
Rabbits purchased as Easter gifts on a whim don’t live long even when they are kept as pets, and this is mainly due to poor care and upkeep. Many people don’t understand that rabbits are not “low maintenance pets.”
In reality, they require almost as much attention as cats and dogs and are typically more expensive to own than cats or guinea pigs. Some important information to consider before committing to owning a pet rabbit or buying one for someone else as a gift:
- The average lifespan of rabbits ranges anywhere from 7-12 years and they need a responsible adult or older youth to be their primary handler and caregiver.
- Rabbits reach sexual maturity anywhere between 3 and 6 months of age. This hormonal change can cause behavioral issues such as aggressiveness and excessive urine spraying, so it is best to spay or neuter them to avoid these problem behaviors. If you have both a male and female rabbit living together, and they are not spayed or neutered, you will have a serious number of offspring on your hands in a very short amount of time. The gestation period for rabbits only lasts 28-31 days, and a single female rabbit can have 1-14 babies per litter. A female rabbit can easily be impregnated again within minutes of giving birth, which means if not monitored, a momma rabbit could give birth once a month. That’s a lot of babies to raise or rehome! There’s a reason for the phrase, “breed like rabbits.”
- Rabbits have sharp claws and teeth, and quick reaction time. Therefore, they can pose a threat to anyone if not handled in a safe manner – especially young children who are prone to petting, grabbing, and trying to pick up animals without knowing any better. Rabbits’ teeth never stop growing and they are destructive chewers as a result. If they aren’t provided with appropriate things to chew on, not only will they destroy household items, but their teeth will become overgrown hindering their ability to eat and causing infections. This could result in costly vet bills for owners.
- Bunnies do not thrive in cages and need at least four hours of free-roaming exercise per day. A recommended cage size for them is one that is four feet by four feet, which is much larger than what people typically use. Rabbits that don’t get enough exercise will be anxious and can act out aggressively. They are highly sensitive animals that require a lot of human interaction, exercise, and enrichment to thrive. Without this lifestyle, they can easily die from stress or depression.
- They require fresh food and water daily, as well as regular cleaning of their litter box, and are one of the more expensive animals to keep as pets because they often have to see vets with additional training in exotic animal care.
- Since rabbits are prey animals, they are generally not cuddly and don’t enjoy being picked up due to innate fear responses. Many enjoy being pet, but often have to be worked with very diligently to get them to enjoy a higher level of physical interaction. When interest in them as pets is lost, their care becomes just another chore on the to-do list and eventually, the animals stop thriving, get sick, and perish.
This Easter, please consider all of the above information prior to purchasing a rabbit for a gift. Check local shelters, rabbit rescues, or PetFinder first to source your hares before purchasing any from pet stores, and make sure whoever will be receiving the rabbit is willing to take on the full responsibilities of proper ownership. Please don’t sacrifice the life of an animal for some short-lived Easter joy.
Credit: Robin Laclede