Hello, WordPress. My name is Hippie. It has come to my attention that my human has her very own blog. Where you live, it may already be Easter. Where I live, tomorrow is Easter. Easter is a fun holiday, but some of my cousins end up in animal shelters or with owners who don’t know how to care for them due to misinformation. At this time of year, animal shelters, pet stores, and rabbit breeders often make a large profit from people who buy rabbits as Easter gifts, especially parents who purchase or adopt rabbits for their children. Unfortunately, lots of rabbits end up at shelters because their owners either don’t have the money, time, or inclination to care for them. This can happen any time of year, and I would know: before I met my current human, my brother and I had another human family who couldn’t take care of us. Before we knew it, we were homeless, living out our days in small cages, with only the volunteers to care for us. There are a few facts that everyone should know before rushing out and buying the first rabbit offered:
We are long-lived compared to other types of small pets.
One of the first things a person should ask him/herself before getting a rabbit is if they’re willing to spend ten years or more with their pet. Most types of diminutive mammals commonly kept as pets are short-lived. Many hamsters only live to be about two years old. Gerbils and rats have a similar lifespan. Mice are even more short-lived: the average lifespan for a pet mouse is about one to two years. Guinea pigs, another popular rodent pet, have a fairly reasonable lifespan at four to eight years. However, if you buy a rabbit, it may well outlive your dog, especially if you get a small-breed rabbit, like a Netherland Dwarf. As a general rule, bunnies from the larger breeds do not live as long as their miniature cousins. However, even a 14-pound Flemish Giant can live beyond five years if cared for properly. This nifty little chart translates a rabbit’s age to its human equivalent age:
We’re high-strung and can actually die of fright.
Rabbits are prey animals. Outside of domestic situations, everything wants to eat rabbits: on top of a loose dog, the neighborhood feral cats, and Elmer Fudd, my wild brethren must evade wolves, foxes, pumas, lynxes, weasels, owls, and snakes in order to survive. Domestic rabbits have been bred to be more integrated with humans, but we still retain some of the high-strung nature of our wild ancestors. Many of us don’t like being picked up, especially from above, because that’s how a hungry predator would typically get us in the wild. Children will often rough-house with rabbits or not know how to properly handle them; because of this, rabbits are not generally a good pet for children. If your rabbit doesn’t like being picked up, respect its needs and only do so when necessary, such as placement in a carrier to go to the vet. You must support your rabbit’s hind legs and back when picking him up. Our legendary speed comes with a price: rabbit legs are so heavily muscled that if we panic and kick (as we will when held improperly) we may break our own backs. You must also take care to not scare your rabbit too much, because rabbits have been known to have heart attacks just from being scared too much. Sometimes, a massive adrenaline rush is more than our little hearts can take. This is a reason why it’s better to keep your bunny indoors, in lieu of an outdoor hut; wild animals don’t have to hunt us down to actually kill us.
Diet is more complicated than some people think.
First of all, forget everything you learned about a rabbit’s diet from watching Looney Tunes: carrots are okay for us in moderation, but should be fed sparingly. In real life, Bugs Bunny would be too sickly on his diet of carrots to outwit Elmer Fudd or argue with Daffy Duck over the season, and “What’s up, Doc?” would become a much more common phrase. He should know better. What a maroon. Anyway, the bulk of a rabbit’s diet should come from hay. The action of chewing hay helps to wear down my ever-growing teeth, and having a full hay rack ensures that I’m getting the fiber I need. Rabbits should have unlimited access to hay. For a growing rabbit, or a pregnant female, alfalfa hay is a good choice. However, alfalfa hay is high in calories, protein, and calcium, so timothy hay is a better option for most adults. Next in the “bunny food pyramid” are fresh vegetables, but please be aware that there are certain vegetables we shouldn’t eat. Some types of fruit are fine, but should be used as a treat because of their high sugar content. Cabbage is actually really bad for us, as is iceberg lettuce. Other types of lettuce are fine, but should be given in small amounts, and the pale parts should be taken out, as lettuce is watery and too much can cause diarrhea. Kale can also be given, but only sparingly. Broccoli leaves are fine, but the stems and tops can give us gas. My human seems to enjoy chocolate, but she tells me that I shouldn’t have any, as it’s toxic for rabbits. Some good fruits and veggies for rabbits include basil, cilantro, dill, mint, parsley, peppers (NOT the spicy kind!) snow pea pods, strawberries, raspberries, and apples (NO stems or seeds from apples-they contain cyanide.) Next, give your pet a small handful of pellets every day. They should just be solid brown pellets; NEVER buy those “fiestas” or “carnival mixes” that contain crunchy bits, multi-color pieces, corn, and seeds. Most millet-based ingredients are bad for us. Furthermore, rabbits will pick out the unhealthy pieces in a mix and eat them first, leaving the healthy stuff behind, kind of like how you might reach for a cookie in your cupboard rather than a banana. The pellets should be timothy hay-based, unless you are buying for a pregnant or growing rabbit. Hay should be the first ingredient. Oxbow is one of the best brands of pet foods you can buy, if not a little more expensive. Treats should only be given sparingly. Rabbits can’t digest dairy, so you should avoid yogurt drops, as well as any seed-based treats (again with the millet.) Instead, you should opt for wood chew sticks and biscuits, or Oxbow’s baked treats for small animals. Like just about any other kind of pet, and like humans, we can get fat, paving the way for a slew of health problems. Try not to let your pet get too heavy. If she does, limit her treats (but make sure she still gets unlimited hay) and provide exercise. Take a look at this body condition score chart:
Bunnies need plenty of time out of the cage. Try to give your bunny at least a couple of hours out of the cage a day, to run around and stretch its legs. Some people think that rabbits can be left in a cage pretty much all the time, but that’s not the case. We too get cabin fever.
Finally, get your new pet from a shelter or a reputable breeder
So you decided that you still want a bunny, even after reading this article. Good for you. Although it’s a matter of personal preference as to where you get your new pet, my human and I personally believe that the best place to go is an animal shelter. It’s usually cheaper to adopt than to buy, and you may save a life in the process. However, if that is not your preference, there is likely a reputable breeder in your area. On this website, you’ll find a list of ARBA rabbit and guinea pig breeders in the United States: https://www.arba.net/breeders.htm
If you go to a pet store, please ask the clerk where the rabbits came from before buying, to make sure they came from a reputable breeder. If they don’t have the breeder info, don’t shop there. Everyone has heard of puppy mills; unfortunately, “bunny mills” and backyard rabbit breeders are also a thing. You should be wary of classified ads; many of them may be from backyard breeders, or otherwise dangerous people. You may also know people whose rabbits have just had babies, or people looking to rehome their rabbits. Ask around, but ask around in your real life social circle, not online. If your new pet is not already spayed or neutered, take him or her to the vet and get your friend fixed. Spayed and neutered rabbits are usually healthier, less prone to certain health problems, and not to mention you won’t find any accidental litters on your hand.
Happy Easter from Gina and Hippie!