Every year, rabbits are a familiar symbol of the Easter holiday. So it is no surprise that children beg their parents for a pet Easter bunny of their own.
But many families are ill-prepared to care for a live pet rabbit-who can have a life expectancy of up to 10 years. The months following Easter can be very sad and dangerous ones for pet rabbits. They either die through neglect or misinformation, find themselves abandoned outside (a certain death sentence and a violation of law), or dumped at a local animal shelter, which is ill-equipped to deal with the vast number of unwanted bunnies after the Easter novelty has worn off.
Before you get a real Easter rabbit, take a Reality Check:
Reality: Rabbits are not low-maintenance animals! While they don’t need to be walked like dogs, they do need daily exercise outside of a cage or penned area; they need a daily cleaning of their litter box. And their diets must include fresh timothy hay and well-washed dark leafy greens (romaine, green leaf lettuce) every day.
Reality: While a few rabbits may tolerate being handled, most rabbits do not like to be picked up and carried around. It goes against their instincts as prey animals. If rabbits are scared or continually mishandled, they will nip, bite and scratch to protect themselves. Rabbits are affectionate animals, but they want to show their affection with all four of their feet on the ground.
Reality: Rabbits are physically much more delicate than cats and dogs. They do not have flexible spines like cats, so they cannot safely be “dropped” to the floor. And because rabbits are frightened by being picked up, they tend to kick out with their back feet for protection. If not held properly and firmly, a rabbit can kick and break its back, causing paralysis. Children under the age of 8 years old should never pick up or attempt to hold a rabbit-for the safety of both the rabbit and the child.
Reality: Rabbits in the U.S. do not get annual vaccinations, but regular medical care is a necessity for rabbits. Because they are prey animals, they tend to hide illnesses until they are very sick. Regular exams can help detect small problems before they turn into big ones. And rabbits need to see exotics veterinarians, not vets who mainly see cats and dogs. Baby bunnies turn into rebellious teenage rabbits. All rabbits should be spayed or neutered by an experienced exotics veterinarian to prevent behavior issues and future health risks (costs for this can range from $120 for a neuter to $270 for a spay).
Reality: Rabbits who live indoors and receive appropriate care can live to be 7 to 10 years old. They are social animals who enjoy company and exercise. Bringing a rabbit into your home requires the same long-term commitment you would give a cat or dog.
Overall, children may not be the best caretakers for pet rabbits due to their fragility, specialized needs, and long lifespan. It’s important for families to carefully consider the responsibilities and requirements of owning a rabbit before bringing one home (and perhaps opt for a plush bunny instead).