Bunnies Great Pets for the Right Homes
Feb 28, 2018 05:05PM
By Shelly Tower Rushe
Little pink noses. Long fuzzy ears. Tiny puffy tails. There’s no denying that bunnies are adorable. But is a rabbit the right pet for your home?
The idea of an adorable bunny being carried around in an Easter basket is iconic, but not realistic. While rabbits seem to be a straightforward and undemanding pet, they require a very particular environment, have specific nutritional needs, and are not meant to be handled regularly. Because of these requirements, rabbits are not right for every household.
“Rabbits are high maintenance,” according to Nikki Finch, adoption counselor at Animal Friends, a North Hills shelter and animal resource center. She describes them as 2-year-olds who like to explore with their mouths. Rabbits will chew cords, furniture, rugs and baseboards, just to name a few. Homes with rabbits will need to be “rabbit-proofed,” and rabbits can also climb and jump so they need to be closely monitored.
Exercise is crucial for bunnies, and they need approximately three to four hours of movement per day. This means allowing them supervised free-roam opportunities. It’s important to keep in mind that while they are out-and-about, rabbits should have a safe space in which to shelter. Besides cords and houseplants, noise, humans and larger pets can cause undue stress.
“Rabbits tend to be independent and solitary,” said Finch. “They don’t necessarily like to cuddle and be held.” While there are always exceptions, Finch recommends that rabbit owners sit quietly on the floor and ignore the bunnies until the animals feel safe and confident. Once they trust their owners, rabbits will be more likely to bond with them.
When rabbits are not free-roaming, they should be housed in a safe, quiet area. “A large dog crate with food and water in heavy ceramic dishes, a cubby for them to hide in, toys to chew, a litterbox with pellet litter and a ceramic tile to regulate their body heat are all necessary,” said Finch. Rabbits should never be placed in outdoor hutches as they are easy prey for a variety of wild animals.
And let’s talk briefly about the down and dirty of rabbit ownership. Poop. Rabbits poop up to 250 pellets per day. While they can be trained to use the litterbox for peeing, they will not use it for pooping. (And it gets gross here, so if you’re squeamish, skip the rest of this paragraph and don’t adopt a rabbit.)
“When bunnies first eat in the morning, they poop pretty much immediately so they don’t get the nutrients they need,” said Finch. “They will eat the pellets.” Yes, you read that right; bunnies will eat their own poop.
Speaking of food, rabbits have a very specialized gastrointestinal (GI) tract. “They need to eat continually, or their GI tract will shut down and they can die,” Finch said.
Food choices depend on the age of the rabbit. A baby eats alfalfa hay and pellets; rabbits over 1 year need timothy hay and timothy pellets. A slow transition from one to the other should begin around 6 months, and rabbits should always should have access to hay. And contrary to popular belief, “Carrots are NOT good for bunnies,” said Finch. They’re too high in sugar for rabbits, who are better off with dark, leafy greens.
Because rabbits require a lot of specialized care, they need owners who understand their needs. “Rabbits are the number one animal surrendered to the shelter,” said Finch.
In her experience, many people don’t realize what’s involved in owning a rabbit. Some families will adopt a rabbit when their children are young but don’t want the responsibility when those kids leave home for college. “Rabbits have a life span of 10 to 12 years,” Finch said, so families should be prepared for a long-term commitment. Pet rabbits should also never be released into the wild. They are a different species than wild rabbits and cannot survive.
Rabbits can be a great pet for the right home if you have the love and patience to properly integrate them into your family. To find out if a rabbit is right for you, you can attend a Bun Run at Animal Friends. The organization is also holding a Brunch with the Bunnies on April 15 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. where you can interact with adoptable animals. For more information, visit www.thinkingoutsidethecage.org.