Rabbits make wonderful pets … for some. They are quiet, can be clean and well behaved, and are in general low- maintenance and healthy, requiring little veterinary care overall. But rabbits are not for everyone, for some very specific reasons.
Rabbits generally make good pets for adults, not children. They often dislike being picked up or handled extensively, and because many rabbits are so attractive, children sometimes just cannot help themselves! Rabbits who feel threatened will bite or scratch- not desirable traits in a child’s pet. Also, there is real risk of a rabbit injuring itself if improperly handled.
Rabbits are ground loving animals with a highly developed flight instinct, so they should not be grabbed suddenly or chased. This can even cause a sudden bunny heart attack! Keep small children, dogs with a high prey drive, and unpredictable cats from your rabbit if you get one. And incidentally, rabbits DO do better IN the home, not housed outside in a hutch, exposed to the elements. Their sensitive feet prefer firm surfaces with good traction, not wire, and they love some room to run! They can be trained to a litter box, too!
Rabbits also have some strict dietary requirements. Most of their diet should be roughage, such as timothy hay, fresh grass or clover, and vegetables. They also enjoy a small amount of fresh fruit. Pellets are only fed in moderation, as they are a concentrated form of nutrition and therefore more difficult to digest. Rabbits should not be fed seeds, nuts, or bird food, and of course, fresh water should always be available. Many owners add a vitamin mixture to their pet rabbit’s water daily. That doesn’t hurt, but shouldn’t be necessary if the rabbit is getting a variety of the right foods in the right proportions. Fruit is a treat and should be given sparingly. All foods should be fresh, free of mold, debris, or herbicides/pesticides, and changed daily. Pellets should be inspected prior to feeding, and discarded if they appear discolored or moldy. Pellets should be purchased in small bags, so they retain their freshness. Hay must be thoroughly inspected prior to feeding, and it should always be made of timothy. Alfalfa hay, although delectable, can predispose a rabbit to developing a crystal in the urinary bladder, which can then lead to difficulties with urination.
If you are thinking about adding a rabbit to your family, assess your other pets very carefully. Are they gentle and even-tempered, or aggressive? Do they exhibit a high prey drive? Have they ever been exposed to small furry creatures? If so, what was their reaction? Rabbits can look like friends to your dog or cat. Or rabbits can look like lunch, or a not-very-durable toy. You get the picture. Be realistic when deciding to introduce a rabbit into your home. Supervise all interactions between your new rabbit and your current household population. A rabbit should never be left unsupervised around a dog or cat until you are positive there will not be an altercation!
Some rabbits can even be aggressive to cats, dogs, ferrets, and other rabbits! Unspayed and unneutered rabbits are often more aggressive to other pets, and can be aggressive to humans as well! So all pet rabbits should be spayed and neutered to facilitate easier litter box training and a better temperament. Often, rabbits are altered prior to their adoption, as the rescue groups understand that a spayed or neutered rabbit makes a better pet, and that makes for a happier owner!
Rabbits come in all sizes, colors, and blends! There are high-pedigree purebreds and mixes, the “mutts” of the rabbit world! If you want to know more about the ins-and-outs of rabbit-keeping, check out The House Rabbit Society at Rabbit.org …and don’t forget to check with your local humane society or favorite rescue group to see if adoption is an option!
About the author: Dr. Heather Sinclair owns Haw Creek Animal Hospital in Asheville, a full-service facility serving dogs, cats, birds, and more unusual pets, including rabbits. She earned her degree from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, and has been in private practice since 1999. She can be reached at 298-1678 or on the web at www.hawcreekanimalhospital.com.