Magazine article USA TODAY

Think Twice before Giving Rabbits as Pets

Magazine article USA TODAY

Think Twice before Giving Rabbits as Pets

Article excerpt

As Easter approaches, hearts and minds naturally turn toward springtime and all that it entails. During this enchanting season, many of us feel the impulse to give colorful Easter baskets brimming with surprises for children. Too often, one such "surprise" is a velvet-eared, live bunny rabbit, adorably nestled among green plastic grass and pastel chocolate eggs. While it often is tempting to give those cuddly little creatures as pets, people must educate themselves about the nature and needs of rabbits before taking the bunny plunge, cautions Marie Mead, author of Rabbits: Gentle Hearts, Valiant Spirits--Inspirational Stories of Rescue, Triumph, and Joy.

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"Rabbits are very misunderstood animals. They are extremely sensitive, intuitive, and gentle creatures who require extensive attention and mature guardianship--something many people don't realize when they purchase a baby bunny. It's a very sad fact that most rabbits don't even enjoy a year of happiness with their new caretakers. Instead of living out their normal life span--eight to 12 years--they often die within the first year of life.

"Many rabbits are injured or become ill due to improper handling and care and, as a result, either die painful deaths or are euthanized. Discarded bunnies overrun the animal shelters after Easter, resulting in many rabbits being euthanized due to space constraints and other factors.

"Equally discouraging, some people who decide their rabbits require too much attention simply abandon them in the wild," Mead continues. "This means certain death for domesticated rabbits as they don't have the skills necessary to survive on their own. Many other rabbits are relegated to cramped outdoor hutches, where they languish alone and forgotten, their eyes losing all signs of joy and life."

Here are some of the basics of rabbit care:

Great pet parenthood begins before your rabbit enters the home. To ensure your rabbit receives the absolute best care from the get-go, research diet, health, behavior, socialization, housing, bunny-proofing, and proximity to an appropriate vet. Gather information by accessing reputable Internet sites and good books on domestic companion rabbits. Other helpful sources are rabbit rescue groups and knowledgeable veterinarians.

Rabbits and small children generally are a bad combination. Although bunnies tolerate being cuddled and small children love holding a cute little ball of fur, many rabbit injuries result when youngsters mishandle or drop their new family member. When the rabbit reaches adolescence, it may begin running away from the youngsters. Although frustrating for the children, this behavior is perfectly normal for a prey animal. The rabbit flees the kids as a deep-seated instinct to protect itself.

"As they get older, many rabbits don't like to get cuddled and held and, at that point, children often lose interest," relates Mead. "It's important to remember that, as your rabbit grows up, he will feel more comfortable if handled on the floor--at his level. To have a significant relationship with a rabbit, you must work daily to build trust with him, which can be a slow, methodical process. If parents understand what is involved in creating a good relationship with a rabbit, they might think twice before giving one to a small child. …

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