Choose chocolate, not fur: Think twice about giving a bunny this Easter

Choose chocolate, not fur: Think twice about giving a bunny this Easter

Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 7:36 am

As Easter approaches, hearts and minds naturally turn toward springtime and all that it entails.
During this welcome season, many feel the impulse to give colorful Easter baskets brimming with surprises. Too often, one such surprise is a velvet-eared live baby bunny, adorably nestled among green plastic grass and pastel chocolate eggs. While it is often tempting to give these cuddly little creatures at Easter, a rabbit should never be thought of as a holiday decoration. Although a bunny can be a wonderful companion, it’s important that a responsible adult provides loving care for the lifespan of the rabbit — generally a commitment of eight to 12 years.
“Baby bunnies naturally pull on our heartstrings, but they are a terrible impulse purchase. A large percentage of rabbits purchased for Easter end up abandoned or euthanized before the year is over,” says Marie Mead, creator of www.CelebratingRabbits.com and author, along with collaborator Nancy LaRoche, of “Rabbits: Gentle Hearts, Valiant Spirits — Inspirational Stories of Rescue, Triumph and Joy.”
“One thing individuals may not realize is that a rabbit can be easily injured or disabled due to improper handling, and often the end result is euthanasia,” she said.
In addition, discarded bunnies overrun the animal shelters after the holiday, and most are euthanized due to space constraints and other factors.
In other cases, unwanted rabbits are released into a field or woods by people who assume the creatures can live alongside their wild cousins. Ms. Mead noted that this mistaken belief results in certain death for domesticated rabbits since selective breeding has modified traits necessary for survival in nature. Rabbits that are kept are often relegated to cramped outdoor hutches, where they languish alone and largely forgotten.
Of great concern to Ms. Mead is the message children receive when they observe an adult treating an animal casually or thoughtlessly.
“If we want children to grow into compassionate citizens, modeling respect and care for our animal companions is an important step in that direction.
“Before getting a rabbit, it’s essential to become educated about the animal’s nature and needs. These gentle creatures are sensitive and highly social, but their diet and some of their instinctive behaviors — such as chewing and digging — require awareness and planning. Rabbits need oversight and care by a mature adult; it’s not appropriate to put that responsibility on a child.”
While rabbits can make wonderful companions, Ms. Mead’s mission is to help potential pet “parents” know what to expect before adoption or purchase and how to provide proper care.
Here are some guidelines to consider before welcoming a rabbit into your home:
• Responsibility begins before choosing a pet. From the start, do thorough research, including diet, behavior, bunny-proofing and proximity to an appropriate vet. Gather information from rabbit rescue groups, knowledgeable vets, reputable websites and books on house rabbits.
• Rabbits and small children are generally a mismatch. Because rabbits look so kid-sized, it is often assumed that children and bunnies will be a good combination. This is not the reality. “Children’s time with bunnies must be closely supervised,” Ms. Mead said. “Rabbits are vulnerable to stress, injury and illness when mishandled, fed inappropriate foods, teased or harassed in any way. Even gentle children can accidently hug a bunny too hard.”
• Handle with care. Though most baby bunnies tolerate being cuddled, their natural fear of being held off the ground usually becomes evident when the bunny enters adolescence (at approximately 3 1/2 months of age). “When scared, rabbits are likely to kick and struggle. Most children are not strong enough to hold them, and being dropped can cause injuries such as fractured vertebrae or a damaged spinal cord. Generally, rabbits are more comfortable when handled on the floor.”
• Most rabbits go through a personality change. Baby bunnies are definitely adorable, but when they enter adolescence, the once-amiable creatures begin to display a strong will, a desire for independence and an inborn need to chew and dig. As prey animals, they may sometimes instinctively run away in an attempt to protect themselves. Becoming a rabbit’s trusted friend requires quality interaction on a regular basis, and it is well worth the time and effort.
• It’s important to read the signs. Rabbits may sometimes express their fears and dislikes by nipping or biting. In addition, those who are not neutered may become grouchy or aggressive. “When rabbits start to act out in this way, many people punish the animals or simply avoid them,” said Ms. Mead. “It’s important to realize that rabbits use these actions to communicate their needs — and fears — to the household.”
• Pet care requires chores. Children, especially, tend to lose interest after the novelty of having a new pet wears off, and their follow-through on chores often breaks down. “When a bunny is adopted or purchased, a mature adult needs to assume complete responsibility for the companion animal. This includes, among other things, feeding, grooming and vet care. Mindfully performing each task sets a good example for children.”
• Bunny-proofing is a necessity. Rabbits present some challenges due to their natural instincts for chewing and digging. Therefore, bunny-proofing is required to avoid damage to personal property and to prevent injury or death to the rabbit. Preventive measures include making things inaccessible and providing safe items for chewing and digging.
• Rabbits can be litter trained. That’s right. They can be trained to use a litter box, though generally after they are six months old and have been neutered. However, even after training, some rabbits will leave an occasional dry, nearly odorless fecal pellet here and there to mark territory.
• Rabbits may bond with other animals. Naturally social, a rabbit’s desire to be part of a group may result in bonding not only with a human but also with the family dog, cat or guinea pig. “Having a friend is so important to a rabbit, but it’s necessary to confirm the animals’ temperamental compatibility before making careful introductions in a neutral space,” said Mead. “Until the friendship is cemented, monitor the animals to ensure their safety.”
• Teach your children well. Having a happy, healthy rabbit — one who exhibits the complex personality that makes bunnies so endearing — begins with the adults in the household. When they are knowledgeable about rabbits, they are able to teach their children or grandchildren or neighbor children by setting clear parameters and consistently modeling appropriate care. “Let children assist whenever possible, carefully supervising their actions,” suggested Ms. Mead. “When adults faithfully give proper attention and care to the rabbit, children learn the important lesson of love and respect for animals.”
For more information concerning the plight of rabbits during the Easter season, visit www.makeminechocolate.org, founded by the Columbus House Rabbit Society.

Published in The Messenger 3.21.11

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