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Rabbits as pets: Good gifts or not?

Rabbits as pets: Good gifts or not?

Posted: Friday, April 22, 2011 8:01 pm
By: Sara Rachels, Staff Writer

Whether they’re hopping down the bunny trail or scurrying out of Mr. McGregor’s prized carrot patch, rabbits carry the power to spark emotion and imagination. Their long ears and constantly wiggling noses make them popular. During the spring season and Easter holiday, their popularity seems to soar. However, are rabbits really the most ideal choice when it comes to picking a pet?
Davida Biggs definitely believes so.For about three months, the Dresden resident has been raising rabbits and was inspired to take in and breed bunnies when she was presented with Buster as a gift. Buster’s owner was unable to properly care for him and, after he took up a permanent spot in Biggs’ heart, she wanted more rabbits.
“They’re very easy to care for,” she admitted. “They’re easier than any other animal I’ve had. You just have to watch them closely. They live in cages and they’re not like dogs.
“Mine are treated like princes and princesses. I don’t go lightly when it comes to the treatment and care of my animals,” she added.
Domesticated rabbits, like the ones Biggs raises, have the potential to be loveable and social pets. They have a long lifespan and can live for more than 10 years. Thriving mostly indoors, they are out of reach of predators and other stressors. It’s strictly up to the owner of the rabbit whether or not the pet is caged or allowed to roam freely and trained to use a litter box. If caged, the structure should be roughly five times the size of the rabbit and the animal should be allowed some time out of the cage periodically. Rabbits reproduce rapidly and the average breeding season lasts around nine months – from February to October – with a gestation period of about 30 days.
A litter can be made up of as many as 12 kits depending on the breed of rabbits. The kits are born naked and grow fur five to six days later.
A rabbit’s nutritional needs include hay and a variety of fruits and vegetables, pellets and water. Foods to avoid include cabbage, corn, tomatoes, peas, beans, potatoes, iceburg lettuce and, of course, chocolate or other candy.
Biggs, who also works with rabbits and other animals at A to Z Pet Supply in Dresden, has six rabbits and hopes to have two breeding females that will produce litters of bunnies she can eventually sell.
“I’ve already sold over 50 rabbits,” she admitted. “I can’t seem to produce them fast enough.”
So, that’s the story on domesticated rabbits.
But, what about wild rabbits? Are they primarily pests? A food source?
“That all depends on if you have fruit trees or vegetable gardens,”  said Alan Petersen, Region I manager of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in Jackson.According to Petersen, there are two species of rabbits most prominent in the West Tennessee region – the Eastern cottontail swamp rabbit and the New England cottontail. The humid and wet climate of West Tennessee provides the perfect habitat for larger swamp rabbits to take up residence.
They’re considered small game and still have their own hunting season that opens in mid-November.
“The number of small-game hunters has declined, however, because the deer and turkey populations have increased and hunters are more attracted to the larger game,” Petersen explained.
He went on to say that wild rabbit numbers are not what they used to be as landscape patterns have slowly changed and the progress of building structures such as large shopping centers has served to move out the rabbits. However, he admits that the wild rabbit population is “pretty substantial.”
Wild rabbits, in general, are not recommended as pets because they don’t adapt well to being handled, are extra nervous from dodging predators in the wild and will eventually suffer from being taken from their natural environment and habitat.
As the Easter holiday is coming up this weekend, visions of Peter Cottontail and his gift-giving enter the minds of children and adults alike. With the proper care and measures, the gift of a rabbit can be a rewarding addition to a life.
Sara Rachels is a staff writer for the Weakley County Press. She can be reached by email at sararachels@nwtntoday.com.
 

wcp 4/21/11

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