A bunny is for life not just for Easter

As Easter is fast approaching so is the urge for parents to get their child a pet rabbit as a ‘cute surprise.’ An urge that should quite frankly be ignored.

Rabbits are complex animals that require a higher amount of care that many don’t anticipate and are they are often unknowingly neglected as a result. Rabbits may be small creatures, but they require large spaces to be able to free roam and get exercise, a small hutch in the garden they get let out of three times a month when being cleaned isn’t good enough. They require a minimum permanent enclosure that is at least 3m x 2m x 1m high. Keeping them confined to a hutch is cruel. Just because that is the minimum measurements doesn’t mean you can’t get bigger enclosures; in fact, it’s actually recommended.

A bunny’s diet should be made up of 80% hay, a small number of pellets and vegetables and even then, not all veg is rabbit friendly.

Rabbits need regular access to food and water and if they go too long without eating, they can enter ‘GI stasis.’ This is when something has caused the bunny not to eat for a prolonged period of time and its body can shut down leading to death if it’s not treated. This can be brought on at any point even without any previous health issues. Having access to critical care and knowing where your nearest exotic and or rabbit savvy vet is based can help quickly undo the damage.

Dental health is also extremely important to bun health, bunny teeth never stop growing and if they aren’t taken care of it can cause terrible pain for your pet. Rabbits need access to toys and hay that are safe for them to chew on to help file their teeth down and if they show any signs of a dental issue taking them to a vet that is qualified to treat rabbits as soon as possible is vital.

Bunny brothers Puddin and Snowy.
Photo credit- Jenna Thomson

Rabbits have big personalities and don’t tend to enjoy being picked up or cuddled. They are territorial animals and if they feel you are in their space, they will bite scratch or lunge at you, something a young child may find distressing. That being said however, by nature they are sociable creatures, but they tend to enjoy the company of their own kind more than humans. They are lovable and are great companions overall, but they are not suited at all for young children.

As previously mentioned, rabbits do tend to enjoy the company of their own kind, but you can’t buy two random rabbits put them together and expect them to be friends. Due to their territorial nature, they will fight any buns in their vicinity they deem a threat, and these fights are bloody and can end in death. A true bonded pair of buns will be made up of two neutered rabbits that were neutered at least 8-16 weeks before their introduction and even then, it can still end in fights. To bond them successfully they need to go through a lengthy process and need to be monitored around the clock in case a fight does break out. These rules apply even if they were litter mates.

Pets at Home have said they do have the power to say no if they believe a pet sale has been brought on by impulse and will always tell customers to go away and have a think about it and offer them a leaflet to take with them.

They also discuss the five freedom and welfare needs about the animal the customer is interested in buying and the information that they need in order to conduct a health check on their pet, and they do one visually from a distance as well.

The five freedom and welfare needs for rabbits are:

1) Suitable living conditions

2) Correct diet, including fresh water

3) Housing with/without other members of their species (This varies animal to animal)

4) Freedom from injury and disease

5) Ability to express normal behaviour and have freedom of pain

12 week old rabbit after being adopted into her forever home.
Photo credit- Jenna Thomson

Bunnies aren’t just found at Pets at Home either. Rabbits can be adopted from SSPCA and RSPCA centres around the UK. The SSPCA’s rabbits will be vaccinated against rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease (RVHD) and potentially Myxomatosis depending on how long they have been at their centres for. SSPCA Lanarkshire won’t let people adopt an animal especially a rabbit if they are under the impression it is a gift for someone or if it’s for a child under seven.

The SSPCA will also verify you as a potential adopter and your set up the way they would if you were to try adopt a dog or a cat.

Dogs and rabbits can sometimes get along if supervised.
Photo credit- Jenna Thomson

If you are a parent or guardian that is still contemplating buying your child a rabbit for Easter, please only do so if you are the one willing to give it all the love and care it needs. Always remember, animals are living, breathing, loving beings and require lots of commitment, care, and affection. Rabbits can be a six-to-10-year commitment, they are not cute Easter gifts for young children or ‘easy’ starter pets.

If you don’t think your child will love that animal for 10 years do not adopt and instead buy them a stuffed rabbit toy and use the money you would’ve used to buy a cage and so forth as a donation to an animal charity instead.

Many animals given as gifts become neglected or returned, please adopt sensibly and always ensure you can provide the appropriate implementation of the five welfare and freedom needs for all pets- not just small animals before you take one home.

If something happens and you can’t care for your rabbit anymore DO NOT under any circumstances release them into the woods or in parks. Pet rabbits are domesticated and do not have the instincts of wild rabbits, releasing them seals their death sentence, instead consider surrendering them to an animal shelter.

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