“Just what I always wanted…my own little bunny rabbit. I will name him George and I will hug him and pet him and squeeeeeze him…” We all remember the lovable but clueless Abominable Snowman from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons—and how he wanted to “love” his rabbit to death (or maybe just injury). Well, with Easter right around the corner, you probably know a wide-eyed child who wants to pet and pat her own George more than anything. Although adorable and fuzzy, giving a bunny as a pet not only sends the wrong message about being a responsible pet owner, it can also be dangerous and inhumane.
It is easy to think that rabbits are good “starter pets.” They’re small, portable, appear to be docile, and live in an enclosed space. Unfortunately, that is a terrible misconception that leads to thousands of rabbits being given up to shelters or released into the wild—an environment that a domesticated rabbit can NOT survive—every year. Rabbits, which are prey animals, are quite delicate and have a variety of specialized needs that extend far beyond carrots and a hop around the living room. They also frighten easily, and being tugged, pulled, and carried and passed around—a child’s way of showing affection—make a bunny very insecure. Not surprisingly, their natural response when encountering this kind of threat (unintentional or not) is to scratch or bite. Not too cute or docile, huh? Of course, holding onto a tiny, squirmy razor-mouth will prompt many children to let go, and now bunny has a broken leg or back. Even the most gentle and cautious of children can be clumsy or drop things by accident, but a rabbit is not a play thing built to withstand developing motor skills.
Rabbits grow up even faster than kids and after a few months, when they’ve lost their cuteness, your kids will move on to something else. Sadly, Mr. Fluffy Wigglepants can’t move on to pursue greener grass, because this is now his life—relying on someone to supply the necessary attention to keep the cage clean, supply fresh water, replenish food, and most importantly, continue to love and care for this adopted family member for 7-10 more years.
Bringing any pet home to join the family should always be the product of a thoughtful and informed decision. Rabbits, like dogs, cats, birds or any other domestic animal are not temporary playthings that can be taken out and put away on a whim, living at the disposal of someone’s need for immediate (but fleeting) affection or companionship. They are a commitment, and that should be considered before bringing one home. Spontaneously adding a pet to the mix can lead to a number of unfavorable situations like injury, neglect or abandonment. If your intention is to give your child a new friend, think ahead to how your child will feel if something goes wrong. The devastation of losing their bunny prematurely—or seeing it depressed or in pain—will far outweigh the “gift” you thought you were giving in the first place.
Of course, rabbits are wonderful pets for a prepared and informed family. They are smart, inquisitive and social. They like company and often want another rabbit to play with. When cared for, like any pet, they will be a furry source of love and companionship for many years. If you are ready to jump in, do your research. Learn about spaying/neutering. Research what rabbits eat. Investigate appropriate living accommodations. Figure out the financial investment. And when you’re ready, find a local rabbit rescue. In fact, wait until after the Easter holiday passes, when the commercial value has decreased, and give a home to one of the thousands of rabbits that started out as seasonal gifts. Mr. Fluffy Wigglepants will be happy to live with you, and you can feel good about loving him for the other 364 days of the year.
Or, just stick with chocolate bunnies for your child’s Easter basket.