Whether you celebrate Easter with chocolate eggs and jelly beans, or by observing religious traditions, the holiday isn’t complete without the iconic big-eyed, pink-eared bunny.
As a bunny parent, I can attest that rabbits can make both wonderful and sometimes confusing pets that require care much different from that given to dogs and cats.
If Easter has you wanting to bring a bunny into your home as a pet, here are a few things you should know before you make that leap (or hop).
Rabbits are not like dogs or cats
Getting to know my bunny, Paddington, was very much like getting to know a dog or cat, but his personality is very different from that of my dog, Penelope.
While dogs are outgoing and aim to please, rabbits are generally shy animals and it can take them a long time to feel comfortable in their new home.
According to Petfinder, rabbits have strikingly distinctive personalities. They can be as playful and silly as puppies or kittens, as independent and fascinating as cats, or as loyal and openly affectionate as dogs.
In my personal experience, Paddington has neither the personality of a dog or a cat, but does have some similarities of each. He is independent like a cat, but can be affectionate in much the same way my dog is. Paddington is litter box trained, takes care of his own grooming, and can be aloof when he feels like it, just like a cat.
Paddington will also run (or quickly hop) to greet me, will (sometimes) come when called and has an amazing radar for when the refrigerator opens - all things my dog has mastered as well. His love for being pet and cuddled is only rivaled by his adoration of snacks.
I had to earn Paddington’s trust and affection, whereas my dog gave me that loyalty and confidence openly.
In an article by Petfinder, Jennifer Saver, D.V.M said a rabbit is a good companion for someone who enjoys observing as much as handling, and who does not get overly upset at a rabbit’s natural tendencies, such as chewing and digging.
If you ask me, this is the most apparent difference rabbits exhibit from dogs and cats. Paddington has done quite a number on my home’s baseboard, has chewed through so many computer and television cables I’m about ready to buy stock in the industry, has dug up the corners of carpet in nearly every room and hates being picked up more than anything.
Paddington is exceedingly smart. He knows as many tricks as my dog, knows his name and can find his way out of any exercise-pen or crate. The term “escape artist” often comes to mind.
“Their intelligence is very different from other species but is just as adaptive and just as elegant,” Dana Krempels, Ph.D. said in an interview with Petfinder.
Rabbits require very specific care
In maybe the most apparent difference from dogs and cats, rabbits require medical care and nutrition that isn’t always available as easily as with other pets.
Rabbits are generally considered exotic pets, meaning they can’t be seen at every veterinary practice and have care requirements unique to their species.
According to Petfinder, rabbits do not require annual vaccinations like dogs and cats; however, regular checkups can help detect small problems before they become big ones.
Rabbits are prone to dental abnormalities like incisor overgrowth and molar spurs (OUCH!), as well as ear infections, gastrointestinal problems and upper respiratory infections. Couple these issues with the need for treatment by an exoctic vet, and rabbits can quickly become a very expensive companion to keep healthy.
Feeding a rabbit is also not as straightforward as feeding a dog or cat. Their nutritional needs have to be met with a variety of fresh foods that can be pricey.
According to the House Rabbit Society, a rabbit’s diet should be made up of good quality pellets, fresh hay (timothy, other grass hays, or oat hay), water and fresh vegetables; anything beyond that is a “treat” and should be given in limited quantities.
For reference, I feed Paddington a quarter cup of pellets and a handful of fresh mixed-greens for breakfast and a large handful of fresh mixed-greens for dinner. He has unlimited access to timothy hay all day long and will get small treats of vegetables and fruits throughout the day. You can follow this link for a list of suggested veggies to feed to rabbits.
I take Paddington for regular check-ups with his vet and provide him with care in between those visits by trimming his nails and brushing his coat.
Rabbits should be spayed or neutered just like a cat or dog. This is especially important if you plan to try to bond a male and female pair as rabbits reproduce very quickly and often.
Rabbits are also relatively fragile animals who usually hate being picked up.
According to Petfinder, rabbits are fragile animals who must be handled carefully. Their bones are so delicate that the muscles in their powerful hind legs can easily overcome the strength of their skeletons, and as a result, if not properly restrained, struggling rabbits can break their own spines.
Learn fist, adopt after
I am personally a big proponent of adopting pets, especially rabbits, although I know not everyone feels the same way.
I adopted Paddington last year from Orlando Rabbit Care and Adoptions. He was initially purchased from a pet store and his owner did not neuter him. Because he was not neutered, he had many behaviors his owner did not like, so she abandoned him. Paddington was rescued by ORCA and neutered, and to this day, I have never experienced any of the negative behaviors his previous owner used as reasons to abandon him.
Rabbits find themselves home homeless for many reasons, but accessibility and affordability are major factors.
The upfront cost of purchasing a rabbit can be generally low, sometimes only $20. Many pet stores sell rabbits at young ages, so when you combine an adorable baby bunny and a low upfront cost, impulsive and uninformed decisions to buy are easy to make.
While upfront costs may be low, veterinary care and feeding a rabbit are both pricey, so the novelty of a “cheap pet” can wear off quickly.
Bunnies are also not always a good fit for a home that has other pets. Dogs and cats can have high prey-drives that can lead to them chase, injure or even kill a pet rabbit. Luckily my small dog and bunny get along perfectly and have become very attached to one another, but this was after a very slow and careful introduction when I initially brought Paddington home.
Here are some pointers that ORCA suggests all potential bunny owners consider:
- Rabbits are a 10-12 year commitment
- While rabbits do not require vaccinations like dogs and cats, they are still considered an “exotic” species which will require you to find a qualified vet. Rabbits should still receive a yearly check up
- Is your rabbit for a child? If so, are you ready to assume the responsibility when the novelty wears off?
- Do you accept and understand that a rabbit's temperament and behavior is not like that of a dog or cat?
- Can you afford the expenses of food (pellets and fresh greens) hay, litter, toys, vet care, and all the other expenses that come with owning a rabbit?
- Will your other pets and those you plan to get in the future get along with your rabbit?
- Are you willing to keep your rabbit no matter how your circumstances change?