I have four pet rabbits of my own and am always looking for ways to spread education about rabbit care, since it’s not as simple as people realize. I don’t know how familiar you are with rabbits, but I have more of a request than a question: Could you talk about why it’s a bad idea to give rabbits as an Easter gift to children? I am a volunteer with the Long Island Rabbit Rescue Group and we always get an influx of rescues after the cute Easter bunny grows up and the child no longer wants it. We’re always campaigning to prevent rabbits as gifts in the first place. Education is key to making change for the better for all animals.
– Diana Kronenberg, Long Island, New York
I am happy to talk about why one shouldn’t get a rabbit around Easter as well as how great rabbits are as pets if placed in the right home.
Let’s talk Easter first. When given a choice between buying a live bunny or a plush rabbit toy for a young child, parents need to go with the plush toy (or chocolate bunny). Rabbits are not easy pets to care for and need adult caregivers to thrive. They require as much care as a dog or cat – and cost as much as a dog to care for over their lifetimes, according to the House Rabbit Society.
In addition, rabbits can become aggressive around sexual maturity, if not sterilized. And, they can live eight to 14 years. Today’s impulse gift for an eight-year-old child could still be in the family long after the child has finished college.
Rabbits are “prey” animals, which means they will bolt in fear if they think their lives are in danger. Kids or animals in the home, who are loud, lively and longing to chase them, can literally scare a rabbit to death.
During humane society summer camps, I used to teach kids how to behave around rabbits by having them sit in a circle to quietly observe the rabbits sitting in the center. If the kids startled the rabbits, the observation was over until the next day. To their credit, most kids can sit still for 20 minutes, but they also get tired and lose interest quickly. The next day, the kids got to feed the rabbits, which sustained their interest a little longer, but not by much. Kids will lose interest in their pet rabbits too, which means rabbits are often neglected or given up altogether.
While rabbits are the third most acquired pet, they are also the third most relinquished – and euthanized – pet. Sadly, people may dump their pet rabbits in the woods thinking they can survive, but that’s a death sentence for them. Unlike wild rabbits, pet rabbits have no survival skills and can quickly succumb to starvation or become a food source for other animals if abandoned.
Very few animal shelters accept rabbits, so most homeless rabbits are cared for by rescue groups who try to find good homes for them, which brings me to my second point. Rabbits are actually great pets when placed in quiet homes with the right people. They are affectionate with their families and can be litter box trained, like a cat, so they can hop around the house.
If anyone reading this is serious about getting a rabbit, talk to rescue groups, like the Long Island Rabbit Rescue Group, about rabbit care. They may even let you foster a rabbit to see if it’s the right type of pet for you.
If you do your homework, are ready to make a decade-long commitment, and decide a rabbit is the best pet for your family, then you might be what these rabbit rescue groups are looking for in a rabbit parent.
Visit the House Rabbit Society at rabbits.org for more information and to find rabbit rescue groups in your city or state. Please don’t get a rabbit just because it’s Easter.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal