Ok, so February is nearly over. But as we approach Easter, this has been more on my mind. Easter and spring make people think that bringing home a fluffy little bunny is a good idea. Then they find out that pet rabbits are expensive, high-maintenance pets. And then the depressing Kijiji ads to rehome bunnies that the kids aren’t taking care of start popping up a month later. This also happens a month or so after Christmas for all animals.
When I first went to the SPCA a number of years ago to look for what ended up being Olaf, my super fluffy cat, I was amazed that the exotic animal room was wall-to-wall rabbits. They’ve restructured the space now (the last time I was there a few months ago, it seemed like rats and mice had taken over), but after caring for rabbit guests over the past year, I can understand why there would be a room full of them at the shelter.
Rabbits are adorable, and I think people might assume they are kind of like giant hamsters – inexpensive pocket pets that only live for 1-2 years and happily sit around in a little hutch like a stuffed animal until you cuddle them for a couple of minutes each day. In reality, pet rabbits have a lifespan similar to large breed dogs, roughly 8-12 years. Like dogs, they need annual check ups and vaccinations and are usually sterilized. Actually, owning a rabbit is just as if not more expensive and time-consuming as owning a cat, due to their dietary needs and upkeep needs and social demands.
They can be delicate. When I noticed a recent bunny guest hadn’t eaten or pooped in 8 hours (very unusual), I notified the client that if he didn’t do one or both of those things soon I’d be rushing him to the exotic veterinarian to check for a possible blockage. I gently massaged his abdomen for a while and fortunately, he went back to eating and pooping as usual; the client said something similar had happened a few months previously, too. If their fur isn’t properly groomed during shedding season, it can collect in their stomach resulting in death by starvation (they cannot cough up a hairball like a cat; it has to be surgically removed). If they have long fur, it might mat. Their nails need to be trimmed regularly. They might be tiny and fit in the palm of your hand at the pet shop, and then grow into a burly cat-sized beast once reaching adulthood. There will be hay and a healthy coating of fine rabbit fluff on all of your clothes and possessions. Daily fresh vegetables – as someone who doesn’t normally eat lots of leafy greens, my fridge gets overrun with kale, romaine lettuce, herbs, and other vegetables when I board rabbits. Lots of litter – while they can be litter box-trained, they constantly poop and pee, which needs to be scooped throughout the day. Chewable toys. Homes must be painstakingly rabbit-proofed to prevent injury to the animal and property damage.
One of the pet services I offer is boarding in my own home for small caged animals. By far, the most destructive boarders have been the bunnies. Whenever I think of bunnies, my mind immediately replays the bunny rocker song from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer‘s musical episode, “Once More With Feeling”:
My beautiful bunny guests have happily and efficiently chewed through:
- a hand vacuum cable,
- a laptop charger cable (necessitating a rush order via Amazon),
- two new shirts and new jeans (at different times, but with me in them),
- books (one rabbit had a particular taste for Dorothy L. Sayers),
- and gnawing on the edges of wooden doors.
All under my careful, watchful eye during out-of-cage play time. At every instance, I was either holding the rabbit or only 1-2 feet from the rabbit, supervising them like a mother hen. No harm came to the rabbits. It has been a great learning experience for me, and caused me to change my policy of “just hop wherever you want while I watch” to either “be a couch potato on the sofa with me (somehow they don’t seem inclined to jump off the couch, since we have hardwood floors)” or “hop around in the enclosed front area which is virtually rabbit-proof.” No more free access to delicious cables and wires. And when it feels like they might be snuggling into me, I nudge them a little just to make sure they aren’t making holes in my clothes at the same time. Because ::sigh:: this is why I can’t have nice things.
But these caveats aside, when owners go in knowing what to expect, rabbits do make very good pets. They are smart and trainable, affectionate and quiet (as long as they aren’t thumping their displeasure on the floorboards). They like routine. As they can use a litter box, some people choose to keep them cage-free, and let them roam freely in their homes like cats or dogs. They are soft and cuddly and have definite personalities. They’re vegan. But they are definitely a pet you want to research carefully first before committing to ownership, to ensure they are the right pet for you and that you are prepared for all of their needs and quirks and expenses.
Two of my favourite resources online: