Sunday, March 04, 2007

Thinking about Getting a Rabbit?

Please, allow me to talk you out of it. I try not to get up on soapboxes here at Swatch This!, it is, after all, my knitting blog, and I have plenty to say about knitting already. Easter is coming, though, and that happens to be a time when bunnies are bought by the hundreds to add a little cuteness to the Easter festivities. Then, about a month later, hundreds of rabbits are discarded when people discover that a rabbit is not the pet they anticipated.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know that I have two rabbits, Mrs. Cooper and Baxter Brown. I do not purport to be an expert on rabbits, but I have done a lot of research about them. I’ve also had rabbits in the past.

The first thing you should probably know, if you’re planning to bring a rabbit into your home, is that they are destructive creatures. Rabbits love to chew, and see no distinction between the cute little chew toy you bought for them, and your wooden furniture. They eat power cords (which is not only annoying, but hazardous), carpeting, clothes, shoes, paper… anything they can get their little bunny teeth around. Add to that the digging most rabbits like to do, and a lax owner can quickly have a ruined home. I feel fortunate that my rabbits aren’t that destructive. Cooper likes cords, which means we keep them out of her way. Both rabbits like to dig at carpeted corners, which means we make them inaccessible. It’s entirely up to us whether or not our rabbits destroy our home, it is not the rabbit’s fault if we fail to bunny-proof.

Rabbits are expensive. Sure, you can get a bunny for twenty bucks at the pet store, but don’t expect to buy a suitable cage at that store, and keep in mind that you can’t buy everything your rabbit needs at that one store. One of my rabbits, Mrs. Cooper, is too large for a cage (the recommended size for a rabbit cage is five times the size of the rabbit). Baxter Brown has a cage which we built for him using NIC blocks (the cage is HUGE and cost only about $40, plus time). They eat a ten pound bag of bunny pellets (timothy based, because they’re both adult rabbits) every two weeks. That’s $15 per bag, not including fuel for the twenty miles I have to drive to buy the pellets. They each eat about a bag of hay each week, which is cheap, $5 a bag, per rabbit, but I had to try a few varieties before I found a timothy hay they would eat. And then the expensive food: greens. Most diets recommend 1-2 cups of greens per five pounds of rabbit per day. My rabbits eat a bag of prepared salad greens per day and a half. Those are about $3.50 per bag. Sometimes I buy a head of romaine, which lasts a couple of days. I spend about $20-25 a week on greens and vegetables for the rabbits, which is an essential part of my rabbits’ diets. So, that’s about $150 a month on food.

Both of my rabbits are litter boxed trained (very easy to do with rabbits, especially older, altered ones), and I quickly learned that unless I wanted to change litter boxes every day, I would need to find a litter. Pine shavings are widely used in pet stores, but are actually bad for rabbits. I use CareFresh, which is made of recycled cardboard. It’s safe for the rabbits to eat, it’s soft, they love digging at it, and it absorbs odor like nobody’s business. It’s also between twenty and thirty dollars for a large package, which lasts about a week and a half, or two weeks. Also keep in mind that no matter how well trained your bunny is, you will find occasional rabbit poops around your house. Rabbits are poop machines, which is awesome if you have a compost heap. If you don’t, I’d get a good vacuum cleaner. Rabbits are not for people who like an immaculate house! Between the poops and the paper shredding and the hay strewing, your house will never be the same again.

Back to money, let’s talk veterinarians. You will need to become close with yours. Rabbits are extremely good at hiding illness, and usually, if your rabbit starts to show serious signs of being ill, it’s too late. They are fragile creatures, capable of literally being frightened to death, and something that might seem inconsequential (like noticing your rabbit hasn’t eaten since yesterday) is actually life threatening. A rabbit’s digestive system is so delicate, if anything throws it off balance even the slightest bit, they can develop serious problems. In a rabbit, a sneeze necessitates a trip to the vet. Our rabbits have gone to the vet so often (for sneezes and fighting wounds, not to mention nail clippings), the staff know them on sight. It’s also very important to make sure that there is a veterinarian in your area who can handle rabbits. Rabbits are not like other animals, and you should make sure your vet has experience with them. I am so lucky to have a clinic nearby with two rabbit experts on staff.

Finally, and perhaps the hardest for people to come to terms with about their rabbit, rabbits are not cuddly little lap animals. Rabbits do not like being picked up or held. They are prey animals, and prefer to have their feet firmly on the ground. They enjoy human interaction, as long as the human plays with them on their level. My rabbits are good with children, but would never tolerate rough play, and I would never let a child pick up my rabbits. Rabbits must be supported and picked up gently. A rabbit’s muscles are more powerful than its bones, and a rabbit can break its back by struggling to get away from being held. Please also keep in mind that rabbits are not short term pets! They can live anywhere from five to fifteen years. I had a rabbit who was ten years old. Please do not get a rabbit if you can not commit to their care.

Which naturally brings us to adoption. Maybe you’ve read this and still want a rabbit! They are undeniably adorable and interesting, and if you’re crazy like me, maybe you even enjoy cleaning out litter boxes and picking out vegetables for them to try. My rabbits make me laugh every day, and one of my greatest pleasures is watching them run and binky every night. If you still have your heart set on having one of your own, please adopt one from your local shelter. Not only will you be helping out a homeless rabbit, but you will get a rabbit who has already been fixed! Neutered and spayed rabbits are easier to train, less aggressive, and spayed rabbits have a decreased chance for female cancers. Older rabbits are also great pets because they are more mellow, less destructive, and again, more trainable. I would also encourage you to research breeds a little before adopting, since some breeds have a reputation for being more hyper or needing more space or exercise time than other breeds (of course, personalities will vary).

Try to think of a rabbit as more like a cat or dog. Many people get a rabbit instead of a cat or dog, because they think a rabbit is less responsibility. Aside from the fact that with all pets come responsibility, a rabbit especially is a lot of effort and care. They have to be brushed (very often for a long haired rabbit) because they can neither digest nor throw up the hair they ingest. Their nails need to be trimmed on a regular basis. They need to be watched while they run around free in non-bunny-proofed areas, lest they find something attractive to chew. They need unlimited hay, a careful diet, and their input and output carefully monitored (I start my day by checking each rabbit's litter box for evidence of illness). I have tried to be as factual as possible here, but of course there are always more points of view, and more information (this is already incredibly long!). I highly recommend reading The House Rabbit Handbook, and Rabbit Health in the 21st Century: A Guide for Bunny Parents before bringing a rabbit home.

And most importantly, please remember, a pet rabbit is not a wild animal! They may look like their wild brethren, but the rabbits at pet stores and shelters are no more wild than your neighbor’s cat. Setting a rabbit “free” is cruel and will certainly result in a terrible death for the rabbit. There is no shame in taking an animal you can no longer care for to a shelter.

Taking down the soap box now! Oh! And there’s one more thing you need to know about rabbits and Easter. It’s when we celebrate Mrs. Cooper’s birthday! She was born in April, so it just seems right. Please consider carefully whether a rabbit is right for your home. If you decide to get a rabbit or a different pet, please visit your local shelter first. Chances are good you'll find your next best friend waiting for you.


tammy said...

Well said! It is so hard to explain to people how much time, money, and involvement it takes to make a happy and healthy home for animals. They are all so different and have such unique needs that you have to meet.

Pioggia said...

Boy, that was a long post, but thanks for all that information. I've never thought of owning a rabbit simply because I prefer dogs and cats. How about the ratties? I used to have one and found him to be a perfect, low maintenance companion. Sadly, I had to put him down due to an out of control infection. I felt and still feel guilty about not having taken proper care of him.

Marlena said...

I tried to keep at as short as possible, but there was so much I wanted to include!

My ratties are doing great, though they are clearly in middle age. Getting soft around the middle and not quite as spry as they used to be. I'm sure your vet gave you the best advice. It's very hard to make the decision to euthanize, and I think a lot of people choose to keep a suffering animal alive for their own benefit. You shouldn't feel guilty for putting the rat's best interest before your own! And rats are highly susceptible to infection. You probably brought him home that way.

I will try to take a good picture of the ratties this week, just for you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your great post about rabbits and their care! I've had house rabbits my entire life and it's so hard explaining sometimes why they aren't great companions for everybody (particularly little kids around easter)!

Kristen said...

Very VERY well-written. When I "rescued" Syd from a girl who was too overwhelmed with work to spend time with him, I did all kinds of research and went out of my way to make him feel welcome - however, my husband was allergic, the cats were terrors and terrorized, and the bunny just seemed lonely. It was shortly before Easter last year that I took him to the shelter. My hope was that bunny people would visit the shelter and see what a great lil guy he was.

If anyone tries to tell me that something happened to him OTHER than being adopted by loving rabbit people, I will cry.

During the 8 months Syd lived with us, he enjoyed pointing out how best to bunnyproof the home. The best example of that was the day I'd finished taping all the electric cords out of the way, and while listening to a podcast on my mp3 player, i was sitting on a chair and leaning over to rub Syd's nose. Without warning - without even sniffing to let me know what was going to happen next - he raised his head, bit through my earphone cord, and put his head back down, still enjoying the noserubs. It took all of 1 second, and my earphone cord was chomped cleanly in two. Damn ninja wabbit.

Marlena said...

Kristen: Great story! I totally laughed. Cooper's latest thing is shoe laces. We leave our muddy shoes by the door in her area (i.e., the dining room and kitchen), and apparently she doesn't like it!

The shelter where I got Baxter (and where Mrs. Cooper was originally adopted) had him for quite awhile before we came along. I don't understand that, because he's so flipping cute, but I guess he was meant to come home with us. I bet Syd went home with a great family, and they were definitely lucky because I'm sure you were able to give the shelter tons of info about him! The former owners of Baxter didn't even know if he liked being held! They wrote that they "didn't know" if he liked coming out of his cage!