LAST UPDATED: 29 March 2018
Easter is nearly here! And once again, shops are doing their best to entice us with all things bunny-related. While chocolate rabbits may be a more common sight, sadly some people still consider giving real-life 'Easter' bunnies as gifts.
Rabbits can make wonderful companions. But despite their popularity as pets, there are still many misconceptions about these sensitive animals. Impulse-buys and a lack of understanding about the needs of rabbits sadly can lead to terrible neglect, and shelters and vets dealing with surrendered and 'lost' animals. Creating a kinder world for bunnies begins with public awareness! Learn about the special physical and behavioural needs of these misunderstood animals, and share to help spread the word!
Facts about rabbits that everyone should know:
Rabbits' reputation of being cute, fluffy, cuddly critters lend them to being a popular choice for children's pets. The opposite is in fact true! Rabbits are prey animals — and being handled or cuddled can be highly unnatural and stressful for bunnies. And despite being known as being 'low maintenance' — often a deciding factor when parents are considering their kids' 'first pet'— rabbits need just as much care and special attention as a cat or dog. So, if you're not ready to give the time and energy to a cat or dog — then a rabbit is not the companion for you.
Rabbits are naturally very clean animals and do not like their toilet to be anywhere near their food or bedding area (just like cats!). They will happily use a litter box — and in the right environment, are quite happy as 'house bunnies'.
Ever heard of 'trancing'? This involves holding a rabbit upside-down, causing it to appear paralysed. For many years, this type of handling has been used under the misconception that it relaxes the rabbit — but the opposite is in fact true. 'Trancing' is actually a severe stress response in rabbits.
Rabbits are prey animals. This means that their natural reaction is more likely to be one of fear and self-preservation — and they need to be handled much differently to predatory animals like dogs and cats. It is natural for a baby, and even an adult bunny to be timid if he or she doesn't yet know you or is in unfamiliar territory. As their confidence and trust grows, they will become endearing and affectionate animals — but this requires patience, and understanding on your part. Get started here.
There is no more reason to keep a rabbit in a cage or hutch than there is to keep a dog or a cat confined to a cage. Rabbits are inquisitive animals — and need lots of enrichment to express their natural behaviours and keep their minds stimulated. That means they need lots of room (in a safe and secure yard) to run, investigate, explore and burrow — and toys to play with and chew on. A rabbit will be a welcome addition into your family if you let them, and they can be house trained, too! They will even sleep on your lap or bed. A life in a cage is no life for a rabbit any more than it is the family dog. Read more about living with rabbits here.
If you're going to welcome a bun into your life, why not get two? They will both be happier for it — and there's nothing cuter than watching bunnies play together, groom each other and snuggle up together at night.
Cats aren't the only ones that spend a large portion of their day grooming themselves. Bunnies are prolific groomers and will clean themselves (and each other) throughout the day. They like their environments to be clean, too, which is another reason why they are not suited to living in cages and hutches that can become dirty quite easily.
Bunnies are known for being quiet, but that doesn't mean that they're not constantly expressing themselves. Unfortunately, many people simply do not know how to 'read' their body language very well. A 'binky' is a display of excitement, involving a rabbit jumping in the air and flicking out their back legs. They may thump their feet to warn their family and friends of danger, or to express that they're upset. And while they will more often use body language to communicate, they also have a range of vocalisations. For example, if you're especially lucky, a rabbit will run around you making a low humming noise to indicate that they like you. A shrill scream indicates extreme pain or distress, and they may also grunt at you to tell you to go away, and males may 'honk' ... paricularly if they are yet to be neutered.
Rabbits need to chew constantly to wear their teeth down, and if this is not adequately facilitated by their humans, this can lead to some pretty severe welfare issues. Vets have reported that teeth care is one of the leading welfare issues with pet rabbits, as many owners are not aware of this vital aspect of bunny husbandry. Rabbits need a combination of food that is not only full of nutrients to keep their teeth healthy (think: leafy greens and hay), but they also require access to chewable, fibrous material that will help keep their growing teeth in check, like twigs, branches and dried leaves. It's important to make sure that when collecting these for your rabbit, that you know they haven't been treated with pesticides and that the plant is not poisonous to rabbits. Make sure you seek the advice of a vet if you are ever unsure about what to feed your rabbit.
Particularly following Easter, pounds, shelters and rescue groups will be caring for rabbits — both mature and young — who are in desperate need of the loving home they deserve. If you have the ability to offer a rabbit a long and happy life – please contact your local shelter, or check out the rabbits currently available for adoption on the PetRescue website.
For more information about bunny health and care, head to The Rabbit Doctors.
And you might also like to checkout this helpful online guide full of great tips and information about the behavioural needs of rabbits: www.BunnyBusiness.org