Easter is just around the corner (March 27) and it’s about this time that many young children are spontaneously gifted with their own special pet Easter bunny.
Even child-free adults may be tempted into taking a fluffy, teacup-sized rabbit home for themselves. After all, little bunnies are ever so adorable, and they’re found cheaply and abundantly around this spring holiday.
But, as a lifelong bunny owner, I can tell you:
Rabbits are NOT “easy” pets.
My two sisters and I were given kits (i.e. baby rabbits) by our parents after spotting a “baby bunnies $5 each” sign while we were driving home from a family cherry-picking adventure in Southern California. We selected a couple kits — one black, one white with black eye “makeup” — and eagerly took them home.
We named them Blackie (duh), who was a male (we didn’t know), and Jasmine, a female (we didn’t know!), named after the heroine from Disney’s Aladdin who donned masses of dark kohl around her own eyes. Many months later, we were surprised to find a brand new brood of tiny kits nursing at the belly of our beloved Jasmine. (We. Didn’t. Know.)
It was the start of our family being a “Bunny Family.”
We were able to find homes for our surprise kits — except for one rambunctious little guy, who we kept and named Cookie — but learned a tragic lesson when we found out that two of the bunnies we’d adopted out to a family friend had died: They’d been kept out on a concrete pad in a backyard, in winter, with no carpet to sit on to lift their feet off the chill ground, no box to huddle in to shield them from the wind or elements. Nothing except one another and two depressing ceramic bowls: one for pellets, one for water.
Simply, the rabbits had frozen to death.
It was owner negligence, pure and simple. Needless to say, our relationship with that family was seriously altered.
Almost twenty years later, I still get mad about that incident. I still remember the name of the girl who’d so desperately wanted two bunnies of her own, and then tossed them on a concrete slab and quickly became disinterested in them.
This same thing happens with so many rabbits every year, especially post-Easter: A child wants a cute bunny (or two) to cuddle, doesn’t understand the responsibility involved, and the rabbit dies.
It’s awful. PERIOD.
Lucky for us, rabbits were nothing new to my parents, so we weren’t in for a shock about the level of care such farm-type pets involved. Pre-motherhood, my mom kept a white bunny with a rhinestone collar which she carried around like a little kitten. The doe was so gentle and docile many people assumed the furry creature coddled in my mother’s arms was in fact a cat… until my mom lifted her hand to reveal her pet’s giant ears!
From their experience, my parents knew bunnies weren’t animals that could be kept “out of sight and out of mind” in a cage. These creatures, while hardy, required daily attention, a varied diet, space to run, and considerable dedication.
In light of that, here are my
8 Things to Consider Before Buying a Pet Easter Bunny
#1. Bunnies aren’t hamsters.
I’ve had hamsters. Okay, I’ve had a lot of non-dog or -cat pets, but hamsters in particular are what come to mind when people describe to me what they assume about keeping rabbits. Essentially, that they’re rodents kept in wire cages which display zero personality and require little care. That is, they’re “easy” pets to keep.
Rabbits aren’t hamsters. First, they aren’t even rodents. Second, they will not be satisfied cooped up in a cage all day long, every day of their life. A life which, by the way, can span 10+ years.
Hamsters are rodents similar to gophers. They love to hide themselves in their tunnels and hoard their food in their burrows. Therefore, hamsters don’t mind so much being caged all day as long as they have something to dig in (bedding), something to run on to get rid of their energy (a wheel), and lots of food to stuff in their cheek pouches and store away (treats).
Rabbits are NOT like gophers. They don’t store food away and so, like deer, desire to graze. They like (need!) to wander, explore, leap, jump, and then go to their warrens (their home, ie hutch) to sleep, hide, and relax.
Because rabbits need to do these things, a lot of thought is required when planning their living environment. Again: they aren’t easy.
#2. Bunnies are prey animals…
As prey animals, they require a different approach than predator pets (that is, dogs and cats). They’re naturally more jumpy, skittish, and will perceive dog and cat social activities (e.g. playing chase, belly rubs, etc) as threatening rather than playful and loving.
Humans naturally act like predators, which is why we get along so well with predatory pets like dogs and cats. So, if you cannot get on a bunny’s level and think like a prey animal, then you’ll be hard-pressed to ever enjoy a rabbit as a pet. You will forever be its enemy, and your pet rabbit will never, EVER like you; it will bite, kick, and fight, because it thinks YOU are DANGEROUS.
Thus, the bad rap bunnies get from people who don’t know how to handle them and are, as a result, kicked, scratched, and bitten by these otherwise docile creatures.
#3. …but bunnies aren’t stupid.
Again, prey animals — especially the small variety — are often equated with stupidity. Rabbits are, however, pretty darn smart given their small stature. Smart enough to know their names, understand commands (mine have been trained to run back into their hutch when I clap), walk on a leash, be litter box trained, and even be taught to competitively jump.
Yes, I’d almost say some rabbits are smarter than the average cat. (Take that, cats!)
#4. Bunnies are meant to dig, run, jump, and chew.
Look at their anatomy and biology and you’ll begin to understand what a pet bunny will require of you. Better yet, observe their wild cousins, like the cottontail rabbit.
For starters, consider their…
- Large back legs = LOTS of running and jumping space. Woo hoo!
- Big ears = relative quiet, no abrupt or loud noises, but they do like some noise stimulation. (Think toys with bells, cat tunnels that crinkle, paper to tear, or soft background music.)
- Fluffy feet bottoms = good ground, like carpet or dirt, they can walk, run, and jump on without fear of slipping. (Think of them as wearing permanent socks that can slip on smooth tile or wood surfaces.)
- Big, ever-growing teeth = lots of chew toys. LOTS.
- A curious, social mind = toys to stimulate, room to roam, places to explore, and playtime with other bunnies (or their human!) for social engagement.
- Prey animals = safe hiding place, like a box or cat tunnel, to go to when they’re feeling scared or just want to chillax, unobserved.
Einstein playing in a cat tunnel filled with newspaper.
These qualities definitely don’t fit the easy, in-a-cage-all-day, personality-free image pet bunnies commonly endure. Therefore, plan accordingly!
#5. Bunnies require training. And patience.
Especially if your pet bunny is destined to a life indoors, you will have to spend some time associating with and training your bunny on the dos and don’ts of its new environment. There will undoubtedly be trouble in the early stages, like missing the litter box, forgetting a lesson, or going into a room it should not, but with persistence a bunny will learn its limits.
Whiskey perched atop her carpet house, circa 2011.
After getting my first house bunny, Whiskey, a black otter-colored mini Rex, when she was only a few months old, it took a while for her to become socialized and not kick and fight when I wanted to touch or hold her. Until I took her home, she’d been living in a barn at a breeder’s in a wire cage stacked on top of other wire cages, with hundreds of other rabbits and almost no human contact. She considered humans mean and dangerous and, I can say from personal observation, her breeder was not very gentle in handling her!
It took patience for me to help Whiskey understand what she was and wasn’t to do. I taught her that people were not a threat; to go back home (to her hutch) when I clapped my hands; to use the litter box(es) for doing her business and not just any corner of the house she pleased; and that certain areas/rooms were off limits.
Granted, I still have to gate off certain places (like that oh-so-tempting, dark area behind the computer desk riddled with tasty “roots” (i.e. cords) to chew through) and her defying personality, similar to that of a feisty teenager, eggs her into trouble (like when she sticks her head into the laundry room and I catch her and say her name, and she immediately hurries out as if to say, “What? I wasn’t doing anything,” followed by a playful binky, a sign of pure bunny glee, to express her joy at the game). Even with her bad habits, she is actually well-trained. The same goes for her companion rabbit, Einstein, a white Lionhead who was found by a pet store clerk in a field in early summer 2012, likely abandoned there by the family who’d owned him because he’d outgrown his cute Easter egg-sized phase.
Ahh, a bunny binky never felt so good.
Bunnies require no less dedication than puppies or kittens, whose owners need to train their dog not to chew shoes or bark, or kittens not to scratch furniture or jump on counter tops.
In these ways, a young rabbit is no different in its training needs than a young animal of ANY kind that is destined for life as pet.
#6. YOU need to be responsible.
This is basically a reiteration of #5, but is important enough that it deems another mention.
Bunnies are not an easy, low-care pet. Only get one if you are ready and willing to put in the attention, effort, and responsibility they require. Again, no different than any other pet.
If you can’t do that, don’t get one. But, if you’re up to the task, you’ll love experiencing the joy and reward of being a rabbit parent.
#7. Bunnies are “exotic.”
And, therefore, require special veterinary needs. Rabbits are considered exotic pets and only a veterinarian trained in understanding and tending to the special needs of rabbits will know what to do for them.
Exotic vets can be tough to find (I have to drive almost an hour to get to mine in Burnsville, MN) and sometimes their services are bought at a premium, but, considering bunnies don’t need annual shots and vaccines like dogs and cats, the cost of their veterinary care is relatively equal.
#8. Bunnies are like ANY OTHER PET.
(Have I said this enough?)
Don’t be deterred by how much a bunny differs from the dogs and cats. All require dedication, time, money, and understanding. For any pet, including bunnies, take time to get to know what their needs will be BEFORE you bring them into your home.
Compare Me Not, from the Le Mieux comic strip. (c) 2015 Jessica Woken
I love the mission behind Make Mine Chocolate, who insist Easter Bunnies should be delicious chocolate instead of furry, adorable little creatures taken up on a whim.
However, if you’ve thought long and hard about acquiring your own lagomorph (aka rabbit), you’ll really LOVE having a bunny. They make for intelligent, playful, and rewarding pets… if cared for and appreciated properly.
Check out these resources to learn more about rabbits’ needs and care, and #HopOn and #HappyEaster!