Domestic rabbits make for great pets. That they’re soft and cute, everyone concedes. Not cuddly, though, despite their looks. Rabbits don’t typically like being held. They also engage in a wide variety of amusing behaviors. Anyone who has ever observed their bunny binkying can’t relate the story without laughing. A ‘binky’ is the jumping, twisting movement a rabbit makes that is universally interpreted as expressing joy.
But choosing one can be a chore. There are roughly 50 different breeds and they vary from a few pounds to over 20. There are long-eared and short-eared, very long furred and short-haired. They have a life expectancy anywhere from 5 years to almost 15, so the choice needs to be considered carefully.
Feeding a rabbit, fortunately isn’t hard. They’re herbivores, which means they consume plant material, mostly hay and vegetables. Wild rabbits, for example, love clover! Commercial rabbit food is packed with nutritious ingredients, but many people prefer to feed their rabbit a purely fresh diet. To each his own.
Caring for them requires some effort, but no more than a dog, maybe less.
Rabbits, like any species, are subject to a number of common diseases and medical conditions. Uterine cancer kills a high percentage (some estimates are as high as 65%) of unspayed females by the age of five. Gastrointestinal problems are not universal, but far from uncommon. Gastrointestinal stasis is one of the major issues a rabbit owner has to watch out for. Fly strike and other conditions are equally troublesome.
Vet care may be slightly harder to find than for a dog or cat. Most vets have much less experience with rabbits than for those other, more common, household pets. Nevertheless, there are millions of pet rabbits in the U.S. and finding a knowledgeable vet is far from impossible.
People don’t, and don’t need to, spend an hour per day for 2-3 years training their rabbit. If you don’t do that with your dog, you’re asking for trouble. But rabbits can be trained if you’re so inclined. Not as trainable as dogs, they can nevertheless carry objects on their heads, hop around an obstacle course and perform other amusing behaviors. Litter training is certainly possible, and only modestly more difficult than house training a puppy.
Grooming a rabbit is important to keep it in optimal health. But it’s much easier than with most dogs. A weekly brushing is enough to supplement the rabbit’s natural tendency to wash its fur. Giving them baths is unnecessary, and usually risky. It stresses the rabbit, who dislike being sprayed with water, and they’re easily overheated. Nail trimming takes only a few minutes once a month.
For their comfort and your sanity, a good cage will provide them with the sense of a warren (connected caves and tunnels they make and use in the wild). You can even make your own if you want. There are many innovative designs on the market, and you can emulate them if you enjoy home projects.
You’ll want to rabbit proof at least part of your house, though, if you let them roam around freely. They should be allowed to from time to time. A caged rabbit will become listless and their muscles atrophied if they don’t get daily exercise.
Teach your children how to treat them properly, though, before you let the rabbit run around and get handled. If you do, the whole family can enjoy these delightful pets and the rabbit will reward you accordingly.
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