Everyone loves bunnies! Their fuzzy bodies and wiggly noses are irresistible. But unfortunately, these intelligent little animals are often purchased on a whim. Many people don’t realize that caring for a bunny is a huge responsibility, and they fail to prepare for their new companion properly. Once the novelty wears off, many bunnies are neglected.
Dealers generally purchase 4-week-old bunnies for their pet stores because they require less space and are “cuter.” These babies are so young that many of them are unprepared to be weaned from their mothers yet. People who purchase these babies are often shocked when their tiny “pet” grows. The average weight for an adult bunny is anywhere from 2 to 20 POUNDS! Many unprepared guardians don’t realize how much space adult rabbits need to roam and play.
Many people grow bored of their bunnies once the initial excitement has worn off. Rabbits are extremely social animals, but many are ignored. Even though they require companionship to thrive (just like cats and dogs!), it’s not uncommon to see rabbits completely isolated in cages. If left alone, they can become withdrawn or depressed. Rabbits can live more than 10 years, and daily neglect is no kind of “life.”
After their impulse purchase, many owners experience buyer’s remorse and drop their bunnies off at animal shelters.
Some people even turn them LOOSE outdoors! Rabbits who are abandoned outdoors are often hit by cars, succumb to disease and the elements, are at risk of being attacked by predators, and have little chance of surviving long-term. Hundreds of organizations and animal shelters are working to find a solution to this problem. Rabbits are the third most surrendered animal that shelters take in each year (right after cats and dogs).
Some people believe that bunnies can live outdoors, so they lock the animals in outdoor hutches, where they’re forced to endure all kinds of weather extremes. Rabbits can’t tolerate extreme heat or cold well, which can mean a lifetime of misery and even death. Bunnies can suffer from hypothermia when they’re left out in the cold. And because they can’t pant or sweat, temperatures over 75 degrees can be extremely dangerous for them. They’re also at risk of contracting flystrike, which can be deadly.
The symptoms that follow are not necessarily signs of neglect, but they indicate that a bunny needs to see a veterinarian: A runny nose, sneezing, a head-tilt, listlessness, and diarrhea are all signs of a sick bunny. When you see a bunny, keep an eye out for these symptoms, and bring them to the attention of his or her guardian immediately!
Rabbits have extremely delicate respiratory and digestive systems, and any change in the balance of these systems can result in death if the animal isn’t treated properly and quickly. “GI stasis” is a silent, deadly, and common disease. Lack of appetite is the most common symptom.
Bare spots or scabs anywhere on the body suggest that the rabbit has parasites or has been fighting with other rabbits.
Rabbits can suffer from paralysis or develop a head tilt, which require treatment. Also, keep an eye out for injured limbs. If an ailing bunny’s guardian refuses to get help for the animal, please contact animal control.
Rabbits are not cute toys to be bought on impulse. They’re complex, intelligent animals who are capable of experiencing deep emotions, and they deserve the same consideration that you’d give a dog or cat. Buying rabbits from pet stores supports the notion that animals are “products.” They’re not.
Never purchase a rabbit from a pet store or breeder. If you DO choose to adopt one (after extensive, careful consideration), be sure to do the following:
- Adopt from your local animal shelter.
- Find a veterinarian who’s familiar with rabbits, and take your bunny for annual checkups.
- Provide your bunny with as much love and attention as you would give to a dog or a cat. Keep him or her indoors and treat the bunny as a member of the family, not locked in a cage or an outdoor hutch.
- Be sure to spay or neuter your bunny. Like dogs and cats, bunnies live longer and happier lives when they’re spayed or neutered. In female rabbits, the risk of reproductive cancer (which is fatal) is a whopping 80 percent before they’re spayed!
- Give your bunny lots of toys. Some suggestions include untreated pieces of wood, straw, wire cat balls, paper towel rolls, hard-plastic baby toys, and even cardboard boxes.
- Set up a large box or a basket filled with shredded paper for your new companion to dig in.
- Provide your bunny with a safe, quiet haven where he or she can rest.
- Be sure to bunny-proof your home, or your companion might chew on furniture, electrical cords, books, etc.
- Groom your bunny at least once a week.
- Unlike cats, rabbits lack the ability to vomit, so it’s important to provide them with plenty of hay, which helps prevent hairballs.
- Rabbits require a diet consisting primarily of unlimited grass hay and a variety of fresh greens, supplemented by high-quality rabbit pellets. They must also have access to clean water at all times.
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