Think Twice (or More) Before Getting a Rabbit for Easter

Thinking of getting a rabbit for Easter? Before you do, answer “yes” or “no” to the following statements:

  • A rabbit is a good first/starter pet
  • A rabbit just eats pellets and/or carrots
  • A rabbit can be kept in a wire cage
  • A rabbit is good for my small child to learn to take care of
  • A rabbit is an easy pet

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should think twice (or maybe more) before getting a rabbit – and maybe for Easter the better option would be to get a chocolate or stuffed toy bunny instead.

Let me explain.

A rabbit is a good first/starter pet

Rabbits actually make terrible first or starter pets, because a lot of the “common” knowledge about rabbits is wrong, and there are lots of details about proper rabbit care that many people simply don’t know.

Rabbits can also be expensive to care for – both in terms of the stuff you need to buy for them (food, toys, equipment) as well as their care (vet care).

For these reasons, a rabbit is not the ideal first pet for someone, and certainly isn’t what I’d call a “starter” pet.

A rabbit just eats pellets and/or carrots

I blame cartoons for this one – too many people think that a rabbit’s diet is just carrots (or maybe pellets & carrots). This could not be more wrong.

Just like we humans have our “food pyramid,” the same is true for rabbits – and with them it is much simpler: at the bottom is hay, in the middle is greens, and at the top is pellets.

The majority of a rabbit’s diet – something around 80% – should be good quality hay – and not that sweet alfalfa stuff, either. (That’s best only for very young rabbits.) Timothy hay is the go-to for most rabbit owners, with other types such as oat and grass hay as supplements or mix-ins.

The second, lesser part of a rabbit’s diet is greens – a variety of dark, leafy greens. (You can forget about iceberg lettuce – that stuff is basically just “crispy water” and has no nutritional value for people or rabbits.) This post has an extensive list of all the greens that are good (and safe – not everything people can eat is good for a rabbit) for rabbits to eat. Also note that carrots are not greens – in fact, carrots are high in sugar and are more of a treat than a staple, so no matter how much you see in cartoons and media – skip the carrots when it comes to real bunnies!

The final part of a rabbit’s diet is pellets, and these should be plain – no add-ins or colorful bits; just a good quality, nutritious pellet. Even the largest rabbits only need a small scoop or two of pellets each day.

A rabbit can be kept in a wire cage

This one is an absolute no-no – the wire cages you see in pet stores and often sold as “kits” are absolutely terrible for rabbits, especially if they are the kind with wire floors.

Rabbits have no pads on their feet (unlike cats and dogs) – it’s just fur – so a wire floor will bite into their feet, causing pain and eventually injury. You wouldn’t want to walk on a metal wire floor, and neither would a bunny.

The outdoor hutches you may have seen some rabbits kept in are also a terrible choice – the intention with them is to have a wire floor so the rabbit’s droppings can fall through to make clean up easier – but this is just a lazy design, and doesn’t take into account that rabbits prefer to do their business in one place and can easily be litter box trained, which makes clean up just as easy.

(This is also to say nothing of the fact that keeping a rabbit outside in a hutch like that is more something you’d do to a farm animal, not a pet – though some people do have elaborate outdoor hutches which are wonderful… but I’m talking about the bog-standard “hutch” with a wooden box on the side and a rectangular enclosure made mainly of galvanized square wire mesh.)

Also, most wire cages are simply way too small for a rabbit – many of them aren’t even big enough for smaller animals like guinea pigs, never mind a full-grown rabbit. Some rabbit breeds are small, it’s true, and of course any young rabbit will be smaller than an adult rabbit… but keep in mind that rabbits can vary in size quite a bit. Most of my rabbits have been around 6 lbs (2.7 kg), which is more like a small-to-medium sized cat, and way too big for any of the cages you’d see in a pet store. (And, of course, the largest rabbit breeds wouldn’t even fit in such a cage!)

Also, rabbits, like dogs and cats, need exercise and room to run around, and a cage simply does not provide that.

That said, some people do use a cage as part of a larger enclosure – so that the rabbit has a “safe space” to go back to, which works for some bunnies. But generally speaking, rabbits and cages do not mix, and you’d be much better off keeping a rabbit on the floor, perhaps in a big x-pen, or better yet free-roaming around all (or some) of your house.

A rabbit is good for my small child to learn to take care of

This one is also mostly not true – see my note above about rabbits as “starter” pets – but generally speaking, care of a rabbit should not be left primarily to a child. Unless you, as an adult, are willing to monitor and help with care of a rabbit, a child (and I’m generalizing somewhat here) should not be put in charge of care of a rabbit. (The same should probably be said of any living animal, honestly.)

Rabbits also aren’t exactly cuddly like, say, a puppy – so a small child who wants to “play” with a bunny won’t have a very good experience (and neither will the rabbit). Rabbits generally don’t like to be picked up (it scares them) and picking them up incorrectly can severely injure them if you’re not careful.

It is for these reasons (along with the time & effort of cleaning a rabbit’s area, preparing food, and providing other care) that I say a rabbit is not good for a small child to take care of. Instead, if you must, let your child be involved in the care of the rabbit that you, as an adult, are primarily responsible for.

A rabbit is an easy pet

Despite what you might think or see in media or social media or whatever, having a rabbit as a pet is not easy – it requires a fair amount of work and effort.

I often describe the effort of taking care of my rabbits as being like taking care of an infant or young child… except they can’t talk and never grow up. That is to say, they rely entirely on you for their food and water, as well as cleaning up after their excrement and messes, and you can’t really take them anywhere without bringing along a whole bunch of specialized stuff.

Here’s just some of the things I have to do for my rabbits, which I have to do every single day, without fail, no matter how tired I am or whether I’m sick or not, or anything else:

  • Empty, clean, and refill their litter box
  • Discard soiled hay and put out lots of fresh hay
  • Clean and refill their water bowl
  • Prepare a salad of greens for their dinner

In addition, if a rabbit gets sick you might need to:

  • Give them medicine multiple times per day (which they may not want to take)
  • Give them injections of medicine
  • Syringe feed them if they aren’t eating on their own

And then there’s the other things you’ll need to do on a semi-regular basis:

  • Vacuum and clean both the area where your rabbit lives as well as the rest of your house (like any animal with fur, rabbits shed… and they can shed a lot and the fur goes everywhere)
  • Buy and store sufficient amounts of hay
  • Buy and store fresh greens
  • Take them to the vet for checkups

Oh, and did I mention that the average life span of a rabbit is around 10 years?

Yeah, rabbits are not easy pets.

Final thoughts

All this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t get a rabbit – just that you shouldn’t get a rabbit just because it’s Easter. Getting a rabbit should be a deliberate decision – something you do because you know what you are getting into, and you are prepared to do all that is necessary to care for a rabbit so you can enjoy the high points of bunny ownership (like you see in all the cute pictures).

So if you (or someone you know) is thinking “oh, it’s Easter, I should get a rabbit,” maybe stop and think if that is really what you (or they) want. Feel free to share this article – I hope it will help – and if you’re not sure, for Easter at least maybe stick with chocolate bunnies (or a stuffed bunny toy) instead.

By Keith Survell

Geek, professional programmer, amateur photographer, crazy rabbit guy, only slightly obsessed with cute things.

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