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Pet Talk: Are You Sure You Want a Bunny?

I see the Wisconsin Humane Society Door County Campus now has rabbits up for adoption. I had a bunny for 12 years. They are very cute, soft to the touch, smart, full of personality and lovable. They are also a big responsibility with special needs.

One of the first things most people don’t realize is that rabbits have a lifespan of a dog and can live into their teens. This requires the same long-term commitment as getting a puppy.

Before going to the shelter to adopt a rabbit, there are a few things you should know about their needs. This will ensure a rabbit is right for you and your family and won’t end up back in the shelter. And never ever let a domestic rabbit back into the wild because they will not survive.

Even though the adoption fee is minimal, there are a lot of other expenses to be aware of.  Be sure you are able to afford the ongoing costs of food, litter and vet bills. This of course comes after the cost of housing for your new rabbit.

Please don’t keep your new rabbit outside in a hutch, in the basement or garage. Rabbits are social animals and enjoy interacting with their human families. Most bunnies adapt quickly to the hustle and bustle of a normal household, especially if their cage is placed in a high activity area such as the living room. This gives them a safe place while they see, hear and smell all that is going on. I had my rabbit in the living room and nothing phased him. Doorbell, barking dogs, loud TV. He took it all in stride.

Most cages for rabbits sold in pet stores are way too small. Rabbits should have plenty of room in their cage for a litter box, food bowl, water bowl, toys and a hut they can go into. Large or extra-large dog crates are an excellent choice to house a rabbit.

Your rabbit will also need plenty of time outside their enclosure to exercise. Try to provide at least three hours of playtime daily. All activities outside the cage should be supervised if the area has not been bunny proofed. Rabbits are natural chewers and love electrical chords, wooden legs on furniture, shoes, etc.

Litter box, you say. Yes, bunnies can be litter box-trained like a cat. Be sure to put some hay in the box along with the litter when training them to use it. It is a good idea to promote good litter box habits by limiting their space at first. Litter boxes should be cleaned daily and scrubbed out weekly along with the cage. Vinegar and water is a safe cleaning solution to use.

Fresh hay should be the main part of your rabbit’s diet, in unlimited amounts. They can never eat too much good hay. Young rabbits less than a year can be fed alfalfa hay. Adult rabbits will need grass hay because alfalfa is too rich for them. Hay provides the fiber needed for good digestion and helps wear their teeth down, which grow continuously. I always bought my hay from a local farmer because it was more economical and fresher than buying bags from a pet store.

Your rabbit should enjoy some fresh vegetables daily. It is important to know which are safe to feed, so best to read up on this. The bulk of these vegetables should be leafy greens. Your bunny should eat about one cup of veggies a day per five pounds of body weight.

Bunny pellets should be fed on a limited basis.

Rabbits are considered exotic pets and not all veterinarians care for them. It is important to find one who does before your bunny has any emergency health issues.

Rabbits are not fond of being picked up or carried. Their bone structure is fragile and if a rabbit kicks out in fear it can easily damage its spine. It is important you learn the proper way to pick up and carry your rabbit. Place one hand under their front armpits, place your other hand on the rump near the hind end, lift and hold the rabbit securely to your body. Make sure you are supporting the rabbit’s back at all times.

Rabbits feel more comfortable on the ground and prefer being stroked there without being held. Young children should always be supervised around pet rabbits.

If your new rabbit isn’t already spayed or neutered, this should be done. Male rabbits tend to spray and female rabbits tend to be territorial if not fixed.

Before you add a bunny to your family do your research. It is important to assess whether or not you can truly provide a good forever home for a rabbit.

Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected]

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