With Easter right around the corner, many people consider buying a pet rabbit, sometimes on a whim or as a gift for a son or daughter, grandchild or niece or nephew.
Although rabbits do make amazing indoor pets, those who are considering getting a rabbit as a pet for someone should take the time to learn the reality of what pet rabbit ownership consists of.
By no means are rabbits considered low-cost pets. Initial costs, which include adoption fees and money spent on food and water dishes, housing and more, can add up to about $300 or more. Ongoing costs (excluding vet bills) for day-to-day care and maintenance could add up to more than $800 per year. The total costs could possibly end up being higher than what one might spend on their pet cat or small dog.
Contrary to popular belief, rabbits most definitely do not fall into the “low-maintenance pet” category. Rabbits are intelligent animals that have a lot of energy. They require social interaction, plenty of exercise (including fresh air and sunshine) and a lot of enrichment on a daily basis. They have an incessant desire to continually chew on almost anything they can get their little teeth on. They can easily damage furniture, carpet, molding, wires and just about anything else that is within their reach.
For those who are thinking about bringing a rabbit into the home as a pet, be prepared to “bunny proof” your home by covering wires with tubing, fencing areas off and keeping important documents hidden or out of their reach.
Another common misconception would be that a rabbit’s diet consists of just pellets and carrots. Not true! A rabbit’s main source of sustenance should be hay. Hay, which needs to be available to pet rabbits at all times, is vital to their dental and digestive health. This could potentially present a problem for household members who have allergies to hay or grass. Aside from hay or grass needing to be available at all times, rabbits need their hay diet supplemented with fresh vegetables on a daily basis. Frequent trips to the supermarket to purchases produce like romaine lettuce, dandelion greens and herbs can add up quickly!
Rabbits are considered to be exotic pets by most veterinarians, and exotic medicine is much more complicated and expensive. Rabbits have very specific health requirements that are much different from cats and dogs. Not all veterinarians are equipped or have the knowledge base to treat rabbits should they become ill or injured. Many people believe that rabbits are rodents (like mice or rats), but are actually completely separate from rodents. Rabbits are lagomorphs, meaning they have two pairs of teeth in the upper jaw, one behind the other. The front teeth never stop growing which is why rabbits like to constantly chew -- to wear down their front teeth. Inability to properly wear down the front incisors the will lead to malocclusion, which is an overgrowth of the incisors. The overgrown points can create sharp spikes that form on the edges of teeth and can cut and badly damage the rabbit’s tongue, cheeks or gums. This is extremely painful for them and inhibits their ability to eat.
If a rabbit does end up suffering from malocclusion, the rabbit must be taken to a veterinarian to have it corrected so that the rabbit doesn’t die of infection or starvation.
Finally, although rabbits can be affectionate, not all of them are as “huggable” as some people might think. They do not always like being held. In fact, many times they will try to leap out of a person’s arms and in turn scratching the person and possibly causing serious injury to themselves if they fall and hit the floor. Rabbits are prey to other animals and prefer to stay on the ground. This could prove to be very disappointing to both children and adults.
So while rabbits are super fluffy and adorable, they do require a lot of care, patience and understanding. Rabbit owners need to have a certain kind of mindset — one that is comfortable with the idea that they may need to replace wires frequently; carpets and rugs may start to fray or disappear, and their remote control buttons may go missing.
Rabbits are very unique animals and they are a good fit for some people, but not others. Please be sure to do your homework first.
If you have thoroughly researched what life with a pet rabbit is like and your furry family is ready to care for a rabbit with a 10-plus year commitment, please consider adopting from a local shelter or rescue instead of buying one. The Humane Society of Imperial County frequently has, and currently does have rabbits available for adoption. The adoption fee for rabbits is $60 and includes them being spayed or neutered, microchipped and they are entitled to one free wellness check with Desert Veterinary Group in Imperial.
Devon Apodaca is executive director of the Humane Society of Imperial County.