The Topsfield Fair is just around the corner. Inevitably, unsuspecting parents wander into the Rabbit Hall with their kids. The hall is filled with hundreds of breeds of very cute rabbits in every size and coat color. There are baby bunnies and bunnies that look a lot like Peter Rabbit. They all have big wide eyes and cute twitching bunny noses. Without really thinking too much about it, a parent can easily cave in to both the pleas of the kids and the devastating bunny adorability and make an unexpected purchase.
Here are a few things to consider before you get to the Topsfield Fair or purchase a bunny anywhere. Are you ready to have a rabbit for 10 years? They can live that long with proper care and feeding. They bond closely with their primary caretaker. One adult in the family has to sign on as primary caretaker. This means being in charge to make sure the bunny receives daily exercise, food and water. Rabbits need food and water and hay available at all times or they can become severely ill.
Is your entire family on board with the decision? Everyone has to commit to cleaning the rabbit pen, providing fresh water and food including fresh vegetables and timothy hay daily. The entire family must work to provide an exercise space free of plastic toys and objects that the bunny might chew. The family must understand that there will be rabbit hair, hay and the occasional stray rabbit dropping where the bunny gets its exercise.
Can you find time to spend with your rabbit every day? Rabbits are extremely social creatures. Rabbits that are caged need two to three hours of exercise and play every day. Small children should be supervised when the rabbit is exercising. Rabbits picked up and dropped can easily suffer a broken back.
Are family members willing to interact with the rabbit on its terms? Most rabbits do not like to be picked up or held. They like to spend time with a person and approach the person rather than be chased.
The environment you provide for your rabbit is crucial. Is there a quiet place in your home for your rabbit? Lots of noise can be stressful for rabbits. If your rabbit is to run free around the house are there litter boxes it can access easily? Are all cords wrapped with protective covers so bunny won’t chew through a cord and electrocute itself or start a fire? A technician friend of mine had her pet rabbit chew accord and start a fire in her apartment once. Everybody survived including Rascal but it was a big trauma for all involved. A free ranging rabbit can chew and ingest woodwork, magazines plastic bags or anything you leave on the floor. Any of these can be deadly.
In New England it is not advisable to keep your rabbit outdoors. Dogs, coyotes, foxes and raccoons can break into the pen. Drinking water freezes in the winter and the bunny will freeze unless provided with a snug wooden shelter with walls on all four sides and lots of hay for nesting. Rabbits are very good at escaping from pens. We have a few rabbits in the practice that were found wandering outdoors by their current owners.
Are there other pets in the house that will want to chase your bunny and have it for lunch? Cats and dogs can both fall into this category. Both species love to chase little fluffy things that move quickly. Sometimes cats and dogs and bunnies can live peaceably together but not unless the dog or cat has been conditioned and trained, probably as a pup or kitten, to being around a rabbit.
Do family members have allergies to rabbit fur? Hay that is essential for a rabbit diet can also cause allergies. If someone does have allergies, visit Nevins MSPCA Farm in Methuen, Mass. There are lots of rabbits up for adoption and a few visits with some bunny contact should reveal if the family member is sensitive to rabbit fur. Nevins Farm is a great place to adopt a pet rabbit. Many people tire of their bunny after Easter or the fair so there are always quite a few up for adoption.
If you end up with a young rabbit, are you prepared financially to have it neutered or spayed by a veterinarian comfortable with rabbits and rabbit surgery? Are you prepared to take your rabbit to the vet for examinations every six months? Your bunny can develop overgrown cheek, teeth, ear infections, and parasites some of which are contagious to people. These can be caught early and treated before any harm occurs to your rabbit or family.
If your family is able to make the required commitment to a rabbit as a pet, then absolutely enjoy the adoption process or purchase at the fair. A rabbit can be a devoted and highly entertaining pet for the family.
Dr. Elizabeth Bradt is a 1986 graduate of Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and is the owner of All
Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Salem (www.creaturehealth.com). She is a member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists. Email your pet questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please title your email “Vet Connection.”