April 7, 2011
Welcome to Spring! April is here which means Easter is just around the corner. It also means bunny adoptions go way up! And with the movie HOP opening, they’re sure to skyrocket! But before you or someone you know heads out to find yourself a cute “Bugs” please take a moment to read the following information on tips for caring for rabbits, provided by our guest bunny expert Andrea Bratt Frick.
Andrea is a fellow certified professional dog trainer, but she is also very involved with rabbit rescue and education for the public on rabbit care responsibility. As a certified professional dog trainer myself I know education is key when it comes to bringing home a new pet. Rabbits are no different in that they have specific needs. Andrea is guardian to many animals, including rabbits. She is also very involved with rabbit rescue including the Santa Barbara rabbit rescue BUNS. I find her to be a great resource for what it takes to be a responsible rabbit guardian, so I thought it would be perfect to have her answer a few questions for us.
Inquisitive Canine: Andrea, what are your “top tips” to provide the general public on what to think about before adopting a bunny rabbit?
Andrea Bratt Frick: It is important to know that rabbits can be a long term commitment. Rabbits typically live 8-12 years or more. Rabbits need daily exercise in a safe area large enough to run around and jump. Most rabbits don’t enjoy being picked up and held for long amounts of time so they can become frustrating to small children used to cuddling stuffed animals.
IC: What do pet rabbits require as far as care? Including health and medical needs, nutritional needs, emotional and physical needs?
- Rabbits don’t need vaccinations like dogs and cats but they do need to have you check them on a monthly basis so that you can catch any changes that are occurring and get them to a rabbit savvy vet right away. Things to look for during a well bunny check are skin, especially around the base of the tail and behind the ears. Healthy rabbits have nice clean pink skin. Check their eyes and nose which should be clear and free of discharge or crustiness. A healthy rabbit has quiet, easy breathing. Check your rabbits feet for sores on their heels or broken toe nails. Check their hind ends to make sure they are keeping clean. Any rabbit that doesn’t eat or eliminate for 24 hours needs to see a vet immediately.
- As far as nutritional needs, think HAY. All rabbits should have access to grass hay (or grass) and fresh water at all times. They should get fresh vegetables daily (at least 3 different kinds) and a measured amount of rabbit pellets. An average sized (5-6 pound) adult non-breeding rabbit should get 1/4 cup of plain rabbit pellets daily. The pellets with added fruit and nuts are much too rich for rabbits and can cause digestive problems.
- Rabbits require daily exercise in a space where they can run around, crawl under and climb on top of boxes or furniture. Make sure the space is in a safe place away from predators. Inside your home is best or a well fenced area in a yard that is predator proof. Rabbits enjoy digging and chewing activities so giving them a blanket, soft dirt or a hay box to dig in is usually appreciated. Bunnies like to chew on wood and plants besides their hay. Bamboo, apple branches, palm leaves, pine cones, citrus leaves and branches along with untreated wicker items can supply your rabbit with hours of chewing delights.
IC: What is expected of bunny guardians as far as schedule to ensure their bunny is taken care of?
ABF: Rabbits are crepuscular which means they are most active in the mornings and evenings. This makes them nice pets because that is usually when most working folks are home.
IC: Is it feasible for owners to leave rabbits alone for hours at a time?
ABF: Rabbits can be left alone for hours at a time privided you leave them with chew items and space to run around and exercise. If you are typically gone for long amounts of time you should consider getting another rabbit as a companion for your rabbit.
IC: What sort of lifestyle is suited for being guardian to a rabbit?
ABF: Quiet to semi-active households are good for rabbits. Bunnies don’t make good pets for young, active children. They can be easily frightened or injured. Children need to be closely and constantly supervised with rabbits to keep everyone safe.
IC: What is the life expectancy?
ABF: Average is 8-12 years.
IC: Common health issues?
ABF: Most common are GI (gastrointestinal) digestive tract issues. Next would probably be respiratory infections, eye issues and abscesses.
IC: What sorts of costs are needed to provide for a rabbit?
ABF: Vet care for rabbits can be expensive because they are considered “exotic” pets. They require special anesthesia and are often more difficult to operate on. It is important to have your rabbit altered if he or she isn’t already. Spaying and neutering rabbits is one of the biggest expenses you will encounter but well worth it. Altered rabbits have less smell, are more likely to use a litterbox and less likely to fight with other rabbits. Bunnies are usually less costly to feed than cats or dogs especially if you can grow some of your own veggies or get some from the farmers markets. Rabbit cages and pens can be expensive but there are some plans of enclosures that you can make yourself which are available on the internet.
IC: Is it best to adopt one or two?
ABF: Usually two if you have the resources. Rabbits can become quite bonded to each other and keep each other entertained. Make sure that you adopt spayed or neutered rabbits as unaltered rabbits will often fight or try to mate constantly.
IC: What are some resources for rabbit adoption?
IC: Are there advantages adopting from a rescue versus buying from a breeder?
ABF: Rescue organizations often spend an overall longer time with their rabbits so they are more likely to know their individual personalities and which rabbits would be suited to each available home.
IC: In your opinion are baby bunnies better than adults? Or is it personality?
ABF: Baby rabbits are pretty darn cute but they grow up within just a few months. You can’t always tell how a baby rabbit will turn out personality-wise so it is often better to get an adult rabbit. So definitely I would go with personality!
IC: What is the general temperament of rabbits?
ABF: Rabbits, like people, have a variety of personalities. Some are highly social and some are pretty shy. Even shy rabbits can learn to approach people and enjoy being pet with proper training.
IC: Are bunnies more on the social side? How about living with other animals?
ABF: It really depends on the animals involved. Generally, full sized rabbits and cats are pretty compatible. Make sure the rabbit has hiding spots away from the cat’s reach and that the cat has access to high places where the rabbit can’t harrass it. Rabbits and dogs need to to be separated and well supervised. Even playing, a dog can accidently injure a rabbit. Some dogs are going to view bunnies as prey and should not be allowed near the rabbit at all.
IC: Where can people go to find out more?
IC: Are there rescues where volunteers are needed so they can get a better sense of what life is like with a rabbit? How about fostering?
ABF: Yes, in Ventura County contact Kim Jones via email or Kimberly Jacinto via email. In Santa Barbara contact the BUNS organization directly. Foster homes are needed and appreciated as well. The above contacts can provide additional information on volunteering, fostering and for additional information on rabbit care and behavior.