This could be a double-whammy “wabbit” season for rabbit rescue groups and animal shelters. Not only is Easter almost here, but 2011 is the Chinese year of the rabbit. Cities have celebrated with special events and activities, particularly in “Chinatown” neighborhoods. Celebrating rabbits sounds benign, but now, with Easter imminent, rabbit advocates are bracing for an onslaught of impulsive rabbit purchases that would — a few months from now — no doubt mean many rabbits will be dumped on their doorsteps.
Rabbits are wonderful pets for people who really understand what having a rabbit is all about and are dedicated to meeting their needs. “However, rabbits are not as low maintenance as some think, and they’re not a pet for every family,” says Jacelyn Heng, president of the Singapore House Rabbit Society. In an interview conducted via Skype, Heng adds, “People have so many misconceptions about rabbits.”
No question, the most noteworthy mistaken belief is that bunnies are wonderful pets for young children.
“Children like to carry things around, and rabbits detest being carried around,” says Mary Cotter, vice president of the International House Rabbit Society. In fact, rabbits are probably downright acrophobic. “Young children — being the primates they are — like to hold, squeeze and hug, and that makes perfect sense,” adds Cotter, who is based in New York City. “But for rabbits, the only things which hold and squeeze them may want to kill them.”
Cotter adds, “Children are also unpredictable, and rabbits are most comfortable in predictable surroundings.”
Rabbits are the most common small animal pet in both Singapore and America. Certainly, many people do enjoy having pet rabbits. “I think they’re a great pet for people who like to watch nature shows,” says Cotter. “They’re not as interactive as dogs or cats. Though rabbits appreciate our affection — it’s on their terms.”
Heng says that while most people do spay or neuter their rabbits, some people don’t. Many of those intact rabbits are given up because they become unpredictable and occasionally aggressive pets. Also, the risk of reproductive cancers is significantly less when rabbits are spayed.
Rabbits and folklore seem to go hand in hand. According to websites, people born in the Chinese year of the rabbit are sensitive but sometimes on their guard (an accurate description of the demeanor of many rabbits). Of course, a rabbit’s foot is considered a good-luck charm. And, for centuries, rabbits have been associated with Easter. “I’ve heard so many stories,” says Cotter. “It seems no one really knows how it all began.”
Easter could have been associated with roosters, cows or giraffes — no one knows how rabbits were chosen. Records do confirm that edible Easter bunnies were a German dessert pastry, dating back to the 1800s. Soon after came Easter egg hunts, stuffed Easter bunnies, and eventually the giant Easter bunny in the mall, munching on carrots.
Of course, it’s true that rabbits do like carrots. However, because of the relatively high sugar content in carrots, they should only be an occasional snack. What rabbits do require daily is grass hay, such as timothy hay, brome hay or meadow grass. Additionally, various lettuces and manufactured rabbit diet should be added.
Rabbits are popular in Singapore, and major metro areas in the U.S. because they are perfect apartment and condominium pets. They don’t require outdoor walks or lots of space. Neighbors rarely complain about their barking. Rabbits are clean pets, who are easily litter-box trained.
In fact, when a rabbit is acting “a little off,” it’s an indication that something may be wrong, and a vet visit is a good idea. While they’re subtle about illness, just as dogs and cats require regular veterinary care, so do rabbits. “They are a commitment, which people don’t think about when they first get them — because they’re so cute as bunnies,” Heng says. Cotter and Heng do both encourage one idea for an impulsive rabbit purchase — a chocolate rabbit: www.makeminechocolate.org.
Again, nothing wrong with real rabbits as pets — particularly if you visit a shelter or legitimate rescue group. But do your homework first.
Learn more about pet rabbits at www.rabbit.org.