Thursday, December 23, 2010
Not Just For Christmas
At Christmas, it's easy to see an explosion of animals bred for the holiday season. These are often victims of impulse purchase, sourced from puppy mills and irresponsible breeders and neglected or dumped in the following year. They contribute to the tens of thousands of animals euthanized each year.
While many are aware of the horrors of puppy mills, bunnies are vulnerable as they are falsely seen as cheap, cuddly, low maintenance 'starter' pet for children. The reality is a bit different:
Bunnies Are Not Cheap
While initial purchase price may seem cheap the associated costs over the rabbits lifetime can be expensive. All rabbits should be desexed by a rabbit specialist, vaccinated and microchipped and these costs factored into the choice to bring a rabbit into your life. Young rabbits mature quickly and you can run into unwanted litters, hormonal and territorial behaviour, alarming rates of uterine cancer and poor litter box habits. Adopting a bunny from a shelter or rescue may mean this is $50-80, whereas private desexing/vax/microchipping may range upwards of $250 for vaccinations, check-up, spay, bloodwork, fluids, monitoring, pre and post op pain management, microchip etc. They will require vaccination annually and may require specialized and potentially expensive treatment for dental issues and GI stasis in their lifetimes.
Bunnies Are Not "Cuddly"
Bunnies are prey animals by nature and physically delicate. The exuberance, desire to pick up, grab, carry around and cuddle with whatever grip their little hands can manage are frightening and dangerous for rabbits. It often results in broken legs or backs or bunnies who learn to bite or kick when picked up after having been accidentally mishandled. Bunnies do enjoy attention and affection but a child's idea of having fun and enjoyment is not generally compatible with how prey animals like rabbits express and understand affection.
Bunnies Are Not "Starter" Pets
The reality is that rabbits are active, highly social animals who require a commitment of 10-12 years. They represent a significant commitment in terms of time, money and owner dedication. Being highly social animals, rabbits ideally should live in pairs as well.
Bunnies Are Not Low Maintenance
Most 'hutches' sold for rabbit housing are woefully inadequate. We would not imagine locking a cat or dog in a cage barely 3 times it's body length and on wire for the duration of it's life but this is what most bunnies are expected to consider home. Wire bottoms can lead to painful pressure sores, broken toes, injured legs/feet etc. The small sizes lead to poor long term health due to lack of muscle tone, loss of bone, obesity, poor cardiovascular health, poor gut health etc as well as the mental cruelty of such confinement and isolation. Outdoor animals are more at risk of disease, mites, fleas, predation, temperature extremes and owners not noticing illness. Bunnies hide illness very well and it is hard to notice subtle changes in an animal who is out of sight most of the day. Any outdoor housing or exercise yards must be completely mosquito proof to prevent exposure to calcivirus and myxo which have fatality rates of 100%. Instead a more ideal home is a bunny condo when it must be penned and access to rabbit proofed rooms in your home so it can be part of the family just as your dog or cat would.
Rabbits also require a fair amount of care - daily fresh food (good quality hay, water, fresh vegetables/herbs and a small amount of high quality pellets), litter changes, mental stimulation and at least 3 hours exercise time in order to maintain health and well being. Short haired breeds should be brushed regularly to prevent the ingestion of excess hair causing blockages or stasis, while long haired bunnies may require daily brushing. All rabbits require nail trimming.
For homes who are definitely keen on rabbits as pets, there are many more rewards but we need more awareness of the reality of owning rabbits responsibly. For those considering rabbits please check out The House Rabbit Society (www.rabbit.org), Australian Companion Rabbit Society (http://www.rabbit.org.au) for more information, Australian based Boing Online (http://www.boingonline.com). For more information on rabbit body language and behaviour The Language of Lagomorphs (http://language.rabbitspeak.com), as well as all sorts of information on Rabbit Links (http://homepage.mac.com/mattocks/morfz/rabrefs.html) and if you're in Melbourne the Melbourne Rabbit Clinic (http://www.melbournerabbitclinic.com) is one of the best bunny vets around!