By Jacqueline Louie
They’re not just cute, they’re also affectionate and loving. If you’re looking for a pet for yourself or for your family, a snuggly bunny can be an excellent animal companion, for adults as well as families with older children.
“When people get their first rabbit, they will often say, ‘I had no idea they had such personality’ — and they do,” smiles Dr. Leticia Materi, a veterinarian at Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic. “They are as unique as any other creature, with their own distinctive personality. A lot of rabbits love to snuggle. They’re fun, they’re soft. They are a great pet.”
According to longtime rabbit guardian Amanda Greening, “When you spend time with them, they can build a very strong bond with you. Rabbits are also very clean animals when spayed or neutered.”
Rabbits are delicate and don’t do well with any kind of rough handling so they are best suited for families with older children, aged about nine and up, says Greening, co-founder of Against All Odds Rabbit Rescue and the Canadian Rabbit Hopping Club. Depending on your kids’ ages you’ll need to strictly supervise them when they are holding or petting a rabbit.
As a prey species, rabbits tend to be skittish around loud noises and sudden movements, and if there are other pets in a home, they will need time to adjust. “Large dogs or cats can sometimes be a little scary for rabbits, especially in the initial stages of getting to know each other,” says Materi, who recommends strictly supervising rabbits and other pets when they are still getting used to each other.
Even adding another rabbit into the mix can be problematic. Rabbits have a social hierarchy and they are territorial, so putting another rabbit in the same cage is not necessarily a good idea. “If you are very lucky, they will bond, but (if they don’t) be prepared to have two cages and two separate play times,” Materi says.
She recommends keeping your rabbit in as spacious an environment as possible. When you’re at home, you can have your bunny out and about to run free, under supervision. However, a rabbit’s natural instinct is to chew and to dig, so “it doesn’t take them long to find trouble,” Materi says.
Rabbits will chew on everything from carpet fibres and drywall, to electrical cords so it’s important to redirect a rabbit’s attention to things that are safe to nibble on. For example, you can fill a box with hay, which your rabbit can dig into and then chew on.
A species appropriate diet is essential for a healthy bunny. It’s advised that new guardians talk to a veterinarian who is rabbit savvy about what to feed their bunny. “Carrots can have a lot of sugar and give bunnies upset tummies,” Materi says. A hay-based diet is best. Rabbits need coarse fibre because their teeth are constantly growing, and the hay will help wear them down.
Lots of fibre from hay will prevent digestive tract problems, says Greening. She feeds her rabbits small amounts of pulverized hay pellets and small amounts of vegetables each day. Parsley, cilantro and a variety of lettuce are all good, with the exception of iceberg lettuce, which is low in fibre.
There are some 48 rabbit breeds, from dwarf breeds weighing in at two pounds, to the giant breeds that can tip the scale at up to 20 pounds. There are floppy-eared rabbits, and Dutch rabbits, with their distinctive black and white markings, and many other varieties.
Sometimes people want to own a purebred animal and will search out a breeder but Materi always encourages people to adopt rescues. “If you can rescue a life, that’s always better,” she says, noting that rabbits are the third most commonly euthanized animal in North America, after dogs and cats.
Getting a rabbit is a long term commitment. Rabbits have a long life expectancy, with an average lifespan of eight to 12 years. “It will hopefully be a pet that’s with your family for a long time.”
Origin: Rabbits are members of the Lagomorpha family, which also includes hares and pikas. Originally raised for their meat and fur, in recent decades rabbits have become increasingly popular as pets.
Vet costs: Average annual vet costs will run about $90 and up. If you adopt a rabbit from the Calgary Humane Society, Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic will do a no-charge initial exam within 10 days of adoption. Neutering is about $200; spaying about $300. Prices will vary depending on the clinic so it’s a good idea to call first to check.
(Spaying is essential to the health of female rabbits: 40 to 80 per cent of unspayed female rabbits over age three can develop uterine cancer.)
Diet: Hay is an essential component of a rabbit’s diet, supplemented by a small amount of leafy green vegetables and pellets.
Supplies: There are many different kinds of set ups, from a traditional rabbit cage or hutch, to a large area fenced off in a basement. Dr. Leticia Materi, from Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic, recommends providing your rabbit with as large a space as possible. If housed in a cage it’s important for your rabbit to get daily exercise in a bunny-safe area. Make sure all wires are blocked off so your rabbit can’t get into anything electrical and close the doors to rooms you don’t want it to go into.
Ideal forever home: A family with older children or adult only home.
Fun fact: Rabbits can be trained to run agility courses, hopping over a variety of obstacles.