Monday, June 24, 2024

ANIMALS 101 – RABBIT OWNERS SHOULD KNOW THIS!

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RABBITS ARE NOT EVERYONE’S KIND OF PET AND HERE IS WHY

While rabbits can make wonderful and charming pets for the right individuals, several factors contribute to the idea that having rabbits as pets may not be advised for everyone. It’s important to note that each pet and species has specific needs and considerations, and what might not be suitable for one person could be a perfect fit for another. Before we dig in, I have to mention that we do not support the keeping of exotic animals as pets or keeping animals in cages.

REASONS WHY HAVING RABBITS AS PETS MIGHT NOT BE ADVISED FOR EVERYONE

  • Complex Care Requirements: Rabbits have unique care needs that can be more complex than some other small pets. They require specific diets, housing, and socialization to ensure their well-being. Without proper care, rabbits can develop health issues that might be challenging to manage. Their sleeping patterns differ from humans and they can be very busy at night.
  • Diet: Their dietary requirements are not so straight forward and many do not understand this. One example about their diet which most owners don’t know is that carrots are to rabbits like sweets are to a child.
  • Social Nature: Rabbits are social animals that thrive on companionship. Keeping a single rabbit can lead to loneliness and behavioural problems. Having a pair of rabbits is often recommended, but this also requires careful introductions and monitoring.
  • Destructive Behaviour: Rabbits are natural chewers, and they can cause damage to furniture, cords, and other items if not provided with appropriate toys and outlets for their chewing behaviour.
  • Gentle Handling: Rabbits are prey animals and can be easily frightened. They require gentle and patient handling to build trust and prevent stress. Rabbits have fragile skeletons and a powerful kick and this means they can easily break their backs even with a kick, especially if not held correctly. See proper handling tips below.
  • Health Concerns: Rabbits are prone to various health issues, such as dental problems, digestive disorders, and respiratory infections. Regular veterinary care and attention are crucial to keep them healthy. They do not vocalize discomfort as much as a chinchilla or a dog. They can be in severe pain and busy dying and will still be absolutely silent.
  • Allergies and Sensitivities: Some people may have allergies to bunnies or their bedding. In most cases it is a hay-allergy, but there is no way around it as hay is a must-have for bunnies. It’s important to consider potential allergies within the household.
  • Long Lifespan: Rabbits have a relatively long lifespan, often around 8 to 12 years or even longer. This commitment should be carefully considered before bringing a rabbit into your home.
  • Educational Requirements: Many people are not fully aware of the specific needs and behaviours of rabbits. Proper education and research are essential to ensure you’re equipped to care for them adequately.
  • Lack of Veterinary Specialists: Finding a veterinarian with experience in rabbit care can be challenging in some areas, potentially leading to inadequate medical care. The protocols (pre & post) with sterilization are different from other pets. Most antibiotics can kill them, so you need a qualified and experienced exotic pet vet.
Rabbit
Photo by Satyabratasm via www.pexels.com

RABBIT ENCLOSURES

When it comes to housing needs, rabbits need ample space to move around and exercise. Free roaming is always best. It also wouldn’t work to have the bunnies in a smaller space for the night “to sleep”, because bunnies are actually very busy at night and don’t have the same sleeping pattern as us humans. A small hutch or cage is not sufficient for their well-being. Providing a safe and spacious environment can be demanding, especially for apartment dwellers or those with limited space.

Minimum requirements: Solid non-wire flooring. The enclosure must be at least 4-6 times the size of the rabbit when they are entirely stretched out and more if confined to this space most of the day. At least 0.7m² of enclosure space combined with at least 2.2m² of exercise space, for 1-2 rabbits. The smallest space should be big enough for the rabbit to hop across three times and stand without their ears touching the top. This should only be the space to keep them temporarily, they need way more space to thrive! The above is literally the absolute bare minimum size. Read more general enclosure guidelines.

RABBIT STERILIZATION

Did you know that rabbits can have a litter almost every month? Hundreds of rabbits are surrendered daily because there are just not enough homes. We often hear “My bunny is a single bunny, so I’m not going to sterilize them”, but it is about more than just having babies! There are many benefits to sterilizing your rabbit (by Critter rescue):

Health benefits

  • Longer life.
  • Decreased risk of urinary tract infections.
  • Decreased risk of cancer. Unspayed females are at very high risk of two potentially fatal conditions: Uterine cancer and pyometra (infection of the uterus/womb). Unneutered males occasionally develop cancer in their testes and prostate gland. Although the risk is small, castration removes that risk completely.

 Social benefits

  • With the absence of all those raging hormones, it is much easier to bond your bunny with a friend.
  • Fewer fights occur (especially between males).
  • Females (although it is still possible for them to experience a false pregnancy) no longer have to go through the emotional stress of trying to build a nest.
  • Territorial behavior calms down.

 Habitual benefits

  • Easier to litterbox train.
  • Destructive behavior decreases, but remember, bunnies are mischievous beings with or without those hormones.

When should I sterilize my bunny?

Sterilization should ideally occur as soon as the bunny has reached his or her sexual maturity.

  • Male: between 3-5 months of age.
  • Female: between 4-6 months of age.

Disclaimer: There are valid reasons as to why your bunny isn’t sterilized, valid medical reasons. The time of neutering until the time of infertility in males can be a few weeks, so take extra precautions during this time. Please always consult with your exotic pet vet. Also, read more on rabbit sterilization and screening questions to find the right vet for your rabbit.

Please sterilize your rabbits and other pets because we have a massive overpopulation crisis!

TIPS ON HANDLING RABBITS

NEVER PICK THEM UP BY the ears, scruff, tail, or legs. It would be extremely stressful, will hurt, and is highly likely to injure them badly!

Rabbit
Rabbit handling – Image shared via The Paw Company

START EARLY

Get your rabbits used to human touch by socializing them early. Rabbits who aren’t handled regularly from a young age, or roughly handled at any age, may find human contact distressing.

BE GENTLE

Move slowly and talk quietly around rabbits so as not to startle them. They’re more likely to be relaxed in a quiet and calm handling environment.

PICK UP FROM THE GROUND

Picking rabbits up when you’re close to ground level is less likely to scare them, and is also safer as it helps prevent them being dropped by accident from a height. We advise all interactions to take place on ground level when possible.

ALWAYS SUPERVISE CHILDREN

Supervise children at all times, and only adults or responsible older children should be allowed to pick up rabbits.

BE SAFE

Safety is paramount when handling rabbits as their fragile spines can be seriously, or even fatally damaged if they feel insecure or struggle when held.

  • Hold rabbits gently, but firmly and ensure one hand supports their back and hindquarters at all times.
  • Help them feel secure by holding all four feet against your body.
  • Avoid placing rabbits on slippery surfaces. Placing a towel down can help make rabbits feel more secure.
  • Some sources suggest covering the eyes without covering the nares (nostrils), but talk to your bunny experts before you do this as not all will advise this.

PLEASE DON’T DUMP DOMESTIC BUNNIES IN THE WILD!

You won’t believe how many people are so cruel and foolish! You should never release a captive animal into the wild! They will not be able to care for themselves and you will sign their death warrant when you dump a domesticated bunny in a park, veld, or open environment like a plot or farm. Rather safely surrender them to your nearest SPCA, the NSPCA wildlife unit, your nearest reputable rescue organization, or a nearby wildlife rehabilitation center.

Domestic vs Wild/Feral Bunnies (by Critter Rescue)

Wild/feral rabbits adapted to their environment and know how to look for food and shelter and how to avoid predators. They have a natural instinct that developed from birth to survive in those environments. They adapt well to cold, hot, and wet weather.  

Domestic bunnies on the other hand, need (and wait for you to bring them) fresh foods and a balanced pellet diet with unlimited hay. They need you to groom them regularly and take them to a vet for parasite control and dental checks. Domestic bunnies also don’t adapt well to hot, cold, and wet weather and when released will die of heatstroke or get sick from wet and cold weather.

They don’t know how to properly identify predators as they are used to staying with you and in most cases were exposed to dogs, cats, and birds. Now they run around in an unknown area looking for food and shelter and suddenly they find themselves being ripped apart. If they are lucky enough the shock will kill them instantly but most aren’t. When they suffer from shock they freeze and that is when they get eaten alive. They can feel everything but can’t go anywhere.  

Your domestic bunny will fall pregnant, have her babies, and then have to sit and watch while they are being eaten and there is nothing she can do about it. She feeds her young at dusk and leaves the nest to keep predators away but they will still find their way to the nest and when she returns at dawn to feed again, she will find them gone or dead.

These are just some of the things that can go wrong with domestic bunnies after being released in the wild.  

REMEMBER!

  • If you see neglected rabbits (or any animal) please REPORT it to your local SPCA or the NSPCA.
  • Check your local BYLAWS on whether you need a PERMIT for keeping certain animals in your province as well as a possible travel permit when you move them.
  • If you’re concerned about your rabbit’s behaviour, seek veterinary advice from an exotic vet that specializes in rabbits, to rule out any form of illness or injury that could be causing problems.

STILL WANT TO TAKE CARE OF A RABBIT? 

Then please do your homework and do not buy one on impulse. Rabbits are social species and prefer to live in groups. If you decide to own a rabbit, always have at least 2 rabbits, but please understand behaviour and bonding before you just get another rabbit. However, if you don’t have the room or time or money to keep two rabbits you will need to become your rabbit’s companion.

Always ADOPT, DON’T SHOP because it is the only ethical option. Contact Critter Rescue SA for free care sheets and items for rabbits or to adopt. Another great rabbit resource is The House Rabbit Society.

We do not support keeping rabbits as pets and especially not as starter pets for kids, contrary to popular belief. They are often impulse buys, bought at markets and pet shops. Their care is not as straightforward as some other animals and handling them wrong can be fatal! If you do decide to get any one of these species, then you need to do proper research to meet all their needs and commit to their whole life!

Your bunny didn’t ask to be here and didn’t get a choice in the matter, you forced them to live with you. Your bunny didn’t know that you will lose interest and keep him or her locked up in a small cage until one day you decide to get rid of them. There lives are short compared to humans so give them the life a sentient being deserves!

Next week we will look at why you should stop being angry at shelters!

WHEN YOU KNOW BETTER, DO BETTER!