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Exotic Pets: Lagomorph Love

By: Tatiana Garrett

Rabbits are great pets—they are social, sweet, and full of personality. As a child, our family had several pet rabbits, and I am amazed at the advances in rabbit care that have come in the last few decades. Bunnies are still widely misunderstood though, and it is important to advocate for them year-round, and not just around Easter when their plight peaks.

Rabbits are lagomorphs, not rodents as some erroneously think. An ideal set-up for a rabbit is as an indoor house pet. Twenty years ago it was more common to keep them in an outdoor hutch, but domestic rabbit cannot withstand extreme weather conditions like their wild counterparts can. In extreme heat, it is important to remember the fur coat covering a bunny’s body. Rabbits fair best inside the home, but they should have an appropriate indoor hutch to keep them safe from mischief while unsupervised.

Since bunnies are social, it is great to have a pair. Of course they should be spayed/neutered, because we all know about rapid bunny reproduction! Sometimes pet parents are hesitant to get a buddy for their pet because they think the animals will bond with one another, leaving less affection for the human(s). Though this can be a legitimate worry for some animals (it’s a common concern heard in the parrot world), it is much less of an issue with bunnies—they have plenty of love to go around.

Having a rabbit can actually help you eat healthier. While rabbits do eat store-bought pellets, the majority of their diet should actually be fresh greens, so bunny parents can purchase lots of fresh produce to share with their pets. Bunnies should also have constant access to fresh hay to munch on and make into bedding. There are lots of commercial treats available, but all the rabbit experts that I’ve worked with over the years have recommended fresh fruits instead of items filled with preservatives (again, a common tip for your own healthy diet).

It is important to note that rabbits do not have the ability to regurgitate like a cat can; so while they do groom themselves, an impacted hairball can be deadly. The enzymes in pineapples and papayas can help to keep digestive things moving along smoothly, so these fruits serve as great treats for a rabbit. The lack of a gag reflex also means that celeryshould be cut into small pieces so the rabbit does not choke on the string-like pieces.

The risk of impaction brings up the fact that everything that goes in one end should be out the other end in a few hours—no bunny droppings can be a sign of impaction, and immediate veterinary care should be sought. Rabbit parents should locate the nearest small mammal veterinarian upon adoption, instead of scrambling during an emergency—just make sure first that they have rabbit experience.

Rabbits can be litter box trained. They are playful and fun to be around, but they are not ideal “starter pets” or great for houses with small children—their spines are extremely delicate, so if a child were to pick them up improperly it could be devastating. Their ears should not be tugged at, and under no circumstances should a rabbit be lifted by their ears.

Every year around Easter time, rabbits get attention from the rescue community because people still give them as presents. But rabbits are an 8-10 year commitment—not an impulse buy. If you are looking to take a sweet, curious, and sociable little rabbit into your home, go for it! Learn all that you can, and contact your nearest House Rabbit Society to find a place near you where you can adopt a rabbit. Think about taking home “some-bunny” to love.

 

Tatiana Garrett grew up with Borzoi, a rescued Standard Poodle, cats, hamsters, parrots, rabbits, guinea pigs, and an iguana… just to name a few pets. She began her professional career with animals in 1995 at Brookfield Zoo. She has studied wild dolphins in Australia and rescued wildlife in Florida, but people are truly at the heart of her work. If it walks, hops, or slithers, Tatiana cares about it. She currently oversees the Humane Education programs at The Anti-Cruelty Society and hosts “Chicago Tails” on Watch312.com.

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