Type “rabbits are not Easter gifts” into your browser, hit Images and scroll down. You’ll get seemingly infinite images of rabbits with stern caveats against their roles as Easter gifts and bullet lists of their specific and daunting needs as pets. You’ve probably seen these graphics anyway—they all smartly exhort that rabbits aren’t Easter bunnies and should never be presented as such, particularly to a child. This goes for baby chicks, too.
“A lot of people shouldn’t have rabbits in the first place,” said Caroline Charland, founder of the Bunny Bunch Rabbit Rescue. “They haven’t done research—they get them for their children, and a child cannot take care of a rabbit.”
Long Beach rabbit mama Kieara Carroll agrees.
“They’re cute and cuddly, yes, but I don’t know that they’re great starter animals, especially for a little kid,” she said. “They may not want to cuddle with you right away. You have to earn their trust, and that could take a long time. You don’t want the child to be disappointed.”
There are undoubtedly many children who know how to properly care for a rabbit, but it’s likely because the parents did the necessary research about the special care that rabbits need. Unless the family is willing to get the facts and follow them accordingly, their rabbits will wind up in parks, golf courses, on college campuses and in the streets. Domestic rabbits left to live “in their natural habitat” fall prey to cars, disease, toxins and other animals, including wild rabbits who will fight them for territory and make other little rabbits with them.
“A lot of people think that domestic rabbits can survive outside, but they cannot,” Charland said.
Rabbits at Long Beach Animal Care Services had been dumped or abandoned—they’re adoptable now. The Bunny Barn will get a renovation in the future. Video courtesy of Long Beach Animal Care Services.
Several years ago, Long Beach City College instructors Jacque Olson and Donna Prindle trapped over 150 domestic rabbits dumped on the college campus and got them all fixed, vetted and adopted. At last report, only the wild boys and girls remain. Other bunnies, if their rabbit’s foot is working for them, can wind up at Long Beach Animal Care Services’ Bunny Barn where they’re available for adoption or pulled by rescues like Bunny Bunch.
Charland said that rabbit intake at rescues is heavy not just after Easter but all year long, particularly during spring and winter breaks and summer vacation. People move and can’t or won’t take their pet along, there might be a death in the family, or a student has a rabbit in the dorm and isn’t allowed to bring it home. A sick rabbit might incur costs that its human can’t afford, or someone in the family has an allergy.
Like other rescues, the Bunny Bunch receives many rabbits from individual surrenders and also pulls from shelters like Long Beach Animal Care Services. At any time, they generally have 300 rabbits in their facility, with a waiting list of 200 from individuals and shelters.
“There’s never a day when I don’t get at least 10 calls,” Charland said.
Carroll got her first rabbit, Darius Bunnington, aka Bunn, from Rabbit Rescue, an organization in Paramount that also pulls bunnies from Long Beach. She originally had wanted a cat, but her boyfriend, Ryan, was allergic to them.
“I honestly didn’t think of a bunny until I went to Rabbit Rescue with a friend and saw how cute and fluffy and sweet they were,” Carroll said.
A responsible rescue will advise potential adopters about the special needs of the species it’s fostering. Volunteers at the Bunny Bunch insist that people interested in adopting a rabbit visit their education center before making any decision about adopting. Charland asks parents not to bring children along during the first visit so they won’t be disappointed if the adult decides that caring for a rabbit is too much for them. Charland said that this happens many times.
“A lot of people have no idea about how rabbits live in a home,” she said. “They chew the baseboards. They have to be spayed or neutered—even a single rabbit will get aggressive or messy. They should not live in hutches. They need a special diet.”
Carroll said that she had to fill out a stack of forms and submit to interviews before Rabbit Rescue let her take Bunn home. Before she went to get Bunn, who was just a vestigial-eared baby then, she researched domestic rabbits extensively. What she didn’t learn online, she learned by experience. She also added Jelly to the family a couple of years after discovering that rabbits are happier in pairs and live longer as well.
They’re not Bugs Bunny, either
One of the first things that Carroll read up on was feeding. Rabbits will eat anything in Farmer McGregor’s garden and then attack anything you have growing in the house or on the patio, and Carroll said that you have to be extremely particular about your rabbit’s diet.
“I found that there’s so much that a rabbit shouldn’t eat,” she said. “I know someone who fed her rabbit too much watermelon and he died. When I have something left over from a meal and it’s a vegetable, I always Google it to see if it’s OK—you know, it’s a vegetable, and a rabbit should be able to eat it, but no. It was a shock when I found out how finicky their stomachs can be.”
A rabbit’s diet should be mostly hay—75% to 80% of a rabbit’s diet, according to the House Rabbit Society, another rescue that pulls from Long Beach (make sure that there’s an unlimited supply of hay). There are several types of hay—feed stores, pet stores and rescue pages are good resources for what kind to buy. Rabbit pellets are good for fiber intake but are fattening and should be given in recommended quantities only once a day. Vegetable content should be monitored, too, at 5% to 15%. Sufficient water is a given.
Rabbits will sample any food that they find, so take care to keep floors and counters clean of scraps.
“I give them little tiny bits of apples as a reward for just being so cute, and they love bananas,” Carroll said. “But those things should be few and far between—once a week, maybe. The sugar content and the water content can really mess them up. Carrots aren’t good for rabbits, either—too much sugar.”
A cage is not a home
Rabbits are house pets, same as cats and dogs. Confinement to a cage is cruel and neglectful, and will result in a bummed-out bunny. Once rabbits have gained your trust, they become social and also need stimulation. They’re also prey animals by nature and need to feel safe. Carroll and Ryan built a two-level house for their rabbits where they can stay at night and sleep on a comfy bed of hay. During the day, they prance around the house and join them on the couch when they need some loving.
“They really entertain us—they hop straight up in the air when they need attention,” Carroll said.
The couple provides special toys and keeps enough of them around the house for them to chew on. The good news is that rabbit toys don’t have to be expensive—toilet paper rolls, oven-dried pine cones, phone books (a good use for the ones that still get dropped off at the house, if any do) all answer the call of the incisor. Rabbits also like to dig and burrow—the little tunnels made for cats and ferrets will entertain them endlessly. The House Rabbit Society recommends a yard of fleece for them to push around).
Speaking of chewing…
Rabbits gotta gnaw the way cats gotta claw. With cats, the only casualties are the sofa and the armchair, even with scratching posts everywhere. Rabbits on the other hand will go for an electrical wire, which means both goodbye to the lamp and the rabbit both.
Bunny-proofing the house is important; House Rabbit Society has a good guide on its website. One of the first things that Carroll did was to put flexible tubing over the electrical wires—the tubing is available at hardware stores or through Amazon. She tucked away the wires and thought she had it covered, so to speak.
“But we learned the hard way,” Carroll said. “We have a rabbit-size patio and we’re plant people, so we crammed in a bunch of pots and wooden barrels to grow vegetables in. We had a grapevine growing there, too.”
Bunn got into the barrels right away, so the couple adapted the patio with discrete spaces for bunny and barrels, and never the twain shall meet.
Speaking of teeth, rabbit teeth don’t stop growing—ever—and chew toys will make good files. Even if the thought makes your own teeth itch, a vet may have to trim the chompers down if they get too long. Rabbit people should check the mouth weekly to make sure that the teeth are healthy and nothing is lodged in them, like stray paper clips or that earring you thought went into the laundry.
Move over, Garfield, I gotta go
It’s surprising to some people when they find out that rabbits can learn to use a litter box as easily as cats do. Show the rabbit where the box is, and put enough of the litter on bottom for absorption, and put some hay on top for digging. Don’t use traditional gravel litter or the scoopable stuff. Carroll prefers the recycled shredded paper pellets, and there are other soft choices in pet stores.
Keep the box clean, or the rabbit will find somewhere else to go. Carroll and Ryan’s rabbits have two boxes—a big one on the patio and a smaller one in the little house, which ups the real estate value.
Like cats and dogs, domestic rabbits must be spayed or neutered, even if you have only one. As Charland said, unaltered rabbits can be aggressive or spray everywhere. She said that the behavior of unfixed rabbits is one reason that people give them up—she’s kept several families together by recommending a fix.
Responsible rescues and shelters will fix their rabbits before adopting them out. If you have a baby bunny, do a search for veterinarians who spay and neuter rabbits. Locally, Long Beach Animal Hospital fixes bunnies, and Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital may as well tack “rabbits” on their marquee, too.
For Easter, give your kids stuffed toys to cuddle, and don’t forget the Peeps. Real rabbits as pets and family members are another story, and here’s hopping—uh, hoping—that the ending’s happier than “Peter Rabbit.”
Watch “Beach Bunny Bungalow” on Animal Planet’s “Animal Cribs” for a cameo from Bunny Bunch.
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