Rabbits: a Cat-alternative

Pittman & Davis

Thinking about getting a pet? There’s one furry companion you probably haven’t considered, but should. It’s smart, uses a litter box, can learn to come and walk on a leash, is at home anywhere from a big house with yard to a college dorm room, and it probably won’t make you sneeze. What’s this terrific alternative to a dog, cat and hamster? A rabbit.

Rabbits are funny and charming – and they need you as much as you need them. Like dogs and cats, rabbits are abandoned every day. The United States Humane Society reports that 3 million to 4 million — yes, million — rabbits are euthanized in shelters each year. By adopting a bunny, you not only get a terrific companion, you save a life.

What’s so special about bunnies?

Rabbits are quiet, smart and will play with toys.

They’re cute. Watching them eat a carrot or just wash their big ears will put a smile on anyone’s face.

Far fewer people have allergies to rabbits than other furry pets, and you can find some breeds that barely shed.

They’re clean, as animals go. Once they’ve learned to use a litter box, they can roam around your house like any other pet. Plus, their droppings are virtually odor-free and are considered cold compost, meaning you can toss them directly into the garden with great results.

They are social animals. They’re happiest and healthiest when they have another rabbit to play with. They also like to snuggle with people, so you can plan to spend time holding, petting and playing with them each day.

There are more than 40 different types of rabbits to choose from. (For more information on them, go to http://www.arba.net/photo.htm).

Who should get a rabbit?

Bunnies are especially good pets for people who live in apartments because they’re quiet, don’t need to be walked and can be litter trained. Most apartments and dormitories allow rabbits because they are considered “caged” pets.

Rabbits — especially if they have another bunny for company — are ideal for people who work long hours or take weekend trips. They do fine for a day if you leave plenty of timothy hay, rabbit feed, veggies and water.

They are great starter pets for school-age children (the recommended starting age is 8, but it depends on your child). Just be sure the bunnies aren’t too big for your kids to handle properly. And since rabbits live about 10 years, be sure you’re prepared to care for them, like you would dogs or cats, if your children don’t. The organization where you get your rabbits can help you find the best match.

If you are unsure about a rabbit as a pet, seek out a local rescue organization and become a foster. Most rescues will pay for all supplies and food — and all pay for veterinary care — until a permanent home is found. This is a wonderful way to save some bunnies’ lives, decide if you’re a rabbit person and find the perfect one for you.

How do you choose?

Rabbits’ personalities change greatly when they go into adolescence. Some love toys, others like to romp in the tall grass. Getting a rabbit that’s at least 6 months old will help guarantee that the bunny you adopt will act the same way a year from now. If you adopt from a rescue organization, the foster parent can give you information on the bunny’s likes, fears and quirks.

If you’ve got a dog, consider up front how it will respond to a new pet in your home. Many dogs learn to get along with rabbits; some befriend them; some see them as prey. If a rabbit will be safe in your home, choose one that’s the right size to interact with your other pets.

Rabbits have a variety of personalities. Like cats, some rabbits will play hard to get; some will sit on your lap and let you pet them as long as you like. Find a bunny that suits your style.

Reputable rabbit rescue organizations will insist that your rabbits be spayed or neutered, for their health and your happiness. Most rescues factor that into the adoption fee.

How do you care for bunnies?

Rabbits need attention, fresh water and food (timothy hay, rabbit chow and vegetables) every day.

Their litter boxes must be changed at least weekly.

Rabbits need a cozy space to call home, but they don’t require much stuff. An extra-large wire dog crate, water bottle, heavy food bowl, litter box with recycled paper litter, a box with shredded paper to dig in, and a few hard infant or cat toys will keep them happy.

To keep your bunnies healthy in a wire-bottom cage, put old carpet scraps on the bottom. Without that protection, they’ll develop painful and debilitating arthritis in their toes. While you’re at it, add a 12- by 12-inch ceramic tile for him to lie on to cool off. You can often get these for free from a local flooring store.

Unlike dogs and cats, rabbits take a few weeks to warm up to new people and surroundings. At first they will hop a few feet out of and then back into their cage, then they’ll gradually start to explore. They’ll relax once they become comfortable with their environment. Although they love to hop around the house, rabbits need a safe place — a covered box or small covered doggie bed – where they can go when they need time alone.

Bunnies don’t see in color, so they often mistake wires for weeds and chew on them. You can easily bunny-proof your home by tacking wires up out of their reach.

House rabbits have difficulty cooling off above 85 degrees and staying warm below 40 degrees, so you’ll need to use caution when you take them outside in the summer or winter.

My bunny’s home. Now what?

Enjoy! You won’t be able to resist:

— Watching carrot juice drip from your baby bunny’s chin after an especially good carrot.

— The first time bunny grooms you (to show you are his).

— The times when she jumps with glee and spins around in mid-air.

— Watching bun sleep peacefully on his back, legs straight up in the air

To learn more about rabbit habits, adoptions or fostering opportunities, visit:

House Rabbit Society: http://www.rabbit.org/

PetFinder: http://www.petfinder.com

Rabbit Haven’s list of state rescue organizations: http://www.rabbithaven.org/BunnyLinks/Shelters_Rescues/StateListings.htm

The Humane Society of the United States: http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/rabbit_horse_and_other_pet_care/how_to_care_for_rabbits.html

Dr. Snipes received her Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling and Addictions and her PhD in Counseling and Education from the University of Florida. She is an ordained Christian minister . Currently she runs an online continuing education site continuing education for rehabilitation counselors, addictions professionals, social workers and engineers and has a part-time private practice.

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