I’m very excited to share with you all a Very Special Guest Post by a veterinarian who knows much more about rabbits than I do: exotics veterinarian Dr. Baebler! Like many vets, I’ll grudgingly treat these little guys, but I know less about them than I wish I did. So without further ado, here’s some Easter advice from our buddy Dr B!
With Easter just around the corner, ‘tis the season for cute little bunnies, chicks, and ducklings to start appearing in pet stores and farm & feed stores across the country. Unfortunately, this also means many, many unwanted animals are dumped, set “free” or neglected every spring.
As a veterinarian specializing in exotic pets, I see a good number of “Easter bunnies” bought for the kids. I urge all parents out there to do your homework with the small mammals or “pocket pets,” just like you would when acquiring a dog or cat as a pet.
I know first-hand how this type of situation can end. When I was 8 or 9, my parents got us a bunny for Easter. We named him Cinnamon and loved on him relentlessly for about 2 weeks. I started developing allergies to him, and he was shuttled off to a room in the basement, where he spent most of his time, caged and alone, for the better part of 11 years. Knowing what I know now as a veterinarian, we were doing it ALL wrong.
Rabbits can make great pets for individuals and families equipped to properly house and care for them. People interested in owning a rabbit (or rabbits) should know several things:
- Most rabbits live to be 10 years old or longer. The oldest rabbit I’ve treated was 14. Their lifespan is approaching that of cats and dogs, which is a long-term commitment. The majority of bunnies are social and like to have a companion or spend a good portion of time interacting with their people.
- Rabbits are not pets to be kept in cages 24/7. Rabbits need daily exercise in a “bunny-proofed” room to stretch their legs and remain mentally and physically healthy.
- A rabbit’s diet is more complex than most of those bags of food you see in the pet store. Rabbits should have grass hay provided at all times, small amounts of good quality grass hay pellets, and generous helpings of greens and select vegetables every day.
- Rabbits require routine vet care, just like dogs and cats! More on that below.
I recommend using paper-based bedding in a rabbit’s cage and litterbox, such as Carefresh or Yesterday’s News. Wire grate floors can be bad for rabbit feet. If the cage you use MUST have a wire floor, at least part of it should have a flat, padded surface for the rabbit to be able to get off of the wire surface if they choose. Most wood shavings contain essential oils that can be irritating to their eyes and nose, and I don’t recommend using them as a bedding material for any small mammal.
Finding a good rabbit vet is also very important. While they don’t need yearly vaccines, rabbits should have a full yearly examination, including evaluating their teeth for dental problems, and have routine bloodwork screenings as they get older. There are certain medications commonly administered to dogs and cats that should NEVER be given to bunnies, like certain antibiotics and steroids. Rabbits can have malocclusion, or abnormal growth of the teeth, which requires periodic adjustments to maintain a healthy mouth. They are also prone to “GI stasis,” a slowdown of the gut which can be a primary issue or, more commonly, a sign of some other underlying problem. Urinary tract issues, ear infections, and certain cancers are also common in rabbits. A veterinarian well-versed in rabbit medicine should be equipped to handle all these common problems.
All this information is by no means the be-all-end-all of rabbit care. I highly suggest anyone interested in adopting a bunny check out the House Rabbit Society (www.rabbit.org) for a wealth of information on rabbit care and behavior information. The Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians (www.aemv.org ) is a group of veterinarians with a specific interest in treating exotic companion mammals. There is a search feature on their website to help you locate vets in your area who work with rabbits.
If after reading this and doing your homework, you think a bunny is right for you, by all means, head on over to petfinder.com or your local rabbit shelter to adopt a new friend. Otherwise, I suggest sticking to the chocolate variety this Easter—dark chocolate for me!
Dr. Baebler is a veterinarian practicing in St. Louis, MO at Kersting Veterinary Hospital (www.birdmedicineandsurgery.com). Her specific interests include avian and exotic pet medicine and surgery. After veterinary school, she completed a specialized internship in avian and exotic pet medicine and surgery before working in the Chicago area as an exotic pet vet and an emergency vet for 2 years.
image source: www.bunnybunch.org