So, your son or daughter wants a rabbit?
Congratulations, you are about to bring in a new family member! You don't really want a rabbit, but your child keeps begging so you are going to bring in a rabbit just to make them be quiet. Or perhaps your entire family, adults included, want a rabbit, which is the best possible scenario.
What does a rabbit in the household really mean to you as the parent? Read on...
Rabbits can live up to 10+ years old. This means that the adults need to be prepared to be responsible for the new pet for the next 10+ years before bringing the rabbit home.
If the kids get bored or go to college where pets are not allowed, the adults are going to be responsible for the rabbit. Because rabbits do best as indoor pets, be sure you are prepared to allow them to live inside.
If anyone in your house has allergies, talk to your doctor about testing for rabbit allergies before agreeing to a rabbit.
What happens if you move in the next 10+ years? Are you prepared to move with them, no matter what the circumstances? If not, don't say yes. Rabbits can take up to a year to find a new home, usually longer than you have when you are moving to a new location. Leaving your pet at a kill shelter because the rescues did not have space can be devastating for you and the kids.
Rabbits do better in pairs. Rabbits are highly social, it's very important they have a companion. Both rabbits must be spayed or neutered between 4-6 months of age if not already done or you will have A) more babies than you imagined possible or B) horrible fights that result in wounds & expensive vet bills! (Getting a pair from a rescue means you bring home a pair already altered!) Two rabbits can help keep each other amused when you are busy, and they can provide twice the entertainment.
Having a rabbit spayed or neutered can cost from $50 up to $400 per rabbit, depending on your local prices. Be sure to check the prices before bringing the rabbit home so you can plan ahead for this expense, or find a rabbit who has already been altered before bringing them home.
Buy a large enough cage from the beginning if you adopt or purchase a baby rabbit, even if you are told your rabbit is a dwarf. Larger condos or better yet, a "puppy pen" (also known as an "exercise pen") from a mail order company do not cost more than the small pet store cages, they just take a few extra days to get to your house. There are also some great pens built easy with "storage cubes". These inexpensive and can be made as creative as your mind allows.
It is better to purchase the proper set up and take up to 2 weeks to get the new enclosure through the mail before bringing the rabbit home, than to purchase the small cage and have to buy another cage within 6 months. You are going to need the larger enclosure, buying it from the beginning will save money later. If you don't have room for the larger cage, don't bring the rabbit home until you can afford the larger enclosure. You'll soon feel sorry for the rabbit sitting in too small a cage. Trust a rescuer, rabbits outgrow small pet store cages almost as fast as newborn humans outgrow clothes.
No wire bottomed cages, solid flooring only please! Imagine standing day after day barefoot on small sticks, your feet would become sore, you might develop open wounds. If you must purchase a wire bottomed cage (why?), create solid flooring in the form of grass mats, carpet squares or even non-slippery tiles.
Rabbits make messes. They poop, they pee, they might chew on furniture or books. They might eat carpet or destroy your baseboards. They will attack your cords. Hay will be scattered around the rabbit's cage, as will some food pellets. Until they are spayed/neutered and litter trained, they will probably pee or poop outside their cage! Some untrained rabbits will even pee right on your bed or couch! They smell if not cleaned up after! If left without their cage cleaned 2-3 times weekly, they could draw flies, roaches or even mice. An unclean cage smells, especially if the rabbit is not altered, not just for you, but for the rabbit forced to sit inches away from the dirty litter. When the kids get bored, the adults are responsible for cleaning up after the pet.
Rabbits have teeth and claws. This means, they can scratch or bite you or your child if handled improperly. Some rabbits bite as a result of hormones when they are not spayed or neutered. Rabbits who are not given enough attention will become even more leary of humans.
You will be responsible for your rabbit even if your rabbit turns out to be shy or a biter and not the cuddly pet you expected. Placing a shy or biting rabbit into a new home can be very hard, it could take several months. Because rabbits are very fragile, if your children are under 8, they should never be allowed to pick up the rabbit. Rabbits can easily break their own backs if not handled properly. If your child wants to hold the rabbit, make them sit down on the floor and you put the rabbit in their lap.
Rabbits are not stuffed animals who enjoy being carried around the house. Most rabbits hate being picked up, so if your kids are expecting to pick the rabbit up, don't get one unless you are adopting an adult rabbit who doesn't mind being picked up. Baby rabbits who don't mind being picked up when little usually change their minds when they hit puberty. It's one of the biggest reasons rabbits are given up, "the kids are afraid of them because they scratch or bite"!
Rabbits need daily interaction with humans and time out of their cage or pen. If the kids get bored or busy, it's up to you to make the time. Too often, rabbits are abandoned after a few months because they aren't as cute now, or just "aren't as fun" or no one wants to make time.
If you, or another adult member of the household cannot personally make at least 2 hours a day to spend with the rabbit, you are better off letting the kids watch rabbits on TV than bringing one home. Think about it, rabbits are intelligent beings who suffer if left in a cage ignored day after day. You would not leave your child locked in a closet for days on end, it would be considered neglect. It's considered neglect to leave a rabbit locked in a cage with no attention. It's not a chore, aren't you getting a rabbit because you think they are fun? Rabbits can live for over 10 years, it's a long term commitment, even when the rest of your life changes.
Rabbits need to be kept safe. This means that your house will need to be rabbit proofed before the rabbit comes home. All cords must be covered, all doorways must be blocked securely if you don't want a rabbit in a certain room. Rabbits must be supervised by adults when out of their cage because they are a lot like two year old humans. They are into everything, especially at first. Expecting a child or even a teenager to properly watch the rabbit could mean that several things of yours are seriously chewed. Rabbits tend to find the most expensive items in your house to chew first, so if you don't watch the rabbit, be prepared to replace or live without those items.
It's already been said, but it bears repeating. Spaying and neutering needs to be done to prevent hormonal problems, including spraying, territorial cage protecting, uterine cancer, false pregnancies, etc. Failing to spay or neuter could result in an unwanted pregnancy if you have more than 1 rabbit. (Please get the rabbits correctly sexed by a vet if you did not get them at a rescue!) Spaying and neutering costs vary worldwide, but it averages around $125. If money is an issue, check out prices in your area before bringing a non-spayed or un-neutered rabbit into your house. If you ignore this advice, you might find yourself wishing you had in 8 months when the hormones are in high gear.
Vet bills. Rabbits get ill, they become injured, just like any other pet. This means that you will need to take the rabbit to the vet. Rabbits who are left to "see if the problem goes away" often die. Sometimes waiting just until the morning can kill a rabbit. So, plan on putting money aside for vet bills. If you don't intend to "spend more money on a $20 pet", leave the rabbit in the home he or she is already in.
New pets might come into your household. This means that you need to be prepared to protect the rabbit in a safe area of your house or yard from these new pets. It's not a reason to get rid of the pet. Too often, I hear people say, "The kids decided they wanted a puppy instead". There is no "instead", this rabbit should be in your house for it's lifetime. If you are purchasing a "novelty" item, decide against a rabbit, they are living, breathing animals with feelings.
If you, as the parent or guardian, can't make a 10+ year commitment and don't personally want a rabbit that you will be the sole provider of, please, don't get a rabbit. It's not easy to re-home that rabbit once it's been at your house for year or more, being ignored and neglected by your kids who got bored or busy with homework or soccer. Older rabbits who have become un-socialized die in shelters daily because there are not enough homes for them. Even sweet, older rabbits can have a hard time finding a new home! Rabbits are a life time commitment for the adults in the family.
If you aren't prepared for a rabbit of your own, not just for the kids, be fair to the rabbit and let a family with dedicated adults adopt him or her instead. Your kids will be angry, but you are teaching them responsibility by NOT taking on a pet you are not equipped to provide a lifetime of care for.
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