Photo (cc) by picto:graphic
I hate the Easter Bunny. He’s worse than Santa Claus.
At least Santa does some good while commercializing a religious holiday – thousands of jolly old men find temporary employment at the mall each winter. But the Easter Bunny? Thanks to him, thousands of pet bunnies become homeless each spring.
The cute holiday icon leads parents to believe that a pet rabbit would make a cute Easter gift for the kids. But a rabbit requires a lot of time and money. When I say “money,” I’m talking in the thousands. When I say “time,” I mean a decade or so.
I know this because I’m the proud owner of two rabbits – one of them an Easter-gift-turned-unwanted-pet that someone let loose in my neighborhood a month after the holiday.
“Every year, many thousands of rabbits are abandoned to shelters or released outdoors (a sure death sentence for a domestic rabbit) often because of misunderstandings on the part of the parents who bought them for their kids,” says the House Rabbit Society, a national nonprofit rescue and education group.
What a pet rabbit really costs
Rabbits aren’t like hamsters. You can’t leave them in a cage all day, feed them nothing but cheap pellets, clean their cage once a week, never take them to the vet, and be secure in the knowledge they’ll be dead in two or three years. Here are the rabbit facts…
Pet rabbits are a long-term commitment. The House Rabbit Society estimates that pet rabbits live 8 to 12 years. One of my bunnies is 8 years old and still perfectly healthy. His wife lived to be 12. And my vet (who specializes in rabbits) tells me she’s seen plenty of bunnies live to 15.
Rabbits are a lot of time and work. They need to run around outside of their cages. The House Rabbit Society recommends 30 hours of exercise a week. But first you’ll have to “rabbit-proof” your home so they don’t chew through electrical cords or gnaw on wood furniture. My younger (and feistier) bunny has destroyed everything from lamps to pricey electronics after sneaking out of her enclosure and into rooms that weren’t rabbit-proofed.
Rabbits must be spayed or neutered. This isn’t just to prevent them from reproducing like, well, rabbits. It prevents health complications (like cancer) and behavioral problems (like spraying urine on the wall). They can be litter-trained, but either way, the litter box or the cage requires daily cleaning.
Most rabbit breeds also shed several times a year. All my bunnies have always gradually shed their entire coat. During the shedding period, which lasts several weeks, they require daily brushing to keep it under control. But even then, fur seems to get everywhere, especially on my clothes. I go through a lot of lint rollers.
Rabbits aren’t cheap eaters. They need a constant supply of fresh water and fresh hay. Yes, hay. (Long story short, it’s vital for their digestive health.) I buy hay in 50-pound bales because it’s cheapest. But that much hay still costs $50 to $65, multiplied by several orders a year. Rabbits also need a couple cups of fresh veggies daily and rabbit pellets at least weekly.
The House Rabbit Society’s San Diego chapter estimates that a pet rabbit costs $7,662 over the course of its life. As a rabbit owner of 15 years, I think that’s a tad high. But even if the total were half that much, it’s still a big chunk of change.
What to do if you still want a pet rabbit
Rabbits are not cuddly lap pets. They’re easily spooked prey animals that often don’t like being picked up, let alone held. This is especially true of younger rabbits. And if your children mishandle them, they’ll develop a habit of nipping humans who try to touch them, which means your children will quickly lose interest in their new pet.
I think the House Rabbit Society’s website is the single best place to educate yourself about whether a rabbit is right for you, what it takes to be a rabbit owner, and how to adopt a rabbit instead of buying one from the pet store.
I adopted my older bunny from the Humane Society’s South Florida Wildlife Center, which takes in everything but cats and dogs. When I took my bunny home, he was one of 90-something rabbits available for adoption. And it’s those rows and rows of homeless bunnies that I see in my mind’s eye every time I think of the Easter Bunny.