With Easter fast approaching, so does the promise of warmer weather, time with friends and family, and enough vegan chocolate to last until July, or maybe the end of April if you’re anything like me! But for rescue centres, Easter is one of the busiest times of the year. So, why is this?
Despite being the UK’s third most popular companion animal, rabbits are sadly the among the most abused and neglected. Its estimated 4 out of the 5 rabbits bought for Easter gifts are given up for re-homing or abandoned within just a few short months.
An estimated 67,000 rabbits a year go through rescue. This is largely due to the fact that people don’t realise how much time and care rabbits actually require. Did you know rabbits can live up to 12 years? That’s a long commitment to make and the decision to have a rabbit shouldn't be made lightly. Unfortunately they are always viewed as the ‘perfect first pet’ for children, but this isn’t the case. Lets explore some bunny behaviour and basic care for you to consider before making the commitment...
In the wild, rabbits live in large family groups called colony’s, travelling large distances daily in search of food and to play with each other. As pets, rabbits tend to spend much of their time alone, in an outdoor hutch or indoor cage with no stimulation. The Victorian's kept rabbits in small hutches, stacked on top of each other for simple and easy access for meat in the kitchen. This has stuck throughout time and small hutches are still predominately used today. Rabbits can live much happier and healthier lives in bonded pairs, they love the company of their own kind and will even snuggle and groom each other. They also need access to a large run or secure garden during the day, where they can run, hop and binky, which is a super excited rabbit dance! Unfortunately a lot of rabbits never have the opportunity to exercise properly.
Fun fact, a rabbit can jump up to 2ft in height and incredible 4ft in length!
These are the sizes of a standard rabbit hutch in the UK. It would be like you living in a wardrobe with no time outside to stretch your legs and exercise. Rabbits kept in these conditions often start to display stressed behaviours, such as charging and biting. This is because they are so frustrated and stressed. They can go on to display destructive behaviour, such as chewing the hutch or bars on a cage. These can be the reasons they find themselves in a rescue centre or worse, dumped. But its not the rabbits fault. They simply cannot preform natural and instinctive behaviours in these enforced housing conditions.
Rabbits are mistakenly seen as a ‘cheap and easy’ children’s pet, but they are far from cheap or easy. The average cost to set up a pair of rabbits can be up to £1000! This includes the rabbits themselves, their home, a spacious run, food, bedding, treats, food bowls, water bottles, toys, fly strike prevention, a basic bunny first aid kit, vaccinations, a vet health check and finally, insurance.
A rabbit can be just as much of a commitment as a dog or cat can be. Sometimes pet shops mistakenly sell wrongly sexed pairs and before you know it, you have a bunny family that just keeps on multiplying! This can become very stressful and very expensive, very quickly.
Are bunnies cuddle buddies?
Another common misconception is that rabbits enjoy being picked up and cuddled. As rabbits are essentially prey animals, they become very stressed easily when overly handled. Having rabbits myself, I know that over time, them being treated right and trust being gained, that cuddles come along eventually, but these shouldn't be enforced upon the happy hopper. Be patient and plenty of snuggles will soon be yours.
Diet is huge part of owning a rabbit, as you’ve probably guessed , rabbits are herbivores. A rabbit should have unlimited access to hay and dried meadow grasses. Eating hay also helps to keep a rabbits teeth trim, as they continently grow. If teeth are left to grow too long they can cause serious and painful dental issues.
Leafy greens should be fed daily and a good quality pellet food. Most rabbits are just fed a basic muesli diet full off cheap ingredients, colouring's and additives.Chocolate or milk drops are another ‘treat’ product marketed for rabbits.
Not even the Easter bunny eats dairy, he's vegan like all the other bunnies!
Improper diet can cause a very long list of digestive upsets and problems. These can lead to Diarrhoea, fly strike from a messy bum, gut stasis, dental abscesses, swelling or tooth root issues and in severe cases even death.
Please think this Easter about the thousands of bunnies that will end up in rescue centres or abandoned. If you are sure you have the time and space in your life to become a bunny parent, please do all the research you can. Go and visit your local rescue centre and talk to people there, spend time with the rabbits and make sure they are a suitable pet for you.
Some fantastic websites for more research and information are: www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk, www.bva.co.uk and www.bluecross.org.uk
Rescue centres can be a wealth of knowledge and rabbits will already be neutered, bonded, vaccinated and health checked and will come with a life time of help and support. If you can't welcome a rabbit into your family, how about making some gift boxes for the rabbits in your local rescue centre and getting children involved. This makes an excellent caring and crafty project!
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And my 12 years experience ;)