It is Easter time and one subject dear to my heart is rabbit care. I often warn about the temptations to buy that sweet little bunny or chick in the pet store at Easter. The live “Easter Bunny” indulgence leads to a great deal of suffering and pain for rabbits because most people do not realize how long the commitment to care for a rabbit is; many of the Easter rabbits are abandoned or surrendered to shelters which creats an overpopulation of rabbits in need of homes. All the while, most rabbit breeders and pet store employees can tell customers nothing about the proper care of these amazing animals. In fact, pet stores will often display rabbits in a cage with cedar shavings as bedding. A rabbit exposed to cedar fumes can develop respiratory problems and, worse, develop kidney disease and failure leading to death. But the pet store owner will happily sell customers cedar bedding for the rabbits. Ignorance is rampant. Clay kitty litter, ingested by rabbits, will block their intestinal tract so it is not an option. Fortunately, there are plenty of paper-based or cellulose bedding products now to keep your bunny safe.
I have a soft spot for rabbits because my rabbit Boodles, who died young many years ago, opened my eyes to how ill-informed I was on his care. In fact, it was the grief over Boodles’ death that led me to abandon a career in business to return to veterinary school and become a vet. I have dedicated many hours learning about rabbit health and have made it a point to educate people on their proper care. Here is a picture of a class of elementary school kids who took the time to learn about rabbit care from me and my rabbit Harriet.
Harriet is a house rabbit and lives peacefully with the dogs and the cats. She has a collar with a tag and a microchip like the others. She is litter box trained and has her own collection of toys. She has an ample supply of fresh timothy hay and fresh vegetables. The best nutrition products for rabbits are produced by Oxbow. Oxbow produces a rabbit kibble and hay products that are a great base for their diet. In addition, plenty of leafy green vegetables, such as dandelion greens, arugula, parsley and beet tops are a necessary addition. Limited spinach, kale and carrots are a healthy treat for them. To keep their teeth trimmed, safe chew toys are required and help keep your house safe from the rabbit’s need to chew. Apple branches are a great chew toy for rabbits. I use hay, not cedar shavings, for my rabbit’s litter tray. Fresh hay for eating (a very very important part of their diet) on one side and a well-defined corner for their toilet. Some vegetables and fruit are not good for rabbits and yard plants are potentially dangerous. A great resource for all things rabbit and a wonderful adoption resource is the House Rabbit Society at http://rabbit.org . The site has great information on healthy diets, toxic plants and substances, tips on husbandry, a list of rabbit friendly vets and lots of info on their care.