Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rabbits, with the proper care, make wonderful pets

In the days and weeks that follow Easter, many animal shelters find their baskets filled with unwanted rabbits, left by people who thought they would make cute pets.
As it turns out, they're a nervous bunch, and rightfully so.
"They are prey animals so it's in their nature to be careful," said Dr. John Simon, owner of Woodside Animal Clinic of Royal Oak and a veterinarian for more than 30 years. "They're kind of like popcorn. They can be sitting still one minute but frightened by something a second later and, pop, they're jumping up and running away."
One should understand, however, where rabbits are coming from. In the wild, rabbits have to worry about snakes, birds and raccoons, not to mention the fact that they are an animal that the entire world eats. Naturally, they are going to live in a state of perpetual anxiety.
"Once they realize no one is going to eat them, they relax and you can see their true nature come out," said Marc Morrone, host of Hallmark Channel's "Petkeeping with Marc Morrone," whose TV sidekick is a big rabbit named Harvey, brought to him by police who found him abandoned 10 years ago.
If you are thinking about buying one for the holiday or any other time, there are a few other quirky things to consider.
For one, rabbits are smart enough to be trained to do things such as walking on a leash or a harness, but because they can become prey for everything including the ambitious chef at the local bistro, they cannot be left to hop on their own.
They're also particularly nervous when being picked up, which can be a major problem for children who like to carry around small pets such as a bunny. 
AP Photo/Brian Friedman
Marc Morrone and his sidekick rabbit, Harvey.
"Rabbits are born with light, fragile bones and heavy musculature so they can run fast," Simon said. "Running away quickly is part of their defense system. If they are picked up, and their hind legs are not supported properly, when they kick that muscular force can actually break their back."
If the bunny is being considered for a child, he or she should be old enough to understand their pet has inherent liabilities, so they can be taught how to care for it properly.

When rabbits are picked up and their feet are dangling, rest assured they will kick.
 "Mother rabbits don't pick up their young," Morrone said, "so nothing prepares them to be carted around."
As with any animal you take on, be prepared to have vet bills. As with a cat or dog, rabbits have to be spayed or neutered, are prone to hairballs and diseases, and need their nails trimmed by professionals, Morrone said. 
If they are going to be kept outdoors, Simon said owners need to keep them clean. If they get dirty around their tail, they can develop problems with their skin brought on by flies.
"Their ears should be cleaned, too," Simon said.
If you want a happy rabbit, it will need plenty of room to hop around. Oh, and be prepared to deal with nibbled wires, moldings, rugs, toys or whatever else might be in its chomping path. Rabbits are forever chewing, a habit that can prove costly to its owners. Be prepared to offer up your wicker baskets as an alternative, or invest in chewy toys such as grass mats.
A hare sheds and requires brushing daily, but Simon said they are usually pretty clean and can be trained to use a litter box, which is kind of amazing.
Rabbits prefer a cool house and not alone, which is why two rabbits is often better than one (provided there is some family planning going on).
Last, you should know hares can be head cases. 
"Because a rabbit is not as expressive as a dog or as vocal as a cat, it takes time and understanding to get in tune with a rabbit," Morrone said. "(But) they are extremely affectionate. They have a complex communication system like foot-thumping and chin-rubbing."
When a rabbit thumps his foot, it is acknowledging something or someone. "If I walk into a room, my rabbits will stamp their feet to let the other rabbits know, 'Hey, Daddy's here,'" Morrone said.
As for verbal communication, most of the time they are mute, but grunt if they are unhappy and make a high-pitched scream when in extreme distress.
If, after considering all of its quirks, you still want a rabbit, Morrone recommends finding out more about it through sites such as the House Rabbit Society. He also suggests adopting a rabbit from a rescue group or shelter.
"People who have rabbits love them," Simon said. "In the right environment, they are a very good pet."
AP contributed to this report.

Today’s Muse
You enter into a certain amount of madness when you marry a person with pets – Nora Ephron

No comments:

Post a Comment