Rabbits can make great pets but not Easter playthings for little ones

ST. GEORGE — This time of year, rabbits are everywhere. They are painted on store windows, lining the walls of classrooms and filling the screen during commercial time. As such, many parents believe a baby rabbit would make an excellent Easter morning gift for the little ones. However, this well-intentioned act can quickly turn sour when family members realize that rabbits require as much care — if not more — than other family pet.

Even the name “bunnies” contributes to the problem. Primarily colloquial, “bunny” is often used to identify baby rabbits, lending a cutesy, toy-like quality to the animal, but the correct term is actually “kitten” or “kit,” and just like any other young pet, they require training. Rabbits can even do clicker training and learn to do tricks just like a dog or cat; however, training may take a few months before good habits and systems are developed.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab is the leading rescuer of abandoned rabbits in Southern Utah, currently housing approximately 200 rabbits in the facility. Barbara Williamson, media relations manager for the organization, said this overflow is usually attributed to a lack of spaying or neutering of the rabbits or owners simply giving them up shortly after acquiring them.

“Committing to pet ownership is an important decision and shouldn’t be done without forethought,” Williamson said.

When a family is unprepared for the responsibilities of a new rabbit, if the animal isn’t taken to a shelter, what often happens is owners will either relegate them to a hutch, only attending to them for basic needs, or attempt to release them into the wild. As primarily domesticated animals, most rabbits are not equipped to survive in the wild and will quickly become prey to any number of predators in Southern Utah.

However, when properly trained and cared for, rabbits can make excellent pets. They should be reserved for mature children, as rabbits are fragile and like to keep their feet on the ground whereas younger children like to pick them up and attempt to squeeze or carry them around. A fidgety rabbit not used to being held can easily squirm out of a small child’s grasp and fall to the ground, injuring themselves – often irreparably.

In addition to clicker training, rabbits can be trained fairly easily to use a litter box like a cat. They also enjoy free roaming and will bond with humans, often more so than cats but with much of the same independence.

For anyone interested in bringing a rabbit into the home, the House Rabbit Society provides resources for learning how to introduce a rabbit into the home, offering proven methods and tips for care, feeding and bonding rabbits with other pets.

Williamson said that like dogs, most rabbits do better if they have a “buddy.” Many of the rabbits at Best Friends are already bonded with other animals.

“Every once in awhile, we get a bunny that does not like other rabbits,” Williamson said, “but if they’re already a bonded pair, then we want them to go as a pair.”

In addition to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the St. George Animal Control Shelter is the only municipal shelter in Washington County that accepts rabbits; however, they don’t currently have any rabbits available for adoption. The Hurricane-based rescue group Because Animals Matter also accepts and works to adopt out stray animals.

Email: pdail@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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