Bunny business: The dos and don’ts of owning a rabbit

ST. GEORGE — As Peter Cottontail hops down the bunny trail, some parents may feel compelled to invite him in. Rabbits are so cute, especially around Easter time. These sweet balls of fluff are hard to resist, especially for well-intentioned parents eager to offer their children a memorable experience by getting them a live rabbit. However, responsible ownership involves more than a few snuggles.

Here is a checklist for anyone considering adopting or buying a rabbit:

1. Are would-be rabbit owners prepared to allow their pets to be indoors at least part of the time?

Rabbits make excellent pets but only for excellent owners. Domestic rabbits are not the type of animals you can use for a cute photo op and then stick in a hutch to set and forget. In fact, this type of treatment can harm the very animal a family has brought in to treasure.

Most animals don’t like to be stuck in a cage and this is especially true for rabbits. Due to the extreme temperatures in Southern Utah during the summer, leaving a domestic rabbit outside could cause it to suffer from heatstroke. Similarly, domestic rabbits need to be brought inside when the temperature gets cold.

Ron Brown with Lionhead rabbit, Hurricane, Utah, March 2021 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

Although time out of the hutch is important, it’s best to enclose rabbits at night so they don’t potentially harm themselves by doing things like chewing on wires while their owners are sleeping.

2. Can parents devote at least one hour a day to caring for a rabbit?

Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box which needs to be changed every day. Add to that grooming, feeding and playtime with owners. Rabbit enthusiast Lynette Brown said these animals are very social and require daily interaction in order to stay mentally fit.

“They come when they’re called. They love routines,” Brown said. “They know when they’re going to get their salad. They know when to hop up on the bed to spend time with us.”   

3. Are potential rabbit owners willing to cater to a delicate diet?

Living space for Lisa Stearns’ rabbits, St. George, Utah, March 2021 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the challenges when it comes to rabbits. Finding the proper balance of hay and alpha pellets is crucial to preventing a malady called GI stasis. This is a condition that slows the passage of food through the digestive tract. Rabbit owners are often tipped off to this problem when their pets stop eating, although lack of appetite can also be attributed to stress.

In addition to hay and alpha pellets, rabbits also require fresh vegetables every day, which can be another time-consuming part of rabbit maintenance. The potential upside is cutting up all that produce may encourage the entire family to eat more veggies. 

4. Can parents afford the medical bills for a rabbit?   

Rabbits can be expensive, especially when it comes to veterinary bills. Ron Brown and his family have owned rabbits for more than seven years. Brown said rabbits are considered to be exotic animals, which means owners have to have them treated by veterinarians who specialize in this kind of care.

“They are also very expensive to have them spayed or neutered,” Brown said. “They are a delicate animal that you have to watch really closely.”

5. Are parents open to having more than one rabbit?

Besides forming loving bonds with humans, rabbits are pack animals who mate for life. For this reason, the Browns have partners for both sets of their rabbits which include a pairing between a Holland Lop and a Mini Lop, and two Lionheads who reside together as another couple.

Lionhead rabbits owned by Ron and Lynette Brown, Hurricane, Utah, March 2021 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

Not all rabbits get along, so finding the proper mate can be a tricky needle to thread. However, once a good pairing is made, the emotional benefits can result in a longer, happier life for the animal. 

First-time rabbit owners can get overwhelmed by the amount of care and responsibility these animals require. It is a violation to release a domestic rabbit into the wild, although this sometimes does occur. St. George resident Lisa Stearns has adopted all the rabbits who live with her. Stearns said domestic rabbits rely on humans and don’t have the skills to survive in the wild.

“They’re really at risk to the elements and predators,” Stearns said. “They don’t know how to hunt.”

One way parents can test if their family is ready to become rabbit owners is to foster an animal. There are many rescue groups in Southern Utah, although they don’t all accept these animals. Rabbits brought in to the St. George Animal Shelter are taken to the Hela Seegmiller Historic Farm where they can interact with potential adoptive families. To make appointments to see the rabbits, visit the Facebook page for the St. George Animal Shelter.  

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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