When you think of Easter, do images of cute baby bunnies pop into your head? The connection between rabbits, considered a pagan fertility symbol, and the Christian celebration of Christ’s resurrection, may have become entwined in the Easter celebration around the early seventh century. That’s when Pope Gregory wrote a letter to Saint Mellitus, who was on his way to convert Anglo-Saxons in England to Christianity, and suggested that those people’s pagan spring celebrations might be repurposed to align with the Christian holiday.
So much for history, but what it means is that for thousands of years, we’ve had bunnies and eggs connected to Jesus every spring.
In our culture, Easter celebrations sometimes include the giving of a live rabbit as a gift to children. The result: Many domestic rabbits are not cared for properly and live short, pathetic lives stuffed in an outside hutch.
If you’re considering a rabbit as a pet, now’s the time to do some research on what these gentle animals need for supplies and care. If you bring a rabbit home, thinking “How much trouble can it be?” or “I’ll figure it out later,” you’re setting yourself up for problems. But if you make some plans ahead of time, a rabbit can be a fantastic and much loved pet, blending affection, intelligence and independence. (Anyone who believes the line about a “dumb bunny” has clearly never seen a confident house rabbit perform a trick for a treat or sneak around to chew on its favorite illicit item when you’re not looking.)
First, find out if a rabbit is the right pet for your home. Rabbits are very curious and can be destructive if their energies are not channeled appropriately (that means you can’t leave your 3-year-old child to supervise the rabbit and be certain it won’t chew through the telephone cord). Take the quiz at The Interactive Bun (www.makeminechocolate.org/learning.htm) to see if a pet rabbit would be compatible with your family.
You will also want to make sure your rabbit can have a safe, secure life at your home. If you have other pets, it’s very possible for a rabbit to co-exist with cats and dogs – but it requires supervision and common sense. If your dog will be secretly waiting for a moment when it can attack the rabbit, and you cannot keep them apart and provide space and attention for both, don’t bring home the rabbit.
Children must be considered, too. A rabbit can be a great pet for a household with children, but they usually don’t like to be picked up or cuddled by kids. Will your child be OK interacting with the rabbit on the floor? Will your child still be interested in the rabbit if it bites or scratches when mishandled? For some kids, it’s better to wait a couple of years until they’re a little older and better able to enjoy the furry friend.
Then comes the care part. If you like your rabbit (and why get a rabbit unless you will enjoy it), you’ll want it to live as long as possible. That means quality food, safe environment, and vet bills for spay/neuter, regular checkups, and the occasional dental or digestive problem. Start by figuring out the right diet. Dumping rabbit pellets in a dish every few days is not ideal – instead, have unlimited grass hay, some pellets, and moderate fresh foods available for your rabbit. Visit www.makeminechocolate.org/rabbitdiet.php for another interactive quiz on what food will be healthy and enjoyable for your bunny.
Please note that many breeders discourage feeding greens to rabbits, and you’ll probably find this bogus advice out there if you search. I’ve never understood this – what do you think rabbits were designed to eat? What do they eat in the wild? Grass and plants. Since it is possible to provide something similar to this ideal diet, try to do so for a long-lived pet. With any diet, you must introduce new foods slowly and watch your pet closely to make sure it can tolerate the new item.
Rabbits can be housed in cages, pens, or spare rooms. They can even be loose in the house, like a cat, because they are easily trained to use a litterbox. Because some rabbits like to chew or dig, they should be confined to a “bunny-proofed” area where they can’t get into trouble, or closely supervised, until you understand their habits.
What should you expect from a pet rabbit? Rabbits have clear preferences for what they like and dislike, so they may nip, grunt, or turn up their noses if they don’t want to be handled. Other times, they may come running up to you for affection. When selecting a rabbit, be sure to get a feel for whether you want to look for an independent personality or a needy one.
Rabbits also learn quickly. I have trained many rabbits out of lunging and growling when a hand comes into the cage. These rabbits have learned that, if they want to be left alone or don’t trust the human coming toward them, they can use this aggressive behavior and get left alone. Often, rabbits that act this way are able to be very affectionate, but you must earn their trust and it can take several months to make this transition. It’s actually quite fun to work with an animal this way and change it from grumpy to gracious.
Should you get a baby rabbit or adopt an older one in need of a home? Babies are cute and, usually, when you bring home a baby rabbit and treat it right it will be confident and interact more with you. But that’s not always the case, and unlike with puppies, it can be hard to determine how a rabbit will behave as it matures. An adult rabbit, on the other hand, has easily identified traits and you can be more certain of a good match (ie, a rabbit that does well with other animals or a rabbit that enjoys interacting with children).
So this Easter, if the holiday brings bunnies to mind, think chocolate or stuffed – unless you’re really ready to make a commitment to the intelligent animals that rabbits really are.