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Rabbit ownership is a long-term commitment
By Laura Whelan
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The Easter season often inspires people to adopt bunnies into their families, but these cuddly pets require attention and a long-term commitment.
"Rabbits can make great pets. Unfortunately, people often buy them impetuously as Easter gifts, and six months later, they are past the initial cute, cuddly stage, so they are put in a cage in the backyard and neglected," said Dr. Thomas Lenarduzzi, associate clinical professor at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
"As babies, the majority of rabbits are docile and cuddly. But rabbits have unique, individual personalities and may not remain affectionate into adulthood," Lenarduzzi said. "They are not low-maintenance as many people believe; they require a great deal of care and love. When that is supplied, the rabbit will be healthy and happy."
If a family decides they are ready for the responsibility of a rabbit, they can find some varieties at pet stores or adopt an abandoned rabbit from their local humane society. When selecting a rabbit, consider what kind will be most suitable for the particular home. Dwarf rabbits make ideal indoor pets. At only 1 to 2 pounds full-size, a dwarf rabbit doesn't need much space and will comfortably live indoors its entire life.
Other breeds, like the New Zealand White rabbit, can grow as large as 10 pounds. These rabbits can spend their developmental months indoors and then can be kept outside in a secure, comfortable shelter.
"When moving rabbits outdoors, the yard should be fenced to deter predators.
A coop constructed from wire caging makes a great rabbit habitat. Enclose the structure completely and have a roof to keep out hawks and aerial predators," Lenarduzzi advised.
Rabbits moved outside still require a high level of care and attention, and they will need extra affection to prevent loneliness and stress.
Rabbit food, typically consisting of alfalfa pellets, is available at pet stores and local co-ops. Lenarduzzi recommended supplementing the alfalfa with extra fiber.
"Rabbits need a very high-fiber diet, which they can obtain from timothy hay and fresh vegetables. A lack of fiber could lead to an accumulation of hair in the stomach, resulting in hairballs," he said.
Depending on the breed, rabbits have a life-span of 5 to 9 years, so acquiring a rabbit as a pet is an investment and a commitment.
"Rabbits need a lot of attention. Playing with them and showing them love are the best ways to prevent aggressive behaviors like biting or scratching," Lenarduzzi said.
Spaying or neutering a rabbit also will make it less aggressive, and the procedure will prevent potential health problems like mammary tumors and uterine cancer in females.
Rabbits are ground-secure, so they are not that fond of being held beyond their first few months. But they enjoy playtime and are trainable: They can walk on a leash, use a litter box and some will even come when they are called.
"Rabbits can be really playful, loving pets, but they are quite different from dogs and cats. The owner must pay attention to the rabbit's needs, including regular play and affection," Lenarduzzi said.
Contact: Dr. Thomas Lenarduzzi, (662) 325-1438