What child does not want a rabbit as a pet? Rabbits are probably one of the cutest looking pets you can buy – cuddly, soft and furry, and quite adorable as babies. Most children cannot resist them, and parents are often persuaded to buy one as a first pet for a child.
Rabbits can be kept inside the house and can become house trained in that they will use a cat litter tray, and as such become members of the household. Living indoors these rabbits benefit from lots of attention, and it’s hard to ignore or neglect them. But most rabbits tend to live outside in hutches in the garden.
Rabbits are very clean animals – they always use the same corner of their hutch or pen for their litter, and as such are easier to clean out. They usually do not mess in their sleeping compartment, and if they have access to a run attached to the hutch they will tend to use a corner of this. Regularly cleaning out will keep the hutch and run clean and not smelling.
Being relatively cheap to feed, they eat a mixture of hard food, vegetables and hay. Lettuce and other high water content vegetables should be avoid as it can cause diarrhoea, particularly in younger rabbits. Straw or wood shavings make a good bedding. If your garden is well fenced in they can be allowed supervised access to run around, but beware of your prize plans as they may be very tasty to a rabbit and be warned that many dogs (and some cats) love to chase rabbits! Rabbits get easily bored, so as well as food and cleaning you should make sure the rabbit is handled daily. If your garden is not secure rabbits can be trained to a harness and lead quite easily which will help with exercise.
Children and Rabbits
Children adore their rabbit pets when the sun is shining and when there isn’t anything else to do. But, unfortunately, many a child loses interest when it’s cold and raining, and feeding or cleaning out is on the agenda. Living up to 10 years or so the child’s interest in it’s pet may well wane before the rabbit does – unless the parent is willing to help out, or even take over, the rabbit will become neglected. In any event, an adult must always take responsibility for the husbandry of any animal as this cannot be left to a child.
My advice is that you shouldn’t get a rabbit as a pet for your child unless you are prepared to do the majority of the work. It might be that your child is the exception, but however much they tell you they can be relied upon, it’s better to accept that there may come a point where you end up as the major carer. And if that’s not for you, don’t get a pet rabbit!
Rabbits are fairly hardy creatures – a blanket over the front of the hutch is normally sufficient to protect them except in the harshest weather. There are problems which may develop with them if they are neglected – matted dirty hair can attract flies which lay their eggs on them, and it’s not nice to find your rabbit literally being eaten by maggots. They can get lice and fleas, so a regular treatment is advisable. Sometimes a rabbit’s teeth can be a problem, and they might need cutting back by a vet (like all herbivores, a rabbit’s teeth are continually growing, and may need attention if not kept trimmed by the food they eat – adding a fruit tree branch for them to knaw will help) or some rabbits teeth are overshot and may need extraction. In some areas of the country myxomatosis is still all too common, spread by fleas from wild rabbits. This is a terrible disease, and you should check with your vet whether you live in an area where you should vaccinate against it. Vaccinations should be given every six months for the best effect. House rabbits are far less likely to get myxomatosis.
Rabbits breed like, well, rabbits. If you get two make sure they are the same sex unless you are going to keep them in separate hutches. It is very rewarding to breed rabbits – and great for children to witness. A tame female will let you see the kits in the nest if you are very quiet after just a couple of days, and watching their eyes open and the youngsters emerge and grow to independence is thrilling. But it’s not something you want to go into without proper planning, and without consideration of homing the kits when they are old enough. And of course, you will have to explain to your child that no, you cannot keep all six, seven – or however many there are!
Rabbits make wonderful pets – they are as tame as you make them (of course, if you don’t handle them when young, they’re not likely to appreciate being picked up and cuddled when adult). They are clean and cost little to keep. But like all pets, they are a commitment. When you go on holiday someone will have to feed them for you – although there are rabbit ‘kennels’ in quite a few places now, that will be an extra expense to factor in on top of the cost of your holiday. No pet should be taken on without careful consideration as to whether it really is the pet for you and your family. Make sure you are happy to take over the feeding and cleaning duties if your child develops an interest elsewhere, and hopefully you won’t have too. But at least it means that the rabbit you choose as a pet won’t end up neglected and ill, or in an animal rescue centre waiting to be rehomed.