If you’re looking for a new furry friend this spring, then a pet rabbit may be for you.
However, Selena Zalesak, a veterinary student at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says before making that commitment, it is best to do your research.
“Rabbit purchases are very popular around Easter,” Zalesak said. “However, many people aren’t aware of the time commitment rabbits require. As a result, up to 80 percent of those Easter bunnies end up in shelters.”
Rabbits can live seven to 12 years and are not a low-maintenance pet. They can make fantastic companions for both humans and other pets in the household, but rabbits require a lot of care and love—just like any other pet.
“If you are considering a pet rabbit, you need to invest in a large enclosure with plenty of room for shelter, a food bowl with a hay feeder, water bottle or bowl, toys for enrichment, and a litter box if you would like to litter train,” Zalesak said. “Rabbit cages need to be cleaned at least once a week.
“Additionally, rabbits need to be handled regularly to build their comfort level with people,” she said. “They require daily time outside of the cage for exercise and bonding with your family.”
The best rabbit cage should have a solid bottom with bedding and be located indoors. Rabbits also appreciate multiple levels to climb around and love to play with toys and relax in “hiding areas,” Zalesak said.
If you’re wondering what to feed a pet rabbit, Zalesak said rabbits don’t just eat carrots—contrary to what Bugs Bunny tells us. Rabbits eat an array of forage, including fresh hay (which should be available at all times), and grass.
Leafy greens such as Kale and spinach are also great for rabbits, Zalesak said. However, watery greens such as iceberg lettuce should be avoided, as they can cause diarrhea. Apple slices, carrots, and broccoli make great treats for rabbits but should be limited due to high sugar content. Additionally, rabbits should be fed high-fiber, low-protein pellets to ensure they are getting all their key nutrients.
Pet rabbits also need regular checkups at the veterinarian.
“Much like dogs and cats, it is important to find a veterinarian who can see your pet rabbit and do yearly health checkups,” Zalesak said. “This usually requires finding an exotic veterinarian, as not all veterinarians have experience with rabbits. Rabbits need to be spayed or neutered and may require regular teeth trimmings. Rabbits are also susceptible to parasites, like fleas and mites, and will need veterinary care to ensure their well-being.”
As a reminder, Zalesak said children should not be the sole care-provider for rabbits, and young children should always be supervised when handling their pet rabbit.
Before adopting a pet rabbit, both children and adults should be prepared and committed to giving a rabbit a good home. Because rabbits are the third most commonly surrendered animals to shelters, Zalesak encourages you to consider reaching out to your local shelter to adopt a rabbit.