Beware of bunnies

Rabbits can be cute companions but require care

Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2005

 

  Feral rabbits congregate under a utility trailer Tuesday, March 1, 2005, in a neighborhood in Soldotna, Alaska. The animals are growing in number and have local officials concerned about the problems they will cause once spring arrives. AP Photo/Peninsula Clarion, M. S

Feral rabbits congregate under a utility trailer Tuesday, March 1, 2005, in a neighborhood in Soldotna, Alaska. The animals are growing in number and have local officials concerned about the problems they will cause once spring arrives.

AP Photo/Peninsula Clarion, M. S

Looking for some bunny to love this Easter? Before impulsively running out to purchase a holiday hopper, be sure you know what you're getting into.

Rabbits may be easy to love, but they're not quite as easy to keep. They're a breed apart from hamsters, guinea pigs and other small mammals kept as pets when it comes to their captive care.

Rabbits live to be roughly 7 to 10 years old and, like cats and dogs, should not be viewed as a temporary commitment but as a long-term commitment for the life of the animal.

The Humane Society of the United States recommends a rabbit's cage should be a minimum of five times the size of the rabbit. Many cages are made of wire but wire flooring is hard on rabbits' feet, which do not have protective pads like those of dogs and cats.

If providing a rabbit with a wire cage, be sure to provide an area that is made or covered with solid material. The floor can be layered with cardboard or paper. Some pet stores also sell special mats for rabbits that are reasonably resistant to chewing and not harmful if ingested.

Rabbits are crepuscular by nature, which means they are most active during dawn and dusk and prefer to sleep during the peaks of the day and at night. As such, it is important to provide a rabbit a comfortable place to hide.

A hiding area can be simple, such as an upside-down cardboard box with an entrance hole cut in the side. More complex condos, hutches and hide boxes can be purchased from pet stores.

Also, be sure to keep your rabbit entertained by providing plenty of toys for mental stimulation and physical exercise. Most parrot toys make good rabbit toys since, like the tough-beaked birds, rabbits will chew on the items, wearing down their teeth which grow constantly throughout their lives.

A rabbit also should be provided with time for exercise out of the cage every day so they can run and jump as they would do naturally.

If allowing rabbits outdoor exercise, be sure the area is fully enclosed, for the rabbit's safety and to ensure it cannot escape and contribute to the already booming feral rabbit population in part of the central Kenai Peninsula.

Also, owing a rabbit in Soldotna city limits is prohibited, except in rural residential zones.

Indoor areas should be rabbit-proof to prevent them from chewing on furniture, rugs and electric cords.

Rabbits can easily learn to use a litter box and should be provided with one, placed in a corner, to encourage this behavior. Stay away from litter box substrates such as cedar and other wood shavings which may cause liver damage or trigger allergic reactions in rabbits. Clay kitty litter also can cause intestinal problems if ingested.

Instead, stick with organic litters made of paper, straw or citrus. Hay is another option for litter material, but may require even more frequent changing because rabbits will nibble on it.

Rabbits require a diet rich in vitamins and high in fiber. They should have access to a constant supply of rabbit pellets and timothy hay, which aids their digestive system and provides the necessary fiber to help prevent health problems such as hair balls, diarrhea and obesity.

Alfalfa hay should be avoided for adult rabbits or, if used, given in limited quantities because it's too rich and high in protein, calcium and calories.

In addition to hay, the basic diet of a rabbit should be supplemented with dark, leafy greens such as broccoli leaves, collard greens, dandelion greens or endive.

Avoid iceberg lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes and fruits with high sugar contents which can cause bloat and diarrhea.

Keep fresh water available, preferably in sipper bottles, which take up less space than water bowls and are less likely to spill. Watch new rabbits to make sure they know how to use the bottles and clean the bottles daily so the tubes don't get clogged.

As Easter approaches, remember this information. Rabbits make outstanding pets and companions if cared for properly, but should never be purchased on an impulse or as a holiday novelty.

If giving a rabbit as a gift, make sure it is given to someone who wants and understands the commitment they are making by accepting it.

Otherwise, rather than giving a furry friend for the holiday, give a bunny made of chocolate, instead.



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