If an Easter bunny shows up at your house — and plans to stay — a handful of information can make life a little easier for everyone.
“Rabbits are very cute and cuddly, but they are not a three-week thing. It’s important to understand that, depending on the breed, they may have a life-span up to 15 years,” said Jacque Harvey, operations manager of the Humane Society of the Black Hills. “They are very active and playful and have the potential to become wonderful pets.”
The Frybargers of Rapid City understand this concept very well. The family has had multiple rabbits as pets over the past several years. Their current rabbit, Salvador, a black and tan breed, is now 7 years old.
“Rabbits require lots more care than a dog or a cat,” said LaVerne Frybarger. “They are social animals. You can’t just put them in a cage and leave them. They want human contact.”
“The bunnies all require an adjustment period when it’s best for just one person to handle them,” said Frybarger.
She explained that no matter if the rabbit comes from a store or directly from a breeder, it will need time to bond with its new owner. “We always found it best to limit the contact to just one family member at first,” she said.
Alicia Riss, owner of Pet Paradise, agrees that rabbits can be great companions, but has chosen not to carry them in her Baken Park store.
“We unfortunately tend to get calls after Easter from families who have been gifted with a bunny,” she said. “They are full of questions and have no idea how to take care of them. We can offer some tips on care, but what they mostly want after two or three weeks is to find a place to give the bunny back.”
Those families who do decide to keep and raise the new pet have several resources to turn to for advice. In addition to pet shops and veterinarians, the Internet provides instant rabbit care information. The Frybargers’ children, however, first learned about rabbit care through 4-H.
Initially, the 4-H focus was on handling the animals properly, including feedings and brushing techniques. Next, they learned that rabbits are very sensitive to the temperature. They might need heat lamps in the cooler months and fans when the temperature gets above 70 degrees.
“You can’t wet down a rabbit to cool them off. But we found that frozen water bottles put in their cages help to keep them cool,” Frybarger said.
Whether families choose to have their rabbits join them indoors or decide they should live primarily outside, a cage is a necessary part of their existence. Left to roam inside, rabbits tend to get into trouble. Left outside, they may fall prey to a variety of other animals.
“The size of the cage is very important, as well as the bedding in that cage,” Harvey said. She cautioned against pine or cedar chips that could cause respiratory issues for the rabbit. “They need enough room to move around so they can stay active and healthy,” she said.
Another care issue to consider is the bathroom habits of the new pet. Harvey said rabbits can be successfully litter-box trained. Families may prefer, however, to have trays below the cage that can be frequently changed.
In addition to a proper diet, rabbits constantly need something to chew on. Along with the traditional carrots, the Frybargers’ bunnies were fond of lilac bush branches.
Given all the chores that come with keeping a rabbit, why would anyone want one around?
“Parents need to understand that if they give one to a 3-year-old, they will be the ones doing all the work,” Frybarger said. “But I think they are a great companion and learning experience for older kids.”
“We have had some wonderful bunnies as part of our family. People should realize, though, that it is hard to get rid of a rabbit,” Frybarger said.
Riss agreed with that sentiment, and added, “I would rather see someone give an Easter hamster or a colorful Easter beta.”