With the onset of spring and widespread vaccination efforts underway, New Jerseyans are hopping at the chance to return to normal. In their haste to jump into Easter and all its festivities, however, families must ensure that bunnies who seem just the thing in the moment don’t pay the price for their fun.
Due to their popular association with Easter, rabbits are too often given as gifts, gifts that are fun for the day but quickly become a daily responsibility which can lead to unintended inhumane treatment or abandonment. Sadly, even the most well-intentioned families can unknowingly contribute to the mistreatment of these floppy-eared balls of fluff.
Nearly one-in-three pet rabbits are given or purchased by a friend or relative — more than either dogs or cats. By giving rabbits as Easter presents, however, many unwittingly contribute to an annual welfare crisis — companion animal abandonment. In fact, during the weeks and months following Easter, shelters for rabbits see an incredible spike in demand — going from a handful of calls every week to several each day. The best way to prevent this is by educating families on the reality of caring for rabbits and encouraging people to not give them as pets.
Most folks don’t realize that bunnies are considered exotic pets, like lizards or fish, by both veterinarians and pet insurance companies. That means their daily and veterinary care can take more work and be more expensive than anticipated.
Maintaining a healthy, properly balanced diet for rabbits takes work. Pet owners must be sensitive to their age — feeding alfalfa to young rabbits and phasing it out as they grow up. Additionally, they should be provided with plenty of hay as well as fresh vegetables in moderation. It is not an insurmountable task, but it’s one for which families should be prepared as should the long lives which rabbits are blessed.
In fact, the average pet rabbit lives just as long as many breeds of dogs, some seven to 12 years. Giving a rabbit as an unexpected, and perhaps unwanted, gift can saddle a family with a decade of responsibility, something for which they are not prepared.
Even if a family is prepared to properly care for a rabbit, not all homes are the perfect fit for a bunny. Noisy households, ones with several other pets or even those with a particularly energetic dog or inquisitive, rambunctious kids could be torment for easily stressed-out bunnies.
The fact of the matter is while rabbits make an adorable addition to any home, most families are unprepared for the responsibility of owning these vulnerable animals. Giving bunnies as presents ultimately leads to overloaded local shelters, putting a strain on resources and our fluffy friends at risk. So as New Jerseyans prepare for festive Easter celebrations, they should educate themselves on the responsibilities of pet ownership and refrain from giving animals as presents no matter how cute those twitching noses and floppy ears.
Robin Ganzert, Ph.D., is president and CEO of American Humane. She is the author of “Mission Metamorphosis: Leadership for a Humane World.”