I often ask myself if we will see any real difference for pet rabbits in my lifetime. While we have come a long way from all rabbits living in horrible backyard hutches, there are still a significant number who still do. In my estimation from talking to the public during my educational efforts, between 80 and 90 percent still do.
We have had some change since 40 years ago, when all rabbits lived in hutches or cages, to a point where a small percentage now live indoors as pets. There is a trend for more young families to try a pet rabbit as a family pet. This is a problem because taking care of a rabbit is not intuitive. Unless someone teaches you how to correctly do it, most people will do almost everything wrong and have little success at basics, such as litter box training or preventing rabbits from chewing on stuff (they are prolific chewers).
If you were raised with dogs or cats and your only exposure to pet bunnies were the ones that your neighbor kept in a hutch in their backyard, then it is hard to know that they are supposed to eat hay, not big hoppers of rabbit pellet food. It is also not commonly known that pet rabbits need to see a rabbit specialist vets, not your regular dog or cat veterinarian. I recently had a friend who took her sick pet bunny to her dog and cat vet for a common rabbit ailment. He had her put the little guy to sleep for a problem that most of the time can be treated and cured by a rabbit savvy vet. You do not want to have your vet looking up how to treat your bunny on the internet, when it is a matter of life or death (which is what this vet did).
Probably the biggest reason I have become a rabbit educator is that housing, feeding and caring for a pet bunny needs to become common knowledge, just like how to feed, walk and pet a dog or cat. You cannot learn the proper ways to do things by the “seat of your pants”. I have met people who have had pet bunnies for decades who did not know basic things about them, such as that they eat all of their food twice. Knowing these things about your pet rabbit is important to understanding how to provide optimal care, especially when it comes to feeding and socializing with your “buddies”.
Another common misconception that has been slow to change is that people think rabbits do not need to be spayed or neutered. Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth. In order to have a successful relationship with a “house rabbit”, it is essential that they are spay/neutered, ASAP. I would never consider having a pet rabbit who was not, because of the many bad behaviors and problems that usually result. More than four out of five female rabbits who are not spayed will end up getting cancer or tumors by the time they are four years old. Yet, I find that at least 80 percent of female pet rabbits are not spayed, and never will be (or live to be).
How do we get the public to become aware that rabbits are not disposable pets and more than a cheap critter that you buy at a swap meet to put in a small cheap cage in your back yard or garage? I think most people would not do that to a dog or cat (although, I know there are people who do, because I have met them). The number of people who do know how to properly care for a pet rabbit has been slowly growing, due to efforts to educate the public and get the word out, but we have decades of work left to do.
The more people we get talking about this, the closer it brings us to that critical mass where it becomes common knowledge. I hope that if you agree with me, that you will take some of your precious time to support your local shelter or rabbit rescue in their educational efforts. The more we put it out there, the more it will richochet and reach more of the public.
Become an advocate for rabbits!
The Bunny Guy