Affording Medical Care For My Bunny

I am going to be brutally blunt here, right off the bat. If you cannot afford or are unwilling to pay for emergency medical care for your rabbit(s), then you probably should not have one.

Rabbit vet care can be very expensive. It is just as pricey or even more so than vet care for a dog or cat. People routinely are faced with $1000+ bills when a bunny gets sick and needs medical care. It is not a matter of “if” you will get one of these bills when owning a rabbit, but simply “when”.

As with all creatures, the older you get, the more you will need to see a medical professional.  Because rabbits are exotic pets, they will need to see a specialist. Dog and cat vets simply do not have the expertise or knowledge to treat your sick rabbit.

Do you want your doctor looking up how to treat a serious illness on the internet before he treats you. It does not instill confidence or give you much hope when you know that your doctor is treating or seeing a medical problem for the very first time.

A rabbit specialist is critical for your pet’s survival, when he is seriously ill. If you care about your pet, you want to give him the best chance at making it and so it means you must use a more expensive rabbit specialist vet to provide the best care possible.

After having lost a couple bunnies to dog and cat vets, I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a rabbit specialist vet available when your bunny needs one. This is definitely going to cost you something and bearing the expense is part of being a responsible pet owner.

Would you not take your children to a doctor or dentist if they were sick or in pain? Would you not find a way to get them care, even if you could not afford it? It is the same for pets.

You must find a way to get the proper care to a sick animal, regardless of the cost and whether you have the funds readily available. IF this means putting it on a credit card or finding a friend to let you put it on their credit card, it just needs to be done. You don’t hesitate and let someone die because it is not convenient or affordable for them to live.

What defines us as a society and as human beings is our reluctance to accept and allow others to suffer. To turn your back on an animal or other creature that needs your help, makes you less human. To be human is to empathize and feel the pain that others feel. It is part of what we are as a species.

So I get back to my point. You have a responsibility as a pet owner to provide good and proper care for your charges and do all in your power to prevent abuse and suffering.

This translates into a huge weight that must be shouldered when you have several pets and maybe even some human children, too. I have met many families who have several children and a house full of pets on top of that. Most of them are very responsible and provide very well for them. What worries me is when I hear people making excuses about avoiding expenses and vet care that they know are necessary.

The bottom line is if you cannot afford five or six kids, two dogs, three cats and two bunnies, then what in the heck are doing getting in over your head like that? I know it is with good intentions that we take on such huge responsibilities, but why burden you and your family with what you know eventually will become unbearable? It is only a matter of time before a menagerie like that will become very expensive.

Should you really be taking on that third dog, that sixth bunny, that tenth cat. Some of us try and rescue every critter that needs our help, but I can tell you from experience that rescue work can easily become a full time job. It takes a lot of dedication to have a full time rescue job, especially if you have a family, too. All the work and time are nothing compared to the expense that can be incurred, regularly. I have seen more than one family go broke trying to rescue animals. This is why rescue is best done in a group where the time, expense and responsibility can be shared. I know that there is a fine line between rescue and hoarding pets.

To me, when your “rescues” are being harmed by your inability to provide proper care, including medical care, then you have crossed the line.

I recently met a family who has spent an enormous sum of money to spay and neuter a large unexpected litter of bunnies. Even with discount services and HRS rebates, their expense for this stretched the family budget to the limit. They were trying their best to cope with ten bunnies that were now part of their family, but it was a disaster waiting to happen.

The number of times your bunnies will visit a vet seem to be directly related to the level of experience you have as a bunny lover. The less you know about bunnies, the more often you make mistakes and the more likely you will be making frequent vet visits. I always tell people that it is a long journey to learn about rabbits. It takes time and you will make mistakes.

Now multiply this inexperience factor by ten rabbits and it is almost guaranteed that there will be more vet bills to follow. This is where you must make a decision. How do you afford the inevitable vet bills for so many bunnies? If you are independently wealthy or make a lot of money, that is good, but what about the average person? How do you afford so many rabbits?

There are pet medical insurance policies but they can be impractical, since they charge by the animal. Five or six animals would end up getting expensive with just the monthly premiums, alone.

Anecdotally, the family with ten rabbits suddenly found that half of their buns were very sick. They were in dire need of a vet, but now they are seeing an impending vet bill TIMES FIVE! They were already strapped for money from spaying and neutering all of those rabbits. To save money, they wanted to take one bunny in to the vet and hope that they could get enough medications to treat all five. I am not saying that was not a well intentioned plan, but how do you decide which bunny gets to see a doctor and which ones will not? Do you see where I am going with this?

This is where you have to ask yourself, is ten rabbits too many for a family who cannot afford them? I cannot answer that for them, but I know that the answer for me is, yes.

The Bunny Guy

What To Do BEFORE You Get A Rabbit

I am sorry to say that most people get their first rabbit either one of two ways… They either get one on an “impulse” where they see a cute bunny that five minutes before they did not know that they wanted… OR they find a discarded bunny whom someone else had gotten impulsively and when it did not work out, they set him “free” somewhere.

If you are not one of these two types of people, you will not need to read this article. Kudos to you for being a loving responsible pet owner. IF you fit into one of these two categories, please read this article BEFORE it is too late.

The first thing a responsible rabbit owner does before they get their first rabbit is study a little bit about them. You will never learn the things you need to know about having a pet rabbit by the “seat of your pants”. Almost nothing that you learned growing up with dogs and cats is applicable and caring for rabbits is not intuitive. A smart person will take some time to learn a little bit about lagomorphs before they decide to adopt one, to see exactly what they are getting into.

I cannot tell you how many people do not do this and it is a formula for failure, especially if you are considering having the rabbit live indoors with you and your family (which is a must!). One of the first things you will learn, if you do your homework, is that your rabbit’s area will need to be “bunny-proofed”. This means that you will need to remove, block or cover anything that your rabbit can chew on in the area you plan to let him live. Not only must you bunny-proof his living area, but anyplace that he will run and get his exercise.

All toxic and dangerous items will need to be found and removed, such as houseplants (most are poisonous to rabbits and they will eat them) and places cleaned with household cleaners. There is a complete art to “bunny-proofing” and I will not do this whole article about the subject. Part of becoming a “bunny parent” is to learn how to do it and perfect it in your home. It is a trial and error thing for people who are new to rabbits, because your rabbit will find every flaw or weakness in your system. It will happen, so be prepared for it when you first start out with a new bun.

Notice I said ADOPT your first rabbit. There is really never a good reason to go out and buy a pet rabbit. Not when there are literally thousands of rabbits who will be euthanized this year because no one wants them any longer. Almost every breed of rabbit is available to be adopted and if the one you want is not, then your local rescue, humane society or house rabbit society will help you in finding a homeless rabbit that is suitable for you.

You will also need to learn how to feed your rabbit and rabbit pellets are not the answer. Pellets were designed for farmers to get rabbits fat quickly, so they could be sold for food. They are not a good food for pets whom you want to live 10-12 years and if you feed them exclusively to your pet, he will most likely only live half of that time.

Most of us do the only things we know, when we get our first rabbit. The way that most people first learned about rabbits was seeing them in a backyard hutch eating only pellets, so it is understandable that people do the same thing when they get their first rabbit. I did.

Nothing could be farther from what pet rabbits really need and you are basically sentencing your pet to a lonely frustrated existence. His health will eventually deteriorate and he will almost always die a premature death under these conditions.

Even if you are bunny smart and decide to keep your rabbit inside, one thing that almost everyone fails to do is to locate your future rabbit’s veterinarian before getting one. If your new bunny is not already spayed or neutered, you will want to have this done immediately. Rabbits who are not spayed/neutered are not very good pets. It is smart to check around and have chosen a vet prior to bringing home your rabbit.

Rabbits who suddenly find themselves in a new environment will typically become stressed. Stress in rabbits can bring on a whole host of health problems and it is not uncommon for a healthy bunny to suddenly display symptoms of being sick after getting a new home. He may also have parasites, such as fleas or lice and it is usually a good idea to have your new bunny checked out by a rabbit specialist ASAP after bringing him home.

Some areas are lucky to have a large selection of rabbit specialists to chose from. Other areas it may be a long drive to reach one. You should know this before you get your pet and be aware that you should not take your pet bunny to a regular dog or cat vet. If you are having trouble finding the right kind of vet, contact your local chapter of the House Rabbit Society or rabbit rescue and they will guide you to the proper vets in your area.

Do not get a rabbit because your six year old daughter wants one. Getting a pet rabbit for your children is never a good idea. First off, the one who is ultimately going to be responsible for feeding, cleaning up after and paying the vet bills is you. No six year old is capable of these things, in reality. You are deluding yourself if you think that your child will always act responsibly with a fragile pet rabbit at that age. I think that most children need to be seven or eight years old before they simply understand how fragile a bunny is. The bottom line is that rabbits are not a good “kid’s pet”, contrary to the popular myth.

Another facet of bunnies for kids, is that when your eight year old gets a rabbit, he is going to live until he/she is at least eighteen years old. Somewhere along the way, their interests will dramatically change (cars, dating, sports, etc.) and so just like adopting a pet dog, you must plan for your new pet, looking ten plus years down the road. I tell parents that their eight year old will probably be married with children before a new pet bunny passes away. This puts it into proper perspective for most.

There is a lot to learn about rabbits, if you are new to having them. There are whole books about the subject, such as my new book “The Bunny Lover’s Complete Guide To House Rabbits”. Many people find failure when they first get a rabbit, but there are many ways to avoid it. Most important is doing your homework and finding out whether a rabbit is really for you and your family BEFORE you bring one home. Unfortunately, this is most often not the case, hence the thousands of stray and feral rabbits hopping around (how many of us get our first rabbits).

I will end by saying THERE IS NEVER AN EXCUSE TO ABANDON A PET RABBIT. If you decide that a rabbit is not for you, you must relinquish him at a shelter or rescue. Do not set a defenseless prey animal, such as a bunny free to experience a horrible death at the hands of some predator. Please, do the right thing and let him find a new home with someone who truly wants him.

The Bunny Guy

Are We There Yet?

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

Have You Sentenced Your Rabbit Girl To An Early Death?

In my experience chatting with the public during educational event, I have found that fully 80% of pet rabbits out there are not spayed or neutered. Beyond the fact that spayed/neutered buns make much better pets, for female rabbits to stay unspayed, it is a virtual death sentence.

87% or almost 9 out of 10 unspayed female rabbits will get cancer or tumors in their breasts or uterus by the time they are 4 years old. So this means that if you do not spay your girl bunny, she is very very likely to become very sick and die, long before her prime.

Most rabbits who are properly cared for will live 8-10 years, with some of the smaller breeds living a 10-12 years on average. If you care at all about your pet, why would you be willing to allow her to become painfully ill and suffer such a horrible early death? Especially, when it is not necessary.

I know that when people buy $10 or $20 rabbits at a pet store or elsewhere, they often are shocked when they learn that it will be $200-400 (our local prices) to get them spayed/neutered. From what I have seen out there, the expense usually means that most bunnies end up not having it done.

Even worse, in our area rabbits are still classified as livestock. This means that unlike a dog or cat who must be spayed or neutered before they are adopted from a shelter, by law, rabbits do not have to be fixed before they are adopted.

Some shelters realize the importance of spay/neutering in order to have a successful adoption. Who wants a male bunny who is going to spray all over the place or a female who will eventually become sick. These shelters and rescues make sure every bunny that they adopt has it done.

Our local House Rabbit Society Chapter here in San Diego provides spay and neuters for bunnies at a half dozen shelters in the county. They raise and spend tens of thousands of dollars each year to insure that every rabbit being adopted has the surgery.

This is a huge undertaking, but critical for the rabbits. Their behaviors are usually a lot better after spay/neuter, which makes the likelyhood of success a lot higher for the adoption. Litter box training is a breeze after bunnies are fixed and it tones down male aggressiveness, just as in other species.

Yet, in light of all the benefits of having your pet rabbit spayed/neutered, most of them are not. We must change the way the public looks at having their pet bunnies fixed, because spay/neuter is part of responsible pet ownership for ALL animals.

Have you sentenced your female pet rabbit to an early death? Have her spayed NOW, before it is too late.