4 out of 5 rabbits bought for Easter end up being dumped at shelters, abandoned in the wild or suffer an untimely death due to poor treatment and a lack of proper care.
By Danni Graham
Fighting the narrative of the “Easter Bunny” is an ongoing struggle for many pet shops, charities and rescues. Including Pets at Home, who now refuse to sell any small mammal for the weeks surrounding Easter.
There are several theories surrounding the beginnings of the Easter Bunny tradition. However, it is most likely that the mysterious egg-laying rabbit actually stems from a Pagan celebration. The Pagan’s celebrated the vernal equinox, marking the beginning of Spring, the renewal of life and the Goddess of fertility; Eostre, who was often depicted as an egg or a hare.
However, the more modern Easter bunny finds it’s beginnings around the 1600s in Germany, where the Oschter Haws (Easter Bunny), left coloured eggs for well-behaved children. Around the 1700s, German immigrants arriving in America brought this Springtime tradition with them ( as well as the narrative of rabbits liking carrots, perpetuated by the popular children’s cartoon Bugs Bunny ).
Rabbits are prey animals, that much is fact. But what a lot of people don’t know is that they’re also the third most popular animal to own as a pet, (joint with birds), with 2% of all UK households owning a bunny. However, over 42% of those owners admit to not knowing the proper care for a rabbit when they first bought them.
Unfortunately, this joyful tradition has sunk into a rather toxic narrative that rabbits make good Easter gifts themselves. Portrayed as fluffy, quiet and suitable for young children, rabbits are often quoted as a good way to “teach children to take responsibility”. Many shops have capitalised on this, selling rabbits for a very small fee, with minimal equipment to look after them.
Rabbits are twelve year commitments. On top of this due to a highly complex gastrointestinal system, they have a very specific diet and can require niche medical care. Rabbits must have a diet consisting of 80% hay, 15% fresh vegetables, and 5% pellets. Any dramatic changes in diet can result in gastrointestinal stasis (GI Stasis) and cause irreversible harm if not acted upon within 24 hours. As such, many veterinary clinics class them as exotic animals and only certain veterinarians will be qualified to operate on them.
Below is a list of base-line requirements that should be met, before adopting a rabbit;
A common misconception about rabbits is their need for housing. Many books, television shows and cartoons show rabbits in hutches, confined to a small space in the garden. However, the average wild rabbit runs 5 miles a day, and is unable to survive in anything other than a temperate climate.
Outside housing is therefore more often than not, highly unsuitable, unless it meets the requirements stated above. Unfortunately, most hutches sold by retailers often do not meet these, and cause many of their inhabitants to suffer greatly over their lifetime.
It is true that rabbits are well-equipped for the cold, however, as most rabbits have 4 moulting periods every year, due to the weight of their fur, they are therefore unable to survive in hot temperatures. This makes heatstroke one of the leading causes of death in outdoor rabbits, due to improper housing where the rabbit is unable to cool itself down. Due to their limitations when it comes to communications, it is exceptionally important to note the signs of heatstroke as we enter the warmer months, including; red/hot ears, panting, drooling, moving slowly and/or confusion.
Many first time owners are lured in with the promise of an easy-going, small and fluffy creature for their children to cuddle as they please. Unfortunately, it is very common for rabbits, although sociable, to dislike being picked up and held in the way that dogs or cats might. As well as this, as prey animals, it can take a significant amount of time and bonding with your fluffy friend for them to feel comfortable enough around you to allow any sort of physical contact. As well as this, more often than not rabbits should be kept in pairs. Keeping one rabbit is possible, if they are kept indoors and has plenty of social time with their owner. However, it is very common for single rabbits to get depressed, often becoming bored with their surroundings.
Having said this, rabbits can make fantastic companions. Though quiet, they are still affectionate and loving, and are able to provide hours of closeness and a lifetime bond, to those willing to put in the effort. The keys to owning a comfortable, happy rabbit lie in research, patience and understanding. There are many conflicting websites regarding rabbit care, however the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund are devoted to the lives, care and love that surrounds all things bunny. Please follow the link below, should you wish to know more.
A rabbit is for life, not just for Easter.