Here Comes Peter Cottontail
April 21, 2011
Chicks and bunnies are very cute, especially when associated
with Easter baskets and bows. However, their baby-like appearance
can sometimes lead to an impulsive decision to bring one home as a
pet without considering that they will need to be cared for during
their entire lives.
"An impulse pet is always a bad purchase," warns Dr. Mark
Stickney, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M
University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences. "It may look cute in the store, but Easter is gone in a
day and then you have an animal to take care of long term."
Stickney also explains that while baby chicks are very cute,
full-grown chickens might not be the best pets, especially not for
"It's hard to interact with a chicken and roosters can be very
aggressive. They also get barbs on their feet that can cause a lot
of damage," notes Stickney.
If you have put some time and consideration into buying a pet
for your child, a rabbit can be a good "first pet" as they are
docile and are fairly easy to take care of in general.
"The good news is that you do not have to walk or train a
rabbit," states Stickney. "They will need to get some exercise, so
you have to let them hop around each day."
When selecting a rabbit as a pet, there are a few basic
guidelines to making sure you get a pet that is healthy and that
will work well with your family.
"When the rabbit is moving around in its pen, make sure that it
is able to move without limping and that it can keep its balance,"
suggests Stickney. "It needs to look proportional in its muscling.
Check that there is no nasal or ocular discharge, which could be
signs of "snuffles", a respiratory disease. Also, check and make
sure its hind end is not wet or soiled, which could indicate
diarrhea or poor grooming. The rabbit should have a nice hair coat,
with no missing fur."
Be sure to keep in mind that if the rabbit is for a small child,
you will want to handle it first and see how it behaves. Pick the
docile one that is willing to happily sit in your hands without
biting or scratching. If the rabbit is unhappy, you will know; they
have sharp claws, and they will scratch or kick if they feel
threatened. A rabbit always needs to have its back legs supported
when being held to prevent injury.
The down side to pet rabbits is that they are pretty messy.
While it is possible to litter train some rabbits, for the most
part they go to the bathroom wherever they are. Because of this
they will need to be in a hutch of some sort most of the time.
"Make sure that if you do have a rabbit as a pet that you do not
keep it in a wire cage. It sounds gross, but at night they secrete
vitamins in their feces and they have to be able to eat these
secretions to stay healthy," says Stickney.
Although rabbits are easy to care for, there are still things
you have to do to keep them healthy and comfortable. Be sure to
keep their hutch in a place with a comfortable temperature at all
times and keep their dietary and veterinary requirements in
"A rabbit's diet consists primarily of coastal hay and
vegetables, and a third of their diet should include rabbit feed,"
explains Stickney. "The hay is very important because it prevents
digestive problems that rabbits get as a result of cleaning
themselves like cats do."
Hay is also important for a rabbit's teeth. A rabbit that is
constantly nibbling on hay has a good appetite. If it does not chew
on hay constantly, its teeth can overgrow. Teeth should line up
nicely and not be uneven or tusk-like, which could signify an
"If your rabbit's teeth do overgrow, it will have to be sedated
and its teeth will have to be filed down by a veterinarian," warns
Stickney. "It's also important to remember that rabbits will chew
on just about anything, so watch out for things like power cords
because they can electrocute themselves."
Rabbits also have routine veterinary needs just like any other
pet. They will need to be spayed or neutered and can also get
"You really need to get your rabbit spayed or neutered before
sexual maturity or they can become aggressive," advises Stickney.
"Check with your veterinarian, because not all of them spay and
neuter rabbits. You should also ask them for any flea preventative
or treatment as over-the-counter products for dogs and cats can be
toxic for rabbits."
While any pet can be a wonderful addition to a family, it is
never a good idea to buy a pet on a whim. If you have researched
your pet, committed to its life-long care, and believe your child
is ready for the responsibility, then a rabbit can be a fun furry
companion. Just remember, they do live 7 to 11 years on average, so
you could potentially have the rabbit even after your little one
leaves the nest.
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Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine
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