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 children.
“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 mind.
“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 improper diet.
“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 fleas.
“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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