Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Truth About Bunnies - Busting The Myths

It's around this time of year Peter Cottontail loads up his Easter basket and takes to the bunny trial. I know this because Twisk auditioned for his job one year and lost on a technicality (Peter thought his ruby red eyes were more suited to Christmas than Easter.) Anyway, this is also the time of year people start looking for rabbits to put in their children's Easter baskets. The goal of the Make Mine Chocolate campaign is convince people to choose any kind of bunny but a live one. 

Having a little experience with bunnies I thought I would put in my two cents in support of the campaign by dispelling a few myths surrounding them.

Myth #1 Bunnies are cuddly

This can be true, but isn't usually. Bunnies love to be petted, yes, but being held is a different story. Consider the fact that rabbits are prey animals. Any action that grabs them and lifts them into the air (picking them up to put them on your lap or in your arms, for example) is reminiscent of being picked up to be carried off and eaten. They automatically - genetically - are afraid of this. Most of them will tolerate this behavior in us and some of them will learn to trust us enough that they overcome their natural fear and enjoy being held, and some are just bold enough not to mind as much. But the majority of rabbits will not learn to like it. They will simply endure it and be relieved when you return them to their pen or cage. (Whereupon, having reached the safety of their home, they will want you to pet them.) 

Myth #2 Bunnies are sweet.

Well, this one is true but it doesn't presuppose that bunnies can also be pretty vicious. I submit to you Exhibit A)
St. John
My arm after it met St. John's teeth.

This cute little guy is St. John (Sinjun.) This was the first (bad) bite he gave me but it wasn't the worst. The worst one nearly sent me to the emergency room for stitches because he tried very hard to help me commit bunny-assisted suicide. After that I brought him to Dr. Bruce to be neutered in the hopes of not having to put him down. He gave me still another scar for my collection later but has since - finally - calmed down enough to enjoy petting and not try to kill me most days.

Yes, the truth is bunnies bite. Having been bitten - numerous times - by bunnies I can tell you with authority that if a bunny bites you the severity of the bite will tell you what kind it was: a warning, a reminder, a forceful objection, or an outright attack. Warnings and reminders are bunny's way of telling you something important like "You're trespassing," "I'm done," "Get out of my space," "You're hurting me," or, "Not today, I don't feel like it." They don't break the skin usually and they don't really hurt but they don't tickle either. If you ignore these love nips you'll likely get something harder and more damaging. Something that will cause bruising and bloodletting. 

Bunnies are often possessive of their space. Putting your hand into their cage or enclosure, even if you're only trying to fill their food bowl will likely make them growl and sometimes lunge at you. These are usually just warnings but if you persist in messing about in their space you'd better be wearing gloves. I've learned not to take bunny grumpies personally - it's how they communicate. But I also don't trespass without being respectful either. 

Myth #3 Bunnies are pocket pets.

Before I had bunnies the idea of taking one to the vet was ... I admit it ...absurd. Little did I know that owning rabbits would put me on such friendly terms with my vet. Lucky for me he's a really nice guy but exotic animal vets, particularly ones who  know a lot about rabbits, are difficult to find. Rabbits are subject to a host of ailments from colic to colds to injuries. If treated most are surmountable but if left untreated rabbits quickly die. I have used more of  my nursing skills treating rabbits than I ever did as a licensed nurse. Fergal is my only special needs rabbit but he requires ten times as much care as the others. I have to grind his pellets three times a day. Often I have to feed him with a syringe, give him injections or other meds, give him fluids through a sub-q line, and bring him back and forth to the vet every month to have his teeth trimmed. Even with the support of my wonderful vet taking care of Fergal is costly both monetarily and emotionally. Bunnies require every bit as much time, energy, and money as pets like cats and dogs. Sometimes more. 

All rabbits should be neutered, which is costly. Males who haven't been neutered are given to spraying those they love - that's you hopefully. Yes, I said spraying. With pee. 'Nough said?

Myth #4 Bunnies are children's pets.

For all the reasons I've already listed bunnies are not great pets for kids. Two of the bunnies I currently care for were a child's cast-off. The reason? They weren't cuddly. Also, because bunnies are prey animals they are very good at hiding illness and injury. It takes an observant adult to realize when a bunny is ill and needs medical attention. Otherwise bunny goes quickly from just fine to dead. As in, "Honestly, he was just fine a couple days ago and now he'd dead."

However, bunnies make excellent pets for adults who enjoy quiet companions with subtle rather than demanding personalities. When neutered they take quite well to litter box training, they are amusing to watch, challenging to completely understand, and let's face it, are the cutest animals on the planet. They won't want to be your buddy, like a dog. Or make you serve them, like a cat. They'll simply keep you company, amuse you, and lower your blood pressure by letting you pet them copiously.

I love bunnies and I can't imagine my life without them. It's for that reason I dearly hope that you'll consider the ramifications of bestowing that fluffy, trusting little life to a child this Easter. Consider making your Easter bunny chocolate this year. Or, if you want something cuddly, here are three bunnies up for adoption:

OOAK Bunny Stuffie Stuffed Animal primitive "Millicent"
To learn more about Millie, or to adopt her go here.

For more information about the Make Mine Chocolate campaign go here.
If you've gotten through all that and you're still thinking about a bunny this is an excellent post about what to expect and so forth. 

1 comment:

  1. This is such an important post! The truth about bunnies needs to come out and be spread this time of year. They are not for everyone.

    I used to work in an animal shelter in Boston and the bunny population always sadly rose a few months after Easter, many of them quite young, and some of them exotic. They were our cutest residents but even harder to retrieve from their cages during the housecleaning process than some of the least friendly cats. You had to scruff them and quickly, firmly but gently immobilize them under your arm like a football - no legs left dangling or they'd kick like mad! I can recall one very feisty young boy who would lurk in the back of his cage looking calm and as soon as I made a move to open the hatch, even just to put new treats in his bowl, lunge with lightning speed towards my hand. Nothing so cuddly was ever so bloodthirsty! Still, somehow, he became my favorite one of all.

    And he was eventually adopted by just the right human with bunny handling experience.

    Can't they put a ban on bunny adoption/purchase around Eastertime the way many shelters do with black cats around Halloween? It could literally save lives.

    Thanks for this post!