As we celebrate the snow melting and the coming of warm weather, as Easter has come and gone, spring is a popular time to adopt a new fuzzy friend. At this time of year a sweet baby bunny may seem like the perfect choice. They are often advertised as easy starter pets, and they fit right into the festivities of this time of year. Most pet stores seem the carry everything you would need: a cage, a water bottle some colourful chew toys, and pellets. The problem is that these items are often not suitable or safe for our fluffy friends.
Did you know that rabbits are the third most surrendered animal to shelters and they many spend months if not more waiting for a new home? they are often surrendered by owners that didn’t know what they were signing up for when they adopted their adorable little Easter bunny. Every year we see that baby animals are at an increased risk around Easter especially with photography companies offering photo shoots with live bunnies or ducklings. While these pictures may seem adorable and innocent, many of these rabbits are kept in appalling conditions.
While the rabbits are waiting to have their photo taken, they wait in small wire bottom cages which are painful for rabbits as they have no padding on their feet. This can cause calluses on the rabbits hocks which can make movement painful.
These rabbits often don’t have access to unlimited hay. Different kinds of hay play important parts of a rabbits’ diet and life cycle: Alfalfa hay is important for young rabbits as it contains higher levels of calcium. Adult rabbits should also have access to unlimited grass hay as it should make up roughly 80% of a healthy rabbits diet, the other 20% should be made up of high quality pellets and leafy greens and treats (apples, bananas and carrots all make wonderful treats but should be given sparingly as they contain lots of sugars).
The rabbits that are used in photo shoots or are given as Easter pets are often malnourished and at a higher risk for GI (or gut) stasis. This is a potentially deadly condition in which the digestive system has slowed down or stopped completely. Bad bacteria then builds up in the intestines releasing gas causing painful bloating. The most common symptoms are lethargy, and not wanting to eat or drink (refusing treats is normally a very good indication that your rabbit may not be feeling well). GI stasis requires immediate veterinary attention as if this condition is left without treatment it can be very painful and deadly, and the vet bills can become pricey and unexpected to new owners. If you suspect your rabbit is sick please seek medical attention immediately, also seek programs that will help you afford the bills. A bunny is a family member, and they deserve proper care and love.
This also brings in the question of finding a rabbit savvy vet. Finding a specialist to see your fluffy friend may prove more difficult than most pet owners predict because rabbits are classified as exotic animals. Rabbits do require regular vet visits as well and as vaccines, but like a cat or a dog. Most vets will also recommend that your rabbit be spayed/neutered. This can drastically reduce or eliminate the risk of developing cancer (mammary, ovarian, uterine, and testicular) it is recommended that your rabbit have this surgery before they reach sexual maturity, as it can also significantly improve their quality of life. Spaying /neutering your pet also makes litter box training easier as it makes your adorable fluffy friend less likely to “mark” their territory and decreases the risk of the kind of aggressive behavior that unknowledgeable owners aren’t expecting.
Rabbits are a lifetime commitment as they live upwards of 10 years, some reaching their teens! They require the same consideration as a cat or dog. Rabbits are also very delicate animals with fragile bones and should not be handled by young children without appropriate supervision. Many rabbits don’t even enjoy being picked up and they are prey animals and the feeling of being lifted or carried can cause rabbits to panic. Of course there are exceptions as some families are perfectly fine managing their child and pet. Please remember that this is often not the case, and especially not in a large scale photography setting.
Young children without developed fine motor skills grab at rabbits ears and tails. This is an obvious danger to the rabbit but may also prove dangerous for the child, as established rabbits can be aggressive and may lung at or bite a curious unwitting hand. So if you are looking to have your little one photographed with an Easter bunny please find an alternative to live animals. A plushie is an adorable alternative! A mascot? Personally I find them a bit creepy but plenty of kids love them! Some photographers may even be able to Photoshop a live bunny right into your picture. By boycotting photographers and companies that put animals at risk we perpetuate the idea that animals have rights and should be treated humanely, ducklings, and other baby animals who also suffer so these companies can profit. Animals are not props. They deserve better than that.
The last thing to note is that bunnies are social animals. If you decide to have one, you should expect to get two to prevent depression, aggression, and mental-related health problems.
The bunnies used in my photos are mine. They have plenty of space in their own room to hop, plenty of hay, toys that are not going to hurt them, and a wonderful specialized vet that helps me to make sure they are healthy and happy. When I photograph them, I make sure they are safe and secure, and that they feel comfortable and unafraid before I even consider working with them.
I hope you learned a lot, and if you have any questions please feel free to ask me!