Is a rabbit right for your family? They can be great companions, but they’re not easy-care pets
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Sept. 25 is International Rabbit Day, and bunny companions are worth celebrating. They’re smart, clean, sociable, trainable, funny, soft and playful. But it’s easy to underestimate the amount of care and attention they need. In their own special ways, rabbits are as demanding as dogs, cats, reptiles and other animals. (Face it: There are no simple pets.) Here’s what to know about living with them.
Rabbits come in a variety of sizes, colors, personalities and coat types. There are dwarf, mini, standard and giant rabbits; rabbits with tall ears and rabbits with floppy ears; and rabbits with long, short or curly coats.
But attractive as they are, rabbits aren’t for the faint of heart. They chew, often destructively, and use their claws to dig up carpet; their powerful hind legs deliver a wallop.
You may have visions of holding and petting a soft, beautiful rabbit, but your rabbit may have other ideas.
“Not all bunnies love being held,” says Liz Moe of Toledo, Ohio, who has lionhead mixes and an English Angora. Hugging or holding a rabbit who doesn’t want it can bring a swipe of the claws that can leave the person bleeding and the rabbit dropped to the floor, resulting in a broken neck, back or legs. Never allow young children to carry rabbits around.
“You have to get on the ground and let them come to you,” Moe says.
Rabbits are active. “They are like living with a Lab puppy for years,” says Mary Cvetan of Pittsburgh, who has worked with more than a thousand rabbits at local shelters, rescue groups and in her home.
Once you learn their habits and bunnyproof your home -- they love chewing electrical cords or making their way into what might seem like inaccessible areas -- you can gradually give them free run of the home. “Their real characters come out when they are free roaming in their environment,” says Sebnem Tokcan, who has lived with 14 rabbits over a 20-year period. “All have very different personalities, eating habits and companionship preferences.”
Litter box placement is as important for bunnies as it is for cats. Like any prey animal, they like to have their back against a wall or corner so no one can sneak up on them.
Rabbits are quiet. It’s easy to forget that they might need food, water or attention. Neglect can quickly turn into cruelty, even if it’s unintended.
If they don’t have free run of the house, rabbits need a large space in which to live, with enough room to accommodate play, mealtime and a litter box, preferably indoors. Outdoor rabbits, even in hutches, are at risk from roaming dogs and other predators, and inappropriate housing can leave them unprotected from temperature extremes, or exposure to pesticides or herbicides sprayed in the yard.
But all rabbits enjoy supervised outdoor exploration. Kimberly Kelly of San Diego lets her rabbit free in the fenced garden when she’s outside, and grows chard, broccoli, cauliflower, mesclun greens, beets, celery and parsley for her rabbit to nibble on.
Rabbits have special health, diet and grooming needs, especially dental care and nail trims. They require a veterinarian familiar with their unique anesthesia needs, diseases and diet.
If you’re still sold on a bunny as a pet, consider adopting one from a shelter or rescue group. They will likely already be spayed or neutered (unaltered males will urine mark, and rabbits multiply like, well, you know) and vaccinated for highly contagious rabbit hemorrhagic disease.
“Rabbits are awesome, but they are a lot of work,” Kelly says. “If people are looking for a rabbit, please consider a reputable rescue organization. You’ll be giving a great rabbit a good home, and the rescue will help you be successful.”
For more information, see the House Rabbit Society’s webpage (rabbit.org) and our past column “Bunny Basics” (uexpress.com/pets/pet-connection/2020/6/1).
“I love living with rabbits,” Cvetan says. “They are interesting and subtle, rowdy and stubborn.”
Q: How long can a dog’s hair grow? What breed has the longest hair?
A: Most dogs have fur that grows to a genetically determined length, but others have coats that just keep growing longer until they’re trimmed.
Take breeds such as the Bergamasco, Komondor and puli. These dogs have hair that forms cords -- strands of hair that become twined and matted together, sometimes growing long enough to sweep the ground. Sounds like a grooming nightmare, but the feltlike mats actually have a purpose: to protect these flock-guarding or herding breeds from thorny brush, inclement weather and attacking predators.
Poodles are a breed with hair that has a long growth cycle, meaning that it takes a while before the dogs start shedding. That’s why they have a reputation for being a nonshedding breed. Their coats can also cord, or their people may trim their abundance of hair into the fancy styles you see in the show ring.
Other breeds with hair that can sweep the ground include the Afghan hound, coton de Tulear, Havanese, Lhasa apso, Maltese, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, Skye terrier, Tibetan terrier and Yorkshire terrier.
Longhaired dogs are beautiful, but their grooming needs can be extensive. Count on combing or brushing them daily to ensure that tangles or mats don’t take over. Corded coats take time and effort to develop and maintain. If you don’t plan on showing or working your longhaired dog, or you lack the budget or time for regular grooming sessions, you may find yourself asking a groomer to give him a shorter trim. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Guinness World Records is still looking for the dog with the longest fur, determined by calculating average length from 10 individual hairs measured by a veterinarian. Maybe your dog is a candidate! -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
-- Nail trim nightmare? If your dog resists having her nails trimmed, work up to the task over a few weeks’ time by taking the clipper in hand and touching it to her feet, then her toes, then the nails, all while praising her and giving her treats for each step. When she is used to having her feet handled, put the trimmer against the nail and praise and treat more still. Then trim a little off, and so on. Praise and more praise! Treats and more treats! Don't insist on trimming all the nails at once. Do one or two toes a night, and put the nippers away while you and your dog are feeling positive about the experience. The same techniques work with cats.
-- Tails might seem as if they’re all the same from cat to cat, but there’s quite a bit of variance. Cats typically have tails that are about the same length as their body, give or take a bit, but beyond that, tails can be quite different. Cats such as Turkish Angoras, Balinese and Maine coons have plumed tails with long, flowing fur. Persian cats have short, thick tails covered in long fur that fluffs out from the body. Siamese and Oriental shorthairs have long, thin tails, and hairless cats such as the sphynx and Peterbald have whiplike tails that taper at the end. American and Japanese bobtail cats have short, furry appendages, and Manx and Cymric cats typically have no tail or just a stub of one. And some cats have kinked or curled tails.
-- Considering getting a ferret? Make sure it’s legal to own them where you live. In some places, laws restrict their ownership. For instance, ferrets are illegal in California, Hawaii and New York City. For more information, see fearfreehappyhomes.com/do-you-really-want-a-ferret-what-to-consider-before-getting-one. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.