As temperatures soared this week, and the mountains of snow all but disappeared, thoughts of warm spring weather abounded.
Along with images of budding plants and blooming trees came images of chocolates, candies and … Easter bunnies.
But as eager pet enthusiasts flock to their pet stores in search of those cuddly creatures, at least one provincial organization is looking to discourage people from making hasty, impulse purchases.
“This time of year is quite a popular time of year – getting close to Easter you have the association with rabbits,” said Danielle Mills-Mammoliti, of the Ontario Rabbit Education Organization (OREO), a registered non-profit organization established to promote the health and well-being of domestic rabbits in Ontario.
“They’re cute, they’re fuzzy and people tend to think it is a good idea to pick them up as an Easter gift for a loved one. There is nothing wrong with that, but the problem is they don’t stay small for ever,” said Mills-Mammoliti, noting that as the little bunnies quickly grow older, their needs increase and diversify.
After just two to three months rabbits reach maturity, meaning that they can start breeding. A fertile female can have a litter of up to six every 30 to 32 days. After 24 hours of delivering most females are “ready to go again.” (Hence the phrase: “at it like rabbits.”)
Suddenly the duties of looking after one or two rabbits mushrooms exponentially and if money and time are issues, it’s the rabbits who suffer.
“We just kind of caution people at Easter: you have to realize it’s a long-term commitment: this rabbit is going to develop and change as you have it,” she said, noting that six to nine months after Easter, humane societies typically brace themselves for an influx of unwanted rabbits. According to the Make Mine Chocolate campaign – whose goals are to spread the message that rabbits should not be casually acquired and to educate the public about the special needs of the animals – eight out of 10 rabbits are abandoned at some point in their lives, Mills-Mammoliti explained.
Domestic rabbits let loose into the wild have very low survival rates even in areas inhabited by their wild cousins because they do not possesses the appropriate instincts or immune systems to survive.
“Do your research and know what you’re getting into before you do it.”
Though rabbits might not be thought of as high maintenance pets like dogs, they require much more attention than most pet owners are aware of.
In addition to requiring regular exercise every day, rabbits need to have steady access to food – including pellets, hay, fresh vegetables and water – and ample space to stretch and exercise.
Once rabbits reach maturity they should be spayed or neutered. Failure to administer these often expensive procedures can result in a myriad of physical and psychological complications, said Mills-Mammoliti.
According to OREO, 85 to 90 per cent of rabbits will develop some form of cancer if not spayed or neutered before the age of three.
Rabbits that are not fixed can become aggressive and nippy towards other rabbits as well as towards humans, and can even become violent against their own kin. Unneutered males may start to fight, sometimes to the death.
“You end up with basically a little hormone machine that chews, digs, sprays, and if you haven’t done your research before hand it can really catch you off guard,” she noted.
Rabbits are highly sociable animals and generally enjoy company with other rabbits. But they tend to be choosy.
“They love having companions, they love having a friend, but the problem is they like to choose that friend,” said Mills-Mammoliti. As a result, she recommends rescuing rabbits from humane societies as they tend to shelter older already developed animals.
“They basically pick their own companion so you have to go through a process we call bonding.”
If owners follow the guidelines, rabbits make great pets said Mills-Mammoliti. The key is to learn more about the living creatures before taking them in as pets.
“They live 10 to 12 years. If your child is 10 and you buy them a rabbit, when they go off to university you will probably still be looking after that rabbit for them – it’s a long-term commitment that a lot of people don’t realize they are kind of going to have to make,” she said.
For more information visit: www.ontariorabbits.org.