Rabbit rumors abound: Do rabbits know what foods are safe for them to eat? Can domestic rabbits breed with cottontails? How long do rabbits live, anyway? Aren't they smelly? Here is a veritable cornucopia of rabbit rumors along with the reality:
Rumor: You can let an unwanted rabbit go in a field or backyard and it will be fine, fending for itself and living with the wild rabbits.
Reality: OK seriously, how many domesticated rabbits have YOU seen hanging out with the wild cottontails? Domesticated rabbits released into the wild have no street smarts and even less camouflage. Those black and white spots stand out like a neon sign in a diner for the local predators: dogs, cats, coyotes, foxes, hawks, eagles and more: rabbits are lunch for just about everything. If they are not immediately eaten, these abandoned rabbits are facing starvation, disease, parasites, poisoning, and starvation.
Rumor: Domestic rabbits can interbreed with wild rabbits
Reality: Our American wild rabbits (cottontails) have 21 pair of chromosomes. European hares (different from rabbits) have 24 pairs of chromosomes and the domestic rabbit has 22 pair. Mating is technically possible but no viable embryo will result because of the differences in the chromosome pairs.
Rumor: Smaller breeds such as Netherland Dwarfs are irritable and unsuitable for children
Reality: I am irritable and unsuitable for children, but there is no one breed of rabbit that is more or less amiable. Each rabbit has his or her own personality, and personality traits can be enhanced or negated, depending upon how the rabbit is treated. A rabbit that is treated kindly and made a part of the family will be a happy, companionable rabbit. A rabbit that is stuck in a backyard hutch and ignored will be a skittish, unsociable rabbit and will need much love and kindness to recover from this treatment. And by the way, no rabbit is suitable as a children’s pet unless your child is say, eight years or more, responsible, and shown how to properly handle a rabbit.
Rumor: All rabbits instinctively know which plants are safe to eat and which are toxic
Reality: I retrieved one of my house rabbits as a stray, just before she chowed down on some toxic (to rabbits) tulips. Again: no street skills. Clueless.
Rumor: It won’t hurt a rabbit if you pick it up by the ears
Reality: Who comes up with these things? Do the ears look like handles to people? Picking a rabbit up by the ears can cause serious injury to the rabbit. Neither do you pick them up by the legs, the tail, the whiskers or the nape of the neck (scruff). A baby bunny’s mom may on rare occasion pick them up by the scruff but A) she is the mama, B) she has no hands and C) neither A nor B applies to you. The only way to safely pick up a rabbit is to scoop them up, one hand under their bottom and the other hand supporting their chest. Hold the rabbit close to your body to keep them secure and safe.
Rumor: Rabbits can live on water and pellets
Reality: Rabbits, like people, need a balanced diet with the right amounts of proteins, vitamins, minerals and plant fiber. Rabbits cannot survive on just a few items with no nutritional balance. Your best bet is to provide unlimited hay and water 24/7 and find a good quality timothy pellet, such as Oxbow pellets or KayTee’s Forti-Diet. Locally, Mike at Pet Care Solutions will be happy to help you with this. Ideally a rabbit should have a couple of cups of nutritious greens (read: no iceberg lettuce) daily, and a slice of carrot or banana is a fine treat. Pellets were developed to feed lab rabbits who were not going to be around long enough for anyone to worry about whether or not their teeth were being properly worn down by grinding hay, or whether or not they were getting enough long-fiber in their diet. Pellets can be a part of a rabbit’s diet, but not the entire diet.
Rumor: Pet store treats are mostly junk food
Reality: Mostly, yes. Oxbow has come out with some dried banana treats, which are a sight better than the seeds-stuck-together-with-honey treats, but the best treats are tiny amounts of some of the stuff you eat: one grape cut in half, for example, or one small slice of banana, or one or two unsweetened dried cranberries. The treats sold at the pet stores are usually sweetened and/or high in fat and can cause digestive upsets (which are potentially fatal in a rabbit).
Rumor: Rabbits make no sounds
Reality: Rabbits have a variety of sounds, from their very-pleased tooth purring and happily-excited teeth chattering to the less-than-pleased grunts and growls. Rabbits who are in fear for their life have a shrill scream that you don’t ever want to hear.
Rumor: Rabbits are messy and smelly
Reality: Not unless you fail to clean their litter pans often enough. Rabbits are animals that, in nature, are preyed upon. Rabbits will therefore potty in one particular spot and keep the rest of his habitat clean in order to minimize odor that would alert predators to his location. Put a litter box in that spot and voila! Your bunny is litter trained.
Rumor: Mama rabbits will stay with their babies and keep them warm and snuggle them
Reality: As you may recall, rabbits are a prey species, so the mom rabbit spends as little time as possible with her babies to prevent attracting predators to the nest. She builds a nest of grass or hay, lines it with her own fur pulled from her dewlap. Mama usually nurses her babies at dawn and dusk and then leaves. Wild baby rabbits (called ‘kits’) usually leave the nest by about 4 weeks of age.
Rumor: Rabbits live about 3 or 4 years, like a guinea pig
Reality: Rabbits are a good ten-year commitment. They need at least several hours a day to run around outside of a cage (an exercise pen is a better option), they need to be spayed or neutered, and if they are a single rabbit, then YOU need to provide companionship for them (although most single rabbits will sit and watch TV with you).
Not ready for a ten-year commitment? Most shelters have older rabbits (possibly in foster care) that would make ideal pets. Adopting a bunny from a shelter gives you the added support of the shelter, who can provide you with information and local resources for caring for your bunny. Locally, the Humane Society of Greater Dayton, Dayton Area Rabbit Network, Buckeye House Rabbit Society and Columbus House Rabbit Society have many adoptable bunnies; elsewhere, contact your local House Rabbit Society or Petfinder.com for adoptable bunnies.
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