14 myths and truths about rabbits as pets

By: Valerie Howes

Author: Canadian Living


14 myths and truths about rabbits as pets

By: Valerie Howes
Rabbits are as playful, friendly and loving as cats and dogs, but they have very different needs. Make sure you know what you’re getting into before bringing one into your home.

1. Myth: Rabbits make contented cage pets.

Truth: “You might think you can just keep your rabbit in a small cage, but it actually needs two to four hours per day to hop free and play,” explains Danielle Beaulieu, a veterinary surgeon at Montreal’s Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital.

2. Myth: Rabbits are happy hanging out on the sofa while you make dinner.

Truth: Your rabbit will indeed be happy left to its own devices in the living room -- that is, until it gets its choppers into the computer or the TV wires. Electrocution is a serious risk. You need to supervise rabbits at all times for the sake of your electronics, your appliances, your carpets, the leg of your expensive antique table and, of course, for its own safety.

3. Myth: Veggies give rabbits the runs.

Truth: Says Beaulieu: “Vegetables are full of nutrients and fibre and most are very good for your rabbit’s health; they actually prevent diarrhea.” Just be sure to make dietary changes gradually if your rabbit’s on an all-pellet diet, and don’t ever give it iceberg lettuce or celery -- both have too high a water content and will upset a bunny’s tum.

4. Myth: Rabbits only eat what they need.

Truth: Rabbits are eating machines. They can and do get too chubby if given unlimited access to food. “And if they eat too many pellets, they’ll get bladder stones, kidney stones or diarrhea,” warns Beaulieu.

5. Myth: Rabbits poop everywhere.

Truth: “People don’t expect rabbits to be litter trainable, but they are,” says Beaulieu, “although they will never be 100 per cent reliable.” Bear in mind that rabbits poop around once every 30 seconds, and they’re not going to want to spend all their time in the litter box. They also poop when they’re startled, so expect to find the odd surprise on the living room rug.

6. Myth: Rabbits can’t live in the same home as predator pets.

Truth: While rabbits are terrified of ferrets, if introduced gradually and under strict supervision, they will often end up good pals with the family cat or dog. Beaulieu advises that even when the relationship is good, you should still keep the rabbit safely in its cage or corral when you’re not keeping a close eye on things.

7. Myth: Your baby rabbit is a dwarf.

Truth: OK, it might be a dwarf, but there’s no knowing, unless you’ve met the parents. “In pet stores they always say rabbits are dwarf or miniature, but you often get a mix, so you cant really tell until it’s full-grown at six months old,” says Beaulieu. The vet once treated a domestic rabbit that was nearly three feet long, two feet wide and a whopping 20 pounds in weight. Apartment dwellers, be warned.

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8. Myth: Female rabbits that bleed are just in heat.

Truth: Rabbits don’t menstruate, so if there’s blood, it’s not normal. “This is actually the sign of very serious illness,” says Beaulieu. Don’t wait to get a rabbit in this condition checked out by your vet.

9. Myth: No appetite is no big deal.

Truth: “Whenever a rabbit stops eating completely, it’s an emergency,” says Beaulieu. The cause could be anything from a hairball to bladder stones to kidney failure; no matter what, your pet needs medical attention within 24 hours.

10. Myth: Woodchips make great bedding for your bun.

Fact: Woodchips are dusty and toxic to rabbits; they can cause eye and respiratory infections, gastric ulceration and liver failure. “Recycled newspaper cat litter makes the best bedding,” says Beaulieu.

11. Myth: Your rabbit’s cage needs cleaning once a week.

Fact: Make that once a day. If you let it go, the smell quickly becomes pungent and disgusting. Worse, your rabbit risks ending up with sores on its feet or the sniffles from living in damp and insanitary quarters.

12. Myth: Rabbits are low maintenance.

Truth: Actually, their nails need clipping, their coats need brushing and, in some cases, their teeth need to be trimmed on a regular basis. Extreme cuteness takes work.

13. Myth: The single rabbit doesn’t need to be spayed.

Truth: Males will spray urine right up the wall unless they get the snip, and unsterilized females tend to get cancer of the uterus at around age four. Spaying is recommended.

14. Myth: You can walk a rabbit on a leash.

Truth: While you can certainly buy rabbit leashes at the pet store, they’re not recommended. “Rabbits have a very fragile skeletal system and very powerful muscles,” explains Beaulieu. “If they get startled and leap on a leash, they could break their back.” The best solution for outdoor exercise: Set up a dog corral or build a rabbit run -- just make sure the sides are not so low that your bunny could clear them in a freedom bid.

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14 myths and truths about rabbits as pets