Unlike cats and dogs, who were domesticated based on a degree of tameness, rabbits were domesticated for aesthetic reasons. Selectively bred to yield specialized fur colorations, markings, and fur length, these little prey animals were never primarily raised for the pet industry until recently. This makes a huge difference in how we view their behavior and care in contrast with other companion animals.
More rabbits are surrendered to the MSPCA each year than puppies. Some of the common reasons pet rabbits are surrendered to the MSPCA:
- children lost interest
- too many (or accidental litter)
Unfortunately, a lot of parents see rabbits as a perfect first-pet choice for a child. And while they can make great family pets, rabbits require a great deal of gentle handling, consistent socialization, and regular habitat cleaning to maintain a healthy spirit and a healthy body. And expecting a small child to deliver consistent care isn't fair nor is it age appropriate. Often times, a cycle begins in which the rabbit experiences poor handling, and becomes fearful or reactive during subsequent handling, causing apprehension in the child, who then handles the rabbit even less.
The MSPCA recommends that all domestic rabbits be spayed and neutered, as this not only prevents unwanted litters, but also increases a rabbit's life span by eliminating many reproductive cancers -- normally a rabbit can live 5-7 years, though sterilized rabbits can expect closer to 8-10, and maybe even 12 years. Most people don't realize that rabbits are ALWAYS fertile, they don't cycle like other animals. This leaves the potential for many, many baby bunnies without homes.
Rabbits are also special in that there exists a local wild population seperate from the domestic version. But while native Cottontails and our 50+ breeds of domestic rabbit may share a lot of the same behavior and biology, they are not interchangable. Wild rabbits would not adapt to life with humans -- this would be incredibly stressful for them. And domestic rabbits could never fend for themselves in the great outdoors. They would soon die, as they would be unable to find food, water, and shelter. Sadly, some people decide to abandon their rabbits when they no longer want to keep them, thinking that the freedom of outdoor life is best. It isn't.
Before getting a rabbit, learn about their behavior and care needs, and make an informed choice about whether it's the best pet choice for you. And keep in mind that 8-10 years is a long time, and even when the novelty wears off, our pets still need us.