If you’re thinking of buying your child a bunny for Easter, think again.
Rabbits and children are not a match made in heaven — and the evidence is the surge of bunnies dumped in parks or surrendered to shelters. The baby bunnies for sale at pet stores are typically taken from their mothers too young, and they aren’t healthy.
“They die within a week or 2 after being bought,” says Cindy Stutts, founding board member of Rabbit Rescue & Rehab in New York City. “And even if they manage to survive, children often lose interest, and the rabbits are either brought to a shelter or dumped outside.” And, as we all know, domesticated animals are not able to survive in the wild.
Collectively, Rabbit Rescue & Rehab and Animal Care & Control take in around 600 rabbits a year, says Jane Hoffman, president of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals.
That makes rabbits the 3rd largest animal shelter population after cats and dogs. “Rabbits have come into AC&C with broken backs or legs because people don’t know how to handle them,” says Hoffman. “There’s a whole host of issues.”
Bunnies Are Not Stuffed Animals
“Rabbits are prey animals. They don’t like being picked up and cuddled. And that’s the one thing a child wants to do,” says Stutts. “Children think a live bunny is like an animated stuffed toy. The child wants to carry it around — but for a prey animal, such as a rabbit, it’s terrifying.”
What happens next isn’t pretty: Your sweet bunny starts biting, kicking and scratching.
For example, a rabbit brought back to the pet store and currently in the shelter growls and boxes, says Stutts. “She doesn’t want anyone putting a hand into her cage. So she’s going to a foster home that will be able to understand her and help her learn to trust again.”
As prey animals, rabbits are built for speed, so they have lightweight skeletons. That means their bones break easily. “A frightened rabbit that kicks out can break its own back. The lucky ones get dumped at the shelter,” says Stutts.
Some lucky rabbits have undergone physical rehabilitation, as was the case of Rabbit Rescue & Rehab bunny Ariel, a rabbit found abandoned in a Queens garden. “Her back was broken,” says Stutts. “But she had a will to live.”
The Animal Medical Center donated funds from its AMC TO THE RESCUE fund for her rehabilitation. “She finally got adopted to a fabulous home, and she’s a bunny in a wheelchair now,” says Stutts.
There are other issues to consider as a parent if you’re still thinking of getting your child a rabbit — such as the emotional consequences for children if they either accidentally kill or severely injure their bunny.
This sobering video gives several reasons to not buy a bunny for Easter:
Breeding Like Bunnies
Rabbits bought from pet shops or online typically haven’t been spayed or neutered.
“It’s very difficult to identify the gender of a young rabbit,” says Hoffman. “You may think you’re getting a pair of brothers or sisters, but you may be buying mom and pop who will then give birth to a litter.”
This is not to say that bunnies aren’t great pets — as long as you know how to care for them. “In the right circumstances, they’re wonderful if you’re in an apartment,” says Stutts.
And adopting from a shelter means not only that you’re saving a life, but also you’re also getting a rabbit who’s been spayed or neutered. It’s not easy to find a veterinarian trained in neutering and spaying rabbits. “It’s a much more delicate operation,” says Hoffman.
The bottom line? If you’re ready to take care of a bunny, adopt from a shelter. But if you really want to get a bunny for your child, give a stuffed rabbit instead. Or even a chocolate rabbit.