With Easter around the corner, I started to think about …
Yes, chocolate, obviously … but also, bunnies!
Bunnies are always associated with Easter and often ‘spring’ to mind (excuse the pun) at this time of year, but why have our happy, hoppy little friends acquired this association? Well, I honestly had no idea so, to enlighten myself and you, dear reader, I decided to do a little digging (groan, these puns are coming thick and fast today, I just can’t help myself!) According to the BBC, “The story of the Easter Bunny is connected to Pagan tradition, and is thought to have become common in the 19th Century […] Legend has it that the Easter Bunny lays, decorates and hides eggs for good children, as they are also a symbol of new life.”
To start with, as we all know, bunnies don’t actually lay eggs – so the idea of an Easter Bunny doing all this on their own is way out! They must have a little chicken helper, much like Santa Claus has Rudolph and his trusty reindeer family. I say helper … really, the chicken’s rather crucial in the whole operation! Anyway, I’m perhaps over-thinking this. Who am I to argue with a Pagan tradition?! One aspect of the legend that is accurate, however, is that rabbits are held as a symbol of new life. They have evolved to breed very quickly, hence the expression ‘breeding like rabbits.’ They can produce litters of up to 12 babies (kittens) following a pregnancy that lasts just 31 days … and then, they can become pregnant again within hours of giving birth!
While I’m still not feeling particularly enlightened about the whole ‘rabbits laying chocolate eggs’ phenomenon that so many of us just blindly go along with at Easter (and teach our kids about!), there are a couple of bunny issues that I feel we should discuss a bit further.
Rabbits are popular pets, especially for families with children and, as a small animal practice, we see a lot of bunnies here at SLVC. We love it when bunny friends come to visit; we’ve got some real characters on our patient list! If rabbits are carefully handled from a young age they can become very used to humans and make wonderful pets for people of all ages – although this socialisation period is crucial. If they miss out on this, rabbits can be quite fearful and anxious around people.
They’re sociable animals and do like to be kept in pairs otherwise they can become lonely and even depressed, however, as you’ve seen above, they can breed verrrry quickly so it’s important to have them neutered otherwise you could soon end up with far more pets than you bargained for! The RSPCA suggests that a good combination, to avoid fighting, is a neutered male and a neutered female. They do love human company as well, so spend plenty of time with your bunny and you’ll forge a strong bond. They’re certainly not animals that should just be left in a hutch or cage all day with minimal attention – they thrive on exercise, stimulation and regular interaction. Did you know, rabbits are very intelligent and actually quite trainable? With reward-based training, you can teach them to come when called or even go back to their cage on cue! ‘The Bunny Lady’ has videos on YouTube that show you how to do this.
When people buy rabbits as pets for children they often don’t consider the long-term commitment. Bunnies can live for up to 12 years so make sure you’re prepared to look after them throughout their life. Depending on the age of your child/children they may grow up and leave home within this time! Rabbits also require a lot more space than some people realise. A hutch or cage isn’t enough to keep a rabbit happy and healthy – they’ll also need a safe, enclosed run where they can exercise regularly. The Blue Cross advise that rabbits will need “permanent access to an area that’s no less than threemetres long, by two metres deep, by one metre high.” They’ll also need things like toys, chews, shelters and tunnels to keep them mentally stimulated and help them to act as naturally as possible.
The majority of the bunny problems that we see here in the practice can be prevented with proper diet. The Easter Bunny has taught children for centuries that rabbits love chocolate but I’d like to put that rumour to bed, once and for all! They absolutely shouldn’t eat chocolate (and, if you think they’ve laid some, I’m sorry to say that it’s not chocolate drops… you definitely shouldn’t be eating that!!). Bugs Bunny is also responsible for some false advertising in terms of rabbits’ diets. Yes, our favourite crepuscular cartoon character is rarely seen without a carrot in his paws but this should not be a staple part of your rabbit’s diet. In fact, their diet should comprise 80 – 90% roughage, so feeding hay or grass. This should be supplemented by a few fresh green vegetables to give them the vitamins they need – ideally things like spinach, dandelion leaves, celery, fresh herbs or broccoli. Carrots can be given as an occasional treat (perhaps in lieu of a chocolate egg on Easter Sunday!) but they’re too high in sugar to form a staple part of a rabbit’s diet. They’re not good for rabbits’ digestion or their teeth – I have a sneaking suspicion that Bugs Bunny’s famous gnashers may be falsies!
Aside from maintaining a healthy diet and ensuring they’ve got a constant supply of clean water, other things you can do to help your rabbit stay fit and healthy include checking growth of their front teeth and nails regularly, grooming them to prevent matting (especially long-haired breeds), having them immunised against common diseases such as myxomatosis and VHD, giving them preventative treatment against parasites including worms and fleas, and bringing them to the vets for regular health checks.
I can’t promise your bunnies will deliver any chocolate eggs this Easter (in fact, I’ll go so far as to say I guarantee they won’t!) but, I do promise that if you look after them well and show them plenty of care, attention and affection they’ll make loving, loyal pets and you can have lots of fun together.