If you do decide to keep your rabbit outside, the proper cage is important. "Consider building a large enough pen, so the child can actually go inside and play with the rabbit, without having to pick it up or fearing it will run away," says Snopek. "A regular hutch surrounded by a 6-foot by 6-foot wire enclosure works well for one family I know. To protect the rabbit, the enclosure must be completely cat- and dog-proof, dug into the ground and covered on top."
"I had rabbits as a child," says Stockton. "I remember one of them being attacked by a neighbor's dog and killed. I was horrified." To ensure this does not happen to her son's rabbit, she had her husband build a cage that sits on a wooden table. "And, we only let him run in the backyard if he's supervised," she says. "It only takes a second for something to happen."Rabbit Safety
What precautions can parents take ensure the safety of their child and the rabbit? Snopek suggests teaching your child the proper way to handle and care for their new pet.
- Gentle petting. They don't like to wrestle like dogs do; they like soft stroking.
- Don't chase the bunny. If he hops away, wait till he comes back, or ask Mom and Dad for help.
- Don't touch droppings or cage litter.
- Don't pick up the bunny. It scares him, and if he struggles, he might scratch you.
"Never allow the child to interact with the rabbit without adult supervision," says Abel. "Rabbits should not be picked up unless you are sitting on the floor, but even that is not recommended for really young children – teach them to be satisfied by petting while sitting next to the bunny."Choosing Your Bunny
When choosing a rabbit for your child, Snopek suggests picking a larger breed of rabbit. "The larger breeds tend to be less energetic and excitable than the dwarf varieties," she says. "Their size makes it easier for a small hand to stroke them, and harder for them to be picked up."
Consider adopting a bunny from your local animal shelter. Most people only think of cats and dogs when they think of shelters, but there are usually many rabbits there available for adoption. "Humane societies, shelters and rescue agencies all report a sharp increase in the number of rabbits relinquished to them in the spring and summer months," says Snopek. Thousands of rabbits each year are put to sleep at animal shelters because homes cannot be found.
"Most Easter bunnies do not reach their first birthday!" says Abel. "They often die young or they are released outdoors or to a shelter. If they don't die, they are often banished to a lonely life in a backyard hutch. Parents need to realize that pets are not disposable. Your responsibility to the rabbit does not end if the child tires of him."
Abel encourages parents to do their research before getting their child a bunny. "The Internet and book stores are full of wonderful (and not so wonderful!) information," she says. "The best book about house rabbits is the House Rabbit Handbook by Marinell Harriman. Most other books are not written about pet rabbits." She also recommends finding a qualified veterinarian and being prepared for a lot of bunny chewing and urinating. "However, bunny poop is extremely easy to clean," she says.
"I do not regret one bit getting Daniel a rabbit," says Stockton. "I do caution parents to teach their children how to handle, or not to handle, the rabbit. They are very fragile animals and need the same amount of care and attention as a dog or cat does."
With proper care and lots of love, rabbits can live eight to 10 years, sometimes even longer. If you're not willing to devote the time and attention to a bunny, and if you have small children, it might be best to opt for a stuffed bunny for Easter, instead of the real thing. The real thing is a 10-year commitment.
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