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Proper Bunny Care – Hop to It!

The cute, little creatures with the floppy ears are a favorite around Easter, but unlike candy bunnies that kids gobble down, a lot of real bunnies are left unwanted after the holiday. Every year, animal shelters across the country are inundated with thousands of rabbit returns, many stemming from parent's misunderstandings about bunnies as pets.

Rabbits and small children are not a good match. The exuberance of even the gentlest toddler is stressful for the sensitive rabbit. Children like a companion they can hold and cuddle. Rabbits are not passive and cuddly. They are ground-loving creatures who feel frightened and insecure when held and restrained. This often results in the child losing interest in the pet and the rabbit being neglected or abandoned.

However, Mary Cotter from The House Rabbit Society, a national non-profit rescue and education group, says you can teach your child – and your bunny – to enjoy one another.

The best way for a child to interact with a rabbit is on the floor. Rabbits feel most comfortable when "hugging" the ground, so get down on the floor. Let your pet come to you. Talk to the rabbit in a soothing voice. Cotter encourages parents to read to their young children and the rabbit in the same room, allowing the child and the rabbit to get used to each other in a calming way.

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Once your child and rabbit are familiar with one another, an important thing to remember is to never let your child lift the rabbit. Rabbits are physically delicate animals and can easily be hurt by children picking them up. Because rabbits often feel frightened when people pick them up, they might kick and struggle, which might injure a child. Rabbits react to sudden changes quickly - they may either run away or try to bite if approached too quickly and too loudly.

The next key to success with your new pet is to "bunny-proof" your home. Rabbits are prodigious chewers and will chew electrical wires, carpeting, and many other household items. Wires should be covered and because most houseplants are toxic to rabbits, plants should be removed.

It is not recommended to keep your rabbit outside - indoor rabbits live healthier, happier, longer lives, usually seven to ten years. While inside the home, rabbits should not be in the cage all the time. They need a minimum of 30 hours each week of activity; early morning and early evening exercise is best. This is important because rabbits have strong hind legs for running and jumping and they need to be stretched.

Rabbits have a very short reproduction cycle – only 30 days – and females are very susceptible to cervical cancer. Spaying or neutering is strongly recommended for all rabbits to save females from sickness and to save your home from destructive behavior brought on by hormonal fluctuations.

A rabbit's diet should be primarily composed of grass hay. This should be given to the rabbit fresh daily in large quantities. To supplement the hay, a daily salad of dark green leafy vegetables should also be given. Rabbit pellets should only be given in very limited quantities.

Many people may not know that rabbits can be litter trained like a cat. But you and your rabbit must "negotiate" this process. Cotter recommends starting in a small area of your home and watching to see which spot the rabbit wants to use for urination - place a litter box there. At first, some rabbits may need several litter boxes.

Cotter says that many problems you may encounter with your rabbit are solvable. "The House Rabbit Handbook" -- nicknamed "the bunny bible" - is a book that has primary information needed to successfully care for a pet rabbit. Your nearest House Rabbit Society is also a good place to ask for advice or to adopt an abandoned rabbit. You can find the nearest society at www.rabbit.org.

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