There are lots of things I love about Easter. It’s a time of renewal of both spirit and nature as the earth comes alive again with the promise of Spring. It’s the pinnacle of my family’s faith, this year to culminate in a sunrise service. I adore seeing the delight on my kids’ faces when they discover what wondrous treats the Easter Bunny has brought. It’s a time for joy and love and family and friends, a time for a giant dinner that sends everyone into a food coma for an evening. It should not be a time to buy a pet on impulse.

Weeks before the holiday arrives, pet stores begin to fill with adorable animals they hope to sell for Easter. Who can resist those fuzzy faces, those glamorous, silky ears, the fidgety twitch of their little noses? Who doesn’t need a bunny for Easter, right? Well honestly, the answer is most people.

Rabbits are amazing creatures. They use their ears as radiators, wild rabbits produce milk that is so nutritious that they can feed their babies and then leave the nest for an entire day, there are over 40 different breeds recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association, they can be litter trained. They are also the third most commonly surrendered animal at animal shelters across the country. Let that sink in for a minute. Rabbits are the number-three animal dumped at shelters. And we have the Easter bunny trend to thank for it.

easter bunny
Photo credit: Chris Batchner

Here’s what you should know if you are thinking about or just bought a rabbit for Easter.

Rabbits live on average 10-15 years.

Rabbits require an exotic animal specialist, and those don’t come cheap. – Exam fees for my exotic animals costs twice what a domestic animal exam does, and they do need to see someone who is trained to work with them.  A regular vet may not know, for example, that eating part of their feces is normal for rabbits. Most people don’t.

That tiny cage the pet store encourages you to buy is grossly inadequate for a rabbit’s needs. Those tiny cages are the equivalent of a human being forced to live in a bathroom stall. Literally. Rabbits need a lot of exercise. For their physical and emotional well-being, they need a nice big cage they can hop around in.

Rabbits shouldn’t be in a cage their whole lives. We have several rabbits at our zoo. They have safe space designated for them to spend several hours each day outside of their cages. They need it.

Rabbit urine is very caustic. It eats holes in things. They can be litter trained, but they need their human to train them, and it takes time. Rabbit pee will eat the finish off the floor.

Rabbits require a special diet. I wish I had statistics on how many bunny deaths the popular cartoon character Bugs Bunny was responsible for. Remember his carrot addiction? Did you know that rabbits cannot eat carrots in large quantities? There’s a lot of sugar in a carrot. A diet consisting of carrots and iceberg lettuce will lead to diarrhea and the ultimate demise of the bunny. Their primary food in the wild is grass. It’s low in sugar, high in fiber, and it helps to wear down their teeth.

Rabbits will chew on things. They need to chew on things. Doing so wears down their teeth. Free-roaming is good for rabbits, but they need constant supervision. That computer cord dangling in the corner may prove irresistible to your bunny. And deadly. The antique dining table in the formal dining room? Delicious! They can be litter-trained, but they will chew your baseboards and the legs of your furniture.

Rabbits can bite. Anything with a mouth can bite, and a rabbit is no exception. With proper care, training, and gentle handling, rabbits can make wonderful and cuddly pets, but they will still defend themselves. An animal kept in a too-small cage can get a little crazy (seriously, think about living in a bathroom cubicle forever. You’d bite, too!), and they may bite. Rabbits aren’t rodents. They are lagomorphs ( it’s a thing, even if spell-check doesn’t recognize it as a word), but they have similar teeth that need constant chewing to wear them down. Rabbit teeth hurt.

Rabbits can kick. It’s their primary defense. If the strong blow doesn’t deter a predator, the sharp claws may do the job. A rabbit kick hurts.

You can break a rabbit’s back by picking it up incorrectly. They should not be picked up by their scruff, and definitely not by their ears. They need to be supported from underneath.

They cannot survive in the wild.  Despite the fact that there are millions upon millions of rabbits and hares in the wild, those domestic pet-shop bunnies are ill-suited to survive on their own. Rabbits kept outdoors in hutches need shade and a cooling system in the hottest months because in the wild, they would retreat to their dens in the hottest part of the day. A white rabbit is gorgeous, but it is also very visible to predators. Floppy, over-sized ears mean they cannot hear predators the way a wild rabbit can. Rabbits that are tossed out to take their chances in the wild when their owners get bored with them are doomed. Our zoo had a rescue rabbit for several years that had once been a magician’s bunny. When he got too big to pull out of a hat, he was released.

Zoos don’t have room for unwanted rabbits. Or boas, or large pythons, or iguanas. So many people get animals thinking “When it gets too big/I am tired of it, I can give it to a zoo. There’s no room. Don’t buy a pet that requires a contingency plan.

Unwanted rabbits listed in classifieds usually become food. Giving away a rabbit on Craigslist? Chances are high it will find a home with someone with a large and hungry snake.

Instead of buying a rabbit for Easter, grab the kids, get some fresh cilantro at the grocery store, and go visit your local animal shelter. Treat those bunnies to some fresh herbs and a petting.They will appreciate it. Our shelter maintains 10-12 unwanted rabbits at any give time. If after much research you decide that a rabbit is the perfect pet for your family, why not adopt one of them?

7 thoughts on “About That Easter Bunny…”

      1. So glad you wrote this! You’ve already educated me. And you never know what the ripple out effect will be of changing even one mind…

  1. When I worked at the shelter, no matter how much we put out there every year about this (and chicks, too – don’t get me started on how many people thought giving their child a BABY CHICKEN at Easter was a good idea! Good grief!) we’d always get an influx of bunnies about two weeks after Easter. It got so we planned for it, actually. Set up bunny cages and got our bunny rescue people on-call ready for the bunny calls they were going to get.

    Don’t give live pets as holiday gifts, people. Simple as that. Bunnies, chicks, even dogs and cats – nothing unless you’ve researched it, have room for it, have planned for it, and are ready for the responsibilty. It’s a live animal, not a stuffed animal. Your child will be just as happy with a teddy bear. (Or, I suppose, in this day and age, a video game or something. What do I know, I’m old.)

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