Here's an easy way to save almost $8,000 this Easter: Surprise your child with a plush toy bunny instead of a living, breathing Peter Cottontail.
A real rabbit may not seem like a big investment initially, but Thumper's tab soon adds up when you throw in food, nail trimmers, brushes, veterinarian visits, spaying or neutering and other necessities. Caring for a rabbit is an 8- to 12-year commitment that typically costs more than $7,600.
A plush rabbit, on the other hand, won't set you back more than a few bucks and can be donated or tossed into a closet after "bunny fever" has subsided.
Don't get me wrong. I've cared for several rescued rabbits over the years, and they make loving companions for someone who is committed to giving them the time and attention that they need. They just don't belong in an Easter basket.
Pet stores love to display adorable bunnies this time of year--most of whom likely came from filthy, severely crowded mass-breeding facilities . These stores rarely inform buyers that rabbits are high-maintenance animals who require specialized care.
For example, although rabbits can be shy, they are not solitary animals. They love to be stroked and spoken to gently, and they want to be part of the family. One of my rabbits, Henry, loved to be the center of attention and would sit in the middle of the living room while I watched TV. When I petted my rabbit Cozy, he'd respond by giving me tons of kisses. Freya, my other rabbit, would gently nibble on my inner arm.
Cozy and Freya fell in love and became inseparable. No matter where they went, they would always sit with their bodies pressed together. Henry and my cat Winnie used to chase each other around the house and playfully wrestle. When my cat Josie groomed Henry, he would grind his teeth with pleasure.
Locking a rabbit in a cage makes for a lonely and depressed bunny. In order to let them have some freedom, rabbits need to be litterbox-trained, and your house needs to be rabbit-proofed. Bunnies chew on anything and everything in order to keep their teeth trimmed. Electrical cords, books, furniture, molding, carpets and shoes will need to be covered or moved out of the rabbit's reach if you don't want them to be gnawed.
Regular brushing is a must since rabbits shed profusely and hairballs can be fatal (they can't cough them up like cats can). They also need a high-fiber diet including grass, timothy or oat hay, and fresh veggies. Dry pellets alone aren't sufficient. Spaying or neutering is vital to prevent rabbits from spraying urine--and from making more bunnies.
Another fact that pet shops don't point out is that bunnies aren't good companions for children. Rabbits don't like to be picked up and will kick, scratch and bite to defend themselves. Their bodies are so fragile that an overly enthusiastic "hug" can break their bones.
When reality sets in and people who bought bunnies on impulse discover that they are more work than they expected, scores of these sensitive animals are tossed out like stale jellybeans. Many rabbits are euthanized in shelters because there aren't enough people lining up to give them a lifetime of love and care. Other rabbits are banished to solitary confinement in a hutch or are simply turned loose outdoors, where they don't stand a chance against the elements and predators.
If you're certain that you're prepared to care for a real rabbit for the next 12 or so Easters to come, please rescue one of the many affectionate and deserving rabbits waiting in animal shelters and rabbit rescue groups across the country. If not, opt for a bunny that's stuffed with fluff instead. Not only will it save you a bundle of bucks, it could also save a real bunny from a lifetime of suffering.