8 Common Myths about Rabbits

Learn eight common myths about rabbits in this Howcast video featuring bunny lover Amy Sedaris and rabbit expert Mary E. Cotter.

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Rabbits make wonderful pets. If you're thinking of getting one, check out these videos: Actress Amy Sedaris, who is a loving mom to her own pet bunny, helps rabbit expert Mary E. Cotter, Ed.D., LVT answer all your questions about how to take care of a pet rabbit. It's not always easy, but it's worth the work.

 
 

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Let's talk about some common rabbit myths and there are a lot of them. One myth about rabbits that we encounter all the time is that people think they're low maintenance. They are not low maintenance. Once you've taken care of a dog and a rabbit, you will know that a dog takes less time to take care of than a rabbit does, because rabbits need to be cleaned. Their cages need to be cleaned. They need to have exercise time outside their cage. They need excellent veterinary care. It may take you longer to get to the vet because you can't just go to a dog and cat vet with a rabbit. You have to go to a vet that knows about rabbits. These guys are not low maintenance and that's a major myth. Another myth is that they have short lives. I know when I was a child, people used to tell me that rabbits lived a couple years and by the time I was an adult, it had gone up to five or six years. Then it became six or seven years, then seven to nine years, then nine or ten years and now we are routinely seeing rabbits live ten to twelve years and that's a good thing to know before you get a rabbit because this is not a short-lived animal. This animal is going to be with you the same length of time that your larger breeds of dogs are, so that's a major myth to consider. Another myth is that rabbits don't need vet care. They do need vet care and they need vet care by vets that know about rabbits. Since rabbits are not routinely studied in veterinary medical school, it can be tricky for owners to find what we call a "rabbit savvy vet", a vet that has some experience with rabbits and is willing to go to continuing education, workshops, seminars, whatever to learn about rabbits. You have to find yourself a vet like that and make sure that your rabbit is cared for by that vet. Another myth is that rabbits are happiest out of doors and I think of outdoor rabbits as similar to dogs who live in a cage in your backyard, or in a doghouse in your backyard. There's really no social interaction. When a child first gets the rabbit, maybe he's very happy to go outside and take care of the rabbit for a short period of time, but out of sight, out of mind and other interests come up and then that rabbit is relegated to an isolated spot. It's like keeping somebody in solitary confinement and the rabbit also is subject to extremes of weather, to parasites, to predatory animals, so it's a myth that keeping rabbits outdoors is the best way to keep them. In fact, they live long, happy lives, as I said ten to twelve years, is what we're seeing now and some live into their teens even, if they're kept indoors and cared for well. Another myth about rabbits is that they love to be picked up and cuddled. Rabbits actually are ground animals. They live on or under the ground and they feel most comfortable when their feet are on the ground. That isn't to say that you can't pick them up and cuddle them, it's just to say that you have to respect the rabbit's desire to feel safe on the ground. These are not animals that enjoy being toted around all day long by, even adults, but certainly not by kids who don't handle them as well or as easily as adults. Another common myth is, 'let's get a rabbit because we only have a small apartment and we don't have a lot of space. Rabbits are small". In fact, even a small rabbit needs plenty of space to exercise. These hind legs are really powerful and they're made for jumping and running. You will never get to enjoy the things we see in rabbits if you don't give your rabbit the space to exercise. So, the more room, the better, right? You want to get your rabbit a nice, big exercise pen to live in and then you want to give him out-of-pen exercise time in a nice, safe rabbit-proof area where you've removed electrical wires and houseplants. So the myth of space is a biggie. They need space. Another myth is that rabbits smell. In fact, when a rabbit is spayed or neutered (spayed for the females and neutered or castrated for the males) and given litter box training, this rabbit is well litter box trained, you won't detect any odor at all. I have cared for multiple rabbits in my home now for the last two decades and there's no smell of rabbits in my home. There is a smell of fresh grass because I use hay in their litter boxes. It smells really nice when you walk in the front door. Rabbits don't smell if they're cared for correctly and if the rabbit smells, it's because you are not cleaning his bathroom as often as you clean your own. Nobody would want to be locked up in a bathroom that's not clean for a couple of weeks at a time and yet sometimes people make their animals live that way. If you keep a rabbit clean, there's no smell, that's just a myth. One more myth is that rabbits are okay with just a bowl of rabbit pellets. You can just leave a bowl of rabbit pellets there and that's just fine for them. In fact, rabbits need a very high fiber diet and they do best with grass or grass hay. This is a nice, clean grass hay that is shipped from the Midwest. If you live in an area that grows hay, that's terrific. You can get local hay. Rabbits need more than just rabbit pellets to be really healthy, to keep their GI tract healthy. You can see, he is enjoying some hay right now. Just thinking that it's easy to get a rabbit because you can throw a bowl of pellets out and go for the weekend, that's a myth too. Speaking of weekends, it's a myth that you can do with rabbits what some people do with cats, which is that you go away for a weekend with nobody to care for the animal, just leaving out food and water. The difference between rabbits and cats is significant. If rabbits don't eat for 12 hours or longer, their whole GI tract can slow down and that starts a cascade of scary, negative events that may result in a serious sickness in your rabbit. With a cat, you have more time to wait and see, keep an eye on it. With a rabbit, you don't. If you go away on a Friday evening and Saturday morning your rabbit is in pain and it isn't eating and still isn't eating Saturday night, and still isn't eating Sunday morning or Sunday night, you could, in fact, come home to a very sick rabbit or even a dead rabbit. This has happened to enough people that it's worth mentioning. It's a myth that you can leave rabbits alone. We could go on and on. There are lots of myths, but these are probably the most frequent ones we encounter. "You are a cutie."

Expert

  • Mary E. Cotter

    Mary E. Cotter, M.A., Ed.D., LVT is the founder of the NY-based Rabbit Rescue & Rehab. She serves as chapter manager of the NYC House Rabbit Society and is vice president of the International House Rabbit Society. Involved with rabbit rescue since 1982, she speaks and writes frequently on rabbit-related topics, addressing owners, veterinary professionals and shelter workers. Mary is an adjunct assistant professor in the veterinary technology department of LaGuardia Community College (City University of New York) and co-manages a 7,000-member Internet mailing list focused on rabbit health, care and behavior.