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Thinking about getting a pet rabbit? What to know before you hop to it

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If you’re thinking that live bunnies are as sweet and static as the chocolate kind, think again.

They’re high maintenance, they have specific health issues and some will even growl at you when they’re angry or irritated.

That’s right. Growl. Like a cat or a dog.

Just ask Tammy Wilford, who has been raising and selling rabbits for 14 years. Now she has only one, a 3-year-old mini rex she calls Diamond LaTara. And though she’s cute, Diamond, like all pets, has her own personality traits.

Yes, she does growl at Wilford when agitated. And she hides when she doesn’t want to be bothered.

She also has traits that are characteristic to all rabbits, which, Wilford said, is most important when considering a rabbit as a pet.

“You have to do your research,” Wilford said. “A lot of rabbits end up in shelters, because people don’t understand how to care for them.”


First and foremost, prospective bunny owners must understand a rabbit’s dietary needs.

“People are under the assumption that carrots and lettuce are the best things for rabbits,” Wilford said. “Not for domestic rabbits. Carrots are too sweet, and too many of them can be fatal. They can cause the rabbit to go into gastrointestinal stasis.”

So, in the days when she sold baby rabbits, Wilford made sure her customers were up on their research.

“I’d ask the person, ‘Hey, look, are you ready?’” Wilford said. “I’d tell them, ‘This is what they eat; this is what they don’t eat. Take care of them, because they’re very fragile.’”


So, what’s the best diet for a rabbit?

“It’s 80% hay,” Wilford said. “It’s good for their digestive system. Their system can’t be without food for over 12 hours. Hay also helps them with their teeth, because their teeth continuously grow.”

The other 20% of a rabbit’s diet should consist of pellets.

“They’re only supposed to have a fourth of a cup of pellets, because they can become overweight if they have too much,” Wilford said. “So, you mix the pellets and the hay, along with some long leafy green vegetables like romaine lettuce. But you can only give them a minimal amount of lettuce.”

The water content of lettuce can cause diarrhea.

“You can also give them a little treat,” Wilford said. “But that also has to be in moderation. They love a banana. And when they really like something, they quiver, and a person who has a bunny needs to know that in case they think something’s wrong.


As for their personalities, rabbits are social creatures, craving their humans’ company.

And rabbits, just like dogs, like playing with their own toys, and Wilford even challenges Diamond LaTara.

“I purchased these IQ toys that are for dogs and for cats, and she’s mastered them,” she said. “I take a lot of time with her.”

And if you’re not paying attention to them, rabbits can become depressed.

“They’re lovable, sociable animals,” Wilford said. “If you lose interest, they get sad. They want love, and they want to be interactive.”

For some, adopting a cute little bunny is endearing at first. “But when it reaches a certain size, (the rabbit) is let out in the backyard and neglected, because it’s high maintenance,” Wilford said.

That’s when rabbits are susceptible to predators or end up in animal shelters. “They’re the No. 3 animals in shelters behind dogs and cats,” Wilford said.


Wilford recommends potential rabbit owners research possible diseases to which rabbits are susceptible.

“They’re prone to eye diseases and anything that cats and dogs are prone to,” Wilford said. “So, it’s a good idea to get pet insurance. You just have to be aware of the different things that can happen with the rabbit.”

People need to know that though rabbits self-groom, they need to be brushed to avoid hairballs. Unlike cats, rabbits are unable to regurgitate hairballs, which could eventually block their digestive systems.

Rabbits also can be taught to use litter boxes. Spaying and neutering will make litter box training easier.

They also have other characteristics of which to be aware.

“You can’t frighten them,” Wilford said. “They can’t bear a lot of noise. It stresses them out. When you stress them out, it can send them into GI stasis.”

This is only the tip of the iceberg in rabbit ownership. “The best way to learn is research,” Wilford said. “Always do your research, and a lot of it, before getting a rabbit. There’s a lot of joy, but there’s also a lot of responsibility that goes with it.”


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