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An Easter bunny can cost thousands

Misunderstanding about the care that rabbits require means that many pets are turned over to shelters or released into the wild.

By MSN Money Partner Mar 29, 2012 11:54AM

This post comes from Karla Bowsher at partner site Money Talks News. 

 

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyI hate the Easter Bunny. He's worse than Santa Claus.

 

At least Santa does some good while commercializing a religious holiday: Thousands of jolly old men find temporary employment at the mall each winter. But the Easter Bunny? Thanks to him, thousands of pet bunnies become homeless each spring.

 

The cute holiday icon leads parents to believe that a pet rabbit would make a cute Easter gift for the kids. But a rabbit requires a lot of time and money. When I say "money," I'm talking in the thousands. When I say "time," I mean a decade or so.

 

I know this because I'm the proud owner of two rabbits -- one of them an Easter gift turned unwanted pet that someone let loose in my neighborhood a month after the holiday.

 

"Every year, many thousands of rabbits are abandoned to shelters or released outdoors (a sure death sentence for a domestic rabbit), often because of misunderstandings on the part of the parents who bought them for their kids," says the House Rabbit Society (.pdf file), a national nonprofit rescue and education group. (Post continues below.)

What a pet rabbit really costs

Rabbits aren't like hamsters. You can't leave them in a cage all day, feed them nothing but cheap pellets, clean their cage once a week, never take them to the vet and be secure in the knowledge they'll be dead in two or three years. Here are the rabbit facts:

  • Pet rabbits are a long-term commitment. The House Rabbit Society says pet rabbits live eight to 12 years. One of my bunnies is 8 years old and still perfectly healthy. His wife lived to be 12. And my vet (who specializes in rabbits) tells me she's seen plenty of bunnies live to 15.
  • Rabbits are a lot of time and work. They need to run around outside of their cages. The House Rabbit Society recommends 30 hours of exercise a week. But first you'll have to rabbit-proof your home so they don't chew through electrical cords or gnaw on wood furniture. My younger (and feistier) bunny has destroyed everything from lamps to pricey electronics after sneaking out of her enclosure and into rooms that weren't rabbit-proofed.
  • Rabbits must be spayed or neutered. This isn't just to prevent them from reproducing like, well, rabbits. It prevents health complications (like cancer) and behavioral problems (like spraying urine on the wall). They can be litter-trained, but either way, the litter box or the cage requires daily cleaning.
  • Most rabbit breeds also shed several times a year. All my bunnies have always gradually shed their entire coat. During the shedding period, which lasts several weeks, they require daily brushing to keep it under control. But even then, fur seems to get everywhere, especially on my clothes. I go through a lot of lint rollers.
  • Rabbits aren't cheap eaters. They need a constant supply of fresh water and fresh hay. Yes, hay. (Long story short, it's vital for their digestive health.) I buy hay in 50-pound bales because it's cheapest. But that much hay still costs $50 to $65, multiplied by several orders a year. Rabbits also need a couple of cups of fresh vegetables daily and rabbit pellets at least weekly.

The House Rabbit Society’s San Diego chapter estimates that a pet rabbit costs $7,662 (.pdf file) over the course of its life. As a rabbit owner of 15 years, I think that's a tad high. But even if the total were half that much, it's still a big chunk of change.

 

What to do if you still want a pet rabbit

Rabbits are not cuddly lap pets. They're easily spooked prey animals that often don't like being picked up, let alone held. This is especially true of younger rabbits. And if your children mishandle them, they'll develop a habit of nipping humans who try to touch them, which means your children will quickly lose interest in their new pet.

I think the House Rabbit Society's website is the single best place to educate yourself about whether a rabbit is right for you, what it takes to be a rabbit owner and how to adopt a rabbit instead of buying one from the pet store.

 

I adopted my older bunny from the Humane Society's South Florida Wildlife Center, which takes in everything but cats and dogs. When I took my bunny home, he was one of 90-something rabbits available for adoption. And it's those rows and rows of homeless bunnies that I see in my mind's eye every time I think of the Easter Bunny.

 

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

95Comments
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My rabbit is out of the cage every time I am home and has pretty much free run of my apartment, and gets a variety of lettuces daily along with hay and a very limited amount of pellets and fruit and carrot as an occasional treat. She is 10 years old and still perky and healthy, and has only been sick once in her life due to my roommate not taking proper care of her while I was out of the country for 3 months. She loves being petted and held, and seeks out attention from me and from others.

Being a breeder, a 4H member, or owning a particular species for a long period of time does not necessarily make you (or anybody) an expert. If someone views rabbits more as livestock, as I imagine many 4H members do, then yes, the HRS would seem like a "radical" group to them. I am a certified vet tech and volunteer at a rabbit shelter, and I and many others I know view rabbits as companions, and feel that they should be treated as such. Many of the rabbits at the shelter enjoy and seek out human companionship, and some also bond to other rabbits. Others are more solitary and don't particularly enjoy human interaction. Some of the shy ones gradually come to enjoy human contact, and some don't. They are individuals. No rabbit I've ever seen has overheated and died from too much attention, though. Touting your own opinion as fact and implying that everyone who doesn't agree with you is ignorant does not make it so.
Apr 3, 2012 4:08PM
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my son brought home a chocolate dutch bunny he found on the way home from school one spring...shortly after easter. our house rabbit hung around for fourteen years. we never had him fixed, as he only sprayed when someone was annoying him and usually deserved it. he ate pellets, hay, and whatever vegetables we had in the house. he'd run around the back yard and dig in the dirt whenever we let him, but never took off. (he preferred air conditioning in the dog days of summer. whenever we'd open the back door and he'd get a blast of hot air, he'd back up and run off.) i doubt we spent anywhere near 7 grand on him. we thought he was a great pet. did he require time and money? of course. that's a no-brainer, but we felt we got an excellent return on our investment. if you're not willing to do what's right for your pet, get a stuffed animal. 
Mar 30, 2012 2:39PM
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Thank you, thank you, THANK you for writing this piece! I'm a volunteer for a rabbit welfare organization (not HRS but very similar), and we see first-hand what you're talking about. Rabbits are intelligent, social animals who really do relate well with humans when cared for correctly. They're wonderful companion animals for those willing to make the commitment, but they're a disaster for everybody, especially the rabbit, as an impulse Easter gift.
Apr 3, 2012 2:04PM
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Yikes!  Chill out.  We have 4 rabbits for my kids, and a twenty-five pound bag of food is $6.99.  Try a real FARM for timothy and get it CHEAP. THOUSANDS for rabbits, Karla?  Maybe at a pet food boutique, but most people go to a FEED store. 
Apr 1, 2012 12:14PM
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People shouldn't get ANY kind of animal for a pet (ESPECIALLY for KIDS) WITHOUT doing LOTS of research on them first!!!

IMHO, it should be the law...go through training classes or something...it's for the animal's sake as well as yours!!

Apr 3, 2012 3:32PM
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Where is a 50lb bale of timothy hay (alfalfa being more expensive and not the best for mature rabbits), costing you $50 or more a year?!?! If you go to a feed mill, a bale of hay shouldn't cost you more than $10 for a full bale, which is plenty to last two little bunnies for a few months on continous feeding. And I can do a single bale of timothy or orchard grass hay for less then $5 a bale direct from a local farmer.

 

Vet bills and neutering/spaying aside, rabbits are relatively inexpensive to keep and I totally disagree with this article. I'm not advocating that everyone go out and buy one as a pet, and feel there are people out their who have no business owning any animal because they just don't want the responsibility of caring for it. This writer may have had a more expensive experience caring for their rabbits because they didn't bother to shop around at all, or had no idea of the cost of bunny products outside of Petsmart's or Petco's over-inflated prices. I have a very happy, healthy New Zealand White, and I can't say that in the course of his whole life that I'd ever need to spend even $3000, unless something major were to happen requiring a vet.

Apr 3, 2012 2:08PM
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I agree with the main point of this article, whether it be bunny, dog or cat.  Animals are an expensive investment, when treated properly.  They grow to become one of the family.  I always believed (when younger) that their was nothing wrong with college kids who got a dog as a pet.  I have completely changed my opinion on that.  I'm not saying all kids are bad owners or anythng, but its expensive to properly take care of one, with proper vet visits and good food.  I volunteer @ a local Animal shelter in Pittsburgh and its sad to see how many rabbits come in every year, especially after Easter.  Domesticated animals are put here for one reason, to love us and be loved.  I hate to see the loyal, innocent creatures get a raw deal.  This statement is based on my opinion only, but a lot of these animals wouldn't be able to defend themselves in the wild when let loose.  They don't have the wild mentality as they are born in a controlled setting.(many of them).
Apr 3, 2012 1:49PM
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Oh! I thought you meant a 5'-6", 120#, 2-legged BUNNY!! Those DO COST THOUSANDS!!
Yuk! Yuk!

Apr 3, 2012 3:32PM
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PLEASE do not aquire ANY animal unless you are willing and able to care for it properly. If you are house proud, can't tolerate messes or can't be bothered with running to the vet and paying bills, leave the animal ownership to more prosperous, educated and big hearted people who realize this creature is a living being with feelings and requirements. It is NOT a disposable thing which can be discarded like an old mattress. You don't have to worry about chewed shoes or hair on your beautiful furnature. You won't have a loyal, intelligent lifelong companion either but, that is a privlefge, NOT a right..
Mar 31, 2012 8:37PM
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Wacky Wabbit Owner is possibly one of the most delusional posts i've ever read regarding rabbits. If they are solitary as you claim - then why in the wild do they live in large warrens? For that *alone* time they need? Rabbits do amazingly well when not subjected to a solitary life in a hutch and an occasional grunt so as not to get too affectionate while they freeze at night in the winter and bake in the heat during the summer. One of my bunnys I have now is quite the snuggle bunny. He will let me hold him on his back in the crook of my arm for more than an hour at a time. He not only gives me kisses when I ask but gives them when he wants them - he has also taught himself to push against me when i'm squeezing him for hugs and now hugs me back.  He knows his name - understands quite a few words and races around when someone comes to the door. He is litter box trained and is the love of my life. I had a rabbit a few years back that lived to be 12 - I can only hope my little guy now lives at least that long. I would spend THOUSANDS if needed and would jump in front of a moving vehicle to save him from harm or hurt. Some people would gladly do it for their dog... I'm just not a dog kind of person!
Apr 3, 2012 4:05PM
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I was raised on rabbit, and many of the so-called pets available come from farms where they are raised as a food source of lean meat. 

To a lot of Americans as well as other cultures rabbits are a delicacy, and to have one as a pet is similar to cattle........They are raised until the are sold at the market value. This was the original purpose of breeding rabbits which later became show animal projects for 4-H students. 

Nothing wrong or evil about it. Some animal advocacy groups have simply became too extreme in deciding what diet a person may consume. As long as the animals are ethically cared for, and butchered properly, it is not their business, and they are abusing their freedoms by attempting to take away others rights to choice, just as they have chosen. 
Mar 31, 2012 3:46AM
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Wacky Wabbit Owner, you have no idea what you are talking about. I've had my bunny for years (and another before him) and he gets a bowl of fresh veggies every single night. And a bit of fresh fruit once or twice a week. He's never been sick in all his years with me. His vet specializes in rabbit care and has always praised my care for him.
And please tell me how the House Rabbit Society is a 'radical' group? I suppose providing proper information on how to care for rabbits and treat them like any other pet family member is treated is 'radical' to you as it seems you think they are better off in a hutch. They are not.
Have you ever even seen how joyous a free rabbit is when it gets to run around the house and 'binky'? I'm guessing not if you keep your rabbit isolated. Rabbits are not solitary creatures at all. They are intelligent and social. Just because most don't like to be held and cuddled does not mean they are not social. My own bunny, like many, also doesn't like to be held, but he loves when I lay on the floor with him with my face up to his. He will stay there with me for long periods of time and either grind his teeth in satisfaction or just fall asleep. He shoves his head under my hand when he wants me to pet him...which is always. He is litter trained and his cage door is always left open. He goes in when he pleases, but he spends most of his time while I am home laying against the couch while I watch tv. And in my house rabbit experiences, if given toys to play with/chew on bunnies will leave your wooden furniture (mostly) alone. And buying plastic covering for your wires is very inexpensive from a hardware store.

Also, if anyone actually reads this, please don't buy a bunny from a breeder. You're only contributing to the overpopulation problem. Adopt from a shelter or rescue. There are so many bunnies in need. I've gotten both of my rabbits from shelters. The shelter even neutered and microchipped my bun. And most rescues will also alter a rabbit before adopting them out. It cuts down on health issues and behavioral problems.

Mar 30, 2012 1:11PM
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Wow. $50.00 -$60.00 a bale for hay? Fascinating. Is it plated in gold? I spend $3.50 a bale for 80 lb bales buying timothy from the farmer directly, or $13.00 buying from the feed store. If I were you, I would find another hay supplier.

Apr 3, 2012 2:57PM
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I liked the article, so thank you for reminding people to think twice about getting a rabbit for Easter.  Regardless of everyone's opinions about cost of food, etc - the point is they need lots of food, lots of love, and lots of time.  I just lost my rabbit to cancer, and am looking forward to adopting one or two more, but they eat a ton of fruits and veggies, like a lot of attention, and can be destructive if you don't rabbit-proof your home.  :)  Thanks for the article, Karla, and please ignore the idiots who don't know better.

Apr 3, 2012 3:55PM
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not to mention what the USDA did to a certain family named the Dollarhites who  bought some rabbits, bred a few -sold a few and the USDA slaps them with a million dollar fine for not having a licsense...and you wonder why real drugs, sex offenders, illegals run rampant....waaay too much  attention and punitive actions  to non-issues. 
Apr 3, 2012 3:28PM
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I am a proud owner and love my bun bun but I don't spend that much on him.  He is potty trained and goes in a litter cup in his cage.  That gets cleaned several times a day so no need to put litter in it, it does no have the chance to smell.  His bedding and blanket is changed and cleaned once a week, he is brushed every day.  He eats pellets every day, has a hay ball I fill every day, and I don't come close to that cost.  I have to be honest, I did not get him fixed but then it is just him so no need to steal his man hood lol.  He has a play room, well bunny proofed den that he runs and plays in all day long and his cage is always open so he can run in and out to potty and lay down.  He is fat, happy, and loved and cost a lot less than 7 grand, geesh..  some people just like to burn through money just to say they can..
Apr 3, 2012 3:38PM
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While I'm certainly glad that this article attempts to discourage people from purchasing a rabbit for Easter by pointing out that it is, in fact, an animal that requires care and lives for quite a while, this article is a bit over the top and somewhat inaccurate. Rabbits do need exercise, but an appropriately sized cage for the breed is usually sufficient, though this varies based on the rabbits personality. Some are naturally more hyper, some are more shy and won't move around much in their cages at all even given lots of space, and many actually do like to cuddle and be held. 

I suppose you can purchase a 50 lb. bale of grass hay (rabbits shouldn't eat alfalfa) for $50, but you can find it for far, far cheaper if you have a farmer with grass hay nearby. While timothy hay is what's usually touted, grass hay will work just fine and is far cheaper and more readily available from farmers. 

I raised rabbits for many years, and currently have one in my apartment. They can be kept outside in a hutch very inexpensively and still live great, long lives, or you can have them as a house pet with a little more expense. I don't recommend getting one for Easter without putting a lot of thought into the time and commitment it requires, but rabbits are still great pets and are nowhere near as expensive or high maintenance as HRS says. 
Apr 3, 2012 5:16PM
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I`ve read most of these posts and it seems that there are two groups involved. Those that know what a rabbit is and those that do not. Rabbits are not rodents, they are lagomorphs, they have an extra set of molars for eating and a totally different digestive system than does a rodent. Rabbits are more intelligent than most of you posting here, I know I`ll catch heck for that, but it`s true. Rabbits make some of the nicest, and neatest pets one can own. And while I do get it that some are raised simply to eat, remember you cat and dog lovers out there. There are places in the world that just love Fido or kitty on a platter as well. That said, as for hay, you can`t just go to a feed store and buy a bale of hay, it has to be dried a particular way so as to stay nearly sterile. Moldy hay equals dead bunny. They are wonderful pets, I have never had a pet that I have fallen in love with so much as I have my five indoor bunnies. At $100.00 a piece for a good sized cage, and I live near one of the premier hay providers for small animals, and I get 50 lbs. of hay for about 35 dollars, and that lasts about 3 months. Rabbit diet should consist of 80% hay, the rest can be timothy pellets, some good clean greens, cilantro,parsley,spinach. There is a list of good greens that are bunny approved at the HRS as well as many other good groups. As a member of the American Rabbit Breeders of America, and no I do not breed them, but have shown them and you must belong to the group to have your results counted, I`ve had my eyes opened wide to the plight of over population of rabbits, when someone chooses not to spay or nueter their rabbits, a single pair can make lots of little bunnies in just a year. Rabbits are the 3rd. most surrendered animal in the USA just behind dogs and cats. Yet in most cities in the US they sadly take a back seat to their other 4 legged brethren. In my city, every cat and dog are spayed or nuetered before they can be adopted out, sadly not so for the bunnies, that would require our humane socoeity to find a rabbit savvy vet. and they do not want to spend the energy on that. They make way more money on cats and dogs. The city I live in has one of the best financed humane societies I`ve ever seen, but they don`t want to take the time to worry about the rabbits that they re-home. Rabbits are clean, should never be bathed, and given proper care can give their slaves years of wonderful companionship. My oldest will be 5 in a month or so and they are the most loving pets I have ever had. Vet. care here is not that pricey, but it does vary from town to town.Just some food for thought.
Apr 3, 2012 2:09PM
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When I lived in Ft Worth, the little girl next door had a rabbit for several years and they didn't spend "thousands" or even hundreds on it.  He got loose about twice a week and ran around the neighborhood until she finally found him and caught him, but nothing ever tried to kill him, that I know of.  Maybe in the country it might be a death sentence for a loose bunny, but maybe not.  And $65 bales of hay?  Where did they buy it, New York City?  And a bunny-owner who wants to save money only needs to save grass clippings each week from yard mowing; dry them thoroughly and store them in a dry place to make their own hay.  That's all hay is; dried grass.  I do agree, though, that purchasing an "Easter Bunny" for a kid is usually not a good idea.  It ranks right up there with those people who bought a Dalmatian puppy when 101 Dalmatians came out or a Chihuahua when Legally Blonde and Beverly Hills Chihuahua came out.  Reality usually sets in pretty quickly.
Apr 3, 2012 1:50PM
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Rabbits are food. I have nothing against people keeping them for pets, but a rabbit doesn't cost thousands of dollars. Otherwise no one would be able to breed them for food. A farmer can't spend more than $50 on a single rabbit to feed it. There is simply not enough meat to justify spending more than that.

Granted, rabbit is expensive meat - but you should never pay more than $25 lb. for rabbit meat (retail).

It is one of my favorite foods.

They grow rapidly, and if you don't want your rabbit, plenty of people will eat it. Don't tell the kids if they haven't hunted or fished, and seen where food really comes from. They are cute, but so are deer. We eat those too.

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