Children & Rabbits

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Children & Rabbits

Post by Happy Hoppers on Sun Nov 20, 2011 12:16 pm

Children & Rabbits

Sarah Jane

The common notion that the rabbit is not a suitable pet for a child is based in sound reasoning, but most rabbits are acquired for children, so how can parents make sure they get it right?

Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the UK, however they are often regarded as the most appropriate pet for children. Many people view the rabbit as low maintenance, low cost, and believe they have short life spans. Representation of the rabbit in western culture is that of a childrens pet or toy, and this is engrained from childhood, from the books of Beatrix Potter to Bugs Bunny, or even this years animated Easter blockbuster “Hop”.

This combined with the advertising of rabbits in pet shops and mainstream media solely gives off the impression that the rabbit is an ideal pet for a child, when in fact this is not the case. Children can be noisy and excitable, when in fact rabbits actually need a quiet atmosphere. Without supervision children may handle their rabbit incorrectly, and this could result in injury or stress which in turn can cause illness. Anybody who owns rabbits needs to understand how their prey status affects every part of their psychology, and this includes children.

Rabbits learn from experience, and a rabbit that has been subjected to mishandling, a noisy environment with children jumping around and playing could kick out or bite as a defensive and protective act. This in turn could lead to the rabbit being deemed bad, or ignored, or for the rabbit to even end up in a rescue centre. The opportunity for the children and the rabbit to enjoy a healthy relationship is removed by instilling fear into the rabbit, so that its psychological needs from this point are largely unmet.

If a companion rabbit is dropped from the chest height of an average adult human, around 4.5 feet (1.5 metres), it is also prone to the same injuries [...the rabbit’s back and legs are susceptible to injury through being dropped]. Violent kicking can also result in some very sore and potentially deep scratches to the owner, usually around the arms and chest. If this occurs, and the rabbit is dropped, then both species are likely to be injured.

N.B: It is the potential harm caused through dropping a rabbit that is the main reason that children should not lift rabbits. This is challenging, as children, and some adults, want their rabbit to cuddle them, and will lift and hold the rabbit. However, to the rabbit, this can be terrifying, especially if there are lots of gleeful laughter, screams and shouts around. Loud and sudden noises are scary to rabbits, and the shrill and excitable sounds of children, combined with lifting the rabbit from the floor, can easily cause harm and damage to both child and rabbit. Once a rabbit kicks out or bites, it can easily be seen as a ‘bad’ rabbit, and then ignored, or surrendered to rescue, when its actions were only instinctively protective and defensive.

This is why it is strongly recommended that owners of all ages, get down to their rabbit’s level in order to stroke and interact with them. If that is not possible, for example the owner has a mobility problem, then rig up a system of ramps for example so the rabbit can come to the person rather than be carried
.
Jay & Dr Anne McBride - "Handling, lifting and transporting rabbits." (2011)

The rabbit’s welfare in mainstream culture is not remotely close to the welfare standards for other popular family pets such as dogs or cats. Even during national rabbit week, BBC radio interviewers offended rabbit owners with derogatory comments; stating that rabbits were best served in edible form. The continuous flack the rabbit receives from all angles just prevents the public from finding out more about these wonderful animals, and keeps them in a place that is detrimental to their mental and physical health.

Despite this, rabbit care information has actually increased dramatically over the years, we now know just how much care our rabbits need, how expensive they can be to keep, and also how long they live. But this information simply isn’t reaching the potential new owners on the shop floor of the pet shops, meaning so many parents are leaving the sole responsibility of rabbit care to their children, under the impression they are the perfect “starter pet”, or the best way to enable their children to learn responsibility.

Caring for rabbits properly requires a routine of cleaning, feeding and supervision and this is time consuming. Children learn discipline as they grow and cannot be expected to have the sense of responsibility required to perform these tasks without encouragement and supervision.



Ethan and Ruby


Children can enjoy having rabbits in their lives, they are in fact very social and intelligent animals, but what measures do parents have to take to ensure the arrangement is acceptable for both their rabbits and their children? Hopping Mad decided to find out about two families and their relationship with their rabbits, to enable us to understand what contributes to a positive children and rabbit bond, and how they found an arrangement to suit everyone involved despite the sea of misinformation out there.

Kelly brought her first rabbit “Yeeha” into the family when she had two children and another on the way. Four years later Yeeha is still very central to the family, and has her own friend “Blue” to keep her company. There are now four children in the home, all of which love the rabbits dearly, however it is Redd who is three years old who is most attached to the rabbits. “He’s often fascinated by all animals ,he doesn’t talk much and with the rabbits there is no need for conversation. No pressure.”

Redd was not confident in his speech until after his third birthday, it wasn’t that he couldn’t talk, he just chose not to. However being around the rabbits was effortless, and often he would talk to them very quietly. Even when the rabbits would run free range around the garden, the children watched and only ever stroked the rabbits if they chose to approach them. This in turn made the rabbits feel safer, and they would binky around the garden, which the children found hilarious.



Redd and Yeeha


“He loves to watch them and see what they get up to, but he enjoys feeding them too and seeing what food they like”

When the family moved house, Redd was very worried about the rabbits. He reminded everyone that they were his rabbits and that the house needed to be set up. He also told people to be quiet in case they were frightened! However, as touching as this story is, Kelly is under no illusion. The rabbits are her responsibility and while she is happy that her children have taken such interest in the rabbits, there is no guarantee this will always be the case.


Lynne brought her first rabbit “Thumper” home to her family, with the intention that he would always be her responsibility. She wanted her children, (triplets) to be involved and encouraged this, but she always knew the main carer would be herself as you cannot rely on any child to commit to an animal’s care, nor should you expect them to.

“The boys were eight when we had them, and I knew they would not have the commitment to look after a rabbit for eight or more years”.
But this isn’t to say that the boys did not welcome the new arrival, they would sit with Lynne whilst she fussed he bunnies and she ensured they learnt about their care. The boys have become involved in every aspect of rabbit care, they even helped Lynne when Ruby the rabbit was poorly and needed oral medication. But the actual responsibility of the rabbits is not down to the boys, and this is what makes the situation work.

Lynne kindly agreed to share her experiences of having family rabbits, and how she has made this work for the best. Her triplets - Alex, Ethan and Nat have also given an interview in 'Teeny Hoppers'.

How did you learn about how to care properly for rabbits?
Through experience, reading books, being part for various rabbit forums and through that meeting people involved in rabbit rescue. We were very naïve when we bought Thumper home, probably like many other bunny owners. I decided that I wanted to do the best I could for him and therefore initially started reading books, Some I now know did not offer the best advice, but it was a start. Thumper became ill with headtilt as a result of EC which was very frightening and I though I’d loose him which is when I found the rabbit forums. This is where I realised some of the mistakes I was making and then we started to change things. We took on board the hutch is not enough message and we got Thumper a friend, increased his run space and made sure they had toys, chews and other things to improve their lives. We have 5 rabbits now. Three indoors who have most of the conservatory as their space, and two outdoors who have a 6ft hutch with permanently attached 6x6 run. At night they have a shed to ensure they are safe from predators.
I also joined the rabbit welfare association and downloaded their leaflets. I spoke to them at one point when I needed advice about Thumper’s headtilt, and found out a lot that way too.

How did the boys get on with the bunnies?
The boys have always been keen on the rabbits and love to make a fuss of them, but we said that whilst they could fuss them whenever they wanted, they also needed to help with the cleanouts as well. I believe it’s important they realise that having any pet is a commitment and they have needs that it is our responsibility to meet.

Have there been times when they are less interested in the rabbits, or has their commitment been constant?
Their interest/commitment is not constant at all, and there are definite periods when they do not want to help out. The fussing, petting, nice parts of having them is constant but if I left the cleanouts, feeding, watering to the boys, I’m sure I would not have five thriving bunnies! Especially now the boys are at secondary school, they do not have the time to give to them like they did when they were in primary school/ They have to be out much earlier in the morning, just getting them up and out on time is difficult enough, without them having to clean out litter trays, feed and provide fresh clean water to the bunnies on a daily basis. They do still help on the weekends though, and if I’m fussing a bunny in the evening then they boys will often come and fuss too.

How did you educate the boys to look after them properly?
They boys have learnt with me. Until they started secondary school they helped everday with the rabbits so they have learnt as I have by doing the jobs. They have had to learn the messy side of cleanouts as well as how to handle the bunnies. Even now they only actually pick up the rabbits when I am there as well although they happily sit in the conservatory with the bunnies to fuss them. Even when we have had sick bunnies the boys have been involved, for example when Ruby needed meds twice a day, I’d burrito her and then one of the boys would hold her while I gave the meds.

Were the boys involved in the decision to add Belle to the bunny family?
Yes. When I rescued Belle I knew that long term I’d like to bond her with thumper and Ruby. As soon as the boys saw her they were smitten and wanted her to be part of our family too. However I did warn them that it was possible that Thumper and Ruby would not accept her and therefore we would have to rehome her. Theo looked after her until she was neutered as we did not have space for a single bun, and then Tracy attempted to bond them as a trio. We were really nervous as we wanted Belle, but at the same time did not want to break the bond with Thumper and Ruby. We were all thrilled and so excited when the bonding worked!. She makes a very cute addition to the bunny family.

Tell us about their experience with the rabbits, as you see it.
They have learnt how to be responsible around the and how to care for them. They enjoy being around them and fussing them. It took them a while to learn that they are fragile so you do have to be careful, you cannot just go and pick them up because it gets them stressed. They boys have had to learn to read and understand the bunnies so they can keep them happy and relaxed when they are around them.

What would you say to parents who have, or are intending to have, rabbits for their children?
Please don’t do it.
If you are going to, please think first. I can guarantee that many children will bore of their pet and it will be the responsibility of the parent to care for the rabbit. As a parent, are you prepared to commit the time and money to looking after a rabbit for up to 8-10 years. Research rabbits, don’t take just my word that they are a very fragile animal, look at the rabbit welfare association, rabbit rescue web pages, rabbit forums, get as much information before you start. I did not know before I had them that they needed a big hutch and that many, if not most, pet shop hutches are totally inadequate for one rabbit. Ideally they should have a friend so really you need to have two rabbits not one. Again a big commitment.



Ruby, Thumper and Belle


Rabbits are not a responsibility that can be undertaken by a child, they are far too fragile and require too much care. However, as we have seen here by these two examples, they can enjoy them and get involved when they can. If you are considering bringing a rabbits into your family, it has to be for the benefit of everyone involved, especially you, as it is the parents who have to be responsible for them.

We'd like to thank Kelly and Lynne for their contributions to this article.


This article was first published in Hopping Mad! Bunny Magazine, June 2011. The original article can be read HERE
Produced for Hopping Mad! Bunny Magazine Copyright © Happy Hoppers Forums Uk - June 2011 - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


Last edited by Jay on Tue Nov 22, 2011 9:11 am; edited 8 times in total (Reason for editing : Add quote - 20/11/11)
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