Where I blab about bunnies and encourage your bunny (and other animal) stories.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Are bunnies good pets for kids?

A question recently arose: Are bunnies good pets for kids? Yes. And sometimes no. They are great, if you understand them and your kids understand them and if you're not going to make your children be the "parents" and rely on them to be responsible and take care of them. Like all animals, bunnies have to be understood. Some children take very nicely to gentle play (as I'm sure your two girls will, Kevin) and see that cornering a bunny without a certain trust between you two will result in one pissed off lagamorph. That being said, bunnies play and create games; understand not only when humans laugh, but how to make them laugh; know how to tease; understand rewards and boundaries; will abide by rules, but take pleasure in breaking them in front of you if you're watching just to engage you; and some love cuddles and pets (mostly on their own schedule, of course), but some prefer to be left alone.

The House Rabbit Society has a great section on bunnies and children, but here are my cursory (more personal) suggestions for introducing bunnies into a house with children:

  • I'd start off with one bunny. Rabbits are social animals and will bond with your family better if they don't have another bunny to cuddle with and play with. They adopt humans readily as human-shaped bunnies if they're the only bunny in the house. That being said, eventually if your kids take the new little fuzzy for granted and taper off on the attention they give him/her, you'll want to seriously consider getting a friend for your bunny. No one likes to be lonely, and a sad rabbit isn't a very healthy one, generally speaking.

  • Think about getting a mini rex. Not only will your children (if they're very young) learn very quickly the value of "soft petting," but one of the traits of the breed is that they love to be petted. They will seek you out not only for company, but for physical affection. I've never heard of a recluse rex. The mini rex as opposed to the rex is just much more "handleable" than their bigger cousins, especially if your little girls would like to learn how to hold and carry a bunny. Bunny enthusiasts often recommend mini rexes as the best first rabbit, even for people without children. Amber, my first, was a mini rex and I was hooked on him the first time I held him; I was hooked on bunnies by living with him for nearly three years.

  • Don't rely on them (as stated above) to be the primary caregivers of the bunny. The games and toys and feeding part is always fun; the litter box cleaning gets old quickly. Kids can be taught responsibility very well with a pet, but if the kid fails, the pet shouldn't have to fail, too. Make sure there are clear duties assigned and that the children take part in both the "work" of having the bunny as well as the "play" of it.

  • I'd either recommend a baby (from a pet store -- yes, shoot me, rescue people, but the pet store babies I've gotten have all been much more cuddly and personable than the rescues I have) or an older (read: non-baby) rescue rabbit.

    If you get a baby bunny, but make sure the place you get him/her from has proof that the bunny is at least 8 weeks old. In my experience, younger bunnies bond like glue to the human who gets them, they really shouldn't leave their mothers before 8 weeks. Some experts say 6, so that would also be okay, though not preferrable.

    If you opt for a rescue bunny, be sure to research as best you can and understand the implications of their past. Twins who were left in the middle of winter in a box next to a dumpster (as Ariel and Kayla were in 2000) may not be the cuddliest or the most interactive and therefore may not fit what your kids want in a bunny. Bunnies like this are very grateful for a reliable, warm, safe, quiet home and the companionship of the other twin and don't so much look to humans for daily games. Bunnies like this may be better in a house without children, although they do respond well to people when they're out of their own comfortable home.

    Case in point: When I am at my parents' house and I need to clean Ariel and Kayla's cage, I put them in the upstairs hallway and let them run around. I close the doors to the bedrooms so that the run room they have is safe for them (and for the cords and books and beds and such in the rooms). My dad, who just loves holding and petting Hops (Hops is Grandpa's little man and loves being held), usually takes this time to bond with the girls and keeps them company in the hallway. This past Christmas, my dad tried bribing friendship from the girls with raisins. They're too smart for that. They ran around him, sniffed the raisins, but generally didn't think any better of him for giving them treats. Also, they were too busy exploring. Then my dad lay down on the rug of the hallway and became part of the scenery to explore. The girls were climbing on his legs and after a good bit of discovery on their part, nestled down for pets from him. Now, for anyone who's met my dad (except maybe my mom!), he's really a likable guy. But it also says something about how older bunnies (my twins just turned 5 years old in December) react to people even when there's not a cage between them.

  • Let your child or children meet the bunny before you make a committment. Bunnies, like children, all have different personalities, so make sure that your kids and the prospective bunnies like each other before you elect to make them members of your family. They don't have a choice of what their baby brother will be like, but they may have a choice as to what their pet will be like.

Those are the initial thoughts. Please post any questions you may have and I'll try my best to answer them.

Sorry I've been so lax, for those of you who check BLU regularly, but I've been busy. And sick. For a while. Hopefully, the next two days will return me to relative health, because I hear Phoenix is beautiful this time of year and I'd hate to be holed up in a resort (that is, in bed) while I could be hiking the desert.


  • At 2/24/2006 2:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Reptiles: The anti-bunny

    Dana's post about whether bunnies go well with children got me thinking about one of my "pet" peeves, which is when people give inappropriate pets of any species to their kids. This happens all too often with reptiles.

    While bunnies are cute and cuddly and seem like the perfect Easter gift for cute little childres, reptiles share a similar fate for the opposite reason. They're tough, scaly, and mean-looking (to some people... I find them pretty cute, myself). Kids of a certain age and temperament may be drawn to choose an iguana or snake as a pet because they're "cool-looking," and their parents may oblige because they think that the animal is small and can be easily contained in a terrarium.

    The reality is that while some reptiles do make low-maintenance pets, many of them smell funny, many of them will grow and grow and GROW, and all of them require good care. Their diets vary from one species to another, but in many cases require live feeding (crickets, worms and other icky things). Reptiles also need to be watched carefully for signs of illness, since they're not like a more emotive or vocal mammal that will let you know when it's not feeling well.

    I don't have room here to write up a list of tips for the proper care of reptiles, but there are many sites on the Web that cover the topic in depth.


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