-- A not-for-profit organization that finds loving homes for rescued house rabbits. --


 
  So Your Child Wants a Rabbit? 


These guys are having fun with Maggie the Mini Lop.
Notice how neither of them are picking Maggie up?"


Mommy, I Want A Bunny!

by Michigan Rabbit Rescue adoption counselor Pam Jagielo

So, Your Child Wants a Rabbit
She either saw one at the fair, or The Velveteen Rabbit is her favorite book, or it might be Easter time and the pet shop is full of cute little babies.  Boy, are we glad you decided to stop here first.

Hope you don't mind answering a few nosey questions - it's for the bunny's sake, you see - as well as your child's happiness. 

  • Do you want the bunny as much your child does? 
  • Are you willing and able to be the bunny's primary caregiver every day?
  • Did you know that (despite what the pet store clerk may tell you) it is not all right to keep your bunny confined to a tiny cage 24/7? 
  • Are you aware that rabbits don't like to be picked up or held, but will only tolerate it for short periods of time with people they trust?
  • All rabbits will scratch and nip if they feel threatened or if they are irritated by too much attention.  Can you accept that your child (and possibly you) may receive a scratch or a nip from a pet rabbit? 
  • Did you know that rabbits are much happier and will live twice as long if you do not keep them outside? 
  • Have you considered what will happen when your little boy/girl grows up and goes away to college?  Are YOU going to be willing and able to keep bunny and provide care when that time comes?

If you answered no to any of those questions, it's time to do a little research, and we're happy to help. As a Michigan Rabbit Rescue Adoption Counselor, one of the most common questions I'm asked is "Do you have any dwarf rabbits, because I want something small to put in my child's room".

Small Child = BIG Bunny
First, let's deal with the size issue.  Comparatively speaking, Dwarfs are about the least people-friendly breed there is.  They're hyper.  They're skittish.  They have so much energy that they need just as much space as a big breed of rabbit, if not more, or they will become destructive.  They're the worst possible match for children due to the fact that because of their size, children do try to pick them up, usually with disastrous results.  One of two things will happen; either your child will be bitten or scratched, or she will drop the rabbit, who is so delicate that he cannot handle the fall.  So here is your mantra:  small child = big bunny.  Big as in, over 7 pounds.  A buddy to flop down next to your child on the floor while she's watching her favorite TV program, or hop up onto the couch and snuggle next to her as she reads her favorite book.  Sound good?

A Bunny’s Place
Okay, location.  No, they don't bark or meow, but your child isn't likely to get a very good night's sleep with a bunny in her room.  They rattle the water bottle.  They bang their food dish around.  They jump in and out of the litter box and make scratching noises, mostly out of boredom, because they know a friend is in the room and who cares if she's sleeping?  That aside, bunnies are much too social to be kept in a bedroom.  It's too isolating.  Just because they're fairly quiet doesn't mean they need quiet all the time.  Chances are, your child is in school all day (because if she's not, she's too young to have a bunny), she might have after-school activities or want to watch TV in another room of the house, or go off to play with her friends, and the bunny soon becomes an afterthought once the novelty of having him has worn off.  So where do you keep him?  Where are all of you most often?  That's where he should be - if you want him to be happy.

Gentle, Patient Children Wanted
An even more common request is "We want a bunny that's good with children."  We have a similar request of you.  We need children who are good with rabbits.  Children who have been taught to respect prey animals for who they are.  Children who know not to chase or poke their rabbit - ever.  Rabbits communicate solely through body language--and it is subtle.  Do you have the patience - does your child have the patience - to learn 'ear signals' and 'body stance'?  My own children know to let our rabbit hop away when she tires of their attention.  They know when her ears are up and she's sitting up straight, not to approach her, because she feels nervous about something.  They also know that if they sit or lie on the floor and pretend to ignore her, she'll come over and put her head down and ears back and that means she wants attention.  This took time - it didn't happen overnight.  Let your bunny take the lead when it comes to getting to know your child.  Bunny will be a little afraid at first and has to learn to trust your child before they can become friends.  If your child has been taught (by you) to be gentle, caring, and respectful of bunny's feelings, your child will have made a friend for life.

Older is Better
We insist on a bunny over the age of one when he's going into a home that has children.  By that time, a bunny has already gone through the "teenage hormonal" phase and he's calmed down and relaxed into his personality.  Rabbits who are neutered and live indoors live as long as a cat or a dog, so you still have plenty of years remaining to enjoy your new pet.  Worried about missing out on the baby years?  Don't!  If you knew how much work that is, you wouldn't want to deal with it (think "puppy" and "kitten").  We know which rabbits will do well with children (and cats and dogs) and which ones won't.  So please trust us in helping to select the right bunny for your family.

Where Are They; What Are They Doing?
If you have children and are thinking about adding a bunny to your household, know going in that you will have different challenges than someone who doesn't have children, because rabbits and children need constant supervision.  The younger your children are, the harder it will be.  Make-believe and reality are often the same thing to the average preschooler.  They don't understand that their weight can crush a small animal because when they lay on their stuffed animals, nothing happens.  They think feeding cookies to their pet bunny is a sign of love, not realizing that bunny could get very sick.  You, the parent, will need to make sure crayons, small toys, and other dangerous objects are picked up so that your bunny doesn't chew them.  If your child decides he is bored with the chore of feeding the bunny, you will have to take over.  While this seems like giving in to irresponsibility, it's really showing your child, by example, humane treatment of your bunny and what making a commitment really means. 

Adding a bunny to your family will be a huge responsibility and a serious commitment, as well as an opportunity for you to show your child how to relate to these very special creatures on their terms. 

 

For more information regarding children and rabbits, please contact a Michigan Rabbit Rescue Adoption Counselor at adoptions@michiganrabbitrescue.com or visit: http://rabbit.org/faq/sections/children.html

 Pam Jagielo is the mother of four boys and shares her home with Maggie the Mini Lop.