Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the United States, coming in just behind dogs and cats. Despite their popularity, understanding of proper care – and lifespan – hasn’t caught up. Sadly, rabbits are also the third most surrendered pets. This time of year is tough for buns, too, as they face the aftermath of Easter.
Rabbits have an undeserved reputation as “starter pets.” Those bringing rabbits home as an impulsive Easter surprise often don’t realize what really goes into caring for a rabbit. Unlike gerbils, hamsters, mice, rats, or even fish, rabbits can live for up to a decade … or even longer. That’s a serious commitment!
Rabbits can’t be plopped in a pet store cage and left alone, either. Rabbits require lots of space and room to exercise. They should be spayed/neutered, and see the vet regularly just like dogs and cats. Because they are classified as exotic pets, these visits are usually more expensive. Not every rabbit will like to be picked up, cuddled, and held. Every rabbit is unique, and not all personalities will be a good fit for small kiddos just wanting to snuggle or play.
When families come to terms with the post-holiday reality, rabbits find themselves in shelters at alarming rates. The Georgia House Rabbit Society receives more than 500 requests a year from people trying to surrender pet rabbits. Red Door Animal Shelter in Chicago (like many other rabbit shelters nationwide) is over capacity this year with the amount of rescues they've taken in after Easter. In one weekend, Red Door rescued 32 rabbits from one location. (Psst. To donate toward Red Door’s medical bill at Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital for the rescued rabbits, call 847-329-8709.)
When shelters are physically unable to accept more animals, the rabbits find themselves at risk of being abandoned. Not only are these guys especially sensitive to heat and attractive targets for predators, but when left to their own devices they also will live up to their reputation for multiplying rapidly. Audrey Poole-Brown and neighbors in Huntington Beach, CA found a “dumping ground” for rabbits and diligently feed and spay/neuter the population, but it’s challenging to keep up:
"In the summer of 2012, neighbors started to complain about rabbits running loose in gardens of a school farm in Huntington Beach. Years of constant dumping and breeding had resulted in around 500 rabbits in poor condition.
The school didn’t understand the severity of the problem because the rabbits were underground during the day … out of sight, out of mind! After contacting several organizations that were unable to help, we had hit a brick wall. All we could do was begin to feed them by tossing greens over the fences when we could.
We knew we had to do more. In 2016, we started a GoFundMe. Fortunately, we knew veterinarians who were willing to work with us and we did receive some donations. The slow process began to trap, sterilize, and release.
We were fighting a losing battle when Western University agreed to help. We drove rabbits to their facility every Friday to be spayed/neutered and held monthly adoption days. A stipulation was that rabbits had to be healthy, so the caretaker agreed to allow us to start to feed hay, at our expense.
430 sterilizations later, we now have approximately 150 rabbits at the school farm, healthy and mostly fixed. But we still need the public’s help more than ever."
Rescue organizations and rabbit lovers continue step up to help where they can. But, they can't do it alone. Obviously, adopting from a rabbit rescue or animal shelter makes a huge difference. You do more than just save a life; you'll also open up a spot for another rabbit in need of a second chance. If your home looks anything like ours though, you may already be at capacity. How else can you help your local rescues and shelters?
Okay, your home might be full, but what if it’s just for a little while? The shelter can be a scary place for a rabbit, especially if they are housed in a noisy area or can see or smell cats and dogs. If you’ve had experience with ill rabbits, the shelter staff would likely appreciate your expertise nursing them back to health. We all know syringe feeding should be classified as a full time job. Foster parents open up space for more rescue rabbits, give them additional exposure, become ambassadors for the shelter staff, and help homeless rabbits transition to the next chapter in their story.
Rabbit ownership isn’t cheap. Imagine having dozens – or hundreds – to care for. Food, medical care, housing, community outreach, and events are expensive. While monetary donations are always needed and appreciated, supplies are also in high demand. Do you have a surplus of hay? Cleaning supplies? Some old towels or blankets? Secondhand toys? Food or water dishes? Maybe even just some cilantro about to go bad in the fridge? Some rabbits in need would be appreciative!
As long as there are shelters overcrowded with rabbits, there will be a shortage of volunteers. Ask your local shelter or rescue if you and some friends could spend an afternoon cleaning litter boxes, trimming nails, or even just giving the rabbits some company and attention. See if the busy staff could use some help with transporting rabbits to and from vet appointments or picking up and dropping off donations and supplies.
Spread the Word
Are you a social media guru? Volunteer to do some networking for the rabbits in need of homes or update adoption websites. Feeling crafty? Design some fliers for a local adoption event, or help print updated signage. Educate the public by distributing informational material on rabbit behavior and proper care. Create “resumes” for bunnies searching for forever homes. Your local organizations probably have their own unique needs, but don’t be afraid to come armed with new ideas. The possibilities are endless!
P.S. We love supporting shelters and rescues, and will do all we can to help out with your events. Just fill out this form and let's see what we can do together!