Sunday, August 10, 2014

Back to School Bunnies?

It’s that time of year again - back to school time! But should a rabbit be heading into the classroom? The truth of the matter is that having rabbits in the classroom rarely, if ever, works out to the advantage of the rabbit, the teacher, or the children.

Adorable bunny ready for school!  Okay, not really.  Let's make sure all pet rabbits are home schooled!

There are many factors that make having rabbits in the classroom something to avoid. Below you can read some of the main points in TBHRR’s reasoning not to adopt bunnies into this situation:  

  • Rabbits live a decade or more. This means that not only will the teacher be responsible for this new pet for quite a while, but rules regarding classroom pets may change in this time as well as the teacher’s own career path or desire for a classroom pet. 
Rabbits can live as long as some breeds of dog!  Nikolai here is almost 14.

  • Rabbits require a constant supply of hay, as it makes up 80-85% of their diet. This presents a problem not only of keeping supplies on hand, but also many children are allergic to hay. In the same vein, the children could be allergic to the rabbit itself. Allergies are one of the most common reasons we see for rabbits being abandoned at shelters. 

  • Rabbits are crepuscular and therefore will not be active during the day when the children are in school. They will mainly want to nap and have quiet time, only wanting to come out to play and interact during dawn and dusk.  

  • Rabbits are prey animals and as such, don’t enjoy large groups, loud noises, or children running.

  • Rabbits also do not enjoy being picked up. They have extremely strong back legs and can kick with such force that they can break their own back if not properly handled. For this reason, we do not let children under the age of 16 pick up rabbits.

  • Rabbits can and will bite and scratch. Since their way of communicating is very subtle, and they are not very vocal, most children do not realize that the rabbit is getting upset and can get injured before they realize anything is wrong.  All of us in rescue have been bitten or scratched by frightened rabbits - it hurts!

  • Rabbits require a large space. We recommend at least 16 square feet, which is the size of a standard puppy exercise pen. The cages typically marketed for them in pet stores are horribly cruel. They do not have room to play or keep themselves clean. They also lead to them becoming aggressive and they become foul-smelling quickly. The sort of space a rabbit requires is hard to accommodate in a classroom setting. 
Bunnies need large habitats, not tiny pet store "starter cages".  Not many classrooms could provide this.

  • Rabbits are very sensitive to stress. If they are being moved around in a car daily or on the weekends, they can stop eating and go into gastrointestinal stasis. Rabbits require consistency in their life and should never be sent home with different children.

  • Rabbits need to see an exotics vet that is rabbit savvy. If the rabbit were to go into stasis or fall ill in some other way, they usually pass away fairly quickly. These vets are quite pricey and if the rabbit is ill, vet visits are an emergency. Everything from an ear infection to a day of not having a bowl movement can be deadly in a rabbit. 

Think bunnies are cheap pets?  Think again.  This was my latest unexpected vet bill.  Bunny stopped eating...cost me almost $400.  In addition to emergency care, they need yearly checkups by a rabbit-savvy vet to make sure they are healthy.

  • Rabbits require a variety of rabbit-safe fresh vegetables daily, which can be hard to provide at school. Their GI tract is very delicate, so if a child were to mistakenly give the rabbit the wrong vegetable or slip them something inappropriate, it could be fatal to the rabbit.

  • Rabbits do enjoy being part of a family and receiving attention. They cannot usually get this in a classroom since they are most active at dawn and dusk. They also require at least 3 hours of time outside of the cage each day to play and have some more mental stimulation. Without this they can go ‘kennel crazy’, and start to be aggressive or withdrawn.

  • Rabbits are not low-maintenance or low-cost pets. They require specialized food, a large space, toys, games, and ways to enjoy their natural behaviors such as chewing, digging, and running. They also need a yearly checkup at the vet,  regular nail trims, and to be groomed at least once a week.

If the goal of a classroom rabbit would be to teach the children about them, TBHRR would be happy to come in with a few bunnies and do a presentation about house rabbits and adoption. 

In conclusion, if you are still thinking of having a rabbit in the classroom...