*Dedicated to the memory of Quincy*
It's hard for me to write about the benefits of living with a bunny now. Before Quincy died, I was a very vocal bunny advocate, but losing him to what should have been a simple procedure has made me question having rabbits in my life. I've done a lot of thinking in the last three months, and the following is what I've come to understand.
1. Rabbits are unbelievably fragile.
Having had only cats as pets before we got Murphy, our first bunny, I didn't realize that so much could go wrong with such a little body. Their gastrointestinal systems are so delicately balanced that feeding them the wrong thing, or even too much of the right thing, can make them very ill...and possibly kill them. Their own habits (chewing everything) can get them into serious trouble, if their humans don't bunnyproof a house (and sometimes even if they do!). Carpets, furniture, poisonous plants, etc...all problems. Even too much stress can weaken them, allowing a secondary physical condition to emerge which could be life threatening.
Not all rabbits are this delicate. But the possibility exists, and we need to be aware of it.
2. (And this is just an extension of #1) Lack of knowledgeable veterinary care.
Before Quincy died, I thought we had the best vet for hundreds of miles around. Now, after living through this, it's made me question this particular vet's knowledge. Being connected with many HRS people, I have since learned that penicillin (the injection that killed Quincy) is not recommended for use unless all other appropriate antibiotics have been tried. This learning is fairly recent, but our vet was unaware of it. And I was horrified to learn that he is still giving that same injection to a whole lot of bunnies even after watching Quincy die of anaphylactic shock. And yet, he's still the best bunny vet for miles.
Even sadder, many vets don't consider rabbits as anything more than disposable and concentrate their practises on cats and dogs. And since rabbits have such complicated physical systems, it's important to find someone who knows their lagomorph. A vet who's willing to do the research can be a valuable asset, though. It all comes down to knowledge...and if a vet doesn't have it, is he/she willing to get it?
3. Rabbits are lovable, beautiful, amusing pets.
This is what makes it so hard to say no to future rabbits. Watching Newton binky (a dance of joy), or do the happy bunny flop, or when she licks my nose or ankle...those are true joys that can't be replaced. And the promise of watching two bonded bunnies cuddle and play together makes us want more fuzzy ones in the house.
4. Rabbits teach us lessons.
Quincy taught us more lessons than can be listed on this page. We are now better bunny parents because of Quincy. Newton teaches us patience and tolerance, since she gives her kisses on her terms only, and can be Miss Destructobunny when she wants to (which is often). Stubborn and challenging, but adorable beyond belief. That's our bunny.
So you see that my head has been spinning with all this for a while now. But another bunny seems to have found its way to us and we think we will be ready to welcome him when he's old enough (as long as Newton gives him her stamp of approval).
If you're considering adopting a bunny, think long and hard...are you ready to take on ALL that comes with it? If you are, you will be rewarded with love, laughter (yours) and some serious lessons. I guess it's worth it...
After writing this rant, the members of the Warren read it and wrote the following responses. I am certainly not an objective person right now, and the pain of losing Quincy has affected my judgement. So please read the words of other bunny people...it helps to balance what I wrote and will give you a truer picture of life with a bunny.
I have a little bit of trouble with the blanket statement of bunnies being fragile. Having lost one recently very quickly, I know that is sometimes true, but I also hear of many stories of bunnies fighting illnesses & winning after months. So, yes, they can go downhill very fast, but I there's also a will to fight & survive in them.
IMO, no matter what, it IS worth it. Did I feel pain at losing Dusty--you bet. It was (and still is) very hard--God, I have never felt such a loss, so much pain and so much guilt. I still cry for him. But knowing him was SO worth it--he gave me so very much love. He enriched my life beyond anything I have ever known. I was very fortunate to have had him be part of it. The alternative is to never have known him. How bleak that sounds.
Know that about Quincy too--he was part of your lives for as long as he was supposed to be, for whatever reason. He taught you much, as you say. Call it fate, whatever--there is a reason, we just don't know it. When we lost our first housebun, Sniffles, I was very upset--I really loved him. But if he had lived out his life, we would never have known Dusty. And I have never in my life loved anything as much as that little guy. I guess I believe we all have some time allowed to us, and when that time is up, it's up. We can do everything to try to make it longer, but, eventually, we all lose. I guess the purpose in Sniffles' death was that we then had Dusty as part of our life. I need a purpose or it seems futile, a waste.
I think you can understand this fragile/tough business best if you think of rabbits as highly adaptive prey animals. As prey animals, they need to live long enough to get their genes into the gene pool and nature does not really give a hoot what happens to them after that. So there has been no natural selection for traits in older rabbits, and we will see a large variety of problems as they age. And of course, in nature, so many, many babies are born that there is very likely to be a wide variation in their genetic make up, and some will be much more capable of surviving than others. Much of this genetic variation carries over into our domestic rabbits, so that we see huge differences from one bunny to the next.
Since it is a harsh world out there, in order to survive long enough to reproduce, a rabbit has to be swift, clever, and psychologically resilient. There will be winners and losers, but all that counts in nature is that there be a constantly renewed supply.
Rabbits also make a living by 1) eating very low on the food chain and 2) adapting to whatever food supply is available wherever they happen to be. This means, on the one hand, that they have evolved a digestive system that can extract nutrients out of a very "poor" diet. Therefore, they have a somewhat specialized digestive system that is easily put out of balance. But if a richer source of food becomes available, they will gladly accept this also. This adaptability enables rabbits to inhabit a huge variety of ecological niches, including human-created ones. But it also means that they do not have any natural instinct that tells them to avoid "rich foods", even if these foods do not agree with a particular rabbit.
I think that our domestic rabbits have an additional problem in that they do not get the exercise that wild ones get, nor are they required to make much use of their natural facilities. They face few real challenges.
While it may be too harsh a world out there, sometimes I think it is far too soft a world "in here". We fuss and worry over every stress, but perhaps some amount of stress is good for all of us. Just a thought.
This is why, I believe, rabbits run and thump and act frightened when there is nothing to be afraid of. We spend so much time wondering what is bothering them, but I think they are just keeping themselves "tuned up".
I don't know that fragile is the word I'd use either, but I can't think of an alternative to offer that's better. Amy & I have discussed this before and we're not too far apart in our thoughts on the matter. Ummm, let me try to sum up my feelings:
Everything I've learned on the subject suggests that in the wild, rabbits rarely live for more than a few years for various reasons even though as we know, they have the genetic potential to live for up to 10-12. It seems as though a lot of the problems we see occur at ages that rabbits rarely ever reach (the uterine cancer problem comes to mind) in their natural habitats.
Because we love them we choose to help them live for much longer than nature has intended, it shouldn't surprise us that there can be unforeseen medical consequences from this. Maybe its important for us not to lose sight of that and beat up on ourselves when these things take a friend away. Past a certain age, every day we keep our buns happy and healthy is a victory rather than the norm. A pretty precarious way to live, but that sure seems to be the reality of the situation.
We're all venturing out into still uncharted territory here, even now. Someday, the problems we run into will be trivial and easily treated or avoided, but the care and veterinary treatment of House Rabbits is still in its infancy. Like all pioneers we may have to pay a price for going first.
If you have or have had a female rabbit living with you, please visit Suzy Shuker's page and fill out her survey on rabbits and uterine cancer. She's compiling the results on an ongoing basis and it will be interesting to see the results.
- February 1997: Getting your bunny a companion he or she will actually LIKE...
- January 1997: Your Bunny's New Year's Resolutions (AKA diet and exercise hints)
- December 1996: Holiday hazards facing your bunny
- November 1996: Pet stores and your rabbit
- Sept/Oct 1996: How to bring your outdoor rabbit inside for good!
Disclaimer: Amy is not a vet. She is a person who loves rabbits.
Please consult a qualified rabbit veterinarian when making any changes that will affect your rabbit.