This is part two of our series examining myths about baby rabbits and debunking them. Dispelling these myths is vital for potential rabbit adopters. Facts guide good decisions! (Note: Rabbits are considered babies from 0-3 months, an adolescent or teenager from 3mo-1 year and an adult after 1 year.)
1. Myth: Babies can be weaned or sold at 4-weeks old. Fact: Although some breeders, pet stores, and fairs sell rabbits at this very young age, it is an irresponsible and dangerous practice. Mother’s milk and cecals are vital for developing a healthy immune system and digestive tract. For this reason baby rabbits should be kept with their mother until 8-weeks of age. Babies who are weaned too early may develop enteritis (a digestive tract inflammation resulting in watery diarrhea) and die, or suffer lifelong health consequences.
2. Myth: Siblings will always get along if they grow up together. Fact: Siblings do get along until they begin reaching sexual maturity at about 3-4 months. Then surging hormones can cause squabbling and fights. At this age if the rabbits have not been accurately sexed — which is always a concern — an unwanted litter will result. Siblings usually need to be separated during adolescence and spayed/neutered. Spay/neuter is one component to creating a lasting bond. Siblings can be reunited 30 days after surgery, but bonding is not guaranteed.
3. Myth: You can shape the adult personality by starting with a baby. Fact: You can’t guarantee that a baby rabbit will develop the personality you want. It’s impossible to control personality, especially if it runs contrary to the rabbit’s nature. Each rabbit is unique and they all have different personalities. Given good living conditions and health care, it is age, rather than environment, that seems to play the biggest role in rabbit behavior. Spay/neuter status is the other key factor.
4. Myth: Babies can be picked up by their scruff or ears. Fact: Never pick up a rabbit by her scruff, ears, tail or legs. It is incredibly dangerous. Rabbits will struggle when suspended this way, which can result in a fracture of the spine, vertebral column luxation or fracture at the lumbar level, damage to the cartilage of the ears, or a separation of the scruff skin from the underlying muscle and soft tissue of the body. Suspending a rabbit this way causes fear and pain. Not only will you damage the rabbit physically, you will damage your relationship with the rabbit.
5. Myth: Rabbits are good ‘starter pets’ for children. Fact: Rabbits are not low maintenance or inexpensive. They can live for 8-14 years and require regular (specialty) veterinary care. They require a high level of care and personal knowledge. The novelty of having a rabbit can soon wear off for a child. Rabbits can be wonderful additions to a family provided an adult wants to assume the central relationship with the rabbit.
by Amy Ramnaraine
House Rabbit Society Educator, Minnesota