Pet Domestic Rabbits

Pet Domestic Rabbits
4-H Rabbiteer Club Member Katie Ross with Oreo

Inspired by the Story of Luke’s Sugar Bunny

“There’s something out in the yard!” an excited four-year-old announced to family members gathered for a cookout. With so much food and conversation, it was pure luck that anyone noticed the small, mostly white and chocolate-spotted animal lounging in full view of resident hawks. 

It was a young, extremely lucky domestic rabbit. When the rabbit saw people slowly and quietly approach, it did not bolt into nearby woods. Instead, the little furball hopped straight to the smallest of them all – a little boy named Luke. It stretched both front paws upwards onto his legs, ready to be picked up.

The rabbit’s feet were snow-white, its fur completely clean, without a  speck of dirt. Once contentedly nestled in Luke’s lap, the rabbit wiggled its velvety nose and politely sniffed everyone who wanted to pet her.  She soon fell asleep with a whispery sigh, exhausted from her wilderness adventure.

It had to be an accidental escape. Owners must be frantically searching everywhere for the little adventurer. In a compact community with one entrance-exit, bordered by a lake and forested nature preserve, reuniting the rabbit with its family would be easy.

A neighborhood door-to-door campaign yielded nothing. Posted flyers with photographs of the rambunctious explorer covered street signs and the neighborhood entrance. Lost pet internet sites were alerted. No one had lost the rabbit. No one had ever seen it. 

As night fell, the need to feed the rabbit led to internet research and a crash course regarding domestic rabbit dietary needs and precautions.  A grocery trip for approved fresh vegetables followed another expedition to find Timothy hay. A safe, temporary enclosure was erected.

Day one turned into a week, then a month.  Luke soon named the wanderer – Luke’s Sugar Bunny – and declared that, “Sugar Bunny needs a real rabbit house”. Sugar wiggled into everyone’s heart and befriended the resident pets.

Luke with Sugar Bunny
Luke with Sugar Bunny

Domestic rabbits are popular exotic pets., whether house rabbits (litter box trained), or outdoors in secure, weather and predator-proofed enclosures. Easily frightened prey animals, they require frequent handling, gentle interaction, and specific care. They are intelligent with distinct personalities, respond to their names, and exhibit affectionate companionship. Curious and playful, they bond with owners of all ages including other pets. Pet rabbits are only recommended for children six years or older, with supervision, depending upon the child’s maturity and temperament.

Dangers to domestic rabbits include early forced weaning and sale before they are mature enough to survive, and owners or breeders who deliberately release unwanted or unsold rabbits into woods or public places. Mass releases of domestic rabbits periodically occur, including one widely reported local incident when employees arrived at work to find tame, white rabbits everywhere in a huge shopping center parking lot.

Just like cats, kittens, dogs and puppies, defenseless, abandoned pet rabbits fall prey to weather, traffic, snakes, hawks, owls, feral or free-roaming pet cats and dogs. It is a false belief that domestic rabbits can survive on their own by eating grass; rodent bait, chemically-treated grass or plants are deadly.

Bobbi Nelson and her husband Joe, of B’s Furry Friends Rescue, founded their local rabbit rescue in 2009 when another rescue closed and offered them a large rabbit hutch. Nelson has rescued domestic, exotic and wild animals since age six. An army brat who lived worldwide, she has unique experience with many animal species.

Katie & Oreo
Katie & Oreo

Nelson said that Northeast Florida has few rabbit rescuers, who stay overwhelmed with continuous calls about abandoned or unwanted rabbits. She said they network to save and adopt out as many as possible; she has adoptable rabbits available year-round.  Within one recent week alone, Nelson received six calls about unwanted rabbits. She said it is heartbreaking, but impossible to accept or place them all. Neither the Jacksonville Humane Society nor Duval County Animal Care & Protective Services accepts rabbits.

People give many reasons for re-homing pet rabbits: a move, allergies, a new baby. Sometimes it was an impulse buy, for Easter or a birthday and what was tiny and adorable, grows fast, requires daily care, cleaning, specific food and shelter space.  Most people are unaware that veterinary care, spay and neutering for exotic pets costs more than other pets.

Many unwanted rabbits come from accidental litters. Pet stores discover a litter born overnight, because rabbits mature quickly and breed continuously from the age of three months. Gestation takes 28 – 31 days, with an average of six in a litter, but possibly from one to fourteen born.

“Rabbits must be separated by sex from an early age… spayed/neutered at four to six months. Males may begin to spray urine to mark territory, just like male cats, if not neutered,” Nelson said. “Live animals should not be sold in pet stores, because they often don’t separate the sexes and provide no vet care. Most rabbits sold by pet stores or some breeders, are removed from their mothers much too early because buyers want tiny babies. These immature babies should still be nursing to fully develop and should not be handled because of germ exposure and stress. Many sicken and die as a result. Rabbits should be naturally weaned and at least nine weeks old before sale.”

If considering a pet rabbit, first learn about rabbit care requirements. Pet rabbits live approximately eight to fifteen years. They are herbivores, basically small cows who must continuously graze on coarse hay, plus fibrous vegetables for proper digestive health. The constant grazing keeps their teeth from overgrowth. The best enclosure for pet rabbits has a hiding place and provides at least six feet, with space to stand, turn and run for exercise and good health. Susceptible to extreme temperatures, especially heat, rabbits require weather protection.

Some rabbit owners enjoy participation in or attending shows hosted by the American Rabbit Breeders Association, or the North Florida Rabbit & Cavy (guinea pig) Association. Children interested in learning more or showing their rabbits may join the Duval County 4-H Rabbiteers Club. The club is part of the youth development program, University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension (UF/IFAS).

Kelsey Haupt, 4-H Youth Development Extension Agent I, said clubs enroll boys and girls ages 5 – 18. Clubs are led by background-screened,  adult volunteers  who provide a planned program during the school year.  

“There are 4-H Clubs and projects on many topics, including rabbits and other animal species. 4-H offers a community for kids with focus on informal learning, discovering new interests, projects, hands-on opportunities, life skills and preparing to become good humans and active members of the community,” Haupt said. “Club membership is free for ages 5-7 and $20 for ages 8-18 annually. Scholarships are available. 4-H July and August summer camps are also open to non-members.”

Rabbiteer Club Leader Leslie Hettick & her son Andrew with their rabbits
Rabbiteer Club Leader Leslie Hettick & her son Andrew with their rabbits

Leslie Hettick, leader of the 4-H Rabbiteers Club, said club members will show and exhibit their rabbits at the Greater Jacksonville Fair, November 4-14, 2021. Her son Andrew, 17, saw a 4-H club booth at a 2019 community event and discovered the Rabbiteers Club.

“The rabbits are so sweet and make wonderful pets. We’ve all learned so much about animals. Andrew has also learned about many other subjects and community service. He was shy, but club activities brought him out of his shell and boosted his confidence. He’s made lifelong friends in 4-H and it’s a great organization for kids,” Hettick said.

The House Rabbit Society is the national nonprofit rabbit rescue and education organization, with one Florida chapter in Miami. They network with other Florida rabbit rescue groups, including Gainesville Rabbit Rescue/ Daytona, which usually has 100 adoptable pet rabbits available.

Andrew Hettick with Rene, his Flemish Giant, Blue Ribbon Winner for Best in Breed
Andrew Hettick with Rene, his Flemish Giant, Blue Ribbon Winner for Best in Breed.

A local opportunity to see many rabbit breeds will take place at the North Florida Rabbit & Cavy Breeders Association Show, September 4, 2021, 7:00 a.m. – 3:45 p.m., Clay County Fairgrounds, Green Cove Springs. Free admission.

NEWS ALERT:

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV2) is a fatal, highly contagious disease, first detected in the western U.S. , and confirmed to have infected one Central Florida rabbitry. It is believed to be contained and no further Florida cases have been reported as of mid-June 2021, according to Dana M. Krempels, Ph.D., University of Miami Biology Senior Lecturer, Florida RHDV2 Focus Group Member and president of H.A.R.E, Inc. (House Rabbit Adoption, Rescue & Education/Miami chapter – National House Rabbit Society). RHDV2 poses no threat to humans. Owners should prevent any contact between domestic and wild rabbits, which can transmit the virus. Sanitize and wash hands frequently before and after handling pets, including food and supplies.

Resources:

Bff Rabbit Rescue :
www.Bffrescue.webs.com, Facebook.com/Bffrescue, [email protected] or donate through Paypal at [email protected]
The House Rabbit Society: www.rabbit.org
Gainesville Rabbit Rescue/Daytona Branch: www.gainesvillerabbitrescue.org
American Rabbit Breeders Assn.: www.arba.net. Full color photos of all fifty recognized rabbit breeds & show calendar.
Adoptable rabbits:
www.adoptapet.com, www.rescueme.org, www.petfinder.com.

[email protected] – Kelsey Haupt, Rabbiteers 4-H Club & summer camp information/enrollment.

www.wabbitwiki.com

www.rabbit.com

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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