in memory of Spaz (2000-2004)
The death of Spaz in 2004 brought to an end my four-and-a-half year long experiment with rabbits as pets. Although some people and organizations, such as the House Rabbit Society, might like you to believe that rabbits make great companions, I have determined that, while bunnies might look cute and cuddly, in reality they are ill-tempered, destructive, boring, unrewarding animals which, in my opinion, make poor pets.
My experiment with rabbits began in January of 2000, when I purchased a pair of dwarf bunnies from a pet store in Lewisville, north of Dallas, where Lori and I were living at the time. The sales associate thought the two rabbits - a mottled black and gray rabbit we named Spaz and a white rabbit with black splotches we named Nibbles - were both female. Lori and I couldn't tell the difference, even after close examination of the rabbits' hind regions. However, as the bunnies matured it became clear that Spaz was male and Nibbles was female. Spaz would not leave Nibbles alone; he was constantly mounting her and having his way with her with such vigor that the entire cage they were in would rattle. It didn't take very long for Nibbles to become pregnant. After producing a couple of stillborn litters she finally gave birth to a live pup, a gray rabbit we named Nibblet. Nibbles suddenly died two weeks afterward, before Nibblet was even fully weaned. We were able to hand-raise Nibblet, and we also had Spaz neutered so that he would not subject his own daughter to the same kind of treatment that Nibbles was forced to endure. (In retrospect, I probably should have had Spaz neutered sooner, but then we never would have had Nibblet.)
The rabbits lived indoors while we lived in north Texas, but once we returned to Houston we decided to put them outdoors. Lori built a large hutch for them, which we placed in my parents' back yard. This is where Spaz and Nibblet spent the rest of their lives. Nibblet died in January of 2003, Spaz in July of 2004.
My experience with rabbits revealed to me several reasons why they make poor pets.
First, they're destructive. If you keep them indoors, they pull up carpet, gnaw on baseboards, chew on power cords, rip up books and nibble on clothing. They also urinate and leave droppings everywhere, even if you give them their own litter box to use. If you let them go outdoors, they dig holes and lay waste to your vegetable or flower garden. Even when I gave my rabbits pieces of cardboard to chew on, old newspapers to rip up or even entire bales of hay to dig through, they would still go after carpet, furniture, books and anything else they could sink their teeth into if given the opportunity. One time they even gnawed all the buttons off the remote control for our VCR!
While it's true that dogs and cats can also have destructive tendencies, such as chewing or clawing, neither is as habitually destructive as a rabbit. Dogs and cats, after all, can be trained not to destroy stuff. Rabbits, I've learned, don't take to training very well. Move their litter box to the corner of the room that they've been urinating and defecating in? They'll just ignore the litter box and start doing their business in another corner of the same room. Yell "no!" to startle and disrupt them when they're pulling up carpet fibers? They'll just come back and start pulling up carpet fibers when you're not looking.
Second, rabbits show no affection. One of the most important aspects of keeping a pet is the fondness it shows for you. Why, after all, keep an animal in your home if it doesn't offer you its love and companionship? A dog will run to greet you, tail wagging, when you come home. A cat will rub your leg and sit in your lap. A rabbit will do none of these things; in fact, it will probably run away from you when you approach it and if you do manage to catch it it is liable to bite or scratch you. They tolerate being pet for only short periods of time and do not like being picked up. Even Nibblet, whom we handled as a pup and raised by hand after Nibbles died, did not enjoy being pet or show us any affection. She was, in fact, perhaps the meanest of the three rabbits we had.
Rabbits are not just mean to humans; either. they're also mean to other animals. Spaz and Nibblet had a habit of chasing our cats all over the place. It was actually comical to watch - one would expect that the cats, beig predators, would be the ones doing the chasing and the rabbits, being prey, would be the ones trying to escape. In fact, it was th other way around; the rabbits had no fear of our cats and regularly chased them away when they got too close.
Third, rabbits are rather uninteresting creatures. They don't like to play. They don't like to be handled. They don't make any noise. They don't make any expressions. They don't attack balls of yarn or chase after Frisbees. They do little more than sit and stare. In fact, the only time I found I really enjoyed watching them is when were eating or when they were chasing our cats.
In my mind, there needs to be at least some sort of entertainment value to a pet - something an animal does that we find humorous, comforting or otherwise interesting. Dogs have it. Cats have it. Rabbits don't. They are, in a word, boring.
Fourth, rabbits require a lot of maintenance. Consider everything that had to be ready for Nibbles and Spaz when I brought them home: cage with removable bottom, water bottle, food bowl, hay bin, salt wheel, absorbent wood chips, and even a litter box outside of their cage that they could use when I let them out to run around. I also provided them with mats to lay on and toys to play with and chew on. I kept their food bowl stocked with pellets and their hay bin stocked with hay. I even fed them fresh vegetables or fruit from time to time, as rabbit owners are supposed to do (interesting that I don't have to feed my cats fresh meat from time to time - why do rabbits need such a varied diet when cats can survive just fine on a steady supply of Meow Mix?).
I also had to clean the rabbits' cage on a regular basis; after all, it got rather stinky in a hurry. And, since I kept the rabbits in a cage, I had to let them outside often to run around. And when I let them outside, of course, I needed to watch them to make sure they didn't relieve themselves on the carpet, gnaw on the leg of the coffee table or rip a hole in the upholstery of the couch.
To keep rabbits from destroying everything, in fact, we had to try to "rabbit-proof" our home. That meant buying even more stuff, such as urine guards to keep the rabbits from peeing outside of the cage or a long plastic sheet for the rabbits to lay on when they hopped underneath our couch so they wouldn't relieve themselves or pull up carpet while they were under there. And even then, this "rabbit-proofing" didn't keep the bunnies from wreaking their destructive ways.
Did I mention that rabbits need to be constantly groomed, too? They shed fur more than your average cat or dog. Almost every time I picked up one of my rabbits I would find myself covered with rabbit hair.
Simply put, rabbits require much more care than a dog or a cat. All the various needs of rabbits are listed on the House Rabbit Society's various FAQs. The amount of stuff these small animals need in order to live is mind-boggling. (Interestingly, had I known about the House Rabbit Society's website before I purchased the two rabbits, I probably wouldn't have gotten them. I did attempt to do some due diligence by buying and reading a book about rabbit care before I got the actual rabbits, but the book turned out to be woefully inadequate.)
Finally, rabbits live short lives and die sudden deaths. Nibbles was only about seven months old when she passed away. Nibblet only lived two and a half years before I found her dead body sprawled in the hutch in my parents' backyard. I don't know why she died, but I've since discovered that something like 85% of female rabbits die of some sort of uterine cancer at about two years of age, and that all female rabbits should be spayed. And I thought I was doing Nibblet a favor when I spared her the knife and had Spaz neutered instead. (Also, some rabbit lovers claim that rabbits become less agressive or destructive when they're spayed or neutered. This was definitely not the case with Spaz.)
Spaz lived the longest, dying in July 2004 after a very brief illness, but even then that's a pretty short lifespan, compared to the dog that lives 12 years or the cat that lives 15 years. The House Rabbit Society claims that rabbits kept indoors can expect to live 9 to 12 years, but that rabbits who live outdoors usually only live half as long and that's why rabbits should be kept indoors. Of course, keeping them indoors after we moved back to Houston really wasn't an option due to their destructiveness.
This isn't to say I disliked everything about my pet rabbits. Whenever I rubbed the back of their neck, their teeth would rapidly chatter - a rabbit's version of purring. I thought that was pretty cool. I also liked watching them eat; they seemed very peaceful as they crunched away at their pellets. I found the way they chased our cats to be quite humorous. I liked watching Spaz and Nibblet leap and scamper around when I would let them out of their hutch in my parents' back yard. Despite the fact that they made horrible pets, I was sad when Nibbles, Nibblet and Spaz passed away.
Still, the bad outweighed the good. Rabbits require a lot of work for relatively little reward. It's next to impossible to create any sort of bond with these silent, unblinking animals that scamper away from you whenever you try to play with them and violently squirm in your hands whenever you try to pick them up. No matter how often Lori and I tried to pet them or play with them, they just didn't seem very interested in us. I'd have to say that even rodents like mice and squirrels make better pets than rabbits.
Lori repeatedly told me over the years that the rabbits were a "bad pet decision." In retrospect, she was right. My days as a rabbit owner left me disappointed.
Addendum: shortly after I put this page up in 2004, I began receiving several e-mails from rabbit lovers who, obviously, disagree with my opinion about rabbits as pets. A few of these messages have been civil; most, however, have been rather nasty. Some have been undecipherable. (I've also, for the record, recevied a few e-mails from former rabbit owners who agree with me, but that's not the point of this addendum.)
While I realize that rabbit owners are a very loyal bunch, I truly hope that not all rabbit owners are as mean-spirited, as judgemental, and as immature (is the average rabbit owner a 13-year-old girl or something?) as the folks who have sent me such nasty e-mail messages. I originally thought about putting up a “hate-mail” page for these messages as well as my responses to them, but in the end I’ve decided that doing so would be counter-productive. Besides, I have better things to do with my time than engage in ongoing arguments with people about lagomorphs.
I certainly can understand that many people will disagree with the opinions I have expressed on this page, and I truly am happy to hear that there are indeed people out there that are having wonderful relationships with their pet rabbits. (Maybe I just got a bad breed? A couple of people have suggested to me that dwarf rabbits have a bad temperment when compared to other rabbit breeds.) However, those of you who have sent e-mail personally attacking me by telling me that I am ignorant or stupid or a bad pet owner or that I “don’t have a clue” or that I did not properly care for my rabbits (and special props to those of you who called me "trash," told me that I was a bad father, and called my wife and I "fat") can go piss off. None of you sanctimonous jerks know just how much time and effort my wife and I spent on behalf of our three bunnies.
None of you were there at the pet store to warn us that the two rabbits we had chosen were a mixed pair – we really could have used the expertise in immature rabbit genitalia that some of you elite rabbit aficionados apparently possess. None of you were there helping me try to scrub rabbit urine out of the carpet, even though their litter box was in the other corner of the same room. None of you got to see Nibbles gnaw through one of Lori’s textbooks while a wooden chew-toy lay in her cage, untouched. None of you were there when our house-sitter frantically called us at three o’clock in the morning, while we were on vacation in Mexico, to tell us that Nibbles had suddenly passed away, and none of you listened as I, distraught as I was, calmly talked her through hand-feeding a week-old Nibblet. None of you were there when we searched all around Denton County for a vet that would castrate Spaz, because so few vets wanted to bother with rabbits. None of you were helping me carry in bales of alfalfa or 30-pound sacks of rabbit food into my garage, where our rabbits lived, or helping me clean half-eaten hay and rabbit waste out of the garage on a regular basis. None of you were with Lori when she built that big rabbit hutch from scratch, or were there when I put up chicken wire all around my folks’ back yard to keep the rabbits from sneaking out or predators from sneaking in. None of you were with me the countless times I drove over to my parents’ house and sat in their back yard, being eaten by mosquitoes, just to watch the rabbits while I let them out of their hutch for their daily exercise. And none of you got to see Lori cry as she watched me cradle a feeble, dying Spaz in my arms.
While there are certainly some things that I, in retrospect, would have done differently with the animals, the fact is that we earnestly tried to be “good rabbit owners.” If some of you rabbit enthusiasts think I didn’t try hard enough, then that simply further reinforces my opinion that rabbits require way too much work to be “good” pets. The fact is that we have cats that show us more love and affection than our rabbits ever did yet require much less "effort." And our cats haven’t gnawed up any textbooks or baseboards, either.
If this page offended you and you’re thinking about sending me a nasty message, don’t bother. It will be deleted without even being read (seriously). Spend more time with your bunnies, and spend less time sending e-mail to everyone whose opinions differ from yours.