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Soft Spring Pets, by Linda A. Atkins, DVM

Springtime makes me think of bunnies, chicks and ducklings. They are the cute little friends we see on commercials for chocolate, in Easter baskets, and on holiday decorations. Although they look like perfect pets to bring home, always do your research before any impulse pet purchase.

Bunnies are synonymous with spring. Rabbits are small, friendly, interactive pets that can make a great addition to any home. They can be adopted from a local animal shelter or online adoption group, or purchased from a pet store or breeder. Very young rabbits are very tempting, but can be more fragile to raise. A new rabbit owner may want to consider adopting an adult rabbit.

Rabbits thrive when given a large place to live and the right diet. These thick-furred friends can be housed indoors or outdoors. They always need to be provided with a shelter or hiding place that provides them with a natural den to hide in. They need shelter from rain, wind and snow if living outside. Cooler is always better for rabbits. Make sure they do not overheat in the hot summer months. All rabbits need adequate exercise. Just the hutch or cage is no life for these active animals. An exercise area can be a fenced-in rabbit-proof area of the house or yard where they can run around, hop, jump and enjoy freedom and exercise for a few hours per day.

Those spring bunnies don’t eat chocolate and Peeps! Rabbits need a diet of large amounts of fresh timothy hay and fresh greens. They can be fed a small amount of pellets, but daily fresh greens and hay should comprise the majority of the diet. Food can be purchased at most local pet stores, grocery stores or on-line. Check with your veterinarian for a complete list of dietary requirements. A great source of information for house rabbits is Rabbit.org.

Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box and trained to perform tricks. They recognize their owner and family members, and can be very entertaining to watch as they run around the house or exercise area. They can be introduced to other pets in the home, often learning to live with cats and even dogs if care is taken to prevent any injury to the rabbit. Always be careful with rabbits and young children. They can startle easily and may scratch or bite. They have very fragile bones so care must be taken when handling especially with young children. If handled often, and with training, they can learn to peacefully sit on your lap.

Regular checkups at your veterinarian will keep your bunny healthy. No vaccines are required for rabbits, but discussion about diet, parasites, neutering and grooming are essential for helping your rabbit live a long, healthy life.

So when you see those bunnies for adoption or sale, think about giving them a great safe home with the right diet and ample room to run and play.

Celebrate spring!

Dr. Linda Atkins has cared for pets as a general practitioner at Valley Cottage Animal Hospital since 1993 and is a co-owner of the hospital. A native of Congers, she attended Cornell University and received her Bachelor’s Degree in Cell Biology in 1987. Dr. Atkins went on to attend the New York State Veterinary College at Cornell University and was awarded her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine in 1991. Dr. Atkins has continuing education certifications in dentistry and ultrasound. Her professional interests include general surgery, feline medicine and surgery, diagnostic ultrasound and exotic animal medicine. Dr. Atkins is the attending veterinarian for the Trailside Zoo in Bear Mountain New York and volunteers her time to local 4-H programs. She enjoys horseback riding, gardening, boating and spending time with her husband and three children. She shares her home with three cats and a Siberian Husky.