South West domestic rabbit owners share the realities of owning a rabbit in time for Easter

Not a present for Easter: South West pet owners agreed there were many misconceptions about owning rabbits due to outdated advice and incorrect stereotypes. Pictures: Pip Waller/Supplied.
Not a present for Easter: South West pet owners agreed there were many misconceptions about owning rabbits due to outdated advice and incorrect stereotypes. Pictures: Pip Waller/Supplied.
"They breed like rabbits": More than 10 rabbits jammed into a pet carrier as a direct result of two rabbits not being sterilised.

"They breed like rabbits": More than 10 rabbits jammed into a pet carrier as a direct result of two rabbits not being sterilised.

"I'm sorry, I can't look after them": A note found with surrendered rabbits from Romeo's Rabbit Rescue.

"I'm sorry, I can't look after them": A note found with surrendered rabbits from Romeo's Rabbit Rescue.

Picture this - it's Easter and you're looking to add a new furry friend to your family.

You think a cute, low-maintenance, pocket pet like a rabbit would be perfect for yourself and your children. Wrong.

Just one month in, the realities of owning a rabbit set it - and soon your rabbit, who needs exotic vet care, plenty of room to run in and a well-informed diet, has become one of hundreds that both the RSPCA and rabbit rescues around the state see every year post-Easter and Christmas.

In an effort to create both awareness and education around proper rabbit care, the Mail sat down with South West rabbit owners, the RSPCA and Perth-based Romeo's Rabbit Rescue, to shed light on the realities of rabbits not being an appropriate present for Easter.

Rabbit realities

In the 30 years since it has been legal to own a rabbit in Western Australia, misconceptions have been created about what constitutes proper rabbit care.

Busselton resident Jessica Dickson rescued her two, two-year-old domestic rabbits, River and Julio from rescues based in Perth.

Julio and River - two, two-year-old domestic wild rabbit mixes in Busselton. Picture: Supplied

Julio and River - two, two-year-old domestic wild rabbit mixes in Busselton. Picture: Supplied

She said although her rabbits were her "pride and joy", owning domestic rabbits came with challenges.

"There isn't a specific, rabbit-savvy vet in the South West so I have to take them to Perth to get them vaccinated against calicivirus which is released in WA to control the population of wild rabbits," Ms Dickson said.

"They need a lot of space as well. Mine are 100 per cent free roam throughout my house which means I need to bunny-proof everything because they chew a lot to keep their teeth from overgrowing. I've gone through so many cords, which we call 'spicy-hay'.

"I love my rabbits so much and I would literally do anything for them, but that came with being responsible and educated about their ownership."

Bunbury resident Denice Seymour owns Smudge, an inside, free roam rabbit in Carey Park. Picture: Pip Waller

Bunbury resident Denice Seymour owns Smudge, an inside, free roam rabbit in Carey Park. Picture: Pip Waller

600 in two years 

Romeo's Rabbit Rescue, a three-year-old non-profit rescue, has taken in over 600 rabbits and guinea pigs in the last two years.

Since opening, Romeo's Rabbit Rescue vice president Lianne Viljoen said the rescue had repeatedly "seen the heartbreak of decisions" made on a whim during the Easter period.

"That cute Easter bunny is a 10 to 12-year commitment, who needs to be sterilised and housed correctly," Ms Viljoen said.

"It's not uncommon for us to get a call with a plea saying please help us rehome our rabbits because we don't have time to take care of them anymore.

"Each rabbit that is surrendered to Romeo's comes with their own baggage - it's heartbreaking.

"Some are traumatised by a series of events; others have extensive health challenges and most have not been sterilised, all placing a huge financial burden on a rescue.

"Please do not buy that cute and cuddly bunny at all unless you have done the research and are prepared for the lifelong financial and time-consuming commitment the bunny brings with it."

RSPCA WA shelter manager Emily Smith said the main issue the RSPCA saw with rabbits was accidental breeding which commonly occurred after owners put their rabbits together, not aware they were male and female.

Ms Smith revealed that accidental breeding had resulted in a landslide of 'hoarding' situations in the past few years, including an incident in the Perth suburb of Girrawheen where over 100 rabbits were rescued from "squalid" conditions.

Evidence of a hoarding situation that got out of control in Perth. Picture: RSPCA WA.

Evidence of a hoarding situation that got out of control in Perth. Picture: RSPCA WA.

"Contrary to popular belief, rabbits are not an 'easy' first pet for a child because they have specific needs when it comes to their housing, handling, food and providing enough stimulating activities for them to do.

"Last year, 111 rabbits came into care with RSPCA WA, but the previous year it was 160."

Common misconceptions 

Rabbit savvy veterinarians and rabbit rescues agree that education is key to breaking incorrect stereotypes around rabbit ownership.

Ms Viljoen said one of the biggest misconceptions that rabbit rescues had seen was that rabbits could be housed in a hutch 24/7.

"Rabbits can't be confined to a hutch, they need space for exercise, toys to play with and contact with other people or rabbits because they are social creatures.

"They are a 10 to 12-year commitment and need specific diets including unlimited hay. They can't live off carrots because they're full of sugar."

More tips to remember prior to adopting a rabbit includes the need to de-sex a rabbit at six months old to avoid unwanted litters, cancer or behavioural problems.

As they are considered 'exotic', rabbits also needed specialist veterinary care with a rabbit-savvy vet.

Adopt don't shop 

Although the 'Stop Puppy Farming' legislation was passed in Western Australian parliament in December last year, which included the transitioning of dogs from pet shops into adoption centres, no such legislation is currently in the pipeline for rabbits.

Ms Viljoen encouraged the South West community to "get behind" rescues and to try to limit contacting pet shops and breeders when it came to adopting a rabbit.

"We have more than 80 rabbits in our rescue at the moment that are all adoptable - we are so full that we are only taking in babies and emergency cases.

"I think people have this misconception that a rescued animal is a 'bad' animal, because they don't have their history.

"But when you rescue an animal - you're saving that animal's life."

Rabbit owners can also visit Romeo's Rabbit Rescue on Facebook to donate or to find out more information.