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Saturday, March 2

What NOT to Put in Your Child's Basket or "Please Don't Give Pets as Presents!"


Flea markets, pet stores, farmer's markets, Craigslist... places like these are full of people selling adorable baby bunnies and fuzzy baby chicks this time of year.  The association of these animals with spring and Easter make them high turn-over items for breeders this time of year.  Unfortunately though, a massive portion of these innocent little animals will never see their first birthday.  They are neglected, abandoned, or abused by impulsive owners who did not realize what they were getting themselves into.

So.... before you buy one, please read below to find out what you're really getting yourself and your family into. 

Keeping a Rabbit

What both symbolizes spring and can melt your heart better than a tiny fuzzy bunny with a cuteness factor of a zillion?  Not much.  But in the same way that kittens become cats and puppies become dogs, bunnies grow into rabbits.

LIFESPAN: I'd like to remind my readers that when you impulsively buy that happy morning of downy-soft, long-eared adorableness, the reality is that you now own an animal that will live as long as your average pet dog (up to 15 years!).


GROWTH: Rabbits will grow to sizes ranging from a large guinea pig to a small dog.  Some breeds grow even larger and without proper papers (something your average backyard breeder will not be able to provide their customers), the growth of mixed pedigree rabbits is hard to predict.



POTTY TIME: Pet rabbits require weekly (or more) cage cleanings.  Some love to sleep in their litter boxes while others love to eat litter (who knows why!) and so not only does the litter box need to be kept clean, you will have to choose a litter that will not hurt the rabbit should he/she nibble.  Also, while they bounce and play on the couch or living room carpet with your child, they will be indiscriminately pooping and peeing as they go.  Know that rabbit urine has a very strong smell and is high in calcium, which can leave a white etching/staining to surfaces.

CAGES & PENS: Rabbits are very active creatures and despite what you may see in the pet store, they will not thrive in a small cage.

Pet rabbits require a very large pen to thrive.  They need room to exercise and play.  Be prepared to dedicate a portion of your child's room (or another room in your home) to a rabbit pen. 



VETERINARY CARE: Your child's rabbit will also require veterinary visits.  The first major expenditure will be the act of spaying or neutering the animal.  According to Rabbit.org, within 4 months of owning a pet rabbit you will need to have this done.  S/N reduces the risk of disease and halts the rapid procreation rabbits are known for.  S/N also stops males from spraying (although, just like cats, they can regain the ability) and greatly drops the cancer rates in females.  The cost of such a surgery ranges from $75 - $300 depending on your area.  If you live in the UK, pet rabbits will also need vaccinations.

FOOD: Pet rabbits need a variety of food, not just bundles of beautiful orange carrots.  According to Everyday Health, pet rabbits primarily need hay (such as Timothy grass, alfalfa, etc.).  On top of this, they need plenty of fresh vegetables and a pellet food.

[img source: Doc Stoc]

CHEWING: Rabbits are lagomorphs, not rodents as most people believe.  Lagomorphs have teeth with open root systems, meaning that their teeth constantly grow.  To prevent their teeth from growing too long, pet rabbits MUST chew.  If you don't provide an adequate supply of chew sticks and toys, they will turn to unhealthy measures, such as chewing on portions of their pens or ducking behind your entertainment system and chewing all your HDMI cords to shreds

NEGLECT: If a rabbit is not cared for correctly, it can become finicky and may not wish to be handled.  Rabbits may protest being handled by hiding when you near their pen, or they may go so far as to scratch or bite if picked up.  These bites and scratches will hurt as much as a bite from a cat or dog.

SHELTERS:  If you think that perhaps you'll just let your child have a bunny until it becomes a problem or too much effort and then you'll just take it to a shelter... I have some not-so-nice words for you.  To begin, animals are not disposable and if you purchase an animal with the intent to simply get rid of it when it inconveniences you, you're not a person I'd like to know.  Secondly, shelters and rabbit sanctuaries are over-run with Easter bunnies each and every year.  Not all shelters have the funds to care for these unwanted creatures and many end up being put down.   

If you look at this list and decide that you're up for the ride, then so be it.  Jump on that impulse to buy a fuzz-ball.  However, if even one portion of the above list seems un-doable for you, put the bunny back and opt for a nice big chocolate rabbit or stuffed toy instead.


Keeping a Chicken

Awe!  Baby chicks are fluffy, fuzzy, and cute as all get-out.  Unfortunately they don't stay little for very long and before you know it you'll have a large, sharp clawed, firmly beaked chicken on your hands. 


REGULATIONS: First and foremost, check with your local game commission.  Depending upon where you live, you may need a special permit to own farm animals.  This isn't such a big deal in rural areas, however suburban areas and cities may not allow this.  The Humane Society points out that even if hens are allowed in certain areas, males (cockerels) are often not allowed due to their tendency to crow and their aggressive defense of females. 

BABY CHICKS: For the first few weeks, baby chicks require extra help staying warm.  They should be kept around 100*.  Unless you're in a warm climate, you will most likely need to invest in a heat lamp. 


LIFESPAN & GROWTH: Depending on the breed, chickens can live as long as a dog, up to 15 years, although 7 years is more likely.  And they grow quickly.  Within a month your baby chick will resemble a full grown chicken and require a large pen.

5 week old Austrolorp chicks. 
[img source: Fowl Visions]

CAGES & PENS: Chickens are NOT indoor animals.  They require a fenced yard to roam (unless you're in a very rural area where there is very little traffic) and a coop to sleep and nest in.   A chicken coop needs to be sized so that it provides at least 10 square feet per chicken.  Cooped chickens should be allowed free roaming time in fresh grass too.
"...keep in mind that the less outdoor space they have, the more they will destroy the area they do have. Chickens obsessively scratch up the soil, peck at what they find, and scratch some more. They also dig holes for "dust baths". And they REALLY love to eat plants and weeds. Consequently, if their run area is small, they'll make a dustbowl out of it in a week." - MyPetChicken.com

Are you prepared to build or buy a coop?  Free roaming is great for some people, but in reality poses a great deal of danger to a pet chicken.  Possums, stray dogs, foxes, coyotes, stray cats... they are out there and they're hungry.   In a single evening, they can wipe out your pets, leaving nothing but feathers and a mess.  Providing a secure chicken coop can prevent these tragedies.

[img source: Chicken Coop Designs]
Care also includes providing proper bedding materials, litter materials, and warmth  on cold nights.  For in depth information about caring for backyard chickens, check out "Backyard Chickens for Beginners" over at Yahoo! Voices. 

POTTY TIME: I'm sure you know what bird poop looks like, so I don't need to go into detail here.  What I'd like to let you know about though is that baby chicks are usually carriers of salmonella.  This bacteria lives in the intestinal tract and usually works its way into the feathers and down of the chick.  When your child pets the animal, it transfers to their skin and without proper hand washing, your child will likely become infected.  Check out the CDC's website for more information.

EGGS:  Unfortunately, not many hatcheries divide chicks destined for Easter and spring impulse buys into sexes and you may not know which you have until several months in.  If you've bought a female, she will begin the process of laying eggs around 4 or 5 months.  Eggs need collected daily otherwise they will become covered in chicken poop, buried, or may be forgotten in tall grass... and man will you be sorry when you hit one of those with the lawn mower!

FOOD & VETERINARY CARE:  Just like owning a dog or cat, there are owners out there who never take their animals to the vet and feed their pets nothing but table scraps and the occasional nibble of hard-food... but those are agreeably irresponsible pet owners.  Chickens need proper feed, not just dried corn.  They are healthiest when they have continual access to fresh outdoor grasses where insects can be found on top of a diet of chicken feed.  Chickens can also become ill, the same as any pet, and will need to be seen by a veterinarian who specializes in poultry.  If you live in a rural area, this may be easy to find... but if you live in an urban area, this type of vet may be almost impossible to find. 

If you look at this list and decide that you'd like to delight your child for 2 weeks before diving into backyard chicken farming, then be my guest and pick up a few chicks.  However, if even one portion of the above list seems un-doable for you, put the fluff-ball back and opt for a box of marshmallow Peeps or a fluffy chicken doll instead.




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