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to breed or not to breed your rabbit

We all know there's nothing quite as cute as a litter of baby bunnies. The desire to let your rabbit breed "just once" before neutering is a great temptation. But it is a temptation that the informed rabbit "parent" must resist if s/he really does love his/her rabbit and have the rabbit's best interest at heart. Here are just a few of the reasons NOT to breed your rabbit.

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Rabbit Overpopulation

Although a well cared-for rabbit can live 10 to 12 years, the majority of each year's "Easter Bunnies" die before they reach their first birthday. Most of these deaths are due to neglect or ignorance of proper care, but many rabbits are simply turned over to animal control once they have grown up and "stopped being cute." A great number are abandoned in parks where the owners mistakenly believe they'll be able to fend for themselves. They can't. Most rabbits released into the "wild" do not survive their first night, since they are in an unfamiliar, frightening territory and don't know where to hide from predators. The few that manage to survive for a while are invariably picked off by dogs, cats and other predators, are hit by cars or succumb slowly to malnutrition or disease.

Please remember that although you may understand that a rabbit is not a disposable plush toy, the vast majority of people buying them in pet stores have no idea about the commitment necessary to properly care for a rabbit. Do you really want your beloved companion's babies to end up as discarded toys, sentenced to an early death?

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Rabbit Abuse

Many people who allow their rabbits to breed feel it's completely safe and acceptable to sell the babies to pet stores. They believe that the babies will find people who will care for them as lovingly as they care for their own rabbits.

Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. A tiny percentage of the rabbits sold in pet stores may survive the first few months. Most of the others will not. Pet stores do not check the intent of the purchaser, and if the rabbits are sold inexpensively (as most non-purebred rabbits are) they are often sold as snake food. A terrifying death awaits these unfortunate rabbits.

Those who aren't sold as snake food or pets eventually outgrow their baby cuteness and are usually given to a breeder who is unlikely to use the rabbit for more breeding, since his/her heritage is unknown. More likely, the bunny will end up on someone's dinner plate. Rabbits sold as pets often are abandoned by the time they are five to eight months old, since that's when the sex hormones begin to cause the rabbit to exhibit destructive adult behaviors (digging, spraying, aggression). Spaying and neutering the rabbit will solve this problem, but most rabbits are never given the chance to show that they can be exceptionally intelligent, sensitive and loving companions. They are simply discarded.

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The Danger of Cancer

One study found that unspayed female rabbits have greater than an 80% chance of developing uterine and/or ovarian cancer by the age of three years. As the bunny ages, this risk continues to increase. By leaving your female rabbit intact, you increase her risk of cancer every day: the longer she has her uterus and ovaries, the greater the chance that they will become cancerous.

In addition to the danger of cancer, gestation, birth and raising a litter take a very large toll on a doe's health. In the wild, rabbits live only one or two years. Breeder rabbits, which often are forced to raise three to five or more litters a year almost never live beyond the age of four years.

In contrast, our spayed and neutered house rabbits live an average of seven to 10 years. The record for longevity is 18 years! Your rabbit's quality of life and lifespan can be increased tremendously if you have him neutered/her spayed. Spay/neuter will also allow your rabbit friend to have rabbit companions without the stress of constant sex drive, and will reduce destructive behaviors such as carpet chewing, digging and spraying.

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A No-Win Situation

A few people hope to make money by raising rabbits. The brutal truth is that it is impossible to raise rabbits properly (i.e., with the rabbit's health and care in mind) and actually turn a profit. The only breeders who make a profit are those who engage in huge-scale commercial breeding programs, in which rabbits live in unpleasant, cramped conditions and are usually sold for slaughter. Simply stated, if you give your rabbit the veterinary care and diet he or she needs and spend the proper amount of money on adequate housing, food and care you simply CANNOT make money raising rabbits.

The general rule of breeding rabbits is no different from the situation found in puppy and kitten mills: if the breeder is making a profit, then the animals are not receiving adequate care.

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A rabbit is a social, intelligent animal. S/he needs companionship, proper diet and proper housing to be healthy and live a long, happy life.

Your rabbit needs the social interaction it gets from YOU, as well as from the other members of your household--human or not.

Your rabbit needs a balanced diet consisting of fresh grass hay, lots of fresh, raw, varied vegetables, a bit of fresh fruit and a small amount of good quality commercial pellets (strictly limited!) for digestive health.

If your rabbit must live in a cage while you're not home to supervise, remember that s/he needs a cage at least 36" x 36" x 36" for small breeds (up to five pounds) and larger for large breeds. The bunny should be able to stand on his/her hind legs inside the cage, and have plenty of room to run around. The cage must be supplied with toys and clean, safe feed and water containers. Even with a large cage, a rabbit must get at least 4 to 5 hours of free running time per day outside the cage, in a safe, human-supervised environment.

Before you give in to the temptation to breed your rabbit, remember that you'll need to find homes to provide all of the above for four to fourteen babies! Are you sure you can find those homes? If the answer is "no"--and if you're honest with yourself, you know it will be--then please don't contribute to the overpopulation of rabbits. Have your companion rabbits spayed and neutered. It's best for everyone.

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For More Information

For more information, and for referral to a veterinarian who is an expert in rabbit medicine, you may call or e-mail one of Rabbit Rescue's volunteers or visit the home page of the House Rabbit Society. A link to veterinary referrals in all 50 states, Canada and Europe is listed on the first page. Please DO NOT allow a vet--however wonderful s/he is with dogs and cats--to treat your rabbit if s/he is not well-versed in the specifics of rabbit medicine. It could be fatal to your rabbit!

For more information on rabbit care, please refer to The House Rabbit Handbook by Marinell Harriman. It is available at most major bookstores. If your bookstore does not carry it, please ask them to order it for you: ISBN 0-940920-12-3.

by Dana Krempels, Ph.D.

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