Aussie vet says rabbits are not a good pet for young children

Why rabbits aren’t a good pet for young kids: Vet busts common misconceptions about owning bunnies – and why you shouldn’t feed them carrots or keep them in hutches

  • A vet has shared why rabbits are not easy pets and aren’t suitable for children
  • Dr Tim Montgomery, from Sydney, busted the myths around owning bunnies
  • He said rabbits should not be kept in hutches, fed carrots or regularly handled 
  • Dr Tim has seen multiple cases of rabbits dying after being suffocated by kids 

An Australian vet has warned parents against adopting rabbits for young children and busted the common misconception that bunnies are ‘easy’ pets. 

Dr Tim Montgomery, from Sydney, said rabbits are far more high-maintenance than many people realise and require a high level of care and attention. 

He said bunnies should not be confined to a hutch, can bite as they don’t like being handled, shouldn’t be fed carrots in high quantities and have some surprising similarities to horses. 

Sydney veterinarian Dr Tim Montgomery has revealed why rabbits are not suitable pets for young children and busted some common misconceptions about bunny ownership 

‘I will often have clients come in having recently purchased rabbit for their children assuming that they will be simple pets that are easy to care for which is not always the case,’ he said. 

‘A lot of people don’t realise how similar rabbits are to horses. I tend to call them little furry horses without hooves.’ 

Dr Tim said rabbits and children don’t always mix because of the animal’s aversion to being handled and he has seen some tragic incidents on the job. 

‘Whether you’re an adult or a child, if you see a cute rabbit the first thing you want to do is give it a snuggle or pat,’ he said. 

‘Unfortunately I have seen countless cases of rabbits that have been accidentally suffocated by children who just loved their rabbit too much which can be understandably devastating for everyone involved.’ 

As bunnies are prey animals, unlike dogs and cats, Dr Tim said they can feel threatened if handled and it may not be obvious to owners if their pet is in distress. 

Dr Tim (pictured) said rabbits are far more high maintenance than many people realise and require a high level of care and attention

‘They will sometimes ‘play dead’ or go into a trance when they’re placed in a vulnerable position such as being held on their back,’ he said. 

‘This means pet parents can think that their bunny enjoys being held on their back when in actual fact they find it extremely frightening and are essentially frozen with fear.’ 

They can also panic when being handled and bite children hard ‘without meaning to’.  

He said bunnies have complex needs and a similar dental make-up to horses.

‘People don’t realise how important a rabbit’s dental health is. Rabbits, like horses, and can die if their teeth are not looked after well,’ he explained. 

‘Many rabbits require regular dentistry under anaesthetic at a vet hospital in order to maintain their teeth.’

Seven common myths about keeping rabbits as pets

1. They’re good pets for children Rabbits are rarely cuddly – as prey animals they are nervous by nature and can bite or scratch when stressed. Building up a relationship with a rabbit takes time and patience and has to be on the rabbit’s terms. Children often lack this patience. 

2. They’re happy to be picked up/petted Rabbits are a prey species, so when they’re picked up their instinct tells them they have been caught by a predator, and they often react aggressively. Most good owners will only pick up the rabbits to check their health. The pleasure is in watching them display their natural behaviours.

3. They’re happy in small spaces Wild rabbits live in large underground warrens. When they are above ground they cover a large area each day. Pet rabbits need to live in an enclosure that is at least 3m x 2m by 1m high. They should never be confined to a hutch.

4. They’re happy living alone Studies show that rabbits value companionship almost as much as food. Watch a pair or group of bonded rabbits snuggling up together and cleaning each other and you’ll see exactly why it’s cruel to keep a rabbit on its own.

5. They’re easy to look after Rabbits should be cleaned out every day and given fresh hay and bedding. They can live for over ten years so that’s a lot of clean outs! They need annual vaccinations and can be very susceptible to medical problems, so expect visits to the vet!

6. They’re cuddly toys Children see a cute and fluffy rabbit in a pet shop and pester their parents to buy it. But as with their toys, children often lose interest quickly and the rabbit is abandoned or endures a miserable life alone in a hutch at the end of the garden.

7. They’re cheap pets Whilst pet rabbits are inexpensive to buy, caring for them isn’t. You’ll need a secure outdoor enclosure or good quality indoor enclosure as well as food, hay and bedding, neutering, vaccination and vet trips. Caring for a pair of rabbits over their lifetime can cost thousands.

 Source: Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund

Dr Tim added because rabbits aren’t as common as cats and dogs in Aussie homes and are banned as pets in some states and territories,  some vets are not confident in treating them so it can be hard for owners to find veterinary care.

The animal doctor dispelled some common myths about keeping rabbits and said they shouldn’t be kept in hutches or fed many carrots. 

‘Because of the Bugs Bunny cliché, they’re often fed large amounts of carrots which is basically KFC for bunnies – they’re high in calories and not very good for them in high quantities,’ he said. 

Rabbits need an enclosure that is 3mx2mx1m ‘at least’, giving bunnies the ability to roam from time to time and feeding them a diet of 80-90 per cent ‘high-quality green hay’

‘Wild rabbits live in large underground warrens, and above ground they can hop for kilometres each day, this means they can struggle when they are confined to a hutch.’

He recommended an enclosure that is 3mx2mx1m ‘at least’, giving bunnies the ability to roam from time to time and feeding them a diet of 80-90 per cent ‘high-quality green hay’. 

Parents who buy their kids a rabbit should be prepared for the responsibility of welcoming one into their home, Dr Tim said. 

‘I’ve been amazed on some occasions to meet children in the consult room who are very well informed and dedicated to caring for their pets but kids are kids,’ he said. 

‘They are easily distracted and may not be fully equipped to give their pet all they need for their whole life. This means parents should always be acting as the backup and supervising their child’s care of their pets.’

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