When my husband was a little boy, every year he looked forward to the live colored baby chicks that were brought by the Easter Bunny.  These chicks were cute, especially dyed blue or pink, but as hard as a young boy tried, the chicks invariably died in 2-3 days.

Even today, one can still find chicks for sale at various feed stores during the early spring.  Pet stores promote their bunny sales at Easter, and retail stores have been known to give away rabbits to children as part of their Easter promotions.  Purchasing or accepting these young animals at Easter time is usually a heartbreaking mistake.

Chicks and rabbits, no matter how young, are living, breathing, feeling creatures who do not deserve to be used for a few days to as disposable toys for young children.  If you are tempted to give in to a child’s excitement over a young rabbit or chick, be prepared to adopt this pet as a member of your family.  If you cannot make this commitment, then do not give the gift of a live animal.

It is not legal to keep farm animals in many neighborhoods and subdivisions.  Chicks are considered farm animals.  So, if you truly want a pet chicken, be sure to check your neighborhood regulations.  Contact a farm animal veterinarian about the medical, physical and exercise needs for chickens. 

So, how about rabbits?  If the whole family has discussed the pros and cons of having a rabbit as a pet, then several facilities should be scouted before purchasing a bunny.  The history of the animal should be obtained.  Avoid pets that were bred several states away and trucked to the pet store.  These animals are weakened and are more likely to carry disease.  The Charleston Animal Society often has rabbits available for adoption. Adopting a rabbit in need of a home provides a child, not only with a new pet, but also a lesson about caring for the less fortunate.

Rabbits can make a nice alternative to a dog or cat.  They are usually not aggressive, they don’t require long walks, and they can be trained to use a litter box.  However, their life span is a bit shorter than a dog or cat (5-10 years) and they do reproduce, well, like rabbits.  (Do not trust the pet store employee’s guess about sex and never put 2 rabbits together until you and your veterinarian are sure of their sex.)

Charleston’s climate is not suitable for domestic rabbits to be kept outside.  They are very sensitive to heat stroke and anything above 80 degrees can be dangerous. 

Plan ahead for exercise and housing needs before you decide that a rabbit is for you.  Obesity is a big problem with rabbits that get little exercise.  They need daily, supervised exercise in fenced grassy areas (keep lawn chemicals off these areas) or in a safe room in the house.  There are harnesses and leashes made specifically for rabbits that enable you to exercise them safely inside and outside.  Rabbits should never be allowed to run around the house unsupervised.  They love to chew on carpets and furniture and for some reason they love electrical cords.  As you can imagine, serious injury can occur if they bite into a cord.

In between exercise sessions you will want to confine your rabbit.  There are lots of cages made for rabbits, but most of them are ridiculously small.  Be sure you get one that has both wire and smooth flooring because constantly sitting on wire causes foot sores.  There should be a hiding place and room for ceramic food and water bowls.  Feces should drop through a wire mesh or there should be a litter box available. 

Once you have decided that you can handle the exercise and housing requirements for a rabbit, you need to think about feeding.  Timothy hay is the key to longevity and health for a rabbit and should be available at all times.  Highly concentrated pellets should be kept to a minimum for adult rabbits.  Small amounts of alfalfa, grass and clover are a nice treat.  Dark green leafy vegetables also can provide nutrition, moisture and variety to the diet but they should not comprise more than 20% of the diet.

Rabbits need to chew to control their ever-growing teeth.  Some dog toys such as Nyla-bones are fine for rabbits and most pet stores offer wood chew sticks for this purpose.  If they are not adequately shortening their teeth, then a trip to the veterinarian is warranted for sedation and proper filing of these teeth

Rabbits cannot be declawed, so instead you must learn how to handle your rabbit properly so he doesn’t scratch you.  Their sharp nails can be trimmed.  You cannot pick up a rabbit by his ears and his back legs must always be supported.  It is important to have your veterinarian show you and your children how to safely handle the rabbit.

While rabbits can and do make great pets, buying one as an Easter treat should be carefully considered.