Cats and dogs are carnivores which means they need to eat meat. The more cats and dogs we own the more meat we feed them. In NZ there are currently about 2 million domesticated cats and dogs (one carnivorous pet per 2.4 people). Animal production (farming sheep, cows, chickens, pigs) has a range of environmental impacts, from converting land to pasture, nutrient leaching into water ways, extracting water for irrigation, pollution of water sources with microbes, nutrients and pesticides, heavy reliance on fossil fuels and release of greenhouse gases. Our cats and dogs and the livestock needed to feed them adds up to about 25% of the greenhouse gasses (methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide) released each year.
In contrast, a rabbit doesn’t eat meat so their contribution to greenhouse gasses is limited to the fossil fuels used harvesting and transporting food (grains and hay). As vegetarians rabbits have a much smaller carbon footprints than meat-eating dogs and cats, and what’s not to like?
Ten more good reasons to choose a bunny:
1) Indoor rabbits are easily house-trained.
It’s easy to train a domesticated rabbit to use a litter box so it can range freely indoors. You-tube has many clips that provide advice, but it’s common sense if you know a bit about rabbit behaviour. Our male rabbit was house-trained in one day when he was about 8 months old and still able to reproduce (we haven’t had him de-sexed-spayed/neutered). We put a card board box with straw down where he did his first wee and he came back to the same corner for the second. Then we moved the box to where we wanted it and he returned to the box. Each time we clean out his toilet box and put in fresh absorbent material (newspaper, straw, sawdust etc). We add a little of the old box paper/straw to carry a bit of smell across that is detectable by rabbits but not usually by people. In nature, rabbits choose one or few places as a latrine and indoors this is usually in a corner. If their cage also contains a litter tray then cleaning out the cage is very quick and easy. Our rabbit has an outdoor cage and comes into the house when we are at home, especially in the evening, which is normally an active time for rabbits (crepuscular).
2) Bunnies are quiet and friendly. Keeping pets is good for human mental health and there is even research suggesting that it helps children develop into independent people with self-control and high self-esteem. Rabbits provide these benefits plus they are friendly on the environment and do not bite small children and they do not bark. Every year a number of household dogs cause injury to people, and in New Zealand about 500 people every year seek hospital treatment for dog bites. Domesticated rabbits don’t attack people (except the Rabbit of Caerbannog).
3) Safe for wildlife. Domestic bunnies don’t attack native animals like small birds, skinks and wētā, all of which are known to be killed by domestic cats. Keeping an indoor rabbit gives you the pleasure of a warm, gentle furry animal without the anxiety of its after-dark activity.
4) In NZ rabbits have no fleas or lice. In its native range (Spain & Portugal) the European rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus has its own species of flea (Spilopsyllus cuniculi) and in Australia rabbits are infested with local fleas (Echidnophaga myrmecobii), however rabbits in New Zealand are usually free of fleas and other ectoparasites. It is possible for a house-rabbit to catch cat or dog fleas but this is not common. The lice and mite species infesting rabbits in Europe and Australia do not seem to be present in New Zealand so our pet rabbits are free of these troublesome biters – which means healthy happy pets and no flea bites on you.
5) Low odour. A house-rabbit has a slight smell of hay, but even when damp he has very little odour. Compare that with your favourite pooch. Even when freshly washed a wet dog can smell bad due to the stinky volatile compounds released by the microbes (fungi and bacteria) that live on the fur of the dog. While a dry dog likes to roll around in smelly places a dry rabbit likes to wash his ears.
6) Their fur is very soft. All rabbits have very fine soft fur (down hair makes up about 95% of their fur and these follicles are 14–16 microns in diameter). Angora rabbits have particularly long fur which has been used for spinning yarn.
7) Rabbits can be taken out for walks with a harness (for your exercise). Rabbit can be taken out for a walk on a leash if they are happy to wear a harness. You will have to do at least as much exercise as your rabbit because they will not fetch a ball or stick, and they probably will not walk at heel. But it’s nice to be outside in the fresh air stretching your legs and exploring the smells and dandelions.
8) Cheap to keep. Bunnies don’t need lots of space outside and expensive cages. Your house rabbit can be brought inside to bounce around and then sleep in a basic hutch outdoors. Food can be dandelions, grass, some vegetable peelings and hay or dry rabbit food from a shop. You don’t need to register your rabbit or have regular vet bills. In New Zealand it is good to get your bunny vaccinated for rabbit hemorrhagic virus.
9) Low hair shedding and low alergenic. Many people get hay fever from their pets -usually caused by flaking skin cells and the saliva attached to then from cats and dogs. Some people will also have allergic reactions to rabbits, but short-haired bunnies are often suitable. Because they shed little fur, house rabbits do not result in lots more house work.
10) They are warm and cute. As mammals, rabbits are endotherms so are warm to touch. With their big ears and big eyes, they fit our perception of “cute”. Each bunny has his/her own personality.