Heavy Petting

The Mayor of Bunny Town

Pet rabbits might be just what the doctor ordered for a post-election boost

I’m sure I’m not the only one breathing a sigh of relief today that months of mailers, TV and radio commercials with an air of increasing urgency and conflict will screech to a halt now that voting has wrapped in the 2022 election. This column goes to press long before voting results arrive, but I submit we’re all ready for a break. Consider: bunnies.

If you’ve never had a bunny as a pet, you’re missing out. They’re quiet, unbelievably soft, playful and entertaining, and they are all about that vegan life.

I’ve had bunnies as pets at various points throughout my life, and they are wonderful company. Back when I was a farmer in Wisconsin, I had a miniature Rex named Butterball that would hang out in my office with me while I worked. He would sit right on top of my desk with some hay, occasionally hopping on my keyboard when he didn’t particularly care for whatever I was writing at the time. Having him around really calmed me down. Holding him did wonders for my blood pressure and anxiety, so in some ways, he was more of a health coach than a pet.

Rabbits are more than just excessively adorable and cuddly. They are also really fascinating creatures. Here are some things you might not know about them:

They can’t live on carrots

Cartoons suggest that rabbits can happily survive on a diet of carrots alone. But in the wild, rabbits don’t eat root vegetables — they’d much rather munch on greens like weeds, grasses, and clovers. That doesn’t mean you can’t give your pet some carrots as a snack from time to time, but don’t overdo it: Carrots are high in sugar and contribute to tooth decay.

Some rabbits can be as big as a toddler

Not all rabbits are cute and tiny. Some, like the Flemish giant rabbit, grow to be downright monstrous. This rabbit breed is the world’s largest, reaching 2.5 feet in length and weighing up to 22 pounds. Fortunately these giants are the gentle kind, which makes them popular pets.

Baby rabbits are called kittens (How cute is that???)

Nope, not bunnies, technically. Another word for the young is kits. Mature females are known as does while adult males are called bucks. Bunny, meanwhile, falls into the same category of cutesy terms as kitty and doggy — they’re not scientific, but everyone will know what you mean.

There’s some truth to the phrase “breed like rabbits”

Rabbits really are a busy bunch. A rabbit is ready to start breeding at just 3 to 8 months old. Once they reach that point, they can copulate eight months out of the year every year for the rest of their 9-to-12-year lifespan. A doe’s reproductive system doesn’t follow cycles; instead, ovulation is triggered by intercourse. After a 30-day gestation period she’ll give birth to a litter of about four to 12 kits. If you’re not careful, you could have an army of bunnies taking over your house!

Rabbits “binky” when they’re happy

If you spend enough time around rabbits, you may be lucky enough to witness one of the cutest behaviors in nature. A bunny will hop when it’s happy and do a twist in mid-air. This adorable action has an equally adorable name: It’s called a binky. And it’s glorious to behold.

They eat their own poop

I guess no one is perfect. After digesting a meal, rabbits will sometimes eat their own poop and process it a second time. It may seem gross, but droppings are actually an essential part of a rabbit’s diet. They even produce a special type of poop called cecotropes that are softer than their normal pellets and meant to be eaten. Rabbits have a fast-moving digestive system, and by redigesting waste, they’re able to absorb nutrients their bodies missed the first time around.

Like cats, rabbits groom themselves

Rabbits are remarkably hygienic. Like cats, they keep themselves clean throughout the day by licking their fur and paws. This means rabbits generally don’t need to be bathed by their owners like some other pets. Win win!

Their vision covers nearly 360 degrees

It’s hard to sneak up on a rabbit. Kind of impossible really. Their vision covers nearly 360 degrees, which allows them to see what’s coming from behind them, above them, and from the sides without turning their heads. The trade-off is that rabbits have a small blind spot directly in front of their faces.

Their teeth never stop growing

Ever heard the expression “long in the tooth?” Like human fingernails, a rabbit’s teeth will keep growing if given the chance. A rabbit’s diet in the wild includes a lot of gritty, tough-to-chew plant food that would eventually wear down a permanent set of teeth. With chompers that grow at a rate of up to 5 inches a year, any damage that’s done to their teeth is quickly compensated for. The flip-side is that domestic rabbits who aren’t fed abrasive foods can suffer from overgrown teeth that can make it difficult for them to eat.

Their ears are like built-in air-conditioners

A rabbit’s ears serve two main purposes. The first and most obvious is hearing: Rabbits can rotate their ears 270 degrees, allowing them to detect any threats that might be approaching from close to 2 miles away. The oversized ears also have the added benefit of cooling rabbits down on a hot day. More surface area means more places for body heat to escape from.

If you’re interested in having a bunny as a companion, stop by and check out the adoptables at the shelter. I promise you, the cuteness will pay dividends for years to come!

Jack Hagerman is the CEO of Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society.

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