Think twice before adding a live animal to your Easter basket!

Think twice before adding a live animal to your Easter basket!

By Cindy McGovern

Sure, it’s adorable; an Easter basket with a baby rabbit, chick, or duckling peeking out.  Who wouldn’t want one?  Well, once the novelty and initial cuteness wear off, many people. According to the House Rabbit Society, rabbits are the third most commonly surrendered animal to shelters (after dogs and cats).  Unlike with dogs, behavioral reasons didn’t rank high as a reason for surrendering rabbits. Instead, rabbits were surrendered because the owners were unable or unwilling to care for them.

While statistics on chicks and ducklings are harder to find, the increase in backyard chickens has led to shelters taking in more than in the past.  According to the American Humane Association, the majority of baby chicks given as Easter gifts will suffer and die from lack of proper care and stress within a few weeks of the holiday. In other cases, as the animals grow, they are neglected in backyard pens or released outside where they die from predators, starvation, or exposure.

Does that mean that these animals can’t be part of your family?  Of course not; they can all make wonderful, loving pets.  But before you adopt one, or especially gift one, do your research and understand each animal’s unique needs and ensure the proud new owner is able and willing to provide it for the life of the pet.  And, if that’s not the case, consider a chocolate bunny or marshmallow chicks instead.

Rabbits

A domestic rabbit’s average life span is eight to 12 years with many living into their teens.  Even with this, rabbits are considered to be more delicate and fragile than other pets. They don’t often tolerate being held closely and carried, and may respond by struggling or scratching. They must also be picked up and handled carefully to avoid injury to their backs and legs.  As a result, they may not be a good fit in a household of toddlers or small children.

Rabbits don’t require annual vaccinations but regular checkups can help detect small problems before they become big ones. Common health problems include dental abnormalities (incisor overgrowth and molar spurs), gastrointestinal problems, and ear and upper respiratory infections.

Rabbits should also be spayed or neutered once they reach sexual maturity (about four to six months of age). This not only reduces hormone-driven behaviors such as lunging, mounting, spraying and boxing, but also protects females from uterine cancer, which occurs in more than 50 percent of mature rabbits.

While rabbits can have free run of the home, it’s usually best to start with a space they can call their own.  It can be an exercise pen, a large dog crate, a bunny-proofed room, or a very large cage or condo. Make sure that there’s a litterbox in the corner of the space that your rabbit chooses for a “bathroom,” and place additional litterboxes throughout the home.

Rabbits love to chew and electric cords, furniture, and ornamental plants are very tempting, dangerous, and expensive chew toys. Be sure to provide your rabbit with appropriate toys and ensure you rabbit proof the home.

Rabbits are social animals, with distinct personalities, who thrive on attention. If you do decide to adopt, consider a bonded pair or trio. Boredom and depression are common symptoms of loneliness in rabbits. These are accompanied by destructiveness and hyperactivity in some rabbits (generally the smaller breeds) and withdrawal in others.

Finally, as with any decision concerning a companion animal, consult your veterinarian on the proper nutrition, handling, and care of your rabbit.

Chicks and Ducklings

While rabbits can and should be kept indoors, both chickens and ducks require both indoor shelter and outdoor exercise areas. Ducklings also require a safe location for swimming. Many cities consider chickens and ducks to be livestock rather than pets, and they may not be permitted in residential areas.  Finally, research different breeds of chickens and ducks to be sure you are choosing one that you can properly care for throughout its life.

Chicks

Chickens are not the easiest of pets to own. They have specific housing requirements, require a specific diet, and need to be handled in a specific way.  Chickens are sociable creatures, so plan to keep three to six birds. They need a brooder where they can run around but also be protected from other animals.  One medium-sized chicken needs at least three square feet of floor space inside the coop and 8-10 square feet outdoors. The more space, the happier and healthier the chickens will be; overcrowding contributes to disease and feather picking.

Just like rabbits, chickens can live long lives; up to 16 years.

Another important thing to remember is the potential risk for Salmonella that chickens bring with them. Young birds—chicks included—often carry this harmful bacterium. Some chicks infected with Salmonella show no signs of illness, making it difficult to know whether a pet chick has the disease or not. Exposure can happen from kissing, cuddling, or simply holding the birds.

Ducklings

Ducks are hardy, inexpensive, and easy to care for. They can live up to 20 years and make gentle and amusing pets.

But remember, ducks are not “house” pets and are not suited to indoor living. Ducks need minimal shelter outside but should have the option of getting out of the rain, sun, and wind if they choose. For up to four ducks, a good sized dog house is sufficient shelter.

Ducks are also social animals who get along very well with each other and seldom fight. They are not solitary creatures and will become depressed and lonely quite easily; which will make it difficult for them to survive or thrive. They are also highly intelligent and emotional.  They can understand commands, play with toys, play games, give kisses, and beg for snuggles like other birds. If handled frequently and gently from an early age, ducks will become quite sociable with people.

Cindy McGovern is a long-time pet owner who currently resides with Bella, a gorgeous Siberian cat.

Resources

https://rabbit.org/

https://www.petassure.com

https://www.petassure.com/new-newsletters/helpful-tips-when-giving-pets-as-easter-gifts/

https://www.avma.org/

https://www.humanesociety.org/

https://www.cdc.gov/Features/SalmonellaPoultry/

https://www.americanveterinarian.com/news/chicks-as-easter-gifts-advice-for-clients

https://www.forthebirdsdvm.com/pages/care-and-feeding-of-pet-ducks

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