Make an informed decision before buying an Easter pet

Baby bunnies quickly grow into adult rabbits, which can live 8 to 12 years.
Baby bunnies quickly grow into adult rabbits, which can live 8 to 12 years. (©istockphoto.com/ mediaphotos)

Q: Our kids are campaigning for some kind of Easter pet this spring. What’s your opinion of rabbits, chicks or ducklings as pets for children?

A: Baby chicks and ducklings are among the cutest critters on the planet. But, adorable as they may be, getting them as pets is not a great idea — for the kids or the animals — for many reasons. Not the least of which is salmonella infection: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions that humans can get salmonella from handling chicks and ducklings, and children are the most susceptible. While no deaths have been linked to exposure to live poultry, the diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps caused by salmonella can lead to hospitalization. Not the way you’d want to spend your Easter vacation!

Tiny chicks and ducklings are fragile, and many die quickly because people don’t know how to care for them — or because well-meaning children injure them while playing with or hugging their new pets. The ones that do survive grow up to be adult birds, requiring specialized care and maintenance, and they may live five years or more.
Since most of us don’t live on farms, or where zoning allows homeowners to keep poultry, what happens to these birds when they’re no longer cute, downy babies? The ASPCA notes that thousands of chicks and ducklings are simply abandoned every year to fend for themselves or die. Suburban animal shelters and sanctuaries generally aren’t well-equipped to take in or find homes for all those unwanted chickens and ducks.
So, rather than getting a chick or duckling as a pet, stick with stuffed animal toys or Peeps marshmallow treats. And maybe help your kids make a holiday donation to an aid organization like Heifer International, which provides poor children and families around the world with gifts of live animals and training to help them become self-sufficient.
Rabbits can certainly make great pets, but they’re not for everyone and may not be suitable for younger children. As the Humane Society of the United States says, cute baby bunnies “grow up quickly into adults that will need proper socialization, care and companionship for many years.”
It’s not uncommon for pet rabbits to live 8 to 12 years, almost as long as cats and dogs live. Before getting a rabbit, do your research: find out about the care and feeding requirements of rabbits before you bring one home, and be aware of the length of your commitment to this pet. The House Rabbit Society website is a great source of information.
The website onegreenplanet.org reminds us that rabbits aren’t toys, and baby bunnies are fragile and easily injured. Rabbits are sociable and shouldn’t be expected to spend their lives in cages. In order to thrive, they need daily love, petting and playtime in a safe indoor playroom or an area of the yard that’s protected from predators, including family dogs and cats. Daily care also includes providing appropriate food, fresh water, clean bedding and grooming — plus routine veterinary check-ups.
Sadly, rabbits are the third most frequently surrendered animals populating shelters (behind cats and dogs). But that also means there are many rabbits waiting in shelters for someone to adopt them and give them a good “forever” home.
Happy Easter!