Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Let the Easter Bunny Remain a Mystery

Pet Column for the week of April 15, 2011

Related information:

Related site - Exotic Pet Care at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital
Species - Exotics

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Andrea Lin
Information Specialist

Like the tooth fairy and Santa Claus, the Easter bunny is a mythic figure in childhood, a traditional part of springtime fun. Unfortunately, too many parents give in to the temptations to bring home a real live bunny (or chick) along with the bright plastic eggs, pastel candies, and plastic grass in baskets.

The truth is that every year these animals turn into unwanted pets shortly after Easter. The lucky ones end up at a humane society, and the unlucky ones are neglected or dumped.

"When an animal is given as a surprise gift, the recipient may not be prepared or knowledgeable about how to take care of this new pet," says Dr. Mark Mitchell, a veterinarian who sees exotic pets at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. "This message should be extended year round: pets should be planned, not spontaneous acquisitions."

In regard to bunnies and chicks, Dr. Mark Mitchell points out that most people do not realize how long-lived rabbits and chickens can be. When kept as pets, the average rabbit can live 10 to 15 years and a chicken can live 5 to 15 years. Just like cats and dogs, these "Easter" pets require a commitment of time and money to be properly cared for.

In addition to this, chickens may be subject to zoning restrictions. For example, chickens are not allowed to be kept as backyard pets in the city of Champaign, but are allowed in Urbana.

Before taking a pet into the home, several issues must be determined. Who will provide daily care for the animal? If it will belong to a child who isn't quite able to take care of it yet, the pet will become the parent's responsibility. Has everyone in the household agreed to having the pet? Make sure there are no allergies or aversions, or children too young to be around the pet safely. Where will you purchase food and other materials for proper husbandry? Do you know which veterinarian you'll see for health management?

There are many resources for the prospective pet owner seeking an understanding of the basic husbandry needs of a given species. Clubs and interest groups for specific animals ranging from dog and cat breeds to all of the exotics are great places to learn more and get advice. And animal shelters and rescue groups are great places to acquire your new pet once you select the species that's right for your family.

So please consider the welfare of the animal when you think of acquiring a new pet on a whim, not only when you see those cute bunnies and chicks at Easter time but throughout the year.

Let's keep the long-term commitment of owning a pet separate from the one day celebration of a seasonal tradition. The shelters bracing for the annual influx of rabbits and chickens will thank you. And the kids will be just as happy getting a visit from an unseen Easter bunny.