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High-rise hares: Keeping rabbits in apartments

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Susan Kent loves rabbits. Over the last fifteen years, she’s had four, including Monty, the 8-pound English Angora rabbit who presently makes his home with her. But Kent has neither house nor yard. She and Monty coexist happily in Kent’s small, Greenwich Village apartment, right in the heart of New York City.

Rabbits make excellent urban pets and are a great option for people without a lot of space,” she said. “They're intelligent, affectionate, social and totally quiet. If you have room for a cat, you have room for a rabbit.”

Rabbits thrive in the city? Who knew? “Rabbits are actually happier and calmer indoors,” Kent said.

Many of the species we’re now familiar with are not native to America and don’t do well outdoors. City bunnies are safe from extremes of temperature, and are not potential prey for cats, dogs, raccoons or the occasional fox. And, according to Kent, rabbits are very tidy. They will naturally designate one area of their cage or enclosed space as a bathroom, making it easy to clean up after them. Given their natural inclinations, it’s not hard to teach them to use a litter box. Kent recommends caging the rabbit when it is alone, but otherwise allowing it a designated space in which to move around.

Other urban rabbit owners agree. Quoted by Mark Hawthorne in satyamag.com, Craig Youngberg of Chicago said, “Rabbits are a great urban pet because they do not have the timetable restrictions that dogs or cats have. As they graze all day long, we leave enough food out in the morning so we do not have to be home at a specific time to feed them dinner.” And Brian Zulaf, who shares his Portland, Ore., apartment with two rabbits, adds, “I think that if rabbits were better understood they would become the most popular urban pet…They are most active in the morning and evening when people are home from work. Most of their bad reputation is the result of improper care from humans.”

Below are some of Hawthorne’s and Kent’s tips on how to keep an urban bunny happy:

  • Do choose a small- to mid-sized breed, weighing from 3 to 8 pounds.
  • Don’t bring a rabbit into a household with children under eight.
  • Do spay or neuter rabbits; not only is this essential for the rabbit’s health, it also cuts down on unpleasant behavioral traits, like marking with urine, digging, and fighting, all associated with sexual aggression.
  • Do provide your rabbit with safe objects to chew: untreated pine, phone books, cardboard boxes, paper bags and/or rabbit toys.
  • Don’t let your rabbit chew on electrical wiring, cords or houseplants.
  • Do protect your rabbit in hot weather. Wild rabbits can burrow underground for relief, but house rabbits have to depend on their guardians when temperatures climb. This can be a challenge in some cities, where living spaces might not have air conditioning or when an oscillating fan isn’t enough. Consider a portable air conditioner, which costs about $300 and will keep one room cool.
  • Don’t let your bunny get bored. Offer new toys in a rotation system every 10 days or so, and every month, introduce one new toy.
  • Do make sure you have transportation to a veterinarian who treats rabbits.
  • Do obtain permission from your landlord if you are a renter.
  • Do adopt a rabbit from a shelter or a rescue organization; it saves a life and cuts down on rabbit breeding.

Space-starved apartment dwellers would do well to add rabbits to their list of preferred pets; love is just a hop and a thump away.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D>
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