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If you’re looking for a family pet that will keep your kids hopping, a rabbit may be the perfect choice. "Rabbits can make exceptionally good pets for children," says Bruce Coston, a Virginia-based veterinarian and author of "The Gift of Pets." He adds, "They are generally good-natured, not aggressive, seldom bite, and can be trained to interact very well." With the right care and attention, a rabbit can be a playful, caring pet for the entire family.
Rabbits may seem jumpy and energetic in grassy fields, but with careful training, they can be just as loyal, calm and obedient as dogs or cats. "I have rabbit patients who are as interactive as dogs or cats, are litter-box trained, come when they’re called and playful,” says Coston. Devote ample time to training with incentives, since rabbits are intelligent pets and respond well to treats and rewards. When pet rabbits obey a command, indulge them with their favorite snack.
Just as you schedule medical checkups for your children, make sure your rabbit visits the vet periodically, too. "They should have careful and frequent parasite screens and should have ringworm ruled out, as some of the internal and external parasites may transfer to people," says Coston. "Rabbits also hide their illnesses very well, so they should have veterinary intervention as soon as symptoms are observed rather than waiting like one might do with a dog or cat."
When adopting a pet rabbit, teach your children how to properly handle the animal, says Dr. Karyn Collier, chief medical officer of St. Francis Veterinary Center in Woolwich Township, New Jersey. "Rabbits that are handled frequently from a young age become acclimated to being handled and are more enjoyable pets," she says. "Care must be taken to support the rabbit’s back when being handled to prevent a vertebral fracture which can occur if the rabbit kicks or thrashes about."
To prevent further injury, it may be best to have smaller children play with rabbits on the floor or in a pen, says Dr. Susanne Saslaw, veterinarian at Wickford Veterinary Clinic in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. "Rabbits shouldn’t be picked up by little children, as they can injure the rabbit's back or legs," she says.
Not only do rabbits like interaction with people, they also model ideal eating habits for their owners. "Since they eat a variety of vegetables, children can easily assist in feeding their pets and learn the value of eating vegetables," says Saslaw. Although many stores sell rabbit food, you can easily feed your rabbit homemade meals and ensure he is getting needed nutrients. Line his pen with grass hay, grasses and garden weeds at all times, and feed your newfound pet a variety of fresh vegetables. Leafy green vegetables -- such as cabbage, spinach, cauliflower leaves and kale -- as well as carrot and radish tops are suitable for your child’s pet rabbit.