Although many classrooms have "resident" bunnies, experience shows that
these rabbits have a very short life span. Rescue groups across
the country receive many calls during each school year from teachers
wanting to "replace" a young (1-2 year old) classroom rabbit who has
died; by contrast, a House Rabbit who is part of a loving family can
often live 8-12 years. While our focus as animal rescuers is primarily
on what is best for the bunnies, we also recognize that the death of a
classroom pet is a traumatic experience for children.
While children as well as adults are often drawn to rabbits and they
are common in classrooms, we encourage you to consider the following
facts about rabbits that make them a poor choice for a classroom pet:
- Rabbits are easily stressed and do best in a quiet
environment - few, if any, classrooms fit that description.
- Rabbits have small, fragile bones. They can be
severely injured by unintentional mishandling. Rabbits
have been known to break their backs struggling to escape
from an inexperienced, but well-meaning, caretaker.
- Rabbits do not normally like to be picked up.
Hawks and owls are their natural enemies, so rabbits
have an instinctive fear of being lifted off the ground.
A frightened rabbit is likely to bite or scratch a child
(or adult) who tries to pick him up. Teachers and school
officials should consider their potential liability for
injuries caused by the rabbit as well as their
responsibility for the animal's well being.
- Rabbits need to be approached slowly, quietly,
and confidently. An even better approach is to allow
the rabbit to approach the human for attention. Children
are naturally enthusiastic and tend to approach rabbits
quickly, reaching their hands into the cage suddenly.
Depending on the individual rabbit's personality, this
will either traumatize him or cause him to "protect"
his territory by lunging at (and perhaps nipping) the
child. Once they realize the rabbit is more likely to
hide or struggle than cuddle with them, children
typically lose interest in the rabbit.
- Rabbits need a primary caretaker with whom they
will bond. They can become frightened, lonely, and
depressed if separated from their caretaker. A rabbit
who is left alone in a cage in a dark classroom can
literally "die of a broken heart". Classroom rabbits
who rotate to different homes on weekends and over
summer vacations will likely become fearful and insecure.
- Rabbits require consistent daily exercise in a
safe, bunny-friendly environment. They love to
(literally) get "under foot". When a bunny is out
playing, it is important for adults and children to
move carefully and always watch where they step to
avoid stepping on or kicking the bunny.
- Hay is the most important part of a rabbit's
diet. In addition to considering whether students
might be allergic to the rabbit itself, teachers much
also consider the possibility of allergies to hay.
- Rabbits are not "low maintenance" animals.
Their diet should include a variety of fresh produce
and they have very delicately balanced digestive and
immune systems. Changes in diet, daily routine, or
human interactions can upset this balance. Stress
is a common factor in triggering illness in rabbits
- and a classroom is a stressful environment for
rabbits (and humans)!
- Rabbits are susceptible to many human diseases
and are masters at hiding illness. Their primary
caretaker needs to be deeply attuned to their normal
behavior and to pick up on subtle changes in behavior
that signal illness. Seemingly minor symptoms can
escalate into life-threatening emergencies in less than 24 hours.
- Rabbits are considered "exotic" pets. Treatments
commonly used for cats and dogs, such as oral penicillin,
can be deadly to rabbits. Because they require special
training, good rabbit veterinarians may be difficult to
find, farther from your home, and more expensive than
- Rabbits reach sexual maturity at four to six
months of age. Sexually mature rabbits will exhibit
behavior that is inappropriate for children.
Aggression, "mounting" your arm, and/or spraying
urine to mark territory will diminish after the rabbit
is neutered or spayed. However, surgery will be more
expensive for a rabbit than for a cat and it will still
take several weeks for hormonal behavior to disappear completely.
What happens to a classroom rabbit at the end of the school
year? Often they end up at the animal shelter. If the
purpose of a classroom pet is to teach children about
responsibility and care of another living creature,
consider the lesson this actually teaches: pets are
disposable and responsibility is something you can
walk away from when it becomes inconvenient.
Instead of a "resident" classroom rabbit, an approach
that has been successful across the country is for
teachers with rabbits as part of their own household
to take their rabbits to the classroom for occasional
visits (always returning home at night). These short
visits provide an opportunity to teach children care
and respect for animals without placing undue stress
on the rabbit. By choosing a time when both rabbit
and children are healthy and by carefully supervising
all interactions, these visits can be enriching for
Another option is available for teachers who are
not ready to make a rabbit part of their family.
Many rescue groups will come into a classroom and
conduct a seminar about rabbits and rabbit care.
Some have programs that allow your class to "sponsor"
a rabbit in foster care. The class might receive
a picture of the rabbit along with its history.
Members could help provide food and toys for the
rabbit they are sponsoring and even work to help
find the rabbit a good home. This approach
encourages the children to share what they have
learned about rabbits with friends and family
members, possibly making a positive difference
for many rabbits in your area.