Potential owners looking for a pet that is cute, fluffy, and friendly, and which does not require a large space or regular walks, might well consider a rabbit. "Rabbits are popular; not only are they cute and affectionate, they are also clean and quiet,'' says veterinarian Dr Gillian Hung. The breeds of choice include the dwarf, angora and lop, largely due to their smaller size and docile nature.
"My key advice for people considering getting a rabbit is they need to understand that it is a long-term commitment, as rabbits live for around seven to 10 years,'' Hung Says. ''Rabbits also need daily care, so potential owners must have time to dedicate to their pets, enough space for housing, and finances for daily necessities and veterinary care.''
Another consideration is whether there are other pets in the home. ''Potential owners need to assess if the rabbit will get along with other pets,'' Hung says. ''Rabbits can be very timid, and are unlikely to be happy [if they are] being chased around by a barking dog.''
Rabbits need a cage large enough for a sleeping area, and for activity. It is important to ensure good ventilation and that the space does not get too warm. ''Rabbits do not cope well with temperatures over 28 degrees Celsius,'' Hung says. If the rabbit is allowed free range, make sure to rabbit-proof the space, which includes leaving no electric cords to chew and no toxic plants. For bedding, use wood or paper shreds, and provide a litter tray, water bottle and food bowl - all of which have to be changed and /or washed daily.
Rabbits should be fed a diet of 80 per cent Timothy Hay to which they should have access at all times. Additionally they should be provided with one small bowl of fresh, dark leafy greens each day.
"Commericial pellets can be given, but no more than a teaspoon per day as they tend to be high in calories and easily lead to obesity,'' Hung says.
Fruit treats can be given in small doses. ''High fat and sugary treats should be avoided, as well as toxic foods such as chocolate, garlic and onions,'' Hung says. It should be noted that coprophagia (eating dung) is a normal behaviour in rabbits, and the droppings, as any gardener will tell you, are high in nutrients.
Rabbits can become bored, so provide the animal with something to play with, such as a sturdy plastic toy, cardboard tubes or boxes. ''Also give them space to roam around and exercise,'' Hung says. She suggests bonding with the rabbit by brushing its fur, something that long-haried breeds require daily. Additionally, ensure the rabbit has enough hay to chew on. Rabbits often have dental problems, however. ''They have teeth that continually grow, and a high-fibre diet - for example, hay - is essential to help keep the teeth short,'' Hung says. ''Overgrown teeth can lead to abscesses, fragile jawbones and tear-duct infections.'' Other health problems include upper-respiratory infections, the symptoms of which inclue sneezing, nasal and eye discharge.
Treatment can be frustrating because symptoms can recur, Hung says. Other problems can be a result of poor hygiene and husbandry, which can lead to skin irritations, such as urine scald and hock sores. Neutering rabbits reduces the risk of reproductive cancers and infections.
''Rabbits are fun pets to have, but they are not low maintenance,'' Hung says. ''If there is any sign of disease, rabbits should be taken to the vet as soon as possible, because ill rabbits can deteriorate very quickly.''
Potential owners can pick up a rabbit from one of the several pet-adoption centres in Hong Kong, Hung says. ''[It is] always a better option [than] buying them in a pet store,'' she says.