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Year of the Rabbit

Dr. Gary Weitzman

Special to the Village News

At San Diego Humane Society, animal sheltering is about more than just cats and dogs. The organization cares for a wide range of animals including neonatal kittens, senior dogs with medical needs, horses and pigs, baby hummingbirds – even bobcats, bears and a resident pygmy hippo.

This year in particular, the spotlight is shining on small pets. According to the Lunar New Year, 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit. Last year alone, more than 550 rabbits were adopted from San Diego Humane Society. These fantastically floppy-eared friends make wonderful companions for adopters willing to meet their unique needs.

Although most folks think of rabbits as soft, quiet pets, they also come with plenty of intelligence and personality. Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box, come when called and even run agility courses! And there are few things quite as cute as a rabbit "binkying" – the term for a happy rabbit's tendency to jump and twist in the air.

What often surprises people most about rabbits is that they generally do not enjoy being held – so, despite their fantastically soft fur, they are ideal for adopters who aren't really looking for a lap pet. But just like dogs and cats, rabbits often welcome affection from their humans and communicate through body language. By understanding the care that helps rabbits thrive, adopters can enjoy a wonderful companion for years to come.

Fred and Gray are two bunnies with very different backgrounds who are now spending the Year of the Rabbit in loving homes. Fred, a mature Florida White rabbit, was found as a stray by San Diego Humane Officers and spent more than 365 days in care. Although Fred's background is unclear, he was extremely fearful of humans and had never learned to use a litter box. Fred needed time and patience, and San Diego Humane Society was committed to giving him the second chance he deserved.

Fred was placed in a foster home where, after a week of one-on-one attention, he no longer felt threatened around human hands. Once he slowly grew comfortable, this sweet boy enjoyed having his head scratched. Given time, he also learned to use the litter box! With patience and love, Fred gradually grew into a calm and collected bunny and – after more than a year – he was finally adopted.

Gray is a sweet, 1-year-old American rabbit who was surrendered after being the class pet at a preschool where she delighted children every day. When the preschool permanently closed, San Diego Humane Society was able to give Gray a second chance. She spent time in the on-site nursery, where caregivers fell in love with her sweet spirit and mellow temperament. Luckily, she was adopted within two months. Her new family is experienced with bunnies, and she even has a new fur sibling (and a human one, too)!

This year, hundreds of rabbits like Fred and Gray will have a brighter future. In addition to finding loving homes for rabbits, San Diego Humane Society offers services to keep owned rabbits in the community healthy and safe, including vaccines, microchips and vouchers for spay or neuter services. To learn more tips about caring for pet rabbits, visit

Facts about rabbits

Weight: 2 to 20 pounds, depending on breed

Lifespan: 7 to 10 years

Fun facts: Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box, come when called and even run agility courses.

Rabbits make wonderful companions for savvy adopters.

Most rabbits don't enjoy being held, so pay attention to their preferences. If they don't enjoy being handled, only pick up your rabbit when it is necessary. Support their hind legs so they don't kick out and injure themselves.

"Bunny proof" your home and provide supervised exercise time to prevent rabbits from chewing on furniture and electrical cords.

Rabbits need space to make at least three hops. An indoor 4 ft. by 4 ft. exercise space is the minimum recommended size.

Just like dogs and cats, rabbits show how they are feeling with their body language. Don't approach a rabbit who is lunging, thumping or grunting.

Pet rabbits should be spayed or neutered and vaccinated against Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Type 2 (RHDV2) once each year.

The Continental Giant, a descendant of the Flemish Giant, is the world's largest rabbit, weighing in at 16-20 pounds.

Dr. Gary Weitzman, DVM, MPH, CAWA, is an author, veterinarian and passionate animal welfare advocate. He has served as president & CEO of San Diego Humane Society since 2012.


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