Many people already know that chicks, ducklings and rabbits make for bad Easter presents.
As adorable as they are, these animals are often returned or abandoned quickly when children lose interest in caring for them. Small animals can also be injured when handled by children who don’t understand how to safely hold them properly or who may be startled by an animal moving or scratching them.
But even when attention spans stay strong, caring for a baby rabbit, chicken or duck often poses greater challenges than expected.
Dr. Jane Kelly is president of the Utah Veterinary Medical Association, director of the Central Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and a professor at Utah State University, and she has professional and personal experience handling these animals.
When it comes to ducks, she even raises her own — and she doesn’t recommend them without preparation and significant outdoor space.
“Remember, they do need a pond or other water source to be happy,” Kelly said. “And those ponds tend to get messy and muddy. They’re not ideal for people with pristine lawns and lovely flower beds.”
Like chickens, ducks love eating from vegetable gardens. Both can bring noise complaints from neighbors, become distressed without a fellow chick or duckling, live up to 10 years, and have fragile bodies that are easily damaged by overenthusiastic children. And while ducklings at least seem like they should be safe near water, that assumption can also lead to traumatized human children.
“Just because they are ducks doesn’t necessarily mean that they cannot drown,” Kelly said. “The mother duck teaches ducklings safe ways to enter and exit bodies of water.”
Even with the mother around, a wooden plank may need to be placed in the water to make exiting the pond possible.
Would-be Easter bunnies pose similar challenges.
“Rabbits should be handled with care and held properly to prevent accidental fracture of the spine,” Kelly said. “The hindlimbs should be supported so that they cannot kick out backwards.”
Biting and scratching can also be issues, especially in the uncomfortable grip of a young child.
Disease is also a concern.
“Ducklings and chicks have been associated with salmonella outbreaks, so care must be taken if young children or immunosuppressed people handle birds,” Kelly said.
While salmonella more often spreads through food than contact with animals, the risk is still there, and chicks and ducklings can be infected but asymptomatic.
Rabbits come with different issues. Wild rabbits are highly susceptible to tularemia, and the disease can spread via aerosols from dead rabbits as well as flies and ticks. Tularemia rarely affects people, but it’s a serious threat to rabbits.
While rabbit hemorrhagic disease has only been in North America since 2018, it can also be a concern for anyone with pet rabbits. Humans can’t catch the disease, but it’s lethal to both wild and domesticated rabbits, and it can survive on clothes, shoes and other surfaces, making it easy for humans to accidentally spread the virus — with consequences for pets and wildlife alike.
It is possible to provide a good home for chicks, rabbits and ducklings with preparation. Good nutrition, regularly cleaned and disinfected cages and containers, proper living space and fresh water changed daily can go a long way to keeping animals healthy. By quarantining new and sick animals, disease can be controlled when it occurs.
For human health, always wash hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after handling animals. Don’t let chicks, ducklings or rabbits wander the house, and clean animal dishes and containers outside, not in the kitchen.
And please, watch the cuddles.
“No matter how cute the bunnies, chicks and ducklings are,” Kelly said, “do not kiss them or put them near your face.”
As for children who are not yet ready to care for demanding pets, not only are there chocolate and marshmallow animals to be enjoyed, but meaningful animal experiences as well.
“A gift certificate to a zoo, aviary or aquarium makes a fantastic gift for children interested in birds and animals of all types,” Kelly said. “For a young child, a day out with family learning about animals is a treasured thing.”
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