PETALING JAYA: With the Chinese New Year marking the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit, an animal that symbolises beauty, elegance and good fortune, many have decided to purchase them as pets.

These animals are not cheap with the three most popular breeds – the Dwarf Hotot, Holland Lop and the Netherland Dwarfa – costing between RM150 and RM250 each.

However, pet shop owners have expressed concern that the rabbits would be abandoned once the novelty of having them wears off, and when owners realise it is a long-term commitment. Many are not aware that the animal can live for up to 10 years.

Independent rabbit rescuer Wong Pui Yen said she received many applications from those keen to adopt the animal. However, she has put adoptions on hold to reduce the possibility of them being neglected.

“To adopt a rabbit from us requires patience as we will filter potential adopters beforehand to enable us to know whether they would go a step further when taking care of these animals.

“Adopting is different from buying pets at stores as they don’t require any filtration of adopters. Most people would choose to buy rabbits where screening is not needed.”

Wong said many pet stores often mistreat rabbits by confining them to small glass cages with limited space to hop around.

“This often leads to bone and joint issues that will later worsen as the animal ages,” she said, adding that this was one of the main reasons why owners abandon the rabbits as they could not afford the veterinary treatment cost.

“It is an ongoing cycle of abandonment. People must realise that pets are like family. We don’t abandon a sick family member.

“In this Year of the Rabbit, we are expecting more abandoned and abused rabbits to turn up,” said Wong.

Two local pet stores said the number of rabbits purchased at their stores is significantly higher than in other years.

Nilufar Pet and Aquatic employee said rabbits are high-maintenance pets that require a lot of space and attention.

“Many people believe rabbits are domesticated animals and are suitable as pets. However, when they realise this is not true, they would confine the animals to small cages with limited space.

“This will lead to all sorts of problems for the animal, such as malformed feet and hind legs. There is also the risk of the animals fighting.

“Owners should know, just like any other pets, rabbits need proper space to exercise.

“Our rabbits are not spayed as some owners want to breed them. It is up to them whether they want to spay their pets.”

He said as the number of rabbits sold has increased, he hopes the owners would take good care of them.

He advised those who want to purchase a rabbit just for its symbol of good fortune to reconsider their intention.

“These animals need a large play area with lots of toys, and should not be confined in cages.

“Having a pet is a life-long commitment and responsibility which does not end after the Chinese New Year celebration,” he said.