Bunnies as Therapy Animals: An Overview Guide2022-05-11
When most people think of therapy animals, their mind immediately goes to dogs. While dogs can make great therapy animals, service dogs, or even emotional support animals, they're not the only species that can positively affect humans who need it.
Rabbits provide the same warm-and-fuzziness you get from dogs in a much smaller package.
Their size and lower maintenance needs make them an excellent option for people who can't necessarily care for a dog full-time, and they're easy enough to transport to use in therapy sessions as needed.
Here's everything you need to know about bunnies as therapy animals, from their most prominent benefits to the laws surrounding therapy bunnies and the complete registration process.
Benefits of Therapy Bunnies
Therapy animals provide a host of benefits to their handlers, and these benefits may vary depending on what each person needs. However, bunnies as therapy animals, in general, can offer impressive benefits in a tiny, compact animal.
Some of the most notable benefits you'll enjoy with a therapy bunny include:
Small and Light
Bunnies are tiny and lightweight animals, much smaller and lighter than most dogs. Therapy dogs tend to be larger breeds, so this is an excellent option for someone who wants the same benefits but can't handle such a large animal or would prefer something a bit smaller to hold in their lap.
Their size and weight make them incredibly convenient to travel with, whether via air travel or hospitals and clinics. Some people who need these animals are weak or disabled, and rabbits are much easier to hold than a large dog.
Rabbits are one of the most low-maintenance pets you can keep around. Unlike dogs, they don't require long walks, outside breaks, or large spaces to roam.
They only require a clean cage, a bit of litter, food, water, and attention. Some people with full-time animals for therapy can't provide what dogs need, so this is an excellent way to still enjoy the benefits of a therapy animal without all of the commitment.
Rabbits live for a long time, sometimes even more than ten years. If someone is looking for a long-term therapy animal, this is it. Rabbits may even outlive large breeds of dogs that are often therapy animals.
Loving and Warm Personality
Bunnies are known for their loving and warm personalities, which make them such great pets. Good therapy rabbits are fond of people, aren't scared or aggressive, and often enjoy being held and cuddled. Their sweet nature provides a lot of emotional support and relief for those who need it.
Some people may not necessarily know this, but rabbits are very trainable!
Rabbits have instincts similar to cats when using a litter box, and they do well in response to positive reinforcement. Offering treats as a reward for accomplishing tasks can help reinforce the behavior, and some can even teach them tricks!
One thing that's hard to avoid with dogs is the inevitable barking. Even quiet dogs can get riled up when a mail carrier comes to the door, but rabbits are always quiet.
Their peaceful nature is helpful for those startled by loud noises or would simply prefer a quiet therapy animal.
Rabbits are incredibly affordable and accessible animals that are easier to come by than trained therapy dogs.
They don't cost a lot and don't cost anything to train, which means more people have the means to get this kind of therapy animal if they need one.
Laws Surrounding Therapy Bunnies
There aren't any federal laws or regulations surrounding therapy bunnies other than recognizing Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) as a conventional type of therapy.
However, anyone who wants to get or train a therapy rabbit will need to meet the criteria of whatever certification organization you go through.
Therapy Bunny Qualifications
Therapy bunny qualifications can vary depending on the organization, but the most common criteria include:
- Trimmed nails
- Clean fur
- Friendly demeanor around humans
- Overall healthy
- Comfortable in new, unfamiliar environments, often with loud sounds
- Litter trained with no chance of accidents
- Wears leash and harness well
However, if you hope to register your therapy bunny as an emotional support animal, they need to meet no training or certification criteria.
The bare minimum requirements are that the rabbit is not a nuisance at home or aggressive in public. Aggression in rabbits is uncommon, but they need to have a calm demeanor when approached by people.
At home, not being a nuisance is qualified by simply providing more comfort and care than requires work.
One common misconception about rabbits as emotional support animals is the assumption that they are protected by law to accompany their handler in public places or wherever they go.
It's quite the opposite. ESA bunnies have very minimal protection under the law. They are not recognized as service animals by the ADA, so they don't have the legal rights that service dogs have.
Emotional Support rabbits are only protected during air travel and in the handler's housing. When traveling with an ESA bunny, you'll need to share your documentation that verifies ESA status.
How to Register Your Therapy Bunny
There are two different processes to register a therapy bunny and an emotional support bunny.
Therapy Bunny Registration - Step 1 of 1
To register a therapy bunny, you'll need to follow the guidelines set forth by the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO). This global association published a paper with recommendations for programs that use AAT.
Most people use Pet Partners in the US, the nation's largest and best-known nonprofit that registers animal handlers in AAT. Pet Partners' guidelines include an online handler's course, a signed form from a vet verifying good health, and an in-person team evaluation that involves various real-life scenarios that a therapy rabbit may encounter.
ESA Bunny Registration - Step 1 of 1
On the other hand, to register an ESA rabbit, first, you need to connect with a licensed mental health professional who can verify whether you would benefit from an ESA. They should be able to provide you with an official letter detailing their recommendation for an emotional support animal (in your case, a rabbit) that you can use to protect yourself and your ESA when flying or in permanent housing.
You may need to get this letter renewed each year. However, it doesn't need to be with your regular therapist or psychologist, as many people don't have one. You can use our online services to connect with a licensed professional and get the ESA letter you need to make it official.
A therapy bunny or emotional support bunny can be a great way to feel the love, connection, and warmth of an animal while enjoying the mental health benefits they provide.
Bunnies aren’t like dogs or cats when it comes to ESAs. Learn the rules and regulations above so you can have a protected and happy relationship with your fluffy friend!
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