Yep!  It’s that time of year again!  EASTER!  And, along with this holiday every year comes the question, “Will you have live bunnies?”  I can hear the exasperation in the parent’s voices when I have to tell them no, but there is a reason.  Actually, here are 12 REASONS why I do not offer this service:

1. The use of a live animals (mammals) in photography requires a license from the federal government’s USDA. See compliance under Licensing and Registration Under the Animal Welfare Act.  Different states may have different licensing and inspection requirements as well, however, even if it is just one animal, a license from the USDA is required, regardless of State requirements.

2. A part of the permitting and licensing process includes an inspection by the federal government’s USDA offices. This is mandatory, even if your state does not require a license or permit. The inspectors may also be required to be present during the photo session. If any animal is hurt, injured or killed, the fines are serious and they can ban the photographer from actively doing business permanently.

3. Animals are often brutalized by pulling, choking, squishing, yanking and being sat upon by little clients. This is obviously no fun for the little animal.

4. Rabbits are delicate animals whose spines can snap just from being held improperly and their legs and ears can be broken or severely damaged without much effort at all. Although fowl (chicks, ducks, geese, etc) are not regulated, keep in mind the legs and wings of chicks can easily be pulled off and broken by a child who does not know how careful to be. Some rabbits become so stressed they will die of heart failure right on the spot. Having an animal injured or dying during the session does not produce the best childhood expressions to capture.

5. Animals often panic when handled by children; a frightened rabbit or chick can bite and scratch, causing lacerations, deep scratches and puncture wounds to your clients children. These can lead to infections, skin rashes and other diseases.

6. Bunnies and chicks can carry diseases such as Salmonella which can be devastating to small children. Here is a link for signs and symptoms of Salmonella.

7. Tularemia or “rabbit fever” is even more dangerous. Check the link for signs and symptoms of Tularemia.

8. PETA actively engages in looking for these activities during the year, especially on Facebook. They have successfully (and rightfully) lobbied the largest photography studios like Sears, JCPenney and Olan Mills to stop the use of live animals. PETA is on the look out for photographers who post questionable images and will call, check licensing and file complaints against the photographer. It’s as simple as calling the USDA and asking if a photographer is licensed. Individuals can also report animal cruelty on PETA’s website. Whether it’s relating to photography sessions or not. No animal deserves be to abused, neglected or mistreated, even if accidentally.

9. PPA, Professional Photographers of America, the largest association of photographers in the world, takes the stance that animals must be treated ethically and according to law.  The industry widely does not accept the use of animals and is considered rather non-professional as a photographer.  (Please note there are many photographers who appropriately use and photograph animals.  I am specifically discussing the inappropriate, unlicensed use of animals for Easter portraiture here).

10. You can be sued for injuries, infections and damages that occur to anyone in the session.  Don’t forget some people may have allergies or asthma, too!  Animals can be triggers for serious allergy and asthma attacks, including anaphylaxis, which can cause death.  I personally have to carry life saving Epi Pens and so does one of my children.  It’s not a fun experience.

11. The shoot can become quite haphazard if your little clients are chasing bunnies and chicks. That means you are chasing your client. This, along with the frustration of the child because the animal is not cooperating, the frustration of the parents because the child is not cooperating and the frustration of the photographer because NO ONE is cooperating is not conducive to the best shots ever. Plus, editing out scratches on the face and body parts of your client is an added workload.

12.  Feces!  Animals can leave droppings everywhere.  On your little clients, on their new Easter clothing and on your backdrops and props.  EWWW!

Often, you will see photographers in parks around Easter, using “live” animals as part of their sessions or appointments.  Family pets may be incorporated into photographic sessions without a license. But, the pet owner must be the person/people being photographed. There must be an established pet ownership relationship. For example: The photographer may not sell a pet to the client for the length of the session and then have the client sell the animal back. It must TRULY be the pet of the client.  They can not be rented animals, either.  Also, simply completing a setup in which the animals are not handled is not in compliance either. A license is required even without anyone handling the animal.

While there are legal and health related issues for not using live animals, in general trying to capture the images of so many activities is time consuming and difficult, when it doesn’t have to be.  There are plenty of very real looking props that can be purchased if you would like to incorporate an animal look into Easter sessions.

There are also MANY great photographers out there who absolutely CAN provide you with amazing images for your family. Please check that they are licensed, well educated and authorities on working with animals.

Please report any animal abuse to your local authorities, local humane society, PETA (report to PETA link), your State Department’s of Agriculture or the USDA. Each locality and state will have different ways of dealing with this. Usually a pretty hefty fine, often in the thousands, and jail time if the abuse is repeated or severe. The USDA can be reached at 844-820-2234 and complaints can be filed at

To see if your photographer is licensed according to the Animal Welfare Act, you can go to the USDA – APHIS databank.

While there are legal and health related issues for not using live animals, in general trying to capture the images of so many activities is time consuming and difficult, when it doesn’t have to be.  There are plenty of very real looking props that can be purchased if you would like to incorporate an animal look into Easter sessions.

*************************2018 UPDATE**************************

On 02.14.2018 I called and spoke with the USDA today.  They confirmed the following with me via email on 02.16.2018 and after review of my article asked that the following information be provided:

“A USDA license under the Animal Welfare Act is required for anyone using a regulated animal for a regulated activity.  Here is a link to the USDA webpage focusing on the Animal Welfare Act. You may review the information at at page 15 under Promotional Exhibits.”

At page 15 of the link above, the last sentence of the following paragraph best applies:

  • Promotional Exhibits—Anyone who uses regulated animals to promote or advertise goods and services must be licensed. (If you give away or sell animals as a prize, you must be licensed as an exhibitor.) You must be licensed even if you do promotions with only a single animal, such as a bear at a gasoline service station, a monkey at a trade show, or an elephant at a shopping center. You also must be licensed if you use animals to promote photographs or photography.

There are some cases in which you will not need a license, you can give the following information to your Aphis East or West representatives and they will review the information to see if

you are eligible to NOT have a license:

How many animals will you be using?

Who owns the animals?

Will you have a professional handler?

What will you be doing with the animals?

How often and for how many days or weeks will the animal be used?

Where will the animal be used? How many locations?

How will they be transported?

However, this is important to understand…. either way, you have to apply to see if you need a license or not.

To see if you can opt out of licensure, you may email for East of the Mississippi River and for West of the Mississippi River. Phone number for East is 919-855-7100 and for West is 970-494-7478.

Photographers, feel free to SHARE this article, but plus notify me of use at I recommend posting a reminder to clients before your Spring Sessions begin each year. By use of this article you agree to post by linking only. Partial edits or any other edits or excerpts are not allowed for any reason. Article must be presented in full by LINKING and crediting to Marcelle Raphael, Fine Art newborns with a link to You may not claim this article as your own. 

Originally published February 2, 2012 © by Shuttermouth | Southern Belle Studios | Marcelle Raphael. All Rights Reserved. Please email me at marcelle@fineartnewborns with notice of your use as copyright is strictly enforced. If notification is not made, please note you risk DMCA removal. Thank you.

New this year, I am reopening comments to this article.  In 2012 after the first publication of this article, I actually received threats of harm to me and my family from photographers who did not agree with my statements above (um, yeah, that’s really professional).  If your comments are abusive to me or any other comment author, you will be deleted.