Easter pictures with bunnies, ducklings and chicks

This article is applicable specifically to photographers based in the United States. There are additional or specific laws and regulations for other areas of the world. Follow this link for information specific to Canada.

It’s that time of year again when little ones are getting their cute Easter outfits and clients are looking for spring portrait sessions. Also around this time of year my inbox receives notes from new photographers seeking advice on how to offer spring themed sessions.  I have five messages in there right now asking about portrait sessions with bunnies, chicks and lambs.

So how do you find a photographer doing these cute little sessions?  And photographers, should you offer these sessions?


  •  Live animals can frighten and startle at anything.  When frightened or startled they can bite and scratch.
  •  Tularemia  or “rabbit fever” is not pleasant at all.
  •  How would your child react if they accidentally killed or damaged a baby animal?  Baby animals are fragile. Kids drop things all the time. Rabbits are delicate animals whose spines can snap just from being held improperly. Their legs and ears can be broken or severely damaged without much effort at all. Stress alone can be enough to cause a rabbit to die of heart failure. Having an animal injured or dying during the session does not produce the best childhood experiences, or expressions for portraits.
  • Using live animals during a portrait session requires a permit. Your chosen photographer should be able to display and provide proof of that permit and licence.
  • Although fowl are not regulated the same way lambs and rabbits are, keep in mind that the legs and wings of chick can easily be pulled off and broken by a child.
  • Baby animals will make a mess.  They will poop and/or urinate in the portrait studio. The animal may be near your child when it does its business, or perhaps even sitting on his/her lap.  Just a heads up!

easter pictures with bunnies, rabits, chicks


  • Everything listed above as concerns for the parents.
  • Using live animals (mammals) in photography requires a license from the federal government’s USDA and most states. These are two different licenses which must be renewed each year. Here’s a link to get you started: Licensing and Registration Under the Animal Welfare Act
  • You may need to schedule an inspection of your portrait location by the federal government’s USDA offices in advance of your session, even if your state does not require a license or permit.
  • You may need a state or county level permit as well as your Federal permit.  Different states may have different licensing and inspection requirements in addition to the Federal requirements.
  • Some jurisdictions may require an animal behaviorist or veterinarian to be on location with you, or on call for the duration of your session.  Rates for these services will vary.
  • What does your insurance provider cover?  Would you be covered if you or your business were taken to court over an injury from a lamb, rabbit or chick?
  •  PETA actively engages in looking for these activities during the year, especially on Facebook. They have successfully lobbied the  now closed large photography studios like Sears, JCPenney and Olan Mills to stop the use of live animals.  They can and do look for images online that photographers and clients post and call to check licensing. It’s very simple to check on the current license – I called this week just to check and see how it’s done!
  • How will you manage sanitation and the smell in the studio? Even a few baby chicks smell. They dirty up their cages with alarming speed, and require bedding changes regularly just to keep the stink at a manageable level, let alone keep the mess out of their fluffy, downy feathers.
  • If you are scheduling your session outdoors, how will you keep the baby animals safe and warm?
  • The window for which to attain images of a child with a baby chick or duckling is very, very small. Timing is essential because these tiny babies grow very fast!  You’ll have to schedule the sessions and delivery of your chicks carefully in order to get them when they are 2 days old.
  • Babies are babies.  They need lots of rest.  You cannot expect to have one chick in your studio and pass it from child to child all day long – this could harm the chick.  You will need to have more than one animal available.  Keep the animal’s best interests in mind.
  • These animals are considered more ‘exotic’ pets in many jurisdictions, and they do require special care.
  • Often baby animals require warming lamps to stay alive, since they don’t have their fur/feathers yet.
  • What’s will you do with the baby animals after the portrait sessions?
  • How will you deal with animal death on set? How do you dispose of the dead animals? Death can happen due to fear, loud noises, accident, dropping, falls, crushing, kids tripping etc.
  • How will you deal with a child contracting illness from the animals? How will your clients deal with the same?
  • Will your business insurance cover being sued by a parent of a child who is traumatized by killing an animal, or by contracting an illness? Does your insurance cover working with animals? What does your insurance say you need to do if someone is injured in your studio? Who is liable?
  • Does your building building code cover working with animals? Do your local builsing, HOA, or county regulations allow you to have animals on your set? If so, under what circumstances?
  • Do you need running water, a heat lamp, a cage, clean bedding material every three hours, an animal handler, a vet certification to ensure they have less communicable disease?
  • How do you plan to time the chick hatching so that the 3-4 days that the chicks are cute and fuzzy happens right during your shoot?
  •  How will you deal with PETA or other animal right groups who make a point of verifying whether photographers have the right paperwork? What will you do if you become the focus of an animal right advocacy campaign?


We’re pet owners ourselves (in fact our two fluff balls are often seen at the studio) so we know how important it is to include pets in our family portrait sessions. Families who would like to include their family pet in their home based and on-location portrait session are always welcome to do so and will be asked to sign an additional liability waiver and to assist us in adhering to some basic guidelines in order to maintain everyone’s safety. After consideration of all of these points above, we have concluded that our studio will not offer portrait sessions with live animals.

We do have some really adorable Easter and spring themed sets featuring soft, fluffy and adorable little props, like the one pictured here.  Watch here next month when we announce our spring themed sessions.

Edited March 27, 2014.  In addition to the links above here’s a link to the document you will want to consult.  I’ve screen grabbed the relevant sections of the document below, just to make it easier to find and read.

rabbits and chicks in photography

rabbits and chicks in photography

  • Doris Dozois

    I personally prefer photos with large flowers, picket fences, petals to pick up, baskets, egg roll (lol the game) and sorry but Easter Bonnets are the sweetest….just a Grandmas perspective. ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer Hartwell

    Oh my gosh… I didn’t even recognize Bethany in this picture!!! She looks beautifulReplyCancel

  • Amanda Park

    Very interesting. Definitely won’t do this 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Tanya Jennings

    Don’t forget, some kiddos have severe ALLERGIES of certain animal dander that can put them into respiratory distress!ReplyCancel

    • Very good point Tanya!

  • Nicole Jacques Wood

    There is nothing wrong with this and it is a choice by parents. I know two photographers who do this and it has been amazing every year. I am a photographer to and do not only because I have a bunny allergy. Lots if parents love this and with the right photographer, they are amazing. You can get some of those diseases from dogs and cats… Lol ReplyCancel

  • Matthew Wolcott

    I checked with the USDA, I own a photography studio and got an email almost word for word on this article… Anyway saying that my company has been reported… and they would shut me down… So I decided to contact them… they laughed so hard and said there is no license unless I am purchasing the animals for keeps… We borrow bunnies from a breeder who is regulated, and the chicks are donated to a local farm. I think the pictures are great for parents and to remember Easter, funny how you see all these articles on how much danger it puts a child in, but the don’t even background check the person that applies for the Easter Bunny job in the mall, our kids could be sitting on a pedafiles lap…. TALK ABOUT DANGER!!! I understand PETA’s belief and respect them, but in return they need to respect our belief too, I don’t send them information on how harmful not eating meat can be to your digestion system, or can cause serious vitamin deficiencies… All up in our business….lolReplyCancel

  • Danielle

    Matthew Wolcott, just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD. If you are thinking of the animals and children’s welfare, and not just the $$ in your pocket, let me ask… Are the baby chicks kept under a heat lamp while at your studio? Do you know they have to maintain warmth or can die? Do you have a person there dedicated to keeping the animals safe and instructing on safe handling? Obviously the photographer noted above, who allowed a bunny to be thrown, did not have safety measures in place. The logic someone above shared on cats and dogs having “these diseases” is skewed. Chickens, even baby chicks, are livestock and carry salmonella and other diseases. People who own them understand safe handling. You are truly putting children in danger for getting seriously sick by introducing baby chicks into your studio. They may be cute… But it won’t be so cute to see an infant laying in a hospital bed all for the sake of a contrived Easter photo. Can you not come up with something more creative and safe to offer clients? There is a huge liability and it is not just about animal bites.

    If you, or parents care to do any research, the cdc says implicitly
    “Don’t let children younger than 5 years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry.
    Don’t snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live baby poultry.
    Don’t let live baby poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.
    Don’t eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
    Don’t give live baby poultry as gifts to young children.”
    Here is the link: http://www.cdc.gov/features/salmonellababybirds/?mobile=nocontent

    Why do you think the mall has a person dressed up in a costume and not live bunnies or chicks? Do you think they are willing to take on that liability? Why would you be willing to put children at risk for a photo? Lacks common sense. People need to research. It also should be said that parents may enjoy seeing their child holding a bunny, throwing a bunny, whatever… But why should the bunny or chick have to deal with a child mishandling or hurting it?
    Again, all it says to me, and many others, is that you care more about the money in your pocket than safety.ReplyCancel

  • Danielle

    Also, Matthew, this has nothing to do with PETA. It is simple common sense. Many people believe in animal welfare and do not belong to PETA. Again, very simple common sense. Refer to the cdc website, who I am pretty sure are not members of PETA. Who cares whether or not you need a license? Does it matter if you KNOW that you are willingly putting a child’s health at risk? It is our job, as “professionals”, to conduct our business professionally, ethically and educate clients on safety. It is very similar to the trend of photographing babies in glass jars. Just because you can does not mean you should. One could argue that if the client is stupid enough to let a photographer do it, then they should deal with the consequences. I don’t agree. We have a responsibility to uphold the standards of the professional industry. We should NEVER strive to get a great picture at the expense of our clients. Shame on these so called professionals.ReplyCancel

  • […] reading my recent post about the use of bunnies, chicks and ducklings (or other animals) in portrait sessio…I’ve had several people in Canada contact me asking if I had any information about their local […]ReplyCancel

  • Angela Ritter

    Nonsense! I’ve done live animal portraits for 11+ yrs never one death or harmed animal nor one sick child! If you don’t want to offer the portraits- dont! Leave it to the pros who do. It’s no dif than petting zoo, and its not illegal. ReplyCancel

  • Angela Ritter

    Not pros? Gimmicks to get business? WOW!!!! You have zero grounds for those kind of accusations. You’re simply trying to drum up business an attention with such stupidity Stop worrying what everyone else is doing and worry about your own businesReplyCancel

  • The comments you have made directly toward me, about this topic after I called out the apparent bluff, you are forcing your ideologies on people…. The truth is, just because you think that animal cruelty is going on, doesn’t mean that it is… The animals are well taken care up during their two week stay at the studio. Great cages, new shred every night, new water and food every 5 hours, heat lamps, the whole nine yards…. And as far as the dangers or children, how many kids do you have??? because I have 5, and understand what danger is to children, and also understand that its people like you that make every little thing into a big thing, such as God in schools, or not offering tofu in the high schools… Its also your sort of crazy people that end up taking apart the very fabric that this country was woven out of, did you never go outside and play, have you never caught a frog, do you really want to be so protective of a child, that you want nothing ever to happen to them… Because if thats the case, nothing will…. I simply stated that we called the USDA, we wanted to do everything by the book… and they literally laughed at us, asked us where we got the bunnies, then told us there was no license needed…. The ducks and chicks are having the time of their lives, and afterward get to live out there lives on a farm…. What is so bad about showing a little one these animals???? I wonder if you would have the same appreciation and respect for animals if your parents had shielded you from contact??? Shame on you for not allowing our little ones the same joy and respect that you have… Where did you learn it from???? From exposure…. shame….ReplyCancel

  • David Wooddell

    Matthew – Kat’s post was not pointed directly toward you. She was making a spa statement on studio and client safety. Do what you want, but no name calling, please. Keep it classy, people.ReplyCancel

  • F. Musicman

    Some people treat animals as props, as things, as thought they don’t matter as long as the photographer gets to use that critter, and then abandon it, like a piece of cast-off stuff that comes in bubble-packaging from the store. Animals don’t come in plastic. They live and breath, and have rights under the law. They are not things to be sent to the recycling center. They are living creatures. Kat’s post is a reminder that when you involve other creatures in your shoot, you have an ethical, and legal responsibility to know the law, and you must respect the living creatures in addition to the humans who are involved in making the photograph. Nice work, Kat Forder.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda Brown

    Could you share where you got your fake bunny? It looks great!ReplyCancel

  • Larry Cannon

    Do go to kilgore tx or tyler txReplyCancel

  • Tracy Wright Rowell

    I just called USDA, it’s the number that is listed on the link from above. The lady said that I am except from needing a permit or license based on the “de minimus” rule meaning that because I am only using a small amount of animals & only doing it 1 time a year, I am exempt. She also acted as if she has answered my question many times before.ReplyCancel

  • Angel Trinidad Sierra

    What is the number tho ?ReplyCancel

  • Julie Hunter

    The comments on this article are ridiculous. For those of you who’ve done it for years without issue, consider that not everyone who owns a camera is as responsible as you’ve been. I haven’t researched this personally but I’ve never been a fan of using a live animal as a prop. Family pets are just that, family. They are a part of the portrait.ReplyCancel

  • Amy Freeze

    Good thoughts. I have been looking into the usda liscense but they are difficult to get info from on the specifics. WE have a small farm and I want to do both photos with bunnies,, etc and we have been asked about setting up a mobile petting zoo. I finally had to breakdown and give the isda my name, etc on thier website so they would send me info on it. I tried goign to the local agriculture cooperative extention office to see about local permits and they coudln’t help. this can be very fustrating!
    But I really enjoy taking the pis, so it will be worth it!ReplyCancel