Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Essentials: Rabbit Proofing

Rabbits are not meant to be kept pent up in a cage their entire lives. They need to be able to run around and explore a large area in order to develop intellectually, physically, emotionally, and socially. While keeping your rabbit in dog cage or a large rabbit cage is a good idea when you're gone at work or sleeping, rabbits need to be let out to roam and explore for a few hours daily.

As we know, rabbits are curious creatures. It's almost as if they have a sixth sense which they use to seek out trouble. If there's something they shouldn't get into, they're going to find it.

However, there are some easy things you can do that can not only save you money, but more importantly, your bunny's life.

Electrical wires, telephone cords, computer cables: Rabbits love biting into a good electrical wire. It's got the perfect texture; maybe it's a similar enjoyment as
we have with chewing gum. Either way, if wires are exposed, there's a good chance they will get gnawed through. Electrical wires are doubly dangerous because depending on the amount of voltage contained inside, your rabbit could be shocked to death.
The easiest thing to do is move your furniture in a way so that the wires are blocked. Other options include covering wires in a cable sleeve, or cord protector, or taping it down in the corner with duck tape (not the most aesthetically pleasing option but it works).
Carpet, baseboards, and wood furniture: I've found the best way to control the unpleasant situations of teeth-marked furniture or pulled up carpet is by patient and attentive training. A loud clap or sudden "no!" can startle a rabbit away from a tasty wooden table leg and if done so consistently, the rabbit can be conditioned to not nibble on these valuables. Providing alternatives here is the key. (See below for a list.) And since one of the appeals of carpet, baseboards, and furniture (besides the interesting textures!) is that they are stationary (unlike most rabbit toys), consider wiring a cardboard box to the side of the cage or wedging the wooden chew toy between the cage wires. For some reason, it's a lot more fun to chew things that don't move!
Poisonous plants: The Sacramento House Rabbit Society has a extensive list of plants that can harm your rabbit. However, keeping any large plant on the ground is pretty much asking for trouble. Even if it's not poisonous, chances are your rabbit will eat the leaves, dig up the soil and cause an all-around mess. Best to just move your plants out of these rooms or keep them off the ground.
Miscellaneous objects:
For specific objects that you don't want your rabbit to get to, you might have to get creative. For instance, if your closet doesn't have a door, use hanging shoe shelves to keep shoes out of reach. Fold your bed covers in half so they don't hang over the edge and provide easy chewing access.
One of the best things you can do is provide lots of safe distractions such as cardboard boxes and tubes, balls, newspaper (only if your rabbit doesn't ingest it), timothy hay, wood toys and mineral chews.

Boredom is usually to blame for heightened troublemaking,
so giving your pet lots of supervised roaming time, entertainment and interaction diminishes their troublemaking capacity.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Baloo's Story

Just a quick shout out to Baloo, my foster rabbit who was adopted this weekend. Congrats little buddy!

Baloo and two female rabbits were dumped off at the MSPCA three months ago by their previous owner. The owner owned Baloo for five years and during this time never once cut his nails, let him out of his cage, or even named him. As you can imagine, Baloo needed some work.
First things first. Rabbits need to get their nails trimmed once every two-three months so they don't grow uncomfortably long. When nail trimming is neglected, the nerve can grow out with the nail and this can be very painful for a rabbit.
Secondly, the lack of physical contact and necessary play had rendered Baloo into a frightened, socially uncomfortable animal. At the shelter, he hid in a box, terrified, and refused to come out. It was clear he needed some special attention before he could be adopted.
Baloo came to stay with me and my rabbit Graysie. There, he learned about the joys of hopping around and exploring the sights and smells of a house. He also learned that humans can be caring, patient, and loving. And like most rabbits, this is all he needed before he began developing normal and trusting relationships with people.
After a month and a half, I started looking for an adoptive home for him and one month later found a woman who fell in love with his cute face and kind manner immediately. Baloo's story just shows what amazing pets rabbits can be as long as they are understood and are treated with love, patience and respect.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Question from the Audience: Holding and Aggression

Our first question comes from a woman who recently contacted me via Craigslist to ask about her bunny's unpleasant behavior:

Q: I was wondering if you could help me. I have a beautiful black mini lop born in February. She was wonderful with my daughter but now she will only let me hold her and she still gives me a tough time sometimes. We love her but I am feeling bad for her because my daughter (age 5) wants to play with her but she charges at her every time she puts her hand in the cage. My daughter is very hands on with her pets and the bunny was handled constantly as a baby leading me to believe that she would always be fine when my daughter held her.
We take excellent care of her... providing a clean cage, food, water, hay, trimmed nails, etc. but I feel she is not getting the attention she deserves. I hesitate to look for someone to take her because I am afraid she will not get the care she has here. Even though she is not being held on a regular basis she is at least getting the proper care.

It's great to
hear that you are taking such excellent care of your rabbit and that you want to improve you and your daughter's relationship with your pet instead of surrendering her. Believe it or not, there are two very simple solutions to your rabbit's behavioral problems.

It is a common misconception that rabbits like to be held. In fact, they do not. Rabbits were intended to live on and under the ground, where they can feel important danger-signaling vibrations and where they have the ability to flee when threatened. When you pick up your bunny, you are depriving her of this need to be in contact with the ground and are actually acting as a predator who is restraining her. Therefore your rabbit has learned to view you not as a friend but as a threat. The best way to enjoy a bunny is by letting them out of their cage to hop around. If you calmly sit on the floor, the rabbit will usually come up to you, and if you pet them on their heads, will often lay down next to you. It might take a lot of patience for this to happen with your pet, since you will need to regain her trust after all the picking up and holding.

The second issue can be solved easily as well. You mentioned that your daughter gets charged "every time she puts her hand in the cage." No one should ever put their hand in the rabbit's cage (except when cleaning or feeding), especially if he/she acts territorial. When your daughter puts her hand in the cage, your rabbit feels its home is being invaded and she feels the need to protect it. This goes hand in hand with being picked up-- you should never hold a rabbit unnecessarily, and you should never forcibly remove it from its cage. You should open the cage door and let her roam around a rabbit-proofed (wires hidden, poisonous plants moved) large room. If your daughter sits and waits, your rabbit will likely come up to her in a friendly and non-threatening way. The rabbit's cage is its home and if you keep invading that personal space, your rabbit will develop defensive behaviors. Instead, let your bunny out of her cage daily where she will get rid of pent up energy, be intellectually stimulated and given a chance to approach you for interaction.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Welcome to The Rabbit Advocate! Rabbits are becoming increasingly popular pets. And they should be! As a long time rabbit (and many other dog/cat-substituting pets, including fish, hamsters, frogs, and an iguana) owner, I can attest to the singular joy these adorable creatures can bring. The problem--and the inspiration behind this newborn blog--is that rabbits are all too often misunderstood. They are commonly viewed as soft stuffed animal toys, as big-eared cats, or even as rampant rodents with little awareness.
This blog attempts to explore, explain and educate about the intricacies of bunny behavior in order to encourage strong, loving relationships between pet and owner. It is my belief that if humans better understood their floppy-eared companions, shelters would not be flooded with rabbits abandoned as a result of common misunderstandings which have led to broken bonds, or bonds that were never created.
I will attempt to explore an area of rabbit behavior each week, and answer specific questions posted by you.