A two-part question from Kelly S. in Boston, MA:
Q: Bunnicula is a large albino (New Zealand) spayed female rabbit. She is litter trained and I never keep her in her cage. She has free range of the bedroom. One of my questions is: although I mentioned that she is litter trained she's recently started peeing on my bed...not fun. We've been leaving a shower curtain over the bed now (when we're not in it) and she hasn't peed on the curtain yet...I'm just hoping that we can go back to our curtain-free bed soon. I'm not sure why she started this behavior, any ideas?
A: With sudden changes in urinary behavior, you need to be suspect of a urinary tract infection. While these are hard to diagnose definitively without a sterile urine sample (note that its not impossible to get a urine sample from a rabbit...) the vet will usually prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic to see if the unwanted behavior goes away.
However, UTI-related changes usually result in dribbling in the cage or next to the litterbox; the fact that Bunnicula is jumping up on your bed to urinate leads me to believe this is more a territory-related issue. You mention that she has free range of the bedroom at all times. While you are retraining her to use only her litterbox, you will need to restrict her freedom by only letting her out when you are there to observe her. Additionally, you will need to prohibit her access from the bed. The idea behind this retraining is that you need to show her that you, not she, is not the owner of the bed. She will quickly get this once she is shooed off the bed a few times. When she understands that she's not the master of the bed, she won't feel the need to mark it as her territory. Once she starts behaving and staying off the bed, she can slowly have her freedom back, but it's possible she'll need some form of supervision permanently. Eventually, you can also experiment with letting her back up on the bed, but if the problem returns, you may just have to cut off bed access altogether.
Q: I'm also concerned about her weight...how much pellets should I be feeding her? She has unlimited timothy hay and veggies and I usually just make sure she always has pellets as well...but she's getting quite big! She loves her pellets though and I feel like I'm denying her when she runs out and I don't fill her bowl. She's quite a diva when she runs out of pellets, too, throwing her bowl around the cage, etc. I'm going to be such a push-over mom!
A: Originally, commercial pellets were created as feed for rabbits raised for slaughter. These rabbits didn't need to live long and healthy lives; they needed to plump up as fast as possible. Now you can understand why commercial pellets- while delicious- need to be restricted in the diet. It's like fast food for us.
Rabbit obesity is serious for several reasons. Bunnies have very sensitive stomachs and too many pellets (and consequently too little fiber) can cause all sorts of GI tract problems. Unrestricted access to pellets is linked to heart and dental problems; additionally, risk increases as the extra pounds go up when it comes to general anesthesia, if this ever became relevant for dental or surgical reasons.
Timothy hay should compose a large part of the rabbit's diet; rabbits can live off hay and vegetables healthily. But we've spoiled our rabbits with junk food and cutting it out completely seems harsh for us pushover Moms (or Dads)! But since you've noticed Bunnicula's unhealthy weight gain, she should probably go on a little bunny diet.
Follow this rule: Feed 1/8 cup food for every 4lbs. So, if your rabbit is 8 lbs, feed 1/8 cup in the morning and 1/8 cup at night, as to spread it out. Provide unlimited Timothy hay and an assortment of fresh veggies every morning. If you're unsure about anything, talk to your vet.
And if your rabbit is throwing temper tantrums, the best thing to do is ignore them (as with human kids!). If your rabbit has bowl-throwing temper tantrums, and a lot of them do, acquire these attachable bowls from PetSmart- they are a lifesaver!