Saturday, October 18, 2008

Question from the Audience: Digging, Treats, Holding

And now, a three-part question from Sarah L. in Boston, MA. She writes:
Hi Rabbit Advocate! About a month ago, my boyfriend and I adopted Winnie from the MSPCA in Boston. She is doing absolutely wonderful. We love her so much and she is such a great bunny! However, we have a few questions:

Q: 1) Winnie loves to poke around and explore but sometimes she gets into the corner of the room and pulls and digs up the carpet! We've tried to clap and say 'no' when she does it and sometimes she'll stop, but sometimes she's pretty stubborn and completely ignores us and continues digging. Are there any other alternatives to prevent her from digging up the carpet? Or should we just continue to clap loudly and hope that she stops?

A: Unfortunately, this is a common complaint among rabbit owners. The chewing and digging instinct is very strong in bunnies, but it is markedly stronger in some individuals than others. I've lived with both varieties, and let's just say one is a little less stress-inducing than the other! So I can share in your frustration in this matter.
If the stern "no"s and clapping are being ignored (how rude!) gently push your rabbits nose away from the carpet and distract her with a game. Distraction and positive reinforcement are key. Rabbits also oftentimes view your negative feedback (clapping, verbal warnings, etc.) as a game. Discourage this, as it feeds into the bad behavior. Remove the rabbit from the situation or enforce a time-out to show that you're being serious!
Unfortunately, digging and chewing carpet is super-duper fun for rabbits. One option is getting a small square of carpet to put in her cage (unless she's ingesting the carpet fibers), thereby removing the novelty of the corner carpet. Or, if there's a specific place she consistently visits to dig and chew, move a heavy piece of furniture over it. Removing access to the spot may lessen the urge to destruct!

Lastly, as a note of reassurance, I am currently living with a former carpet enthusiast. After a long (loooong) time of repeated clappings and distractions, she rarely even notices the carpet anymore. Keep in mind that rabbits can be taught, but the process will likely not happen overnight.

Q: 2) I've read on a few websites that it's okay to feed your bunny cheerios. I've fed Winnie a few cheerios here and there and noticed that she loves them and gets extremely excited when she knows I have them in my hand. I just want to know if cheerios are okay to continue giving her.

A: I would recommend against feeding your rabbit any processed or high-carb human foods (Cheerios are both). You're right in questioning this snack. Of course, one Cheerio a week isn't going to kill your rabbit, but there are healthier alternatives out there, intended specifically for rabbits. Yogurt drops have a 100% success rate with every rabbit I've known and I've even been tempted on more than one occasion to try a nibble. (They smell delicious.) While these aren't on the health par with a cilantro bunch or basil leaves, they can safely be offered in half-servings. Or try small bits of apple as a treat. And if you do choose to keep on with the Cheerios, be on the lookout for diarrhea, or in the long-term, obesity. In these cases, cut the cereal.

Q: 3) Winnie loves to be pet but she absolutely hates being picked up. I'm pretty sure we're properly picking her up -- one hand under her bum and the other under arms and we when we pick her up, we hold her close to our body so she feels secure but she still gets really scared. Should we just stop trying to pick her up?

A: It sounds like you are picking Winnie up in the proper way. However, picking your bunny should be reserved for vet visits or other necessary times. Look back here for detailed advice on why rabbits prefer to be on the ground and alternative ways to interact with your bunny. Good luck with Winnie!

A picture of Winnie herself, courtesy of Sarah L. How festive!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've heard that yogurt treats are awful to give to your bunny because they contain lots of sugar and dairy. I used to give my rabbit, Ashley (RIP), yogurt drops because they were made for rabbits and small animals. Now I give my bunny alternating treats: Oxbow veggie treats and papaya & pineapple tablets. Also, a question: is oat hay the same nutritionally as timothy hay? I feed my Peanut timothy hay, but received a bag of oat hay with a delivery and he loves it. I've read that both were okay, but I don't know if I should feed him more oat hay.