Saturday, November 29, 2008

FYI: Are Rabbits Rodents?

Many people incorrectly assume that rabbits are rodents, perhaps due to their constantly growing teeth and consequently relentless chewing habits. In actuality, rabbits are Lagomorphs, of the order Lagomorpha, which includes rabbits, hares, and pikas. While both Rodentia and Lagomorpha are big-time chewers and even physically resemble one another, the two orders have specific anatomical (dental and genital) disparities, as well as differing dietary habits.
So, if some patronizing acquaintance ever calls your house bunny a rodent, you can now cleverly correct and enlighten them about the fabulous order Lagomorpha.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Question from the Audience: Sibling Rivalry

Question from Sean T. in Belmont, CA:
Q: I bought two very young bunnies 10 months ago. They were two males (brothers). After they became mature, they started fighting violently, so I had them both neutered and they were great friends again.
Since then, every few weeks they attack each other and then I separate them. A few days later they are friends again. This up and down cycle has been going on for 8 months. This time is different and they have not been friends in over a month. Is there anything I can do so they get along again? I don't like to see them separated.

A: After a rabbit gets neutered, his smell gradually changes as the hormones slowly filter out of his body. Therefore, it's no surprise that relations between them changed—they were actually new to each other. It's possible that the two brothers were not properly reintroduced after the surgeries; that is, introduced as if they were complete strangers (in neutral territory, with constant supervision, etc.). You could still try reintroducing them this way. Another commonly suggested method involves taking them for a car ride together. The overt stress of the transport forces the bunnies to bond together for safety and protection. You could also put their cages next to each other in your house and let them get used to each others' new scents.

It's interesting to note that rabbits, like humans, sometimes hold grudges. The cause for this new extended period of hostility may exist because they have associated the violent memories of fighting with each other. If you want to try to bond them again, you'll have to be extra patient, and you should know that there's a possibility you will have to house them separately for the rest of their lives.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rabbit Talk: What's a binky?

Have you ever seen your rabbit sprinting around at full speed, twitching her head and body in different directions, kicking her legs out to the side, jumping high in the air, and pretty much looking like she's having a very sudden and acute full-blown seizure? Has your rabbit developed early-onset Tourette's Syndrome? Of course not! She's just "binkying." Rabbits communicate in a multitude of different ways, and the binky is used to express feelings of unadulterated exuberance.
If there's any doubt in your mind, check out pro-binkier Hoppel's YouTube debut:

Courtesy of House Rabbit Network
If you're pressed for time, watch the first 15 seconds and then forward to minute 2:00. That's when he really goes crazy! Please note that Hoppel is available for adoption, so if you live in the New England area, please contact the House Rabbit Network to make a date with this adorable little gymnast.

New areas that a rabbit finds exciting and also safe will frequently elicit a good binky episode. A trip outside to the garden or permission into a new room of the house are popular venues for binkies, though it doesn't take much—this past weekend, I rearranged my living room furniture, and I haven't seen that many binkies from Graysie in a while! Some rabbits binky as part of a daily routine, and some reserve them for special occasions. The phenomenon of the binky is just another reason to house your rabbit indoors, and allow them plenty of out-of-cage time. Outdoor rabbits rarely experience unadulterated exuberance, not to mention the fact that you miss out on quite the show if your rabbit is kept caged up. An indoor rabbit with plenty of roaming time will express their joy and gratitude in the form of a binky, and let me tell you, binkies never get old!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Question from the Audience: Questioning the Lessons of 4-H

A question from Tina D. in Sacramento, CA:
Q: I've had seven rabbits in my life and would have considered myself knowledgeable until my 8-year old nephew came home from school the other day with an application to 4-H club.
Logan wants to show Holland Lops or English Spots (he hasn't decided). Except for the rabbits I had as a kid, all of mine have been adopted from shelters so I know nothing about breeding rabbits for this program. The 4-H says that Logan cannot show a spayed rabbit (how stupid it that!), so I would like to know what to look out for when helping him pick showable rabbits.

A: Although this blog primarily deals with house rabbits kept for companionship, I think this question deserves some attention so that everyone can be aware of the nature and beliefs of this widespread organization. While many 4-H programs are great opportunities for children to learn intimately about new subjects, expand their creativity and develop a sense of responsibility, I have some qualms with the organization's approach to animals. I will here on out focus on the rabbit program, which I believe ultimately sends faulty messages to children.

4-H rabbits can be raised for exhibition or for the meat and fur pen. The meat and fur pen is an altogether different matter and I'm sure everyone can guess exactly how I feel about it. Rabbit exhibition, while less obviously so, is also troubling. As someone with vast personal experience with rabbits, I can tell you that being in a show is one of the least respectful things you can do to a rabbit. Rabbits are prey animals, and as such are very uncomfortable and scared in new environments, surrounded by many people, animals, loud noises, children, etc. The showing life is highly stressful, and a rabbit can easily have a heart attack and die simply from shock or fear; therefore the situation is quite a bit more serious for the rabbit than one might think. Furthermore, the rabbit exhibition encourages a view of animals as objects, instead of living, breathing, thinking, feeling, sensitive beings. Respecting a rabbit includes treating them like the sentient beings that they are and not subjecting them to unnecessary stress or restraint simply for our aesthetic pleasures.

My second misgiving relates to the organization's barring of spayed and neutered rabbits in exhibition. You are completely right when you classified this rule as "stupid." Altering rabbits is a huge part of getting a handle on the pet overpopulation problem, not to mention the positive health and behavioral impacts that come along with it. Additionally, 4-H discourages adoption and instead promotes rabbit breeders and pet stores, which profit from abusive animal breeding facilities. In an age where approximately four million healthy animals are euthanized each year, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of rabbits are waiting in shelters across the country, it is not only socially irresponsible of such an influential organization to support these principles, but it also reinforces these misguided lessons to our children. 4-H purports to teach children about responsibility, yet they really miss the big picture on this issue.

I encourage you to seize this critical opportunity to talk to your nephew about the true meaning of compassion, responsibility and pet ownership. Tell him that having a pet should be a mutually beneficial arrangement—he can have all the pleasure of owning a rabbit while simultaneously saving that rabbit's life; tell him that true responsibility means respecting our companion animals by allowing them to live happily and peacefully; tell him that social responsibility requires we look at the greater picture of the epidemic of animal overpopulation which forces overburdened shelters to euthanize regularly. Your nephew will gather a much more valuable lesson by learning about adoption, spaying and neutering, compassion and respect, instead of following the 4-H principles. You and your nephew could refuse to participate in the 4-H club, whereby acknowledging the flawed ideologies of the organization. Alternatively, you could practice your right to "civil disobedience" by adopting from a shelter and trying to show a fixed rabbit. This small protest may get other 4-H participants and community members thinking and raise awareness about these issues.

Be strong and good luck!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Question from the Audience: Rats and Rabbits?

A question from Chad L. in Ridgewood, NY:
Q: I have a question concerning rabbits' behaviors with other animals. I currently have 3 rats and they are the most friendly social animals ever. I was wondering what your thoughts would be if I brought a rabbit home. The main area of concern is when they are all out together, obviously they would have constant supervision but do you see any reason from you experiences that would make you think that they would not get along? Thank you for your help.

A: Rabbits are social animals and are able to bond with dogs, cats, and guinea pigs, not to mention live happily with each other. You've got nothing to lose by taking your rats to an animal shelter and hosting playdates with a few potential rabbits. Be prepared to acknowledge that not every rabbit will be open to bonding with a rat--many rabbits might be overwhelmed by three quick-moving rats, but the combination could work out for some laid-back individuals. You might want to try a rabbit that has in the past gotten along with guinea pigs.

Of course, you will have to go through the full introduction procedures in a neutral territory under constant supervision, and I would encourage keeping them in separate cages even after they become friends. You'll also want to be aware that your interaction with rats and rabbits will be quite different, as rabbits prefer to stay on the ground and approach you, whereas rats, from what I gather, love crawling over you, etc.
Overall, if you do adopt, keep a close eye on them and make sure your rats don't act aggressively with the rabbit and vice versa. Be prepared for the chance that they might have to be kept separated. But I don't see any reason rats and rabbits can't become friends. Good luck!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Question from the Audience: Bunny Boredom

A question from Eileen R. in East Meadow, NY:
Q: I am a first time rabbit owner. Over the past year and half that I've owned Cannoli, I have learned a lot about rabbits. I have a few problems. He chews the bars to his cage even when he's not enclosed in it! He has full range of my bedroom with the cage open for his litter, water, food and hay. At 6am he will get into his cage and start chewing the bars for no reason! He will have food, water and hay in his cage so there is no reason for him to be making such a ruckus.
I know I shouldn't leave him out while I'm at work, but he is just so hard to get back in the cage! He is also extremely smart. If he is in his cage eating or drinking and sees me walking towards it, its like someone put a fire under his butt and he runs out the cage and to the other end of the room thinking I'm going to lock him in there! Any advice would be appreciated thanks!

A: Rabbits, being the highly intelligent creatures that they are, get bored easily if they are understimulated. And it sounds like that is exactly what Cannoli is trying to tell you: he wants attention!
Here are a few ideas to spice things up and keep him entertained:
1) Cannoli is probably craving interaction with you. Spend some time on the ground with him. Pet him, talk to him, offer him a piece of an apple. Try teaching him a new trick! If you're just watching TV, forgo the couch and sit on the floor with Cannoli.
2) Invest in a new toy or two. Since he obviously likes to chew, chew toys are a great choice. There's also some great baby or cat toys that work for rabbits too.
3) Let Cannoli explore a different room in the house. You'd be surprised how exciting this is for them. New smells, new objects, new view! Just watch out for new trouble and rabbit-proof beforehand.
4) Set up an exercise pen outside and let him explore the garden. If you have a very calm rabbit, you can even use a harness and leash, provided you are careful. Always supervise your rabbit when he's outside-- birds, domestic cats or dogs, raccoons, etc. can attack at any moment.
5) Set up a destruction corner, as I like to call it, with a big basket stuffed with newspaper, hay, cardboard, toys, etc. and allow him to make a mess. You can set up a destruction area outside with potting soil where he can dig around. It doesn't get much funner than that!
6) Consider adopting a friend for Cannoli. Bonded bunnies entertain each other and don't feel as lonely or bored. Remember, busy bunnies are less likely to cause trouble.
7) Note that rabbits are most active during dawn and dusk, which explains Cannoli's high-level of activity at 6am!
8) If Cannoli hasn't been neutered, get that done. All those adolescent hormones make for a crazy, rebellious troublemaker. Rabbits grow much calmer and more well-behaved after the surgery.

Don't worry too much about Cannoli's feistiness. He's still young. As rabbits grow older, they tend to calm down and behave better. Right now he's still filled with energy and is overactive, which, just like children, oftentimes manifests itself in destructive behaviors.

Cannoli says, "But look how cute and innocent I look!"

In regards to Cannoli's cage aversion, try making his cage a positive, fun, safe place to be. Try to figure out why Cannoli would have developed such negative feelings toward his cage. Perhaps it's not big enough and he feels uncomfortable there? Maybe he finds the cage boring? Fill it with hay, toys, an ice cream mineral chew, dangling cat toys, fun-to-chew carpet squares, and hidden treats. Make sure the cage and litterbox are cleaned often; rabbits have sensitive noses and don't like being subjected to strong odors.

Cannoli is extremely smart for running out of the cage when he can tell you are planning to lock him up. Decondition this response by casually walking over to his cage several times a day and closing him in only one out of every ten times. Reduce the severity of getting caged in by sometimes letting him back out 5-10 minutes later. Avoid chasing Cannoli into his cage, as this will correlate cage time with punishment, or something he is forced to do. Instead, coax him in there with a treat, so that he views cage time is an option or a choice of his own free will.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Question from the Audience: Change in Cleaning Habbits

A question from Alison C. in Chicago, IL:
Q: My English Lop is 4 years old and recently she has not been cleaning herself well. It is urine that she is not cleaning and it is on her fur, around her back legs. She did this last year and I brought her to the vet, and over $100 later I find out she had a tiny infection from a nail that probably got stuck on her cage or something and then became infected. So when I noticed this again (her not being very clean and the hair around her legs are dirty) I examined her and found nothing. Is there anything else you think could be going on? She is eating and drinking normally and also her bathroom habits are the same. I am just seeing if you may have any ideas. Thanks!

A: While it's hard to diagnose a problem from a distance, I have a few ideas for you to consider:
1) Overweight rabbits often have trouble cleaning themselves. Does she look very round? Does she get unlimited pellets? If so, it might be time to limit her daily pellet allowance and instead provide her with extra fresh veggies, and of course, unlimited hay. In fact, this is a good idea regardless of whether or not she is having weight problems. Good nutrition is essential for a happy rabbit.
2) What kind of litter do you use? If you are using only newspapers or hay, the urine may not be getting absorbed, and instead soaking into your rabbit's fur and skin. Try Yesterday's News, a highly absorbant cat and small animal litter.
3) Clean her litterbox more frequently, so the litter is fresh and dry.
4) Is she dribbling outside of her litterbox? This could explain how she is getting urine on her legs and fur. Dribbling could indicate a urinary tract infection, bladder stones or other medical ailments including uterine cancer.
5) Calcium buildup in the bladder might also cause her to dribble. Cutting out spinach, kale, collard greens or other calcium-rich foods might help; however, the buildup could be indicative of other medical problems.

Since this same behavior has previously occurred, at which time it indicated a significant medical problem, you should take it seriously and get her to the vet for a checkup. Perhaps there is another tiny infection that you are unable to see. She could also not be cleaning herself if she is in pain from an unrelated medical condition. Perpetually urine-soaked skin and fur could result in painful urine scalding on her lower belly and genital area. There could be something seriously wrong with your bunny, and waiting might worsen the problem. At least call your veterinarian and ask what he or she recommends.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Question from the Audience: Before Adopting

A few questions from potential adopter Tara D. in Chicago, IL:
Hi! I am soon planning to adopt a bunny but I have some questions.
Q: Where should I adopt a bunny? A pet store? A Breeder? A Shelter? I know it all depends on me, I am just nervous about getting a sick bunny or not getting enough information on where the bunny came from?
A: The best place to acquire a healthy rabbit will be from a shelter or a rescue organization. Pet stores have no guarantees and breeders are notorious for inbreeding-related genetic problems. Shelters do medical examinations of their incoming animals, so they can guarantee an animal is healthy, or otherwise provide full disclosure. And most importantly, adopting from a shelter also helps the colossal problem of pet overpopulation; by adopting, you are saving that animal's life. With millions of animals being euthanized in shelters yearly, I believe it is socially irresponsible to buy from a pet store. Pet stores encourage and support animal breeding facilities which feed into the rabbit overpopulation problem.
The Red Door Animal Shelter in Chicago specializes in bunnies and would be a great place for you to visit.

Q: How do you know what gender a bunny is? And how do you know if its neutered or not?
A: If you are adopting, the shelter or rescue organization will be able to tell you the gender of each rabbit. Rest assured that both sexes are equally friendly and relaxed--as long as they've been fixed.
The shelter can tell you if a rabbit has been altered by checking for a spay scar or testicles. Spay scars can be hard to locate, so some veterinarians will actually mark a doe that has been fixed.

Q:What kind of cage do I get for my bunny?
A: You should get a cage that is spacious and has a flat surface.
The cage should fit an appropriately-sized litterbox, bowls for food and water, an area to lay down, room to hop around and stretch out. Since it is advisable to put your pet in the cage while you are away and unable to supervise, you'll want to consider that she will undoubtedly be spending a sizeable amount of time in there. If the cage isn't big enough, your rabbit will feel cramped, which may lead to physical and mental discomfort. This can manifest itself in nonstop digging, cage chewing, and other behavioral problems.
For rabbits other than dwarfs, I would recommend a dog crate instead of the rabbit cages pet stores offer. There are numerous varieties of dog crates and some have pull out trays which can make for easy cleaning; additionally, many of them fold down to a compact and portable size.
Don't use a wire-bottomed cage as it can lead to a painful condition called sore hocks. If you do have a wire-bottomed cage, make sure to cover it with a flat surface, so that rabbit can escape to a comfortable area.

Graysie in her cage, fit for an 80 lb dog

Outfit the cage with all sorts of toys, a rug or towel (unless they are ingesting bits of it), a cardboard box for security, tons of hay, a food and water dish, a large litterbox, and various mental stimulations to entertain you're rabbit while your gone.

Friday, November 14, 2008

How to Litterbox Train Your Rabbit

One of the little known facts by outsiders about rabbits is that they can easily be litterbox-trained. Rabbits are naturally clean pets and most of them will actually teach themselves to use the litterbox. In fact, your bunny will often choose a spot in her cage that she considers her bathroom corner, so once you place a litterbox in that spot, the process of litter-training is complete. For many rabbits, it's as easy as that. For others, though, it might take a little extra time and effort.

For the "extra time and effort" bunnies, here are a few tips:
1) If your rabbit is soiling in several places, pick out the consistent spots and place litterboxes down there. If it means having two litterboxes inside the cage, that's fine. As they start improving, slowly wean them down to just one.

2) While she is still learning to use the box, you'll want to closely supervise and limit her play area. If your rabbit gets overwhelmed at a sudden abundance of space, she could forget about her box. Therefore, start small and increase gradually. Once she is box-trained, she will know to run in her cage to use the bathroom.

3) Throw some hay in the litterbox. This will encourage your rabbit's natural association between bathroom behavior and social chewing. Additionally, the more time they spend in their litterbox, the greater their likelihood of forming good litterbox habbits.

4) Consider that older rabbits are easier to train than young ones. So if she's young, don't worry; be patient. If she's older, be extra patient and don't give up! Experiment with the aforementioned tips. Try switching up the type of litter or get a different kind of litterbox. Put treats or toys in the box; and make sure to never bother her while she's in there.

5) Clean the litterbox about two or three times a week. This is just enough to make it clean and inviting, but not so sanitary that her ownership of the box is questioned daily. When cleaning the box, I like to splash some regular white vinegar on the bottom and let it soak with water for ten minutes. Vinegar removes the calcium buildup from the urine, without introducing any harsh chemicals.

6) If she's accidentally leaving some droppings in her cage, don't worry. A few territorial markings are completely natural and acceptable, and even the most well-trained rabbit will partake in this activity.

7) Lastly, the most important thing you can do to litterbox train your rabbit is neuter and spay. Males and females practice territorial spraying and droppings, so until your rabbit is fixed, don't be surprised if she has spotty litterbox habits.

Baloo napping in his litterbox

The litter:
The best litter I've found is Yesterday's News cat litter. It's made from recycled newspapers, so it's even good for the environment. Additionally, it's absorbent, odor-reducing, affordable and non-allergenic. Carefresh is a similar product. You could also use regular old newspapers or hay but these aren't as odor absorbing. Avoid clay cat litter as it is a possible respiratory irritant, and the clumping kind should specifically be avoided because it is dangerous when ingested. Cedar and pine chips, though sold in most pet stores, can cause liver problems.

The litterbox:
Use a box that the rabbit can comfortably sit and turn around in. Make sure the sides are tall enough so the rabbit doesn't accidentally dribble over the edge, but not so high that she has trouble getting in. You can buy a litter pan from a pet store, but a large plastic storage container works just as well.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Question from the Audience: To Bond or Not to Bond?

A question from Judi G. in Naperville, IL:
Q: We have a bonded pair of bunnies (2 1/2 yr, spayed female and 1 1/2 yr, neutered male). My son recently was given a baby bunny - she is about 8 weeks old. Should we try to bond them as a threesome? If so, now? Or after the baby is spayed? Are we better off considering a fourth bunny for baby?
The older female is very laid back, so we have allowed her and the baby to be out for playtime together. The first 2 times, she basically ignored the baby, but last time, she attempted to "hump" baby. We separated them and have not let them out together since. Our boy seems very curious about baby and likes to investigate around her cage when he is out. He sometimes tries to nip at her through the cage and sometimes backs away to the corner. I try to keep her from the big bunnies' cage as I realize this is their territory and they will guard it, but she is quick and every now and then gets over there!

A: While bunny bonding is unfortunately not my area of expertise, I can offer some general guidelines about introducing rabbits. Most literature would advise waiting until the the baby has been spayed before allowing her to interact with the grownups. At eight weeks, the baby is nearing sexual maturity (usually at 3.5-4 months for females) which may cause fights to break out between her and the adults, as her increasing hormones make her more of a threat. Besides wanting to avoid injuries, you don't want the rabbits to associate negative memories with each other, as rabbits can, and often do, hold grudges.

You can keep the baby's cage in the same room as the adults so that they get used to each other's smells, as long as no one is getting stressed out by the others' presence and no territorial conflicts ensue. However, since it will still be about four months before the baby can be spayed, it might be wise to keep them separate to avoid confusion and stress. I'd make this judgment call based upon how the adults and baby seem to be reacting.

As you well know, an intact rabbit is less likely to bond with other rabbits, be more aggressive and territorial, and have all sorts of annoying sexual behaviors, so you'll want to spay the baby as soon as safely possible, at around six months. Make sure the baby (or by then "teenager") is completely healed before an introduction. Note that it takes about 3-4 weeks for the sex hormones to filter out of the system, so you'll need to allow time for this to happen. After about a month of healing, you can allow them to interact in a neutral setting.

Personally, I think it's a good idea to take the time to bond the three of them and make sure they all get along, so that everyone is able to be out at all times, and you don't have to keep certain ones caged, while others run around. If you were interested in introducing a fourth to the mix, same sex babies are really easy to put together. (Male-female baby pairings are dangerous, as you are risking a chance for pregnancy.) If you'd like to know more about bonding, the House Rabbit Network has a great and thorough article on bonding rabbits.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Question from the Audience: Nail Trimming

A question from Sarah L. in Boston, MA:
Q: I've been trying to cut Winnie's nails for the past week but she just hates being picked up. When I do try to pick her up, she gets pretty angry. She really needs to get her nails trimmed. What should I do?

A: It's possible that Winnie had some negative experiences with being picked up improperly before you adopted her-- perhaps she was dropped, or hurt herself when she was allowed to flail around; or maybe it's just extra scary for her. An extreme aversion to getting picked up is definitely hard to break and the only thing you can do is continue holding her extra firmly and making sure her legs are secured.

When you are ready to cut her nails, sit down in a chair and tightly wrap Winnie in a towel, like a burrito, with just one leg sticking out. If you can get a partner to hold her while you do the cutting, even better. Or, if think your rabbit is mostly opposed to having her paws touched, as quite a few are, try placing her in your lap so that her bottom is resting in your lap and her hands and feet are sticking out (see below). With one hand securing her chest, you can use the other one to cut the nails without actually touching her paws.

Graysie demonstrating how to properly stick out one's paws.

In rabbits with clear nails, the quick is easily identifiable. This pink area contains blood vessels and is very sensitive; you never want to cut through it. Leave some room between the end of the quick and the cutting line.
In rabbits with black nails, this process is harder, so you'll have to be more careful and just cut the tips off. The squeeze and release technique is especially helpful with dark nails, but should be practiced always: Carefully place the scissor around the nail, a few millimeters away from the quick, and squeeze down and release before actually cutting. If you are too close to the quick, the rabbit will jerk away when you squeeze down. So squeeze, release, and cut. Don't try to rush through the process. Cutting the quick can result in pain and a lot of blood loss. If you do accidentally cut too close, use a product like Kwik Stop to stop the bleeding. If you find that the nail cutting process is really stressful on your rabbit out, try doing the front paws one day and the back feet a few days later.

Some online sources suggest putting your rabbit in a trance (on her back) to cut the nails. I would discourage this as it could be dangerous if your rabbit suddenly jerks awake, as she could break her spine or otherwise injure herself. If you are having a tough time with it, you can always get your veterinarian to do the job and they can even demonstrate the best way to do it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Importance of Hay

The most important part of a rabbit's diet and health is hay, which should compose the main part of your rabbit's meals. A plentiful, hay-centric diet includes nutritional, medical and psychological benefits.

Besides its delicious taste, hay is full of the necessary fiber, minerals, and vitamins your rabbit needs. It provides perfect nutrition—rabbits bodies are meant to live off entirely of hay and vegetables. The type of fiber in hay is critical in maintaining healthy digestion. Digestive problems, such as gastric stasis and diarrhea, are the most common ailments in house bunnies. The answer is often simple: more hay!


With healthy digestion come various medical benefits. Besides ensuring regularity, good motility allows hairballs to pass naturally and prevents bacteria from overgrowing in the cecum. Along with healthy digestion, the high fiber of hay prevents obesity, which, as we know, can cause all sorts of problems. Hay is necessary for dental health as well. Chewing on the tough stalks wears down the constantly growing teeth and prevents molar spurs and other tooth-related problems.


Chewing is a necessary mental activity for rabbits and they love to graze on hay— it's so fun!


Not all hay is equal. Different types contain varying concentrations of fiber, protein and calcium. High fiber, and low protein, low calcium grass hays are the best. Healthy types include Timothy (most commonly available), orchard, brome, and oat. Avoid alfalfa and clover, as they contain too many calories, protein, and calcium, and not enough fiber. All hay should be green, not brown, and smell fresh, not dusty or moldy.

Where to buy
Purchasing hay in bulk from a nearby farm can be cheaper and likely fresher and higher in quality. For instance, Sweet Meadow Farm in Sherborn Massachusetts provides an assortment of high quality products you can order online. You can also find hay in smaller quantities at most pet stores and through various websites.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thank You!

The mechanical rabbits of Massachusetts (and I) would like to thank all who voted to ban dog racing. Three cheers for the Greyhound Protection Act!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Health Special: Lead Poisoning

While it is widely know that pregnant women and children are at risk for lead poisoning, the danger faced by pets is less recognized. Of household pets, rabbits at an elevated risk due to their nibbling nature--from ingesting, in addition to inhaling, paint particles when they lick or chew on the walls.
Lead poisoning is a relevant danger in areas with older buildings, especially in New York and Massachusetts. Unfortunately, in these areas, virtually all apartments built before 1978 used lead-based paints. In greater Boston, where homes are often 100 or more years old, the incidence of lead poisoning in rabbits is alarmingly high; yet, there is little literature or verbal warning available to owners. Lead poisoning is all too often lethal in rabbits, with excruciating belly pain and possible neurological affects, but the good news is that it is preventable.

Some preventative measures:
-Talk to potential landlords before moving in to get an accurate history of the place and know your tenant rights.
-Look into the possibility of deleading your apartment. This can be quite pricey but in some instances the landlord is legally obligated to take care of it.
-Paint. The more layers there are over the lead-based paint, the less of a chance of inhalation or ingestion.
-When remodeling, follow specific guidelines to avoid exposing lead-laced dust particles. Look into the EPA's report on dos and don'ts.
-Put up adhesive contact paper around the baseboards and lower walls that the rabbit can access.
-Supervise your rabbit. A house with lead can never be 100% rabbit-proof. You should always be aware of where your rabbit is and what she is doing.

Signs and symptoms of lead poisoning:
Signs and symptoms of a lead poisoned rabbit include loss of appetite, decrease or cessation of fecal droppings, diarrhea, listlessness, depression, sudden change of litterbox habbits, and even some neurological changes. If you notice any of these symptoms, especially the diet and behavioral changes, get your rabbit to an experienced veterinarian immediately, where a simple blood test can determine the presence of lead.

Treament of lead poisoning:
Treatment for lead poisoning is chelation therapy. Your vet will also administer fluids and pain medication and may need to syringe feed your rabbit to overcome ileus (arrested stomach contractions).Sometimes right after syringe feeding, your rabbit will be willing to eat a few bites of fresh food. Offer her favorite foods, anything to get the stomach going again. Fresh, aromatic herbs such as cilantro, basil, parsley are good, along with dark leafy greens like romaine. (Though nothing conclusive has been proved, various sources claim that cilantro suppresses lead deposition. Since this herb is otherwise delicious and healthy for rabbits, it's an excellent treat at this time.) The point is to keep your rabbit alive while the chelation removes the lead from the body.
One thing to note is that the chelation therapy can lead to calcium build-up in the bladder, often creating a painful to excrete sludge-like matter. If your rabbit is dribbling, place down Puppy Pads over the carpet and also the cage floor so the rabbit does not have to jump in and out of the litter box.

The bottom line:
Lead poisoning can be serious and devastating, but it is treatable and most importantly, highly preventable if the proper precautions are observed. Spread the news about lead poisoning to all your rabbit-owning friends and acquaintances. You may be saving a life!

*This article is dedicated to Dr. Mickley and Dr. Orcutt at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, who treated my rabbit, Graysie, and to my former roommate, M. Offit, who was of life-saving assistance, during Graysie's battle with lead poisoning in November of 2006.