Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Question from the Audience: Cage Aggression

A question from Hayley I. in Seattle, WA:
Q: I currently own four rabbits, and I have one female named Luna and one male named Oliver who are cage aggressive. Oliver was neutered but it doesn't seem to have helped, Luna is not spayed. They are both five months old and out of the same litter. So, my question is how do I cope with it, how do I change their behavior?

A: Rabbits can be very possessive of their personal space and, of course, they have a right to be. As prey animals, bunnies need to know they have a safe place to escape to when they feel scared or threatened. To encourage confidence in the safety of Oliver and Luna's territory, make it a point to clean their cages only when they've hopped out on their own accord. Never forcibly remove the rabbits from their cages; doing so could weaken their view of their safe places. Don't even reach in the cage when they're inside, even for feedings, at least for a few weeks. You have to give them time to learn that your presence has positive connotations. If they do happen to get a nibble in, yell out a high-pitched "ow!," so they fully understand that this action hurts you. Or wear gardening gloves. Time, patience, space, a calm approach, and understanding can transform a cage aggressive bunny into a easy-going, sweet pet.

Also remember that spaying and neutering reduces territorial aggression. Getting Luna spayed may help greatly, and Oliver may still need time until all of the testosterone has filtered out of his system (it can take 4-6 weeks). The good news is that at five months, they're still very young. This is a good time to alter their aggressive behaviors-- be patient and don't give up!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mark Your Calendars...

Mark your calendars for the 1st Annual Rabbit Advocate Info Day at the Especially for Pets in Newton, Massachusetts from 12-3pm on Saturday, February 7, 2009.

There will be a nail cutting demonstration, Q&A session, available handouts, and a few adoptable bunny visitors from the Boston MSPCA. We'll also be raffling off a gift basket donated by Especially for Pets to benefit the Boston MSPCA Animal Care and Adoption Center. Be sure to stop by the EFP at 1185 Chestnut St. in Newton Upper Falls, MA on February 7. I look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Importance of a Rabbit-Savvy Vet

Rabbits require very species-specific care that exotics inexperienced veterinarians are just not capable of providing, as certain medical conventions vary greatly between rabbits and their more conventional dog and cat counterparts. Rabbit-savvy vets know which commonly used antibiotics are dangerous for rabbits (especially Amoxicillin!); they know that rabbits cannot vomit and have highly sensitive gastrointestinal tracts, and therefore removing food and water before surgery is not only unnecessary but increases risk; and naturally, they know which diseases and conditions are specific to and more prevalent in rabbits.

Clearly, it's important to take the time to make sure your veterinarian has experience practicing rabbit medicine and surgery. When searching for a vet, don't hesitate to inquire about a potential vet's history, comfort-level, and experience. The House Rabbit Society has compiled a terrific list of experienced rabbit vets by state. If no one is listed close by, strongly consider commuting, or search for avian/exotic vets (rabbit knowledgeable medical professionals are most often classified as such) in your area and ask for recommendations. It might not be simple finding the perfectly qualified and dedicated vet, but when your pet's health is on the line, it's worth every effort!
The Rabbit Advocate friend, Augustus Cuddlesworth, belonging to Adrienne F. in Washington, D.C., is recovering from a broken front leg after getting it caught in the cage during a minor freak-out episode. Feel better soon, little buddy!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Question from the Audience: Getting to Know You

A question from Linda M. in San Jose, CA
Q: I have a 2 year old spayed female (Trixie) that I adopted about 2 months ago. Last weekend I took her to an adoption fair and there were two neutered male rabbits she liked so I adopted one of them (Jack). They have been doing really well and progressing quickly as I can tell from some of the other stories I read out there. I have only had Jack in the house for 4 days now and they already can peacefully co-exist in the same territory for the most part. Trixie has run of the house so I set up a pen for Jack, just so I could keep them separated if I needed to. I started out with the bathtub as neutral territory and moved from there. I didn't expect to be in common territory yet, but they kept approaching each other through the pen so I thought I would give it a whirl.
There is no aggression (no growling, biting, fisticuffing), but Jack is more interested than Trixie. He will nudge his head down looking for attention & sometimes she will groom him for 15 seconds or so and sometimes she will trot off to go find something more exciting. So then Jack follows her and nudges again. If she continues to ignore him then he gets persistent and will start to chase her or mount her. She is starting to hide and be more reclusive because she doesn't want to be bothered by him. So, is this a match that won't work because of their differing interest levels, or will one of them eventually come around to meet the expectations of the other? I hate to see poor Trixie uncomfortable or unhappy in her own home.

A: I know how hard it is to see your rabbit uncomfortable in her own home, especially when you feel the newcomer is picking on her, but it sounds like these two are progressing perfectly. After only four days, they are still in the "getting to know you" phase and even though Trixie seems slightly less interested in becoming friends, this is part of the process of determining dominance and finding a balance. Grooming, ignoring, and lack of true aggression are all positive signs in this initial phase. These behaviors all constitute the process of finding the perfect balance for their relationship. Your method of using the neutral territory of the bathtub was ideal—you probably avoided some aggression because they were introduced in a neutral space.

For the time being, make sure Trixie doesn't react aggressively to Jack's chasing; it's actually better if Trixie is willingly running away. Keep a close eye on mounting behaviors; stop it immediately if Jack mounts Trixie head-first (this could be very dangerous for the male) and intervene with prologued regular mounting. If Trixie's reclusiveness increases dramatically, slow down the bonding process by reducing the amount of time they spend together.

Keep supervising them and you should see the overall mood of their interactions slowly improving. Rabbit bonding can take months in some cases, so patience is important. However, these two already seem to be doing excellent and so just keep up the great work!

Jack (left) and Trixie (right), just days after Linda's initial email.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rabbit Talk: Bunny Noises

While bunnies are known mostly as quiet, passive animals, they actually produce quite an array of sounds. Some sounds are discreet and you have to pay close attention to catch them, others are loud and unmistakable. It's important to know these noises and what they might mean in order to better understand your rabbit or know if she is in pain and needs attention.

These happy little grunting sounds, called "honking," are like a love song. Often loudest and most prominent in intact males and females as they circle your feet or perform other amorous behaviors, but fixed bunnies also can make this cute noise to express affection or admiration.

Rabbits purr by quietly grinding their teeth or chewing air when they are being pet and are happy and content with life.

Loud teeth grinding
A rabbit that is lying on the ground with her arms and legs drawn in close to her body, making clearly audible chomping sounds is in severe pain and needs medical attention right away.

A shrill, high-pitched scream that comes for an injured rabbit right before death. I've never heard this, nor do I ever want to!

This unmistakable sound is produced by rabbits right before they attack or bite. Could be at a human, another bunny, or another animal. Often accompanied by a double front paw lunge forward. Rabbits with attitude growl when defending themselves or their territory or when expressing general disdain toward a variety of situations.

Also done right before an attack and in correlation with lunging. This rabbit is angry!

Thumping or drumming with the hind legs means the rabbit is aware of some apparent danger and is trying to either warn it off or warn others. The sound of the thump and the resulting vibrations in the ground would be felt by other rabbits in the wild, who would perceive it as a warning sign. When this occurs at home, simply tell your rabbit "everything's okay," in a reassuring voice. Rabbits may also thump to express disapproval or disgruntlement.


I've heard multiple stories of rabbits squeaking, but I've yet to come across it myself.

Some rabbits snore or moan in their sleep. These bunnies are usually on the portly side.

Every now and then a rabbit will emit a surprisingly loud snort.

Yes, rabbits can hiccup! They make little hiccup-like noises and look as if they are spasming for a few minutes.

It's fun to try communicating with your rabbit through their language. For instance, whenever my rabbit, Graysie, is lying on the couch with me and purring, I grind my teeth too. Often, she responds by licking my face and grinding back. I don't have to tell you this nonverbal exchange undeniably means, "I love you!"

Monday, December 8, 2008

Question from the Audience: Angora or not?

A follow up question from Tara D. in Chicago, IL:
Q: I am still waiting to adopt, and I literally can't wait. I'm hoping on getting two buns, a mini lop, and maybe an Angora. If I do decide on an Angora, how do I tend to its grooming needs? What it the right way to brush, cut, pull out the hair? I’ve seen YouTube videos of owners pulling out their tummy hair and I am a little confused if that’s safe or not, knowing that their skin is very tender. Another question is how much noise do buns make at night in their cages? Is it tolerable while you’re asleep?

A: Again, it's great to hear you are doing so much research before adopting—being informed and having appropriate expectations is the best start for developing trusting relationships with your new friends. Since you are planning on getting two rabbits, I would look for a pair that is already bonded. Because it is harder to find homes for them, there are usually many pairs available at animal shelters. Contact the Chicago House Rabbit Society or look up bunnies on petfinder to meet available pairs in your area.

Typically, I would discourage first-time rabbit owners from getting an Angora, as their care is notably more complex and involved than short-hair rabbits; Angoras require intensive brushing and grooming that is best reserved for experienced rabbit owners. I recommend sticking with a short-hair variety that requires only minimal biweekly brushing.

If it cannot be helped, and an Angora is who you end up falling for, you will need to talk with the adoption counselor or foster parent to discuss all elements of Angora grooming.

A few pointers:
1) Angoras must be brushed daily.

2) It’s a good idea to trim their fur with electric clippers to keep it short (a few inches) and manageable.

3) When molting, which occurs roughly every three months, the rabbit completely sheds its outer layer of fur. During this time, Angoras should be plucked, that is, the loose chunks of fur removed with your hands. If done properly, this should not be painful since this fur is no longer attached to the skin.

4) While plucking should not be painful, the process can be very stressful. Constantly monitor how your rabbit is handling the ordeal. If she stresses easily, only pluck a few minutes each day. Rabbits are prone to stress and stress-related medical problems, including death, so please take this very seriously.

5) I would not recommend taking your rabbit to a pet groomer, unless they have extensive experience working with rabbits.

6) Angora owners often give their bunnies fresh papaya or papaya supplements, as the enzymes are believed to break down the fur in the gut. There's no proof to these claims, but most rabbits love the taste of papaya! Overall it is most important that Angoras receive plentiful amounts of fiber-rich grass hay. They also have higher caloric needs and should receive more pellets than the non-wooly breeds.

All of this grooming and brushing serves an integral purpose—a neglected Angora coat will become matted, painful, dirty, and susceptible to infection. If minor mats do occur, cut them out carefully with safe scissors. Additionally, grooming is important so that the rabbit is ingesting the least amount of fur possible. Ingested fur can create a blockage in the digestive tract, which can lead to anorexia and consequently death. This sort of complication must be treated surgically. As with most animals, grooming is not purely aesthetic!

Regarding noise level, rabbits are active at dawn and dusk, so they are often awake when you may want to be sleeping. How much this affects you depends on how light of a sleeper you are and the personality of your rabbit. Some rabbits will chew on the cage bars, some will dig around in their litterbox. I’ve used ear plugs for the past four years because my rabbit Graysie snores like a 300 lb old man, though I believe this is relatively rare. If the option is available, I'd recommend keeping the cage in a living room or family room, and giving your rabbits plenty of daily exercise, mental stimulation, and interaction to ensure they are calmer in their cages.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Thumper and Letter need your help!

Thumper (black neutered male) and Letter (black and white spayed female) have been patiently waiting for their forever homes at the Boston MSPCA for almost a year. They are two of the absolute greatest rabbits--sociable, intelligent, calm, affectionate, and sweet, and they are in their 11th hour at the shelter. This means that if they don't find homes within the next few weeks, or even days, they will be put down. This would be a travesty as these adorable little guys are truly great; they have mostly been overlooked because they love sleeping in their cardboard boxes and therefore oftentimes not in view of visitors.

Both Thumper and Letter are fixed and expertly litterbox trained. They'd be ready to go home with anyone who could take them and provide the forever home they so desperately need and deserve.

If you or someone you know are possibly interested, please contact me (via therabbitadvocate@gmail.com) or the MSPCA Boston (617-522-5055) to inquire about them. Thank you!

Thumper and Letter were transfered to a foster home with the House Rabbit Connection this morning and are therefore safe from euthanasia. They are still looking for a loving home in which to live the rest of their long, happy lives, so please contact the HRC at 413-525-9222 or check their website to see about meeting this amazing pair. Thanks again!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Making Sense of Scents

Rabbits use two types of scent glands to mark their territory and communicate vital stats among one another—one under their chin and the other in their vent area. You may have noticed your bunny rubbing her chin on furniture, toys, food, or even you. It's her way of claiming ownership and proudly declaring, "That's mine!" You can sometimes observe rabbits, as well as various other mammals, scratching their chins with their hind legs and running around their (sometimes invented) territory, distributing their scent around the perimeter.

While the chin scent glands serve as subtler hints, the scent glands in the vent area, called inguinal scent glands, located on either side of the genitalia of both males and females, excrete a strong smell detectable even by humans. The rabbit is able to attach this scent to specific kinds of territorial droppings. However, rabbits frequently do not clean themselves properly, either due to weight or laziness, and the glands can become impacted and require your assistance.

When the inguinal scent glands are noticeably odorous, it’s time for a cleaning. I'll preface this by saying that you can't expect every part of owning a pet to be pleasant and great fun. Inguinal scent gland cleaning likely ranks high up there with the world's less pleasant pet ownership duties, but it's truly not that bad (besides the unpleasant odor). Your veterinarian can show you how to do it the first time, or you can just have them do it at quarterly vet visits. It's possible to do it at home as long as you can get a good grip on your rabbit, or wrap her in a towel, and are able to secure them on their backs or bottoms. If you're really skilled, you can do it by yourself, but the first few times you'll want to ask a (really) good friend to help out.

First, grab some Vaseline, Q-tips and tissues. Make sure you are sitting on the floor, so if the poor thing does wriggle out, she is safely close to the ground. Make the vent area accessible and expose the two slits on either side of the genitals. With a Vaseline coated Q-tip, wipe out the dark brown waxy substance.* Keep in mind to do all this very carefully because the area is very sensitive and be aware that many rabbits get quite offended by all the activity down there, so keep them calm by talking soothingly and petting their heads. That's pretty much all there is to inguinal scent gland cleaning. I hope it's not as terrible as you imagined!

*Hold your breath while doing this.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Question from the Audience: Rabbits and Kids?

Question from Paige J. in San Jose, CA:
Q: I am seeking information regarding a bunny/rabbit for my 5 year old daughter. I don't know what types are the best for a younger child. We are looking for a rabbit that is social and likes to be cuddled/ held. Any information or resources would be greatly appreciated.

: One of the great misconceptions about rabbits involves the belief that they are starter pets— animals used to teach young children about responsibility or as a transitional step before a dog or cat. In reality, these perceptions are just not true and ultimately the root cause for a large part of the shelter rabbit population. Rabbits require a great deal of responsibility, an even greater amount than cats (though probably less than dogs). A pet rabbit needs several hours of daily exercise outside of its cage, fresh vegetables every morning, thorough cage cleaning a few times a week, possibly substantial medical expenses, and a serious time commitment, as they live an average of 8-10 years. Perhaps most importantly, rabbits require a large amount of love and personal attention.

The combination of rabbits and children tends to make for unhappy relationships, as the two have exceedingly opposite wants and needs. As prey animals that terrify easily, rabbits require a special kind of gentle understanding and interaction. Children are loud and their sudden movements combine uncomfortably with the rabbit's lifestyle. And rabbits, active at dawn and dusk, sleep during the day when children are interested in playing; like with humans, repeated sleep disturbances can elicit cranky and even aggressive responses from a rabbit.

On the other hand, children want soft, cuddly animals that they can pick up, hold, squeeze, etc. While the world might perceive them as stuffed animal toys, rabbits are in fact not suitable for child's play. Young children often restrain their pet rabbit, thereby encouraging the rabbit's "child-as-predator" perspective, which can incite aggressive behavior such as biting, kicking and scratching. Conversely, rabbits often suffer spinal fractures or even stress-induced heart attacks when they are improperly handled or picked up. Since many adult rabbit owners struggle with correctly and safely picking up and holding rabbits, the process is even harder for young children.

In addition to physical injuries, neglected or mistreated rabbits live their lives in fear and will often revert to a wild state. Unfortunately, this resulting common scenario—unhappy child, unhappy parent, unhappy rabbit— usually ends with the rabbit being dropped off at the shelter or worse, released into the wild. Rabbits are also abandoned when the child becomes bored with their pet, can't handle the responsibilities, or the daily or medical care gets too expensive. This is especially unfortunate as shelter life and abandonment takes a serious toll on these ultra-sensitive animals.

While it is somewhat dangerous to use specific animals as "starter pets," I can see the value in getting a hamster before a dog, etc. Instead of a rabbit, though, a younger child would be better off with a guinea pig, rat, fish, or even a calm, outgoing cat.

All that being said, there may be children who are calm, responsible, attentive, and compassionate enough to own a rabbit, though I wouldn't recommend it to a child under eleven or twelve. Even then, a parent will have to be the primary caretaker, meaning they must themselves be willing to dedicate a few hours to the rabbit's daily care. It is the adult's responsibility to understand and then convey to their children the theories behind approaching and interacting with rabbits, especially making it clear that picking up the rabbit is only for adults. One last thing to consider is that countless rabbits are returned to shelters when it is realized that a family member is allergic to the animal; please make sure to test for this before adopting.

To sum up, I would advise waiting a few years, until your daughter is a little older, at which point a trip to your local animal shelter will allow you to meet a variety of rabbits. There, you will be able to decide which individual (or individuals) seems best suited to your specific character needs. I wouldn't categorize any particular breed of rabbit as friendlier than others; there is a behavioral range in all types, though there are certain other factors to consider, such as the fact that some breeds (for example Angoras) require extensive grooming. Other than that, I don't advise choosing a rabbit based on it's breed or look, but rather by its individual character and personality.

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.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

How to Pick Up a Rabbit

Rabbits deserve a high level of respect and this includes the right not to be restrained by humans for our pleasure, for instance, by unnecessarily picking them up. (Look back here to read why rabbits don't like being held despite their stuffed-animal appearance.) However, there are instances, like a vet visit or a nail trim, that require a rabbit to be picked up.

Knowing the proper way to pick up and hold your rabbit is essential to avoiding serious injury. When picking up a rabbit, you'll need to be confident and slightly forceful. Meek attempts allow the rabbit to flail and kick out its hind legs, which could cause a disastrous spinal fracture. Therefore you must always support the bottom of a rabbit while they are being picked up and held.

The best way to pick up a rabbit starts with a few nice pats on the head for reassurance.

Then, move your hands down to its shoulders and wrap your hands around its back and sides, pushing down softly but firmly.

Move your right hand under the chest and lift up slightly.

Place your left hand on the bottom of the rabbit near its tail and lift her up, holding her firmly and tightly.

Place the rabbit to your chest, supporting her legs. Hold her firmly and securely, disabling her ability to jump. A fall from a few feet can lead to a leg or back fracture.
If your rabbit has a tendency to flail when held, wrap her in a towel to restrain her completely. This sort of wrapping technique can be helpful for nail trims as well.

She gets a treat for being such a good sport!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Question from the Audience: Urine Trouble and Pellet Trouble

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?

Interspecies Cuddling: Mouse, the cat, and Bunnicula, the bunnicula

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!

Monday, October 27, 2008

How to Train your Rabbit

Training your rabbit to come when called can be a valuable tool. I use this command to get my rabbit into her cage and keep her mentally stimulated!
To teach your bunny this trick, start by crouching down a few feet away from her. Hold a treat, like a blueberry in your hand and make tsk tsk tsk sounds. If there's no response, move a little closer and let your rabbit smell the treat, making the tsk continuously. When she comes to you, continue making the sound and give her the treat. Move back and start the process over again. Your aim is to get the rabbit to associate the tsk sound with a treat. She'll likely catch on faster than you think, but the bottom line here is patience and repetition. Later on, you'll only need a treat half the time. Practice calling her over often to keep it fresh in her memory, and if your rabbit starts giving you that clueless look, increase the frequency of your practice sessions.

This sort of Pavlovian conditioning works well with rabbits. As we owners know, bunnies are intelligent creatures. Teaching them commands is an excellent way to mentally stimulate and keep them active, thinking, and happy. And teaching your rabbit to come when called can make your life easier. You'll never have to chase her into the cage at night again! She'll go in on command. This not only helps you, but since your rabbit is entering the cage seemingly at her own will, she'll view the cage as her own controlled territory, causing her to feel safer.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Question from the Audience: Bunny Friends

A question from Greg S. in Boston, MA:

Q: I currently have a male lionhead rabbit, and he lives alone, is an indoor rabbit and gets a lot of time out of his cage. However, there are still a few hours he is home alone and I was considering getting a bonding candidate for him. I was wondering whether there is any sort of sign that finding a mate would be good? He has been introduced to another rabbit before and seemed very interested and gentle, the other rabbit on the other hand was not interested and too dominant. Do you think this submissiveness would be with all rabbits or was that an isolated example?

A: If you ever observed a bonded pair of rabbits, you immediately understand that rabbits are social creatures who love and enjoy each others' company. And if you didn't think there was anything cuter than your bunny flopping down next to you, you have to see two bunnies cuddling up with each other. The cuteness increases exponentially!

Exponential Cuteness

But before you do adopt, you should first have your rabbit fixed. Neutering eliminates numerous medical problems, halts unwanted behaviors, and also reduces aggression and tension between rabbit companions. Unneutered males can be quite aggressive, though females can be just as violent, and the only sure thing you can do to ease a transition to two bunnies is spay and neuter. Also be aware that it takes roughly six weeks for the hormones to filter out of the body, so you'll have to wait a month or two after the surgery before the introduction.
The best combination for a neutered male would be a spayed female, though it's not impossible for two neutered males to get along.

While dominance and submissiveness are relative qualities, they do tend to stay consistent in individuals and seem tied to personality. Since your rabbit reacted calmly and gently during a previous introduction, you can mostly expect he will behave similarly in the future. However, if the introduction with the "too-dominant" rabbit took place in a non-neutral territory, such as on the "too-dominant" bunny's home turf, the meeting was biased, and the circumstances would have affected their personalities. However, their reactions could still resonate in general terms.

The best way to determine how your bunny would react to others is to find out. Many shelters, such as the Boston MSPCA, allow potential adopters to bring in their current pets for a meet and greet. This is a good neutral ground for an introduction and a good way to see which rabbits your pet would get along well with.

While considering a second rabbit, don't forget that you will need a neutral space for them to have their first few interactions, a second cage, and a separate area for the second cage. It will reduce stress levels greatly if the rabbits can get used to each others' smells before the new one moves into your first bunny's territory.

All in all, since rabbits are social creatures, your bunny would most likely greatly enjoy having a pal to hang with. And with adopting another rabbit, you are saving an another life! What could be better than that?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Question from the Audience: Digging and Chewing

Of the seven or so emails I received last week, a whopping three concerned chewing behaviors, specifically carpet chewing. See Sarah L.'s question and answer here, and see below for the additional two:

From Tina S. in Maynard, MA:

Q: We recently adopted an unneutered 1 year old male rex rabbit. We let him have a few hours of fun in the evenings, but he keeps chewing the carpet up in one spot under our dresser. We have tried blocking it off with various things and he always finds a way to get it. I was wondering if you had any advice for us?

And from Allison F. in Arlington, MA:
Q: While my fixed male and female 1.5 yr old bunny pair have lots of a room to run and cardboard to chew, they still insist on digging and pulling out carpet
from time to time. Any ideas on how to discourage this activity?

A: Three primary factors influence chewing behaviors: age, hormones and personality. First, let's focus on the common denominator here: age. All three (including Winnie) are under 2 years old and therefore still in their teenage years. Younger rabbits not only have extra energy to burn, but tend to be more mischievous. Since all the rabbits involved here are still young, it should be reassuring to know that as rabbits grow older, the less trouble they will get into.

Getting your rabbit spayed or neutered is the single most powerful way to reduce their desire to chew and dig. Along with a multitude of health and behavioral benefits that come with fixing your rabbit, comes the lessened desire to burrow, dig, chew, and destroy. The change is most drastic in females, who might be chewing and digging in order to prepare for a (real or fake) pregnancy; however, a neuter surgery will calm a male rabbit as well, reducing a variety of destructive behaviors.

Personality is a large part of chewing and digging. Many rabbits are natural chewers and many are natural troublemakers and the combination of these two qualities can be perilous to your furniture! Here are a few rules and tips to decrease carpet chewing:

1) Strict supervision --> Consistent Discipline --> Smart discipline: Without strict supervision you can't have consistency in discipline. Your rabbit can get away with all sorts of shenanigans and since she will only be getting in trouble half the time, the message of "no!" won't get through clearly. Smart discipline is a large part of seeing results. If your rabbit is interpreting your negative attention (you running over to her every time she digs at the carpet) as play, your discipline is not only failing to get across but even serving as encouragement. Instead try a time-out (back in the cage!) for a few minutes. Time-outs work because they cut out the attention to negative behaviors, and they are less likely to get interpreted as games, thereby showing you mean business!

2) Distraction: Right after your rabbit has stopped the negative behavior, call her over for a fun game or treat. Positive reinforcement and distraction go a long way.

Distraction is the name of the game!

3) Alternatives: Chewing is an important bunny acitivity as rabbit teeth are constantly growing. Always make sure you've provided plenty of timothy hay- it's not only an essential part of their diet, it's necessary for tooth development.
You can try putting a spare piece of carpet or a cotton towel in your rabbit's cage to chew on (just make sure she's not ingesting the fibers), since it's likely the texture she's seeking. These mineral chews are also great. Most rabbits love them and the treats help your rabbit learn to chew only on acceptable items.

4) Repellents: Pet stores sell repellent sprays, such as bitter apple spray (though some rabbits actually like the taste, so test it first). Check out a hardware store for creative ways to block certain spots. Areas like under dressers or under couches are specifically prone to a good chewing because they mimic what digging would be like at the end of a burrow. Block these areas off by putting a large shallow tupperware under the furniture. Get creative!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Quick Tip: Litter Box Trouble

Digging litter out of the litter box is a hugely annoying problem. My rabbit, Graysie, did this for most of her young life, and I tried all sorts of unsuccessful methods (huge covered litter boxes, different types of litter, clapping, yelling, etc. etc.). Finally, this surprisingly simple solution ended my frustrations: I purchased metal mesh/chicken wire and metal snips from a local hardware store, cut the chicken wire in the shape of the litter box, and after pouring in the fresh litter, I placed the tight-fitting metal wiring on top. The urine and droppings fell right through the wire and Graysie wasn't able to dig the litter out. Success!
Feel free to leave comments about how you solved one of your stubborn bunny's naughty habits!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Question from the Audience: Adoption

A question from Michelle O. in Brooklyn, NY:

Q: Dear Rabbit Advocate: I am considering getting a rabbit...I just don't know if I have room for it in my apartment. Plus my apartment has a cat and I don't know if that would be a good combo. How much time and care do rabbits need? I work long hours but I would love to have a friendly rabbit. Also, could you tell me where I should look for one?

A: These are all important questions that you should think about before deciding to adopt a rabbit. It's hard to think logically when you see that fluffy adorable little furball, so make the informed decision to adopt or not before heading down to your local shelter.

The actual space that rabbits require is not much, though your living quarters do have to accommodate a sizable cage. Different rabbit breeds require different cage sizes--a dwarf mini-lop will have different requirements than a Flemish Giant. (Speaking of Flemish Giants, Murph is an upstanding gentleman at the Boston MSPCA, looking for a forever home. With big size comes a big heart!) But if you have the space for it, a bigger cage gives your rabbit more freedom. You will also need a space for your rabbit to run around. Your bedroom can work just fine for this, or a living room/family room. For a skittish rabbit, bigger isn't always better. Shy rabbits will feel more comfortable in smaller spaces. Otherwise, a moderate-sized playing area should be fine, as long as your rabbit has room to check out different things and do her morning sprints!

Mr. Murphs, the Flemish Giant

One thing rabbits need more of than space is interaction. Rabbits are not hamsters or guinea pigs. They are more on par with cats and dogs in terms of the level of companionship they seek. But just because you work a 9-5 job, you can still have a pet rabbit. On a daily basis, you will need to let your bunny run around a larger territory for a few hours and spend at least half hour bonding. The more you interact with her, the more she will trust you, and the more rewarding your friendship will be. There's a direct correlation here!

Regarding interspecies rabbit introductions, they are not to be taken lightly. However, the House Rabbit Society reports a high level of success between cats and rabbits. Read this literature to learn all the details of a cat/rabbit introduction.

The best place to find an adoptable rabbit will be at your local animal shelter. You can use petfinder.com to locate a nearby animal shelter or rescue organization and even see the available pets online. Look back here to find out exactly how petfinder works or just go straight to their website!