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This article will appear in NJ Pets Magazine May 2005 Edition
It is written by the directors of RHBTS
Rabbits: Not Just for Easter Anymore
With Easter just around the corner, children throughout the country will wake up on Easter morning, hoping to find their baskets brimming with candy, colored eggs and possibly a live baby bunny.
This year hundreds of homes across the
The question in the end is, why do we gravitate towards this creature in the first place? Its hard to imagine humans losing interest in a cute and cuddly bunny. They are a recollection of our childhoods. They exist in our favorite fairy tales. They are soft and pleasant to the touch. Beyond this, and with the correct care and understanding, rabbits are the companion animals that we dream of. They are smart and responsive. They can learn to use a litterbox. They interact and form close bonds with their favorite people. When provided with love and respect, their true personalities are revealed. We hear many rabbit owners describing their pets as having the pleasant qualities of both cats and dogs.
Only when we learn to share our homes with a rabbit do we grasp the true rewards and concepts behind owning a bunny! A rabbit left alone in a hutch in the backyard is not a member of the family. A hutch rabbit is a sad rabbit. Rabbits, like us, are very social creatures. Given no stimulation from its caretakers, it becomes the animal that sits in its cage and does nothing. It becomes a pain to trek out into the backyard during freezing weather, to feed the rabbit and to keep its water source ice-free. Night time predators lurking around a rabbits hutch can literally scare it to death, without having to even touch the rabbit. Illnesses often go unnoticed with a rabbit that lives in a hutch. Rabbits, being prey animals, tend to hide their illnesses. A subtle change in a rabbits daily food intake or lack of energy can easily go unnoticed by someone whose only interaction with the rabbit is limited to providing food and water.
Now that you know the importance of keeping your new friend inside, here are a few of the components necessary to making your life with a house rabbit a happy one..
This is mandatory. It helps rabbits to become reliably litterbox trained. It curbs hormonally-driven behaviors, such as spraying and cage aggressiveness. It allows same-sex or mixed sex pairs or trios (or more!) to live in harmony. It adds to the long, healthy life of the rabbit: there is an 85%+ chance of unspayed female rabbits developing uterine or other reproductive cancers by the time they are just four years old.
Rabbits need a good, complete plain pelleted food as part of their diet. Both Oxbow and Purina make excellent rabbit foods. Rabbits under three months of age need free access to alfalfa hay. Rabbits over three months of age can slowly start switching over to timothy hay, which will be a staple for their entire adult lives. Greens, such as Romaine and green leaf lettuce, parsley, dandelion and collard greens, endive, etc. are an essential part of an adult rabbits (three months and over) daily diet. NO iceberg lettuce, please!!! Fruits and veggies, such as broccoli, carrots, papaya, and apple and pear slices, can supplement the diet. All fresh foods should be thoroughly washed and served at room temperature. A waterbottle or heavy crock bowl is essential for providing clean drinking water.
Most rabbits are amenable to using a roomy cage as a home base, when given at least three hours of run time outside the cage. We use large wire dog crates to house our resident and foster rabbits. Very lucky rabbits may find themselves residing in a room of their very own, and live cage-free. In either case, the rabbits running space must be thoroughly rabbit-proofed (think child-proofing, on a lower level.) Electrical cord protectors, clever furniture arrangement and safe chewing diversions, are all part of successfully rabbit-proofing a room. Rabbits need to chew. You cannot teach or train a rabbit not to chew, anymore than you cant teach a cat not to sharpen its claws. You CAN, however, teach them what may be chewed appropriately. Cardboard boxes with holes cut in them, phone books, untreated willow baskets, sea grass mats, and twigs and branches from apple trees, are relished by our lapine nibblers.
Spayed/neutered rabbits like to leave their deposits in one area. A large, open cat litterbox or plastic sweater box make for a nice, roomy rabbit outhouse. We use a thick layer of newspaper to line the litterbox, and add a heap of timothy hay. This will help attract and encourage the rabbit to use the litterbox. Recycled paper litters also work well, and are very absorbent. Your rabbit should have access to a litterbox in its cage, in addition to one in its running space.
Toys, play and diversions
Rabbits seem to like clanky toys. They fling them. They nudge them. They dig at them. Hard plastic infant toys, such as baby keys, are a big hit, as are large parrot toys. Experiment here, its fun! A happy rabbit will run, full speed, wiggle its head and leap into the air, turning a 180. This is a rabbit dance of joy. Rabbits play a version of tag with their fellow rabbits, and sometimes with a favorite dog or cat.
As we have mentioned, rabbits are masters at hiding their illnesses. Being prey animals by nature, their lives depend on it. A rabbit-savvy veterinarian will be your rabbits best friend in such instances. Take the time to call a few veterinarians in your area, before Bunny comes home. A veterinarian that treats exotics, should, generally, be your first contact. Ask how many rabbits the vet treats annually. Ask if they are comfortable in dealing with the more common rabbit health concerns: Malocclusion (long, misaligned teeth that need to be clipped regularly), GI Stasis (or sluggish gut, in which a rabbit can get intestinal blockages), etc.
Rabbits and Kids
Many of the rabbits that come into our rescue were once intended as childrens pets. Here, we pass along a word of caution: While rabbits can make wonderful FAMILY companions, it is both unfair and unrealistic to expect a child to take on the full responsibility of caring for a rabbit. Children sometimes forge. Children have homework, attend afterschool programs, sports, scouts, etc. Older children eventually get their drivers licenses and begin dating. A young rabbit that is adopted for a 9-year-old child, may see that same child off to college. When the care of a rabbit, or any pet for that matter, is a family project, with the adults of the household at the helm, the rabbits care, long life and happiness can be secured.
Sometimes rabbits and kids just arent a good match. A young, boisterous child may be too overwhelming for a rabbit. Many of the common rabbit injuries we see happen to rabbits who were accidentally dropped by small children. Since rabbits are more subtly demonstrative, than a dog or cat may be, a child may feel that Bunny doesnt like them. In the same vein, many rabbits dont like to be lifted or carried. Being pure ground-dwellers, it can be frightening to them to suddenly lift several feet off the ground. However, sitting quietly on the floor or couch, the same child may find Bunny venturing into their laps or nudging their legs for attention.
Where Do We Find the Perfect House Rabbit?
The answer is usually not found in a petstore. Run, dont walk, away from such places. Here you will find adorable, but often sickly rabbit kittens (baby rabbits), that are too young to be away from Mama Rabbit. A story has yet to be told about the great information the salesperson gave us regarding our new pet. Misinformation, incorrect sexing, and rabbits of questionable health are what you will find here. The salesperson will also not mention the fact that your adorable baby bunny will have reached its full adult size and sexual maturity at six months of age, nor the often $200 price tag that is attached to the necessary spay/neuter that s/he will need.
Animal shelters or rabbit rescues are the solution! In most cases, the rabbits available for adoption have already been vet-checked and spayed and neutered, saving you the cost. The shelter or rescue personnel will have a background on the rabbit, knowing its likes, dislikes and overall personality, thereby making it easy for you to make a match. One rabbit may be shy and retiring and will be content to sit in your lap. Another rabbit may be bold and outgoing and love chasing the family cat. Rabbits residing in rescues or shelters are often socialized and litterbox trained, making it an easier transition into your household. Most importantly, animal shelters and rabbit rescues generally employ personnel who care about the future of the animal, and are well-versed in their care, making them a valuable resource.
There are many breeds of rabbits, from the diminutive 2 lb. Dwarf rabbit, to the 18lb. Flemish Giant. Generalization about rabbit breeds abound: The laid-back lop-eared rabbit. The spirited Dwarf rabbit. Rabbits personalities vary as much as ours do. Interestingly, the Easter bunny often found at petstores, is the New Zealand white. It is a large, solid-white rabbit, with pink or ruby eyes. Ironically, this Easter bunny is the one most commonly found in animal shelters and rabbit rescues, and is among the last adopted. Do people find them too plain looking? Are their ruby eyes not agreeable? Well never know. But we will form our own generalization here: Our New Zealand friends are big, both in size and personality. They are usually sweet, gentle giants.
Who We Are and What We do
We operate Rabbit Haven by the Sea, a small rabbit rescue in Monmouth County. We take in rabbits from a variety of situations, spay/neuter, socialize, litterbox train, and find their forever homes. Rabbit Haven by the Sea promotes rabbits as indoor companion animals. We disseminate information on rabbit care to new rabbit parents, or those who currently have bunnies and would like to learn more. We provide a cross-posting service for adoptable rabbits not under our direct care. We are ALWAYS happy to help answer questions and troubleshoot. We can be contacted at RabbitHaven123@aol.com. Visit us on the web: http://www.petfinder.org/shelters/NJ365.html and http://www.angelfire.com/oz/watershipdown/.
As you can see, rabbits arent just for Easter anymore. If you want to add a wonderful, responsive companion animal to your household, and are ready to provide the correct amount of time and love involved in their care, the house rabbit will not disappoint.