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Reliable Rabbit Resources

Do you remember the documentary Roger and Me?  It was about how General Motors' departure from Flint MI devastated that city.  In it Michael Moore, then an unknown, interviews residents.  If you've seen it, you likely know where I'm going with this.  There's a scene where Moore interviews a woman who sells rabbits from her home, for "pets or meat".  It's only about 2 minutes of the movie, but it became the 1989 equivalent of a viral meme.  I think of that scene whenever Pinterest shows me a pin about how to dress rabbits - and I'm not talking about cute hats and sweaters.  

Jennas rabbits 10182014-001
Rabbit tractor allows grazing

 

I accept that many people raise rabbits for their meat.  Rabbits reproduce quickly, their meat is lean, they are small and their feces can be used as fertilizer.  In poor countries where malnutrition is a serious problem and protein is hard to come by, raising rabbits for food makes sense.  I personally can not imagine eating rabbit now that I've known and loved these curious, fun-loving, affectionate creatures, but I'm not going to tell other people not to. 

No, I'm bringing this up because much of the advice regarding rabbit care is very different depending on whether you are looking to care for many rabbits, inexpensively, for a short period of time or a couple very healthy rabbits for ten years or more.  This is a problem cat and dog owners don't run into.  Most of the books I've borrowed from my local library network are intended for farmers.  Even books intended for pet owners are often outdated, suggesting diets and housing that veterinarians now know are not in the rabbits' best interest. 

So I've written up a short list of reliable resources for people with pet rabbits.  I'll continue to add to it as I find more.  If you know of one I missed, please let me know in the comments.

  • Rabbit Advocates - A quick overview of rabbit behavior. Consider it the Spark Notes version.
  • Save a Fluff - This website from the UK focuses on feeding rabbits.  The section on why hay is so important and how to choose the best hay is especially good.  
  • Too Many Bunnies - Great information about rabbit communication, behavior and grooming.  It's written by people who foster and rehome rabbits.
  • Rabbit Archives - The MSPCA provides an introduction to rabbit ownership, interesting facts and the most common reasons why people surrender pet rabbits.
  • House Rabbit Society - You can't find anyone more dedicated to pet rabbits than members of this nationwide group.  If you're considering getting a pet rabbit, this site is a must read.
  • Rabbit Care with Amy Sedaris and Mary E. Cotter, Ed.D., LVT.  - Amy and Mary created a series of Howcast videos dedicated to caring for your pet rabbit.  Amy is a long time rabbit owner and Mary is a licensed veterinary tech (LVT) and rabbit expert.  Their video on clipping nails gives the best advice I've seen anywhere.
  • My House Rabbit - This website, written by two rabbit owners was very helpful to us when we first got Lady.  Some of the diet advice differs from what we've read elsewhere, so be sure to get your information from multiple sources.
  • Here's Why Easter is Bad for Bunnies - This article comes from National Geographic.  It explains how rabbits have become "one of the most abandoned pets in the United States".  There is also an adorable video of the photo shoot for the article.  
  • Regarding the Secret Life of Rabbits - Penny Collins draws cartoons about her life living with three rabbits.  It is hysterical and spot on.
  • My Rabbit Board - An eclectic mix of most things rabbit related, is the best description I can give of my rabbit page on Pinterest.  

Fergus' Tale

Alex and I had lived with Lady for a year when we decided we were up to the task of caring for two rabbits.  We had the room.  We had the equipment.  And everything we read said that rabbits are social animals and feel safer and more at ease with another rabbit around; there is safety in numbers after all.  So we went back to Nevins Farm (the closest shelter with rabbits) to see who they had available.  We wanted a rabbit similar in size to Lady (about 5 lbs) with a friendly temperament, who was litter box trained.  Oh, and no Angoras, because I am not willing to deal with all that crazy fur. 

They had so many rabbits that the bunny room was full to capacity and another room down a hall and through a door labelled Employees Only had been converted to house more.  We would have missed that second room entirely if we hadn't asked a volunteer which rabbit she recommended for our situation.  Without a moment's hesitation she said she knew just the fellow.  His name was Cody and he'd been overlooked so often, but he loved to be brushed and pet.  As she lead us to the converted bunny room she said not to be put off by his appearance; he was in mid molt so even though she'd spent a good 30 minutes brushing him the day before you'd never know it to look at him.

 

Scruffy fergus 08242015
Scruffy Fergus

She wasn't exaggerating.  When we got to the room, she opened a cage and lifted out a tiny black creature with stubby ears, fish eyes rimmed with red and scruffy black fur.  He was smaller than Lady (just 4 pounds) and a short hair, which was good, but it was not love at first sight.

"He had a bit of cage aggression when he first came, but he's doing much better now", the attendant informed us.  Aggression?  I barely registered the word before the attendant settled the tiny rabbit in my arms. As if to distract me from his past, he quickly climbed up my chest, nuzzled his wee head under my chin and snuggled into my chest.  As the attendant told us what was known about the rabbit, Alex and I took turns holding him.  If we stopped petting him, his head would pop up quizzically, but otherwise he seemed perfectly content.  Lady would never have put up with being held so long. 

Fergus and Lady alert 11022016

It was unclear if he'd had one or two previous owners.  What was known for sure was that he had been turned in to the shelter by a family whose children had lost interest in him.  That was in October, a good 8 months earlier.  Cody had been at the shelter longer than any of the other rabbits.  There was no reason why he should have been hard to place other than his color.  He was pure black, except for the temporary gray patterns his molting fur created.  Black animals are simply harder to find homes for.  It's hard to see their  facial expressions in photos.  In person their color often means that they fade into the shadows of their cage.  Actually, when Cody was returned to his cage he cowered in the back corner, keeping a wary eye on anyone who approached.  And those eyes.  My goodness, they looked like they would fall out of his face at any moment, like marbles that had been glued on as an after thought.  I felt a bit queasy when I looked at them.  But he was sweet and we just couldn't condemn him to more time in that adequate, but oh so limited space.  

After a few forms and the writing of a check we were buckling his carrier into the back seat and driving home.  

Alex getting Fergus 08232015
Bringing Fergus home

As we got to know him, we pieced together some more details about his past.  Even by rabbit standards, he did not like sudden movements or being approached quickly.  It made us wonder if the kids who had owned him before weren't all that gentle, or picked him up a lot.  No rabbit wants to be picked up; it triggers all sorts of primordial fears regarding owls, foxes and becoming dinner. This fellow would lunge and bark (yes, bark) if he sensed any possibility that he was going to be scooped.  It was the combination of this fighting spirit and jowly face that earned him the name Fergus.  He reminded me of a cross between the Scottie in Lady and the Tramp and the warrior Fergus on the short lived TV series Roar.  He was a grumpalump who longed to be pet, and brushed and loved.

He was part of our family for a wonderful year and a half, before dying at age 9*.       

Fergus and Alex 09152016

 

*If you google rabbit life expectancy you'll get a wide range of answers, even once you narrow it down to pet rabbits.  As more rabbits are living in houses with their people (rather than in hutches), they are safer and tend to get more medical care, so their life expectancy is longer.  It makes it hard to compare a rabbit's age to a human's. Having said that, a nine year old rabbit is without a doubt a senior citizen.  

Name: Fergus (né Cody)

Life: 2008 - January 11, 2017

Sex: male, neutered

Breed: Polish

Distinguishing marks: Exceptionally large eyes, tiny ears


Some Disturbing Truths about Rabbit Life

Five reasons to beware of rabbits! The shocking truth about bunnies! Rabbits' deviant behavior revealed! 

If this were a listicle on Buzzfeed, that is how I'd grab your attention.  Fortunately it is not, so let me just begin by saying that  sharing a home with rabbits is not for everyone.  There are certain realities of rabbit life that are unpleasant, even down right disturbing. 

The best seat in the house - Rabbits like to sit in their litter box.  If given the choice between a fuzzy, soft cushion and a used litter box, the rabbit will probably choose the box.

We call the litter box the "safe zone" because the bunnies will run there to avoid being picked up, after hearing a loud noise, or when they just want to be left alone.  Rabbits (like cats) mark their territory.  I think rabbits feel more secure surrounded by their smell.  If you've ever washed a child's beloved blanky or stuffed animal, only to have the child sob that it doesn't smell right and you ruined it, then you understand.  

King of the mountain - Even if rabbits are fixed (and they should be for many reasons), they will still mount one another to show who is in charge. It looks like they are using sex to dominate, which can be very hard to watch.  The funny thing is that when rabbits mount to show dominance, they don't really care what part of the other bunny they are on top of. I've seen a rabbit mount another rabbit's head, even the abdomen. 

Is that a coffee bean or a poo? - Even the best litter box-trained bunny will drop the occasional poo on the floor.  The good news is that rabbit poo is 1) about the size of a pea or bean, 2) firm, 3) nearly odorless, and 4) dry to the touch after a few minutes.  In short almost anything you touch while washing dishes feels grosser than picking up a rabbit poo.  

These accidents seem to  happen more when rabbits are eating, so we've placed the hay racks over the litter boxes. 

 

 

Lady hay rack 11102017
Lady in the dining room

Of course, sometimes these "misplaced" poos are not accidents at all, but territory markers.  It's the rabbit version of building a wall to keep newcomers out.  

 

 

Protest poop and pee 10282017
Lady telling Bella, "Everything outside your pen is mine!"

Rabbit urine stinks!  The longer urine is exposed to air, the worse it smells.  If left too long the ammonia in the urine is enough to make your eyes and nose burn.  It can make your rabbit sick too.  Through trial and error we've found that if we place dry litter over any urine in the litter boxes, we can comfortably go a couple days before they need to be emptied.  A mix of white vinegar and water is incredibly effective at deodorizing and sanitizing the litter boxes.  It works on floors, rugs and furniture too.  This cleaning method has the added benefits of being veterinarian recommended and super cheap.

Fergus in hay 11052015
Hay isn't just for horses - The majority of a pet rabbit's diet should be hay.  In fact when we were considering getting a rabbit and were reading up on their care, we noticed that source after  source said rabbits should have "unlimited hay".  Hay is essential to keeping their digestive system working properly and is important to good dental health too. 

Hay smells a lot better than cat and dog food.  So why have I included it on this list of unpleasant realities of living with rabbits?  What could possibly be upsetting about hay (aside from being allergic to it)? If you live with rabbits, you will have hay everywhere.  You can sweep, you can vacuum and you will still find pieces you missed. 

Think I'm exaggerating?  I have found hay, in my bra more than once.

Is your rabbit eating its poo? The answer is yes...and no.  You may be familiar with the fact that sheep and cows chew their food, swallow it, then regurgitate it and chew it again.  Their grassy diet is hard to digest.  Rabbits have a similar diet, but they digest it differently.  A rabbit's food goes through the stomach and large intestine, then enters the cecum where it undergoes changes that make it more nutrient rich.  The enriched substance (cecotropes) exits the rabbit the same way poo does, but that's all they have in common.  One is vitamin packed and essential to good nutrition, the other is waste.  The rabbit eats the cecotropes and gets the nutritional benefit.  It's one of those things you don't want to spend a lot of time thinking about.  

If you've read to this point and you still think you want a rabbit, that's great.  If you've decided life with rabbits is not what you expected, that's great too.  Aren't you glad you know that before you brought one home? 

As I'm writing this, we're just a couple weeks away from Easter.  It is a bad time of year for domesticated rabbits.  Every year people buy adorable bunnies as Easter gifts without knowing anything about how to care for them.  About a month later shelters are drowning in unwanted rabbits.  These are the lucky ones.  Others are released into the wild, as unprepared as you or I would be if we were dropped in the Amazon.  We have a lot in common physically with the people who live there, but we have none of the survival skills.  The same is true of rabbits released into the wild. 

If you want to give an adorable gift this Easter, buy a stuffed rabbit, with a few chocolate bunnies for friends.