Behavior

Construction Zone

After living with someone for three years it is easy to think you know them.

I know Bella becomes ecstatic at the prospect of food. It is her greatest joy in life. If a food is especially delightful she will run in circles with it in her mouth before devouring it.

Bella is a fantastic hay eater. Her preferred method of eating it is to grab a big mouthful, drop it on our newest rug and eat it there.

She will happily sit at your side a half hour or more if you are petting her ears and face. She will quickly turn her back on you and give you disdainful side-eye stares if you pet any other part of her body. 

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Yet she forgives insults, such as having her feet or scut brushed, the moment the offending action ends. It's quite endearing.

Bella eagerly investigates everything new in her world, and prefers to leap before considering where she will land.


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Bella does not approve of dogs or raccoons visiting our yard, or wolves and screeching birds of prey on the TV. All the above will have her thumping the ground in alarm and racing to hide behind the couch.

She doesn’t play with toys. 

Midday, Bella can be found either in classic bunny-loaf pose

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or fully, relaxed, melted-bunny pose.


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So I was more than surprised to hear a commotion coming from her "house" this afternoon.

 

Sounds like Bella has a new hobby. 

 


Perspective is the Thing

Why do my bunnies prefer to lounge on flat, hard surfaces and in their dirty litter boxes to cozy cushions and blankets?

Why does Bella not realize that if she hears our voices approaching, that means our bodies are approaching too?  I'd love to be able to tell her in a way she'd understand, "Really Bella, there's no reason for our appearance to be such a shock."

And tonight's question, why will Lady try to chew through the metal bars of her ex-pen to reach her treat ball, rather than looking for another, easier way to get it?

 

It was funny, but I also felt a little bad for Lady. She was working so hard for a goal she wasn't going to achieve.  I swung a wall of her pen 180 degrees so she could see the gate (and this part is important, I think) in front of her.  

 

 

Sweet success!  And a reminder that where you focus your energy matters.  

 


Hay Management

IMG_3915Spot has lived under our shed the last two years

In case you've missed me saying it before, rabbits need an unlimited supply of hay in order to stay healthy.  Those cute bags of rabbit granola/cereal they sell at the store are tempting bags of gastric distress.  They look a lot like human cereal with brightly colored treats dotting the brown roughage.  The difference is that the neon marshmallows in human cereal aren't good for us, but they aren't going to land us in the emergency room.  That's not the case with rabbits.  The "treats" are usually corn or dairy based, two foods that the rabbit GI system is not designed for.  They may not cause a problem the first time a rabbit eats them, but eaten consistently there will be.   Plain pellets, such as these from Oxbow are a healthy diet supplement.  Some owners mistakenly think they are equivalent to dog kibble, but these are too rich to fill that role.  It's unfortunate, since that would make living with rabbits much tidier.  Nope, rabbits need to eat a pile of hay roughly the size of their body each day to ensure good digestive and dental health.  It also reduces the chance that they'll chew on your furniture.   

The good news is that hay smells really good, unlike canned dog or cat food.  I grew up across the street from a horse barn so the smell of hay reminds me of long summer nights playing flashlight tag and days spent riding my bike and building forts.  The problem with hay is that it gets e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e!  It's impossible to grab a handful of hay and put in it in a hay rack (a.k.a. manger) without some falling on the floor.  Then there's all the hay the rabbits pull from their racks and toss to the side in search of the elusive perfect mouthful.  I don't really mind if they make a mess of the hay in their pens, they will often return to it for a snack, but the upstairs rack is in our dining room.  It is our least used room, but it would still be nice for it not to resemble a barn.  Each time we feed the bunnies or refill their water, we walk on hay.  Bits cling to our socks, spreading the hay from one end of the house to the other.

We've tried a variety of hay racks designed for small animals.  The slats, whether metal or wood, are too close together for a rabbit's snout, even Lady's slim one.   I tried cutting off alternating slats on a wooden rack, but the rabbits ignored the openings and messily rummaged through the hay sticking out on top. 

Lady troughLady using the Kaytee Small Animal Hay Manger, Large

They had plenty of room to grab a bite from the front of the rack but they weren't.  I started to wonder if rabbits were drawn to the hay that looked more like the tall grass they'd find in a field.  But they also seemed to like eating the hay they'd spread across the rug, easy to reach like the cut grass of a lawn.  Could they be hardwired with a memory of what grass (food) should look like?  I felt a bit like Jackson Galaxy, the cat behaviorist on Animal Planet, only I was trying to decode rabbit behavior.   If I observed the rabbits' habits enough, I was sure to find a solution that pleased everyone in the house, right?

We removed the hay rack and replaced it with a light metal bucket intended for the displays of fake flowers, a Dollar Store find.  Lady loved it.  

IMG_0131Lady with the Dollar Store bucket in the morning

Each day she'd use her teeth to pull the bucket out from where we'd wedged it between the litter box and a bookcase.  Once free, she'd grab the bucket with her teeth and flip it, sending the hay flying! 

IMG_0124Ten minutes later

It took Bella a little longer to think of doing this, but in the end it was clear that the bucket was just a toy that briefly delayed the inevitable hay storm.  The bucket tossing was utterly adorable and a lot of fun to watch, but a real pain to clean up after.  Disheartened I rehung the tiny wooden rack.

IMG_0131Bella feeling rather proud of herself

There had to be a way to contain the hay.  I became a bit obsessed, viewing every garden, kitchen and craft container as a potential, if unconventional, hay rack.  Would a metal shower caddy work?  What about a metal egg basket?  I finally set aside my Yankee desire to make-do and splurged on a larger (and more expensive) hay rack.  When that still didn't solve the problem I looked for ways to at least make cleanup quicker, in other words, less annoying. 

I tried using the mats they sell to go under cat and dog feeding areas, but they were too small.  Ditto rubber boot trays.  For a while I spread a blanket over the area, thinking cleanup would be easier if I could simply gather up the blanket and give it a shake outside. It wasn't.  What we needed was a hay-rack-friendly version of the enclosed litter boxes they sell for cats.  If the area were enclosed the hay wouldn't travel.  If I bought a large plastic storage bin and cut off one end to make an entrance, it just might work.  I set about trying to come up with a way to cut the plastic without leaving any sharp burs the buns could get hurt on.

A few days later I was breaking down cardboard boxes to put in the recycling bin and stopped, sizing up the box in my hand.  It was big enough to fit a litter box (bunnies like to fertilize where they eat) and the sides looked high enough to serve as hay-retaining walls.  I cut off both ends (one to fit around the hay rack and one to serve as entrance) and  put the litter box in.  It all fit quite nicely.  One unexpected benefit was the way it hid the litter box from view.  

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SolutionHand Made Hay Manger (Large) from Small Pet Select, the subject of a future post

As you can see, it's not perfect, but it's the best system we've come up with so far.  The wall does a nice job of corralling the hay when Bella starts rooting for her beloved "grass tops" (the nutrient rich seed heads).  We still drop some hay as we refill the rack and Bella still carries off hay bits caught in her fur, but all in all it's an improvement. It'll do...for now.


Where’s da bunny?

 

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Can you spot Bella?  

I was reading on the couch and sat up to take a drink.  What should appear but an inquisitive little bunny face?  She clearly wondered if I was doing something interesting, like getting her a treat. Or maybe coming over to rub her head.

I settled back into reading.  Bella returned to munching hay and pooing in her box, the bunny version of multitasking. 

 


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.  

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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.  

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. 

 

 

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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.  

 

 

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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.

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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.


Lady's Backstory (revised)

If rabbits could talk, I'm sure Lady would be quick to explain that she was here first and that she and only she gets to decide what other bunnies can share her space. She would also explain that she's an excellent interior designer, finds joy in rearranging her environment, runs for fun, likes to play "toss" (not catch, that's for dogs), and has a passion for digging.  I'd like to think that she would also thank us for changing her name from the dopey sounding Booboo that her first family called her, to Lady.  Alex named her after one of the direwolves in Game of Thrones; I love the incongruity of naming a 4.5 pound prey animal after a mammoth predator.    

Lady eating 05292017

When Lady lived with her first family, she was one of two rabbits in the home.  She and the buck (male rabbit) were a bonded pair, the rabbit equivalent of BFFs.  When Lady was four, the family moved to an apartment that didn't allow pets, so the rabbits went to the MSPCA.  I picture them being housed together, comforting one another as they got used to all the new smells and sounds, not to mention the stress of being surrounded by unfamiliar rabbits and humans.  Sadly, Lady's buddy was sickly, and just a couple weeks after arriving, he died.  The staff at the MSPCA told us that Lady was lethargic after his death.  They gave her extra love, and placed a stuffed animal in her cage to help her feel less alone.  For weeks she groomed that toy and snuggled against it. 

When Alex and I visited the MSPCA she'd stopped grooming the stuffed animal and was quite interested in all that was happening around her.  I was instantly drawn to her because in size and shape she resembled the wild rabbits I'd tried so many times to get close to.  The Bunny Room at the MSPCA had bonded bunnies that had to go home together, giant rabbits the size of Corgis, Lionheads, Angoras and everything in between.  Alex and I had decided on the way over that we wanted one rabbit; we'd never so much as held a rabbit before so one felt like plenty of new responsibility to take on.  We knew we wanted it to be on the small side (though not a dwarf because they tend to have a shorter life expectancy), and no pink eyes.  I'm embarrassed to admit that last criterion was all me.  Alex thought a white bun with pink eyes would be adorable, but those eyes looked a bit creepy to me. 

Each cage had some information about the rabbit, its name, approximate age, breed and depending on how it had come to the shelter, a bit about its personality.  Lady's tag said that she was friendly, liked other rabbits, enjoyed watching TV and was litter trained.  She sounded perfect, though looking at her cage I had my doubts about the last part; there were Cocoa Puff-like droppings scattered across its floor.  Years later I now  know that even a well trained rabbit will mark its territory if unfamiliar or enemy rabbits are around.  It's the rabbit version of a white picket fence...or maybe chain link.  It turned out that once Lady got settled in at our house and started to feel at home, she stopped tagging her pen with poo and used the litter box like the lady she is.  

She has now lived with us for a little over three years and has utterly rearranged our lives for the better.

Name: Lady (née Booboo)

Born: 2010

Sex: female, neutered

Breed: Rex 

Distinguishing marks: Breeder's tattoo in one ear

 


Clicker Priming (Revised)

"Dumb bunny!" is a mild oath that Alex has used for as long as I've known him, well before rabbits entered our home.  It's the sort of thing he'd say if he locked the door, then realized he'd left his sunglasses inside.  He doesn't say it so much any more.  I don't think it was a conscious decision; it's just the natural result of living with and loving these furry beings.

Rabbits certainly don't think like you and me (notice the name of this blog), and they aren't motivated by the same desires as dogs and cats, but that doesn't make them dumb.   Just like we wouldn't call a toddler dumb if she sees melting snow drip off the roof and says "It's raining"; rabbits aren't dumb when they chew on cords.  From their point of view the cords are roots in their burrow, blocking a path of escape.  Their behavior makes perfect sense - in bunny world.

Rabbits are trainable.  The most extreme example of training I know of is a rabbit steeplechase.  Seriously.  Go ahead and take a moment to Google it.  On the other end of the spectrum is litter box training.  All three of the rabbits that we've lived with came from shelters and had been trained by their previous owners (another good reason to get your rabbit from a shelter).  From what I've read, the process is pretty simple.  Rabbits in their burrow tend to do their business in designated areas.  So, once your rabbit has settled in, watch to see where your rabbit has chosen for that purpose and put a litter box there. They catch on quickly.  Giving a treat when you catch them in the act helps the process along.  If you've ever been involved in potty training a child, this will feel quite familiar.

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We've taught all of our rabbits that "pet pet" is an invitation to come over and get some loving.  If they're interested, they come over.  If they're not, they don't.  They're a lot like cats.  Our training program was very simple.  We just said "pet pet" a lot in soothing tones while petting them.  Later when calling them to come over for some attention, we'd say "pet pet" and hold out our hand.

Without trying to, we also taught Lady to return to her pen.  She'd figured out that when we got her back in her pen at bedtime we always gave her a treat.  Soon enough, hearing the rustle of the bag or Alex's call of "Who wants papaya?" was enough to have her running excitedly in circles then dashing into her pen.  I tried to teach her "up in the pen" as a command to go with it, but it didn't take.  Maybe it was too long.  Maybe it was the fact that Alex and I said different things.  It didn't matter.  Rustling the bag always worked, so we were all set.

When we got Fergus and the two of them bonded, he learned the routine from Lady.  He was older than her and would sometimes watch bemused as she ran in circles, but after a moment or two he would join her in dashing to the pen.  I may have been a bit smug about how well we'd "trained" our bunnies. 

Eventually dear old Fergus died and Bella, a puppy-like one year old came to live with us.  Lady and Bella did not take to each other.  For their safety, they do not play together.  They do not spend unsupervised time together.  Lady is not going to teach this interloper (her word, not mine) what to do when you hear the rustle of the treat bag.  If Lady had her way, Bella would not even know treats exist.

 

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Lady (left) and Bella with a safety gap between their pens

Each day after they've had breakfast we bring one bun upstairs and let the other one run free downstairs.  Lady is an adult and has come to accept that sometimes you have to do something you don't like (such as being picked up) in order to get something you want (a change of scenery).  She's not thrilled, but she'll let us do it.   

Bella on the other hand is 1 year old.  She senses she's about to be scooped and dashes behind the couch.  When we follow, she escapes out the other side and hides under the dining room table.  By the time we move a chair to reach for her, she's off in the opposite direction!  More than once I've stood in the middle of the room and said "I'm a human, I should be able to outsmart you", but escape is a bunny's super power.  

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By the time Bella gives in and lets us catch her, all the furniture in two rooms has been moved and we're trying, really trying, not to get mad.  "Can't blame a bunny for being a bunny" Alex reminds me.  That's true, but try telling your boss you'll be late because you have to catch your rabbit!  Thank goodness she's an animal lover.

So when I saw cats being clicker trained on the show My Cat from Hell (Animal Planet), I decided to give it a try. We bought a couple plastic clickers at the pet store (about $4 each), got some books from the library on clicker training dogs (couldn't find any on other animals) and got started.  

The first step is to teach the animal that this strange sound means something good will happen.  So you click and give a reward.  The first time Lady heard it she thumped and froze.  After nothing bad happened she noticed the 1/2 raisin I was offering her and relaxed, gobbling it down.  After that she'd see me with the clicker in my hand and she'd run over, sniffing for the treats.  Bella took a little longer to catch on, but in a couple days she'd figured it out too.  I'm feeling cautiously optimistic.    

A friend came over recently with her two young boys (ages 5 and 6).  They were able to click and have Lady come over and eat out of their hands.  The delight on their faces as her fuzzy face tickled their palms was the highlight of my week!

So now we move on to step number 2, connecting the click with desired behaviors.  I'll let you know how it goes.


Rabbit Jargon (with commentary)

 

Binky - v. + n.  a sudden vertical jump while twisting the head and body in opposite directions.  Often occurs mid run.  An expression of ultimate rabbit joy.  The word 'binky' is misleading.  It sounds cute and babyish (like a beloved blanket or pacifier), whereas the rabbit binky is athletic, like the midair twists of a bucking bronco.  In fact, Alex and I call them 'broncos'.  

Buck - n. male rabbit.  

Bunny - n. rabbit  I know you didn't need that defined, but I'm curious how we ended up with two such different names for the same animal. I suspect there's a backstory of invasion and language mingling (this is why we raise 'cows' but eat 'beef'), but for now all I can say is that I'm looking into it.

Burrow - n. a hole or tunnel where rabbits live.  It is also the name of the Weasley family's ramshackle home in the Harry Potter series.  Coincidence?  I don't think so.  An average rabbit litter is six kits.  Guess how many children are in the Weasley family.

Chin - v. when rabbits rub the scent glands in their chins on an item to show possession.  I've also read that it's the rabbit version of writing "I was here" on picnic tables and the like.  Fortunately, the scent is undetectable by humans so they can chin to their heart's delight with no problem.  

Crepuscular - adj. active at dawn and dusk (twilight).  Rabbits (like cats, bears, skunks and a host of other crepuscular animals) spend the day dozing.  They may wake up for short spells and move around, but they quickly return to napping.  

 

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Sleepy Lady (left) and Fergus
 

Dew claw - n. a thumb-like claw, on the front paws,  that doesn't reach the ground.  In my experience, rabbits tend to gnaw on this nail, keeping it short enough that guardians don't need to trim it.  Dogs also have dew claw

Dewlap - n. loose flesh and fatty tissue hanging from the neck.  It is more prominent on does than bucks.  When a doe is pregnant, she pulls fur from her dewlap to line the burrow in preparation for the birth of her young.  Before I knew much about rabbits, I looked at Lady's dewlap and worried she might have a thyroid issue.  Just imagine if I'd brought her to the vet to get tested!

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Lady showing off her dewlap

Doe - n. a female rabbit.  I bet you saw that coming.

Flopped - adj. a rabbit stretched to its full length in a state of complete relaxation and trust.  Some rabbits literally go from standing to flopping down on their side (scaring uninitiated caregivers).  Others prefer a partial flop.  They sit in typical bunny-loaf position (picture a football with a head), then stretch out Sphinx-like on the ground with their rear legs twisted to the side. In either version, the rabbit is letting down her defenses, choosing a position that would hinder escape.  For a rabbit to trust you enough to allow you to pet her while she's flopped is a gift, a blessing, a golden moment of inter-species trust.  It's as unlikely and sacred as a wild bird landing in your hand.  Flopped, a rabbit's body feels squooshy, boneless, perfect for wriggling through subterranean tunnels or under garden gates à la Peter Rabbit.  

  

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Cottontail flopped


G.I. Stasis - n. medical condition where the gastrointestinal system slows or stops working.  Gasses build up and the rabbit stops eating or drinking.  It's a serious situation with countless potential causes ranging from overgrown teeth to a sudden change in diet.  Left untreated, it can kill a rabbit in a day or two.  

If you'd like to learn about early detection and prevention The House Rabbit Society has an excellent article.   Lady has had it twice in the three years she's lived with us.  In both cases a rushed visit to the vet had her feeling much better and acting like herself a few hours later.

Kit (kitten) - n. baby rabbit

Lagomorph - n. "any of an order (Lagomorpha) of gnawing herbivorous mammals having two pairs of incisors in the upper jaw one behind the other and comprising the rabbits, hares, and pikas."  Thanks to Merriam-Webster online for the definition.  I've heard that rabbits are more closely related to deer (sharing a common ancestor) than rodents, but I haven't verified it.  If you happen to know whether or not it's true, please leave a comment.

Pellet - n. 1). a fortified food sold at pet stores specifically for rabbits. 2). Rabbit poo.  There's something both apt and confusing about using the same word for what goes into a rabbit's mouth and what comes out the other end.  In our house we call the food "pellets" and the feces "poo".  Don't worry, you'll get to read a lot more about poo in an upcoming post.  

Scut - n. a rabbit's tail.  This is one of my favorite words in the English language. It's such a funny bit of trivia and the word even looks like the body part it represents, all compact and round.  I'm sure I will write a post devoted to the scut one of these days, but for now I'd just like to point out that the /^t/ sound quite appropriately makes you think of a word with a similar sound and meaning.  You guessed it, 'but'.

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Thump - v. + n. a loud sound created by the quick raising and lowering of the hind feet, but you probably figured that out since it's a great example of onomatopoeia.  The thump can be an alert, informing other rabbits of potential danger nearby, or an expression of anger (picture a two year old not getting her way). It is not a sign of joyful excitement.  Sorry Disney.  

Warren - n. network of connected rabbit burrows.  


Do Rabbits do Anything?

The air was thick with the smell of hay.  The steady drone of bees was interrupted from time to time by the cantankerous honking of geese so comical they could have stepped right out of a children's book.  A friend and I were visiting a local farm with her preschool-age children.  We'd started in the barn, visiting the cats and played on the tricycles we'd happened to find there.  When some swallows started to dive bomb us, we'd decided it was time to move on and see the rest of the animals.  

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The kids saw a rabbit hutch just off the path and raced to get to it.  They pressed their noses through the wire in front of the dozing rabbit and began talking to it.  By the time my friend and I joined them a couple minutes later, they'd moved on to being joyfully being grossed out by the pile of soiled hay under the pen, seeing who dared get closest to it and take a big sniff.  Our arrival ended the game and brought their attention back to the rabbit.

"Why is he just lying there?"

"Why doesn't he hop?" The kids wanted to know.

My friend suggested that maybe it was the rabbit's nap time.  This made sense to the kids since not so long ago afternoon naps had been part of their daily routine.  But they still wanted to see the rabbit move.  We convinced them to move on to the sheep we could hear around the bend, with the promise that on our way back to the car we'd check to see if the rabbit was doing anything,

We visited the sheep, the chickens, some slightly intimidating turkeys and and even a musk ox of all creature, before getting back to the rabbit.  There it sat in the exact same position, as if an evil fairy had turned it into a garden statue.  Feet tucked under its body.  Eyes all but closed.  The only signs of life were the slight wriggling nose and the occasional twitch of an ear.  

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"Do rabbits ever do anything?" one of the kids asked in that world weary way that sounds comical coming from a four year old.  It's a question I've been asked many times since becoming a rabbit owner.  People know what to expect from dogs and cats, but rabbits are a different story.  Even people who have told me they had rabbits in a hutch years ago, are often curious.  

What are rabbits like?  

Why are they so lazy?

Do they do anything?

 If you keep visiting this blog, I assure you those questions and more will be answered, but for now let's focus on why rabbits always seem to be sleeping.  

There are a couple parts to the explanation.  The first one is timing.  If you've been to a zoo, you've heard someone complain that the big cats just sleep all day.  Lions, owls and a host of other animals are nocturnal, sleeping during the day and becoming alert at night.  Humans and many other creatures are diurnal, we are on the opposite schedule.  Rabbits are neither nocturnal nor diurnal.  They are crepuscular, meaning that they are active in the early morning and evening.  If you speak French, the word crépuscule, meaning twilight makes crepuscular easier to remember.  

The rest of the time, such as when families are likely to visit a farm, rabbits rest.  Evolutionarily speaking, this schedule serves rabbits well since the long shadows and dim light of twilight make it easier for them to hide from predators, regardless of whether they approach from the ground or the sky.  Today, this sleep pattern is ideal for pet owners since it frees them to go to work or school without any worry that their rabbit is bored or missing their company.  Yes, rabbits get bored and lonely too.

Another piece of the explanation for why rabbits at farms/petting zoos etc. never seem to be doing anything, is environmental.  In these places, even the best cared for rabbits tend to be in small pens.  Think of it like spending all of your life in a space the size of your bedroom.  There's room to move and lie down, but not enough room to really run around, hop, stand inquisitively on their hind legs or binky (a weird word for when rabbits joyfully act like bucking broncos).  Without stimulation and exercise rabbits (like people) become lethargic.  

All of which is a long way of saying, a farm or petting zoo is a great place to see what a rabbit looks like and giggle at their wiggly noses, but that's about it.  For anything more you'll have to earn their trust and that takes time, sometimes a lot of time.

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