A couple of weeks ago, I had my headphones on and was happily chair dancing to a little Eddie Rabbit when all of a sudden the music just stopped. I looked at my iPod and it was still on. I checked the volume on my headphones and it was in the full volume position, carefully set to drown out work distractions. Then it dawned on me… With both hands, I picked up the cord from where it draped down from my desk and it came up in two pieces.
I looked down by my feet to see big brown eyes and a twitching nose staring back up at me. “Oops mommy,” the face seemed to say. Yes, my bunny learning curve is slow and, since I started fostering Hef about six weeks ago, I’ve lost a mouse, a keyboard, almost a phone and now a pair of headphones to those sharp little bunny teeth.
I’ve always fostered puppies, kittens or the occasional hamster or rat. Hef is my first bunny foster and I have to say, I am really digging a house rabbit as a pet! Yeah, the cord thing isn’t so cool but really, that’s about the only downside to having him around. Once I learned to keep cords out-of-the-way of curious teeth, I’ve had no problems. I bring Hef into work and with the addition of a little gate at my doorway, he has full run of my cubicle. At home, I’ve baby-gated the family room and kitchen as my rabbit-proofed room. We hinged together a number of 2×4 boards to block access to all cords at floor level and quite honestly, it’s kind of nice not to see the monster tangle of cords under my desk.
Since I first brought Hef home from the shelter, I’ve learned quite a bit about rabbits, both from him and rampant use of Google search. Google knows by now that most of my searches start with, “Why does my bunny…”
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned:
- Hef is considered a “house rabbit,” which means he has run of his portion of the house in much the same way as a “house cat” does. He only gets put in his hutch if we are not around to supervise.
- Bunnies take a little longer to bond than cats or dogs, but do bond with time. Hef bumps my leg with his forehead when he wants attention. I’ve learned to really love, even crave, those gentle little bunny bumps.
- Rabbits are fairly agile. When I get up from my desk, Hef likes to hop into my chair and relax there until I come back.
- Many bunnies don’t especially like being held, but will tolerate it if they like you and sometimes even fall asleep in your arms.
- Some bunnies like to be petted and others prefer to just be near you but not necessarily touched. Hef likes to be petted on his own terms and will nip lightly on my hand if I stop petting him before he’s ready. Once he’s done, he just hops away with a little flip of his back paws.
- Rabbits like routine. Hef likes his hutch arranged ‘just so’ and will loudly toss things around if I move anything from a familiar spot. I’ve heard of house rabbits that know that when their owners turn off the lights at night, it’s time for them to hop into their hutch to be shut in for the evening, and they just automatically do it.
- Contrary to popular belief and Bugs Bunny brainwashing, bunnies cannot live on carrots alone. All bunnies seem to love carrots but they should be treated more as a dessert than a diet staple, as they are more like candy to them. They also can’t eat iceberg lettuce, as it makes them sick. A bunny diet should be hay (preferably timothy hay) with daily fresh veggies and some fortified rabbit pellets on the side. Hef adores parsley and cilantro and the occasional tiny piece of banana. I try to give him three different varieties of approved fresh veggies each day. I’ve found that with all the additional veggies I’m keeping in the fridge these days, I’m actually eating healthier, too – bonus!
- Rabbits are as easily litter trained as cats. Hef will go into his open hutch to use his box, however he gets really irritated when I don’t clean it before the next time he needs to use it. Sometimes he will grab the edge of the box with his teeth and upend it to pour his litter pellets all over. He has me well-trained to scoop each time I see him in there.
- Under appropriate supervision, rabbits can get along with cats and dogs. Hef has forged a cordial relationship with my other pets. The cats are actually a little nervous about him and will maintain a respectful distance. The dogs are curious and have even play bowed to try to figure out what will entice this little creature to play. Hef and both dogs have a nose touching agreement.
- Rabbits are great communicators. Hef will growl or stomp his foot really hard if he is displeased, and will make a gentle chewing noise that is his version of a purr when he’s happy. He does his grinding purr when I scratch right around the base of his ears or on his nose.
- Rabbits can be fairly comical. When he’s really happy, Hef will do this thing called a “binky,” which is when he jumps straight up in the air, his front legs go to the left and back legs to the right and then he takes off like a shot when he lands. It’s a joy to see.
- At playtime, rabbits like it best when you come down to their level. At home, I usually lay on the dog bed on the floor and Hef just bumps and climbs all over me. We play a little game where he bumps me and runs just slightly out of reach. I reach out and scratch him for a bit and then pull back so that he has to come to me for a little more attention. He climbs all over me for a few minutes and then bumps me and runs back to his “petting spot” and we do the whole routine again. Yep – not anything like a dog or cat would do but that’s because he’s not a dog or cat – he’s a bunny.
- Rabbits are not dogs. Hef also doesn’t like people to put their hands out for him to sniff like he’s a dog. They do not see well close-up, so your hand is startling to them. Hef does best if people simply place their hand firmly on top of his head and pet him.
- Bunnies love to chew and dig. The upper and lower incisors (front teeth) of rabbits grow 4 to 5 inches a year. In the normal rabbit mouth, biting and chewing of food continually grinds down the teeth, keeping this growth in check and the teeth at stable lengths. I make sure Hef has plenty of things to chew and so far (knock on un-chewed wood), he hasn’t chewed any of my furniture or inappropriate things – other than the aforementioned three cords. The room he’s in is all hard floors so, while he does make a digging motion, he can’t do any damage. I’ve heard that rabbits kept in carpeted areas can do quite a bit of damage. And I’m sure this damage results in at least some of the bunnies that end up in shelters.
- As pets go, rabbit toys can be pretty inexpensive. Hef’s favorite toy is actually a toilet paper tube stuffed full of hay. He tosses it about and eats the hay and cardboard. He enjoys chewing on an unfinished wicker tube and empty cardboard boxes.
- Rabbits can live up to 10 years and longer. I’ve had rats as pets and they only live two years so this is a jackpot lifetime for a small companion animal in your home. Hef is only one year old so he’s got many years of making someone really happy to go.
Unfortunately, rabbits are the third most populous pets in shelters and rescues today, behind cats and dogs. As with Hef, many people buy baby bunnies (or kits) for their children during Easter and then learn that bunnies may not be the most interesting pets for small children and wind up dumping them in shelters or releasing them into the wild, thinking they’ll be able to fend for themselves. These poor bunnies often die lingering and painful deaths from predators or cars.
The ASPCA offers the following ideas for people considering a rabbit as a pet at Eastertime:
“If your family’s set on getting a rabbit, start by giving a chocolate bunny or a stuffed toy for Easter and, if your young children are really serious about it, a book on rabbit care. If they’re still begging you for a bun after the holiday has passed, go to your local shelter or rescue group and find out how to adopt the rabbit (or even better, a bonded pair) of your dreams.
You can also help spread the word that rabbits are not disposable pets by getting involved in the Make Mine Chocolate! campaign. Started in 2002 by the Columbus House Rabbit Society, the campaign aims to educate the public about the challenges of owning a rabbit and encourages parents to give chocolate or toy bunnies as Easter gifts instead of live rabbits. Check out the group’s website, MakeMineChocolate.org, for more info.”
Please tell me about your rabbit experiences and tips.