Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter Bunnies!

Today I dedicate my long overdue post to my four beloved bunny rabbits. I sincerely hope that none of you or anyone you know got inspired by the Easter holiday to pick up a cute baby bunny from the petstore or the guy on the corner.

Rabbits make very challenging pets and have a nasty habit of dying and getting eaten by predators. If you are the predator and you intend to raise rabbits for meat more power to you. I fancy the idea of such things but am way too fond of my pets (and after you spend a couple thousand at the vet for surgery for a rabbits broken leg it's highly unlikely that bunny will ever end up on your dinner plate).

Let me tell you a little about why rabbits are lousy pets. Rabbits, in fact, are surrendered to shelters in percentages far above their relative abundance as pets. You must know what you are getting in to before you take one of these adorable furry nose twitching cute little critters home with you! They can die of heart attacks if frightened by predators (not a good idea to leave them in the backyard in a hutch that doesn't have bomb proof protection). Hawks will take them from above if you let them run free. They can burrow out of fences unless you put the fence several feet underground around their enclosure. They chew electrical cords (causing great damage to the bunny as well as to your electronics) and furniture - actually anything they can including clothes, bedding, papers, cardboard, books, shoes, sometimes fingers. They are infrequently perfectly litter box trained (one of the four of mine is impeccable. The other three not so much) - their poops are little hard balls of compressed straw, not a big deal to pick up but if you are at all fecalphobic this will be a problem for you. They are prey animals and will rarely be affectionate with you, a predator. If they are picked up incorrectly (as children will often do) they can break their backs and be permanently paralyzed. They have a very sensitive digestion that, when disturbed, can cause stasis (no gut movement) and cause a very painful death within days. As prey animals they don't let you know when they are sick so by the time you notice it's often too late. Rabbit vets are few and expensive. Now why would anyone have an animal like that as a pet?

I got initiated into the world of rabbits when a custodian at school was desperate to get rid of the three he acquired (one was on purpose, another was to keep the first one company and the third just showed up). They were small when initially purchased and then grew to be 3-4 pound rabbits that poop and pee their weight in nitrogen rich (and stinky) stuff daily. and he lived in an apartment. yuck. They all three lived in a small cage that meant they didn't even get to run around. I assumed I'd put them in a hutch in the backyard and happily harvest the fertilizer they made as an amendment to my garden soil. and then I stumbled upon the House Rabbit Society. This site totally changed my opinion about what to do with rabbits. I learned that they can be litter box trained, that when left alone they go crazy since they are social animals who hang out in groups, that even though they will not be affectionate like a cat or a dog they still bond with their caretakers and have delightful personalities and behaviors. I learned what a binky is (a little dance whereby they lift up their hind end and wiggle to express unbridled joy), I learned that they make little noises to indicate pleasure and pain, and that there is a very passionate group of people out there who are incredibly dedicated to raising awareness of rabbits as companion animals.

I have come to really love my little bunns. My garden flourishes because of what they contribute. My weeds are often treats for them. Their behaviors and personalities are super duper heart meltingly cute. It took a while to learn how to feed them properly (Carrots are crack! Not often and not much!). I now buy bales of grass mix hay and keep it in a rubbermaid bench on my patio as it's MUCH cheaper to buy in bulk. I stopped buying them organic greens from Whole Foods (was I crazy???) and now feed them greens that I weed out of my garden. They mostly eat hay and Oxbow Timothy hay bunny pellets (don't feed rabbits those junk food mixes with dried fruits and veggies). I've got the routine down in how I feed and water and clean their zones. I've figured out that as much as I might wish for them all to live together and get along that it's better to come home and not find blood and tattered ears and bite wounds on them (the two brothers need to be separated from each other and the brothers separated from the two original rabbits).
I think we are all pretty healthy and happy and used to each other. If you want to ask me any specifics I'm happy to share more. I regret to say that I did lose one of my babies last year. I noticed she wasn't her usual rambunctious (shoe eating, furniture destroying, escape artist) self and by then she was frothing and obviously in pain (it can happen FAST). I took her to the vet immediately who discovered that she was aspirating food but we couldn't figure out what was causing the problem. It might be that the initial damage was enough and by then she had too much food in her respiratory system to deal with it. The vet took her home to observe overnight and called me that evening to say that she was in such a state that she gave her the shot to put her out of her misery. The vet and I did a post-mortem dissection to try and figure out what happened but found nothing that suggested a cause. Sigh... We buried her in the back yard and I plant bunny greens on top of her. Seems fitting. Nature designed rabbits to reproduce quickly and to be eaten by all kinds of creatures. They weren't really designed to live long lives. It's something to know if you decide to love a bunny. If you do decide to adopt a rabbit PLEASE get your bunny spayed or neutered even if they are single bunnies as this will double their life span and also avoid a lot of unpleasant behaviors. If you get more than one rabbit this is essential.
Anyway, I hope your Easter day is full of green growing things and happy mammals. Mine is!

1 comment:

  1. Here's a useful link to "A Hutch is Not Enough" campaign dedicated to helping people make their pet rabbits healthier and happier: