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Bunny Business
By Wendy Parsons


Rabbits, unfortunately, look just like cuddly toys, and so it has been their fate to be desperately wanted by children, only to be discarded once the novelty wears off. So why does this happen? Why do rabbits often get handed on from one ‘home’ to the next? This happens of course if they are lucky. Usually the unlucky ones get neglected, so much so that, if they escape, no one bats an eyelid. It happens because rabbits usually live in hutches (or cages) - in isolation, and are therefore not included in normal family life. No bond is created so bunny remains nothing more than a novelty item.

The way we care for cats and dogs has improved dramatically over recent times, but the ‘care’ given to rabbits has not changed for generations. Most of us keep rabbits now just as we did in the 1950s.

Why, as a community, are we shocked to look over our neighbour’s fence and see a cat or dog confined in a tiny cage, yet we accept this terrible type of housing for rabbits and guinea pigs as perfectly fine? Perhaps it’s the same thought processes that define cats, dogs and dolphins as worthy of protection, but not farm animals. Rabbits sit somewhere in the middle – we think they’re adorable, however they just don’t rate up there with cats and dogs. They are after all, only cuddly toys – to be hugged when you feel like it, then tossed aside when you don’t.

When a rabbit hopped into my life about 20 years ago, I came to understand these much misunderstood and endearing little animals. I knew I had to do something to try and improve their lives. Bunny Business was the result.

Through Bunny Business, I try to help people understand the prey animal mentality of a rabbit, a concept which is at the core of many problems encountered by bunny owners. The prey animal concept is the most important aspect of bunny’s well being. In essence, Bunny Business encourages owners to throw away the hutch and turn Thumper into a house-rabbit, so that he can be included in family life, come to be loved by everyone, and generally make his presence felt like any member of the family.

Like cats and dogs, rabbits need to be understood, but don’t make the mistake of applying everything you know about cats and dogs to rabbits. Cats and dogs are predators, rabbits are prey - the gulf between their behavioural needs and actions is enormous.

Emotional Security – A Must
The underlying, primary need for a rabbit is to feel safe. You can do this so easily, but you can destroy it so easily too. Bunny Business outlines how to interact with bunny and how to provide him with his own special places that he deems to be safe. What you think is safe is probably not what makes Thumper feel safe. A cardboard box is a bunny’s best friend and costs virtually nothing. It will provide bunny with somewhere safe to retreat, as long as it is designed for a rabbit and not a cat.

Golden Rule: Never growl at your rabbit, for anything. He will not understand and will only become frightened and withdraw from you.

Territorial Behaviour
Once Thumper is safe, he needs a territory. Just like cats and dogs, he must have ownership of his domain. A rabbit confined in a hutch often becomes a biting rabbit because the hutch becomes his entire territory, and he must defend it against intruders, e.g. when you have the audacity to put your hands into his space and dare to pat him. He rarely sees you so cannot develop a bond, and you don’t live in his hutch, so he cannot accept your intrusion unlike a house-rabbit where everyone lives together and Thumper accepts family members as being other rabbits in his warren - not literally of course, but he will allow you to live with him.


Possum (left) leaving her tunnel. She is possessive of her tunnel and chases the wild birds away if they get too nosey

Rabbits and Children
Contrary to public perception, rabbits are not good with children. Sanctuaries overseas which are especially designated for rabbits, will not allow their rabbits to be adopted by children unless someone else in the family wants a rabbit too. They know the cycle of child adopting rabbit, child abandoning rabbit, and rabbit having to be rescued again. Thus they refuse to allow their already rescued rabbits to become part of the cycle again.

Imprisoning a rabbit in isolation in a hutch, when his only crime has been to appear so cute and adorable that a child had to have him, is no way to educate any child on how to care for an animal. A house bunny on the other hand, will open up a whole new world and teach a child what caring is all about.

Until the novelty wears off, children love to hold and hug their bunnies, but rabbits hate being held and hugged. Squirming and scratching are usually part of hug-time so Thumper ends up back in his hutch, usually in disgrace, and of course no one understands why, including poor Thumper. There are however, lots of ways to shower your rabbit with affection like stroking, patting or massaging him.


Don’t Let Anyone Tell You That You Can’t House-Train A Rabbit (top)

Bunny Love
Rabbits love affection because it makes them feel safe (if done correctly) and they will reciprocate that affection if you give them a chance. There’s nothing quite like a welcoming lick from your bunny when you come home after a long day at the office. Once you truly let a rabbit into your life, you will wonder how you ever lived without him.

Don’t Let Anyone Tell You That You Can’t House-Train A Rabbit!
Litter training a rabbit is easy, but a word of caution – don’t confuse territorial marking with ‘needing to go’. This is the most common mistake rabbit owners make. For example, a young bunny may be perfectly litter trained, then one day all hell breaks loose and he starts weeing everywhere, and not much of it in his litter tray! Don’t despair: this only means Thumper has reached sexual maturity (4 months) and he is letting other rabbits in the area know that he has come of age and is staking his territory. De-sexing is the answer and the sooner the better.

Diet
Don’t feed lucerne-based pellets unless you want to fatten Thumper for the dinner table. Unfortunately pellets are widely used, but because of their high calcium and fat content, they can cause serious bladder problems and a fat-overloaded liver. Rabbits love pellets so use them as a treat only, say one level-teaspoon a day, and even less for dwarf rabbits.

Indigestible fibre is crucial for a healthy digestive system, so give unlimited hay every day. For adult rabbits, fresh green vegetables should be given to supplement the bunny’s diet.

Chewing
Most animals have a drawback or two - dogs bark and carry a few germs, cats urinate in the air vent of your neighbour’s car, and sometimes your own. Rabbits chew. They need to chew. It’s imperative that they do because their teeth continue to grow throughout their life. Never growl at your rabbit for chewing (or for anything else.)


Boo Boo and Possum (top) cuddle together every winter’s night


Boo Boo and Possum (top) spend every winter’s night sleeping in front of the fire

Companionship
There is nothing quite like being with your own kind, so all bunnies deserve a companion, but be careful going down this road! Two males will almost certainly fight, as will two females. Litter mates can sometimes bond but this is unusual. A male and female, both de-sexed, are the ideal companions.

Don’t trust anyone but your vet to determine your rabbit’s sex. Don’t trust a pet shop. Don’t trust a breeder. Don’t trust a friend. I hear heart-breaking stories all the time of wrong sexing, resulting in unwanted litters and fighting rabbits.

Stopping the Cycle of Death
There are thousands of rabbits sitting on death row all around the world because they were bought by adults for children, then kept in a hutch and handled badly (or not handled at all.) There are many more who are not lucky enough to have made it to death row and a humane end. The fate of all these rabbits was sealed before they even left the pet shop.


~ An Article extracted from Bunny Business. http://www.bunnybusiness.org ~

 

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