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Bunny Bulletin

Our regular bulletin board featuring blog articles, updates and advice from our volunteer team.

Has your rabbit’s behaviour left you climbing the wall? Ever wondered why your pet doesn’t fit the “cute little bunny” image you’d hoped for when you got him?

A couple of weeks ago I was doing a home visit with a lady and her small Netherland Dwarf cross rabbit. She had contacted us as she was having difficulties with him.

Her house rabbit was apparently displaying signs of aggression, and she was having great problems getting him into a travel carrier to take him to the vet. On occasion she had to call family members to babysit when she left for work, as she had been unable to catch him and put him into his cage. At his last visit to the vet he had been so worked up that the vet had seemingly abandoned his attempt to trim his claws, which were now getting dangerously long.

On arriving for our visit and entering the room I was very pleased to see an ideal rabbit environment. He had free access to the whole living room area, with an open cage in the corner of the room as a sleeping area for him. It was clear this rabbit was adored by his owner, with plenty of toys and even rabbit themed posters and ornaments around her flat. She was clearly upset that she wasn’t managing to have the relationship with the rabbit that she had hoped for.

The main reason for the rabbit’s behaviour was that he had started to view the living room as his territory. Giving your rabbit the full reign of an entire room is excellent as it provides him with more than enough space, exercise and stimulation, but it can sometimes mean that you need to do a little bit more work to remind them who’s boss of the space.

We found bunny in his usual place, hiding behind the TV unit. He was small, relaxed and very cute: not the monster I had been led to expect. I approached him as I usually would, holding my hand out just a few inches away from his nose to let him know I was there and then to let him investigate. After a few nudges of my hand I went in to pick him up.

In the meantime my partner & I continued our conversation with the owner to gain a better understanding of her rabbit’s routine, diet and most importantly how she interacted and handled him. We quickly discovered that the real problem in this case wasn’t so much the rabbit’s behaviour, but more about his owner’s confidence in dealing with him. The second he gave off a warning grunt or thump of his foot, she’d back right off.

This is sadly typical of so many rabbit owners. It’s important to understand natural rabbit behaviours so that you can build a better relationship with them. Rabbits are prey animals, and as such naturally will display aggression when they feel under threat, especially if their home (or territory) is at risk. However, as most animals, their behaviour can easily be conditioned through various positive reward exercises. Just as you would with children, you need to remind your pet who’s in charge and discipline your pet. As a rabbit owner, it’s your responsibility to become the SuperNanny of your rabbit’s world. Learn about rabbit natural behaviour, and most importantly start to understand your own rabbit’s character, and work with them on improving their behaviour to suit.

By the end of our visit, I had bunny sitting in my lap, relaxed and calm as I brushed his coat. I even managed to get him held long enough to clip his claws.

Its early days for them, but we recently heard that his owner has now managed to get him back to the vet for his booster vaccinations, she’s slowly changing his diet and is now looking for a suitable female companion for him from rabbit rescue centres so he has company when she’s out at work.

If you have an aggressive rabbit at home, think about what you could do to turn things around. Check out books from your local library. Spend more time trying to build a relationship with your rabbit. Consider having your pet neutered if you haven’t already done so. And seek advice from other rabbit owners. The Rabbit Welfare Association also have a good introductory leaflet, Biting The Hand That Feeds You. You can always get in touch with us too for your own home visit.

Important Note: If your rabbit suddenly displays unusual aggression without reason, this could be an indication of something serious. Rabbits are experts at hiding illness or injury from their predators, so you should always seek an immediate examination from a qualified, rabbit experienced vet.

As my rabbits were out in the sitting room today for their daily exercise, I noticed that they seemed more active today than other days: it's been a while since I saw them doing so many binkies in quick succession. (a binky is an uncontrolled excited leap in the air that rabbits will do when given enough space to).

 

It got me to thinking, as I often do, about the thousands of rabbits that aren't that lucky. The behaviour of my rabbits that I enjoy to watch so often can only be displayed from a healthy rabbit that is given adequate opportunity to spread their legs.

 

One of the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF) strongest campaigns is the ""A Hutch Is Not Enough"" campaign, which aims at educating rabbit owners on the benefits, no - necessity, of giving your pet rabbit(s) more than just a hutch space.

 

As a responsible pet owner, you'll want your bunnies to enjoy a happy, healthy life. Just think ‘Rabbits need SECS’ (Space, Exercise, Companionship and Stimulation) and you won’t go far wrong!

 

You should never keep your rabbits in a hutch permanently, they need daily exercise, ideally 8 hours per day in a large run or garden. However, you should still ensure that their hutch is large enough. Hutches can never be too big. The minimum size for average sized rabbits is 6ft x 2ft x 2ft.

 

When it comes to exercise, rabbits often enjoy running loose around the garden, but unless you can supervise the rabbit then there are risks both to your garden plants and the rabbit! An exercise run is often a better option.

 

Rabbits are social animals. Unless your rabbit lives indoors with human company for most of the day, plan to keep two rabbits together. A male/female pair is easiest, but don't forget that both rabbits will need to be neutered, and introductions carefully supervised! (We can offer advice on introductions if you'd like).

 

Rabbits need things to keep them occupied, such as plastic tunnels; large plant pots; hay-filled litter trays and planters of earth to dig in. Wild rabbits spend several hours foraging for food daily, so use your imagination when feeding your bunny. Scatter food on the floor of the hutch/run rather than feeding in a bowl, and provide constant access to hay.

Welcome to the first of our blogs. I decided that this might be another helpful way for us to increase awareness of Rabbit Welfare issues, so I'll give it a go and see how we get on ;o)

I recently received a First Alert notification (email warning system) from the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund advising of some recent cases of VHD within my local area (Glasgow). VHD is a nasty, swift killer and I was immediately concerned. Thankfully, I could sit back in comfort knowing that all three of my pet rabbits were safe, having all recently received their VHD vaccinations, but my heart went out to all the rabbits who want be quite so lucky.

VHD is the least known rabbit killer disease, and sadly most rabbit owners just don't know it exists. It ranks highly alongside Myxomatosis as being the major contributor to early deaths in pet rabbits. The saddest part of course being that both these deadly diseases are completely preventable.

But with the cost of vaccinations being as high as it is (ranging from £15 - £30 depending on the vacc and the size of your pet), is it really worth it?

Myxomatosis decimated the wild rabbit population when it arrived in Britain 50 years ago. It is still deadly today. Myxomatosis starts with severe conjunctivitis. Next, affected rabbits develop swellings around the head and genital regions; become increasingly weak; go blind; and eventually die. If an unvaccinated pet rabbit catches myxomatosis, it is doomed. Most vets advise euthanasia as soon as the diagnosis is made because the outlook is so bleak, even with intensive treatment.

Vaccination is the keystone of a package of measures you should take to protect your rabbit. Rabbits can be vaccinated from 6 weeks of age. The Myxi vaccine is a single injection, part of which is given into – rather than under – the skin.

Myxo previously was recommended as an annual injection, but most vet practices are now recommending having a booster every 6 months as the virus has escalated again in recent years.

VHD arrived in Britain in 1992, although many people have not heard of it before. VHD is a swift and efficient killer - almost all rabbits who catch VHD die within a day or two. The virus causes massive internal bleeding. Some rabbits bleed from the nose and back passage before death, others die so quickly there may be no outward sign of disease at all. Owners often think their rabbit has died of “fright”, a “heart attack” or (in summer) “heatstroke”. Most cases are never diagnosed: VHD is only suspected when several rabbits die in quick succession.

VHD is spread by direct contact with infected rabbits, or indirectly via their urine/faeces. The virus can survive for months in the environment, and is terrifyingly easy to bring home to your pets.

I am sad to admit that when I first starting keeping rabbit I was not aware of VHD, and my vet at the time had not bothered to make me aware of the dangers that it could bring. Unfortunately, I learnt the hard way when one of my rabbits passed away as a result of VHD which we suspect had been introduced via some new equipment I had bought from an online pet store where the equiipment had been stored near to livestock. At the time, I didn't realise the importance of disinfecting cages and equipment (an absolute MUST by the way!) and so the combination of not having disinfected the area and not have the VHD vaccination seems to have been the problem.

VHD is an annual booster, but please check with your local vet as this may be increased in areas where VHD is particularly problematic.

So why have your rabbit vaccinated? It's easier than dealing with a sick or dead pet. It's the responsible thing to do for your pet's health. It will help to ensure you have many happy years to enjoy your bunny.

If you have any questions or concerns about vaccinations, VHD or Myxo please don't hesitate to contact us or contact your vet.

 

As the weather across much of the country is turning to snow, the thought of leaving my nice warm house out into the freezing cold temperatures to feed the rabbits, de-freeze their water and clean out their hutch & run isn't overly appealing, even for a rabbit enthusiast like me. I still drag myself out there though, as I know how important it is to keep looking after your pet rabbits. As the temperature's plummeted even further I decided it was time for some of my rabbits to become house rabbits for a few days.

Please always check your local weather forecast as pet rabbits in outdoor hutches will NOT usually survive temperatures below -10 degrees (centigrade). Bring your rabbits indoors if necessary. Wild rabbits do survive the cold temperatures, but only because they burrow deep into the warmth of the ground.

I have space in my garage for a hutch that's large enough for my Netherland Dwarf Cross with adequate space for exercise, but currently don't have a safe enclosure for my 2 British Giants in the garage, so my options for them are the large hutch & run they usually stay in in the garden, or in the house. Thankfully, they do make excellent house pets and are well used to our home. They sleep in a large dog cage in the utility, and are more than comfortable using a litter tray. That said, they have outgrown the litter tray because of their size now, so we need to replace the litter tray with a dog basket (thanks to our friend Kenny for that suggestion!).

When it's cold and dark, it's easy to put off feeding and cleaning out the pet rabbit, please take your responsibilities as an owner and do the right thing for the rabbit and make sure it has plenty of food, water and lots and lots of hay - even if it means getting numb fingers in the process. In fact, in weather like this it's worth getting outside and checking even more than you would normally, so if your rabbit is showing signs of distress due to the cold (eating less, immobile, laboured breathing) then you can get it the medical attention it needs, starting with getting it warm!

For the average outdoor pet rabbit many owners are not aware of the dangers that the cold winter weather can bring. Here are a few hints & tips to make caring for your pet rabbit in the winter easier for both you and your pet.

  1. If you can, bring your rabbit into the house for winter. They'll need out in a room in your house for regular exercise. This'll keep them warm and safe and you'll enjoy your pet more than ever before, without you having to risk the winter cold yourself. If your bun has health problems then it really won't stand a chance outside in this weather, so please bring it indoors at least until it warms up.
  2. Even moving your pet's hutch into a garage or shed can make a difference, particularly from protecting them from frost, freezing water and blistering winds. Do keep an eye on the temperature inside your garage/shed though as it's still possible it will get too cold in extreme conditions.
  3. Most modern hutches do have covers available. These are usually insulated covers that attempt to keep the cold out, and will often have clear ""window"" covers to protect the caged area of a huitch from the winds.
  4. Some hutches are fully insulated, just like your house. A layer of full insualtion is placed between the outer and inner walls of the hutch within the sleeping area. This not only helps keep the cold out in winter, but can also prevent the hutch from overheating in summer (not usually an issue for us in the UK mind you).
  5. Put a tarpaulin, plastic sheet, or even an old or cheap duvet over the hutch, particularly at night, keep it out of the wind.
  6. Check their water regularly through the day to check it hasn't frozen over, and replace it with a fresh bottle if necessary. You might find it useful to have a few bottles to rotate, keeping the spares indoors to thaw whilst a fresh one keeps the water supply flowing.
  7. Line the hutch with plenty of newspapers or old towels, and then fill with lots and lots of hay. Put a cover on the water bottle to stop it freezing, these can be bought in pet shops, along with hutch covers.
  8. Consider investing in the Snuggle Safe heat pads - small pads you can heat using the microwave and place in the rabbits hutch which can then provide your rabbit with up to 10 hours of warmth. Your bunny will simply sit or sleep on the pad.

Rabbits can't make a noise like a dog or a cat when they are in distress so they can only suffer in silence. Please do everything you can to keep your rabbit warm in this bitter weather.

Today, I just wanted to share the recent ""Make Mine Chocolate"" Press Release with you:

Most people associate rabbits with Easter, but sadly it now seems that cute and cuddly bunnies are also seen as a great child’s Christmas present.

Many rabbits will be bought on a whim this Christmas and then given up to rescue during the following weeks and months once the reality of the care required and costs hits home – especially when the festive credit card bills start to arrive.

Rescue centres are already struggling to cope with the increased demands on their resources as the number of rabbits being surrendered has significantly increased during 2010.

In addition, fewer people are going to a rescue to adopt. Honeybunnies Rescue in Leicester is taking around 6 calls a day from people wishing to give up their family rabbit – for a variety of reasons. Jill Woodward, Rescue Manager, said “Honeybunnies is already full to bursting with rabbits desperate for new homes, and there is a lengthy waiting list already. A vast number of people calling seem to have suddenly developed allergies or have landlords that have decided to throw them out ‘today’ ... just as the bad weather arrives. In reality people are just getting fed up of caring for their rabbit now it is cold”.

With weather conditions deteriorating over the holiday season, fewer owners are prepared to care for their rabbits. And along with the Christmas cuddly bunny impulse purchases, it’s clear rabbits are heading for yet more suffering. Even greater pressure will be placed on the already overburdened rabbit rescue system in early spring.

The issue is simple; people don’t have time for rabbits during the winter months. With weather worsening, funds being prioritised for the Christmas festivities, and maybe even space being made for the new pet arriving on the 25th December, the rabbit is the loser.

Some rescues have had people seeking rabbits for a Christmas present. The Rabbit Crossing, a privately run rescue in Surrey, has had more enquiries in the last two weeks than in the last two months. Rescue owner Helen Halliday commented “One e-mail said that the children wanted rabbits for Christmas, but by the time I had replied to the initial enquiry they had already found rabbits elsewhere. I imagine the urgency was because they just wanted to cross off a task on the Christmas ‘to-do’ list“.

Make Mine Chocolate!, the campaign to stop the impulse purchase of rabbits, reports that 40% or the rabbits currently in rescue have been given up within 6 months of purchase, with 60% within the first year. This clearly demonstrates just how common the impulse purchase problem is, and shows just how much rabbit awareness and knowledge must radically improve in order to stop the suffering of a great number of domestic rabbits here in the UK.

So the message has to be ‘Think Before You Buy!’. Rabbits make fantastic members of the family but do need a lot of time, space, money and effort. And remember, rabbits do not make an ideal present for the children – at Christmas or any time of the year. Contact Make Mine Chocolate! for information and advice about rabbit care, or details of your local rabbit rescue at www.MakeMineChocolate.org.uk.