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Bunny Bulletin

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

I’ve seen a few posts and questions raised on social media platforms over the past couple of weeks or so from people asking for advice about starting a rabbit rescue.  I love to see people’s enthusiasm for the cause, and we always welcome more support.  But these questions leave me torn between wanting to encourage enthusiasm and deep concern about what might happen.

In many ways when Feona and I started Fairly Beloved Rabbit Care we were naive to what was in store for us.  Having done my research I knew there was very little happening in terms of rabbit rescue in our part of the world.  I remember vividly the conversation where we made the final decision to give it a go, and in particular I remember saying to Feona, “Are you sure? Once we start this, there’ll be no way to stop it!”.  Since those early days I often use our naivity to explain just how big the issue of rabbit welfare is:  We thought we’d save a handful of rabbits a year, and within our first week we’d reached ten rabbits!  We now deal with a good couple of hundred per year, and this is only limited by our available space.

The reality is, much of our work is spent dealing with the rabbits we can’t rescue too.

So, if we’re so busy why would I be nervous about other people starting rescues?  Surely if there is so much needing done, other rescues would help lighten the load?

An image taken from one of our early rescue cases of over 20 rabbits.Sadly, we find this isn’t the case.  In our relatively short time of 5 years in operation we have had numerous cases we have had to step in and support where we take on large numbers of rabbits from the one person.  In almost all cases these are people who thought they would try running a “hobby rescue”, and they’ve found themselves totally overwhelmed.  With over 20 rabbits in their care they have found that they don’t have the time, money or resources to care for the rabbits properly.  In many cases they also haven’t kept up to date with the latest research in rabbit welfare and so often have hutches that are far too small, don’t have access to exercise space, don’t invest in neutering (usually due to lack of funds) and don’t know how to recognise and treat common rabbit ailments such as e-cuniculi, fur mites, ear mites, gut stasis, messy bottoms, UTI, URI, etc.

In all cases we could not fault the ‘owners’ motivation.  A heart very much in the right place, desperate to make a difference but simply not having access to everything they need to do the job right.  Instead of making things better, they inadvertently make it worse resulting in additional burden on another rescue.

Of course, it can often be worse than this if they choose not to enlist the support of another rescue, the animals in their care are handed off to unsuspecting members of the public who are given outdated care advice and likely receive a rabbit with health conditions that they have not been properly informed about.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying Fairly Beloved Rabbit Care are the only reputable rescue out there – of course we aren’t!  But we are few and far between.  Nor am I saying we get things perfect everytime – we don’t!  (Although we do continuously monitor our service and make improvements based on lessons learned).

Have you noticed that many rescues only run for a few short years before they close?  I read an article a few months ago, which I think was in Rabbiting On (the magazine for Rabbit Welfare Association members), about rescue burn out.  It discussed how the pressure, stress and sheer volume of work involved in running a rabbit rescue resulted in burn out for those who started it.  All that drive, enthusiasm and determination that motivated someone to start a rabbit rescue, dwindles rapidly when the reality of what is involved kicks in.  There’s always more needing done than any team of rescuers can manage, and it takes a lot out of you.

I guess I am saying that if you have ever wondered what it would be like to run a rabbit rescue, then there are other ways to find out.  Don’t jump straight in to the deep end and try start up your own rescue from scratch.  Do your research first, and try to get a full understanding of what is involved.

My strongest message would be learn what its like.  Before starting your own rescue, get involved in an established one and throw yourself head-first into every aspect of the charity.  Not just the hands-on rabbit care side of things, but try to get involved in fundraising, events, dealing with enquiries, dealing with vets and partners, and most importantly dealing with the big rescue cases.  Get used to making the difficult decisions about who’s rabbit gets priority for the one space left in the rescue.  Deal with the decision about whether a rabbit gets the chance of risky treatment for that small chance they will make it, or whether you make them comfortable and help them to rainbow bridge.

A great deal of thought needs to go into how you fund the rescue to do things right.  There is no profit to be made in rabbit rescue, and you will always juggle bills with fundraising to try to get books to balance.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve dipped into my own pockets just to make sure the service keeps going.

I am very proud of what we’ve achieved at Fairly Beloved Rabbit Care.  We’ve spent a lot of time getting our charity structure right so that we protect our volunteers from the risk of “rescue burn out”.  We offer great opportunities to get close to the action and really make a difference, whilst spreading the load across an ever increasing team.  Our foster-care model means we can flex and shrink to balance demand with finances.  We’re very much in this for the long-haul, and have plans to extend our charity to meet the needs of Scotland’s rabbits throughout the country.  But, if I had a chance to make that decision again back in 2010 knowing what it is like in reality, would I start my own rabbit rescue?  Honestly, I just don’t know.

I wouldn’t change it now though.  But the thing we started as a hobby to occupy our spare time, has grown in to a much bigger challenge.  Something that I have to do day and night, alongside my full-time job and family life.  Rabbit rescue isn’t a hobby.  It’s a way of life.

If you have a passion for rabbit rescue and want to get involved, why not consider joining the FBRC team.

As a bunny owner and foster parent, I have cared for a lot of different bunnies.

One of the main indicators of illness in rabbits is weight loss; this can be due to dental disease, spurs, EC or stress. Whatever the cause, once the cause has been resolved with a trip to the vet, it's our job as their care giver to help them regain the weight they have lost.

One of the most common ways to help a rabbit gain weight is to give them unlimited pellets, and watch them fatten up that way. Although this does give the desired result, it can be at the detriment of other factors; by increasing nuggets your rabbit will most likely eat less hay which can lead to teeth problems and upset tummies, as nuggets are not a complete food – hay is always necessary.

My most successful way to help a rabbit regain their weight is with the support of your vet, and a balanced healthy diet.

My most trusty resources are scales; baby scales for the rabbit (£39.99 on Amazon) and some trusty kitchen scales.

Firstly, I weigh the bunny. Then, I check the guidelines on the back of the food bag. Now, most owners know the guideline of one egg cup of nuggets a day per kg in body weight and hay the same size as the rabbit's body, but we are going to change that slightly, as we don't have a healthy bunny.

So, I find out the recommended food amount from the manufacturer (I highly recommend Burgess Excel or Burgess Excel Junior for this) for the weight they should be. If you don't know what weight your rabbit should be ask your vet for further advice!

Now, split the recommended food in to two portions; one in the morning and one in the evening.

Alongside this, I include one bowl of healthy veg; spring greens, spinach, kale, peppers – basically a really good mix. I don't include lettuce due to the high water content; we just want lots of healthy greens!
 
So, in additional to a full supply of hay, I give them a portion of nuggets in the morning, some veg through out the day and the remainder of their nuggets at night. I highly recommend weighing the food to be exact – as it really does matter!  (That's where the kitchen scales come in).

The reason to approach weight gain like this is to give them what their body needs.  If we bombard them with nuggets and all sorts of treats then we aren't going to get a steady, reliable healthy gain which will see them well into the future. By building them up, we are filling their body with the nutrients that they need, and this will reduce further complications such as tooth problems and a mucky bum. 

There is no trick, just time, effort and love :)

There’s nothing more frustrating than managing a waiting list!
 
As most rescues do, we operate a waiting list for those who are looking for our help to rescue and rehome their unwanted pet rabbits.  Realistically I can’t see a time when we will be able to get rid of such a list, as the number of spaces available within our rescue is dwarfed by the sheer volume of requests we receive every week, with demand coming in from all over the country.
 
Our desire to help is evidenced by our continuous recruitment for new foster carers to join the team, thus providing us more spaces to bring rabbits in from the list.
 
But managing the list for us isn’t just about filling our spaces.  For us its also an excellent opportunity to engage with those who are looking for our help to explore other options that may be available.  Our ultimate aim is to ensure the welfare of the rabbits, and sometimes this means helping owners recognise small changes they may be able to make in order to keep the rabbit in their own care.  Or, if that’s not possible, we also help them explore rehoming options to ensure that the rabbits overall welfare needs are meet.
 
Recently we have had a number of rehoming requests from people who have pairs or small groups, and they are looking for our help to rehome only one of their rabbits.  There are various reasons for this such as difficulties with rabbit bonding, space and accommodation, rabbit temperament and behaviour, health conditions, escaping bunnies and even concerns around landlord restrictions.
 
Of all our rescue requests, the ones that involve splitting a pair or group, or those that abandon attempts to bond, always concern me the most.  Rabbits are sociable creatures and need company of their own kind at all times, and so the suggestion of keeping any rabbit alone long term for me fails to meet one of their basic animal welfare rights.  As many of you will have experienced when a rabbit in a pair or group passes away, our pets do grieve company too and a forced separation of this sort is also known to trigger a similar grieving process.  This can then have further medical implications such as a stress-induced Gut Intestinal Stasis which in severe conditions can be fatal.
 
Our typical response to these requests is to recommend our bonding support services, or similar tips & tricks to allow the owners to ensure that the rabbits keep company.  Or, if there is no suitable alternative, our preference would be for the pair or group to enter the rescue together rather than risk the effects of separation.
 
Our drive to promote such positive consideration for the rabbits welfare is often misunderstood as arrogance or an unwillingness to help.  However, it is actually a much wider consideration for the longer term welfare of the individual rabbits concerned.
 
Unfortunately, we often find that people who are just looking for a quick solution are tempted by other options, and whilst we have limited space to respond in the manner they wish they turn to these other options and organisations for a quicker fix. 
 
Just today I received notification from one such individual who I had advised would be best to consider ways to keep his rabbits together.  His female rabbit is an escape artist, and she frequently would work around his attempts to contain her.  Her male buddy was apparently no problem, and so they only wished to rehome her.  I offered some suggested alternatives for the environment to try to further reduce the chance of her escaping, or if these weren’t suitable that he consider surrendering both rabbits to the rescue.  He responded to advise that another organisation had been more understanding of his situation and were willing to take her on her own.
 
Two rabbits.   Now alone.  And the message of the importance of rabbit company has gone unnoticed.

There’s lots involved in running a rescue.  But for me this is the hardest part.  Managing these expectations of people who have given up on their pets.  People who no longer wish to think about options to keep them, or to ensure the long-term welfare needs are met.  And whilst we will never be in a position to accept all the rabbits into the rescue, our waiting list creaks at the seams and people take the easy way out.  Someone will always take them, even if its not in the best interest of the rabbit.
 
If you would be interested in helping improve rabbit welfare in Scotland, please consider joining our volunteer team as a foster carer.

1. That they speak a language that only rabbit lovers or owners understand

“Oh my goodness did you see that awesome binky” – translates as that was some jump in the air by a very happy bunny
“The bunny has collapsed….oh panic over, it is a DBF” – translates as a dead bunny flop, ie, a bunny lying on its side in a haze of sheer bliss, eyes shut, oblivious to the world around them.  This is the happiest you will ever see a bunny but the scariest for a bunny carer.
“You can stop with the foot flicks, I am the boss” – translates as, give over with the attitude and stroppiness, I only said no to anymore treats!!













2. That they never understand neglect but all go through the same emotions on how to deal with it.

As with a lot of rescues, we see a lot of bunnies come into us suffering all stages of neglect, we never harden to it, we just go through the emotions of, upset, anger then determination that we will make a difference to this bunny and other bunnies lives.

3. They are shocked when they first hear the phrase “let’s do a bunny burrito”

No, we are not going to eat the bunny but in fact it is a very useful technique on how to get medicines into an unwilling bunny by wrapping it in a towel.

4. They have a fridge full of fresh veg but only feed themselves and their family frozen

Only the best for these bunnies

5. That when trying to rehabilitate a shy nervous bunny, it is normal for us to spend hours sitting on the floor, even eating our dinner there in the hope the bunny feels safe and secure

The amount of time and effort that every one of our volunteers spends trying to rehabilitate and earn trust of our rescue bunnies is amazing.  They all have tried and tested techniques and work hard to get the bunnies ready for their forever home.  Winning a bunnies trust is the hardest of all but the most rewarding

6. That our neighbours regularly see us outside in our PJ’s at all hours of the day and night doing what they think is talking to ourselves.

We are having a meaningful conversation with our small furries obviously!!!  We are not mad…………….only bunny mad.

7. We are the only people who appreciate dandelions and actually grow them in our gardens

Dandelions are loved by all bunnies and the nutrients are amazing for them.

 

8. That when we tell our families that we are popping out to see the bunnies for 5 minutes actually means 5 hours 

Guilty every time, but they are so cute and every single ones needs kisses and head rubs!!!!  How can we say no???

9. That it is normal to find hay on lots of random places, in your tea, washing machines, cars.

In fact, if you leave the house without some you feel like you are missing something

Hay makes up at least 80% of a bunny’s diet so no wonder it gets everywhere.

10. That we have a very unnatural obsession with poo.

You can tell how a rabbit is feeling just by looking at poo so it gets a LOT of air time within the charity,  Nice and big, happy bunny, small misshaped, not so happy bunny and needs monitoring, no poo, sick bunny who is not eating and needs a vet asap.

11. That for every bunny who comes in that doesn’t make it, we shed a tear and keep them in our hearts    

12. We have sat up all night nursing and monitoring a sick bunny and still go to work the next morning.

Usually after a visit to the vet first thing.  A big thank you to all the employees who know how important these animals are to us

13. That every foster carer falls in love with their first foster and many go on   to be failed fosters again and again.

Just the way it should be ;-)

14.  We don’t see the rabbit breed but their personality

Many people ask us what is our favourite breed of rabbit, we usually answer, “The cheeky pesky ones!!!”

Their character is what we fall in love with not the breed.

15. That we are highly skilled at training the bunnies to be the peskiest they can be.

Oh yes we are!!!!!  Peskiness is a must in all bunnies!!!

16. That when a volunteer sees their foster rabbit going to their forever home, we will wish them all the luck in the world, but will also have a little cry when they leave.

Every bunny is much loved by each and every one of us.  But never fear, we are not sad for long as a new bunny comes along needing much love and care and the process starts all over again.  We always have a huge waiting list.

17. That we spend hours researching and educating ourselves on medical conditions, behaviours and techniques so we can be as fully prepared as we can.

It is not always kisses and cuddles with these complicated animals and our volunteers spend a lot of their own time researching and educating themselves so that we are prepared for the challenges we have in front of us with each bunny.

18. That we try very hard not to be affected by rabbit stew jokes.

Everyone thinks they are the first one to crack the rabbit stew joke, but come on folks, its old and its not funny!

19. That patience and love is as much a healer as medicine

We have found that even the most neglected bunnies if given love and support, their will to survive is amazing.  Healing the mind is just as important as healing the medical issues.  A little bit of love and patience is grasped with both paws.  If you believe then they believe too.

20. That we check the public Facebook page on a daily basis in the hope that we will see pictures of our foster bunnies all happy in their new homes.

Go on, indulge us at every opportunity.  It makes the effort we put in all the more worthwhile seeing them blossom and happy.

 

Why not join the FBRC team?

David with one of his first Giant Continentals, Pepper.
David with one of his first Giant Continentals, Pepper.

Standing in the rabbit pen at an event, its often how people introduce themselves to us:

“I had a rabbit once.  It died”.

At first, it struck me as such an unusual, and perhaps uncaring, thing to say about their once loved pet.  But as it became more and more common to hear it, I started to realise what the problem was.

Running a rescue, I come face-to-face with rabbit ignorance every day.  Yes, rabbits continue to be our third most popular pet, but the lack of knowledge and research in their care until recent years means that the vast majority of us still just don’t understand them!  And I think it is this lack of understanding that causes so many people to introduce themselves to the volunteers in this way.

Their matter-of-fact way of telling us about their dead rabbit isn’t lack of care or disinterest in what happened to their pet, but in many ways is actually still them trying to come to terms with it.  They had a rabbit until one day, it just died.  No explanation.  No obvious cause.  It wasn’t expected.  It just….happened.  Perhaps worsened for those who seek vet advice and are told “we don’t know why your rabbit died”.

I’ve often had the discussion myself, where I find myself explaining about rabbits’ vulnerabilities, the numerous conditions they can fall foul to, the parasites that can silently work away on them and their ability to hide pain, injury and illness.  The list is endless, but in hindsight unhelpful.

Many rabbit owners still view their pets as a “cheap option”, and simply wouldn’t consider getting a post-mortem done on their rabbit.  Post mortems can often indicate the cause, but again due to lack of research in rabbit medicine it is still regularly the case that a post mortem is inconclusive.  Having forked out a fortune for the post-mortem, you still may be none-the-wiser!

More experienced owners will often see the subtle signs that indicate a rabbit is unwell, and are often in a better position to rush their rabbit to the vet for preventative treatment.  Sadly, even in these circumstances, it can often be too late, and despite the best efforts of an experienced owner and a rabbit-savvy vet our beloved pets have waited too long before letting us know they needed help.

My advice to all rabbit owners is:

  • Prepare yourself with as much knowledge about rabbit behaviour and welfare as possible, so you can tell when your rabbit is unwell at the earliest opportunity.
  • Spend time with your rabbit and get to know them well.  If you know them well, you will recognise if their behaviour changes.  If their behaviour changes, it often means there is something not right, and they should be checked over!
  • Make sure you have access to a good, rabbit-savvy vet you are comfortable with, and ensure that your vet’s out of hours service will also provide you with access to a rabbit-savvy vet at all times.
  • Ultimately, prepare yourself for the vulnerability of your rabbits.  It’s harsh but its reality: your rabbit may die without warning, despite all your best efforts!

I was speaking to a colleague recently about our rabbits, and we were discussing the loss of one of mine.  She noted, “You don’t seem very upset.  Were you not bothered about them dying?”.  Her assumption that I didn’t care hit a nerve.  Why was I not more bothered?  Had I become immune to the loss of my rabbits after all these years?  Could it be I had just ‘got used’ to it all?

My rabbits are incredibly important to me, but for me they are not “part of the family”.  Perhaps it’s the influence of my farming background.  I have twelve rabbits all kept outdoors, in a very large shed and run environment.  They are given more than they need, ample hay and fresh food and water daily.  I can walk in to their walk-in run and sit with them and they are happy to come over and clamber all over me for attention.  I share their daily care with the volunteer team at The Warren, which allows me to keep my rabbits whilst maintaining all my other work and charity commitments.  It’s not the kind of relationship I know some of our other volunteers have with their rabbits.  Their bunnies are smothered with daily affection and care and are very much part of their everyday family life, perhaps living in the home.  The relationship and setups are different, but both valid.  The rabbits’ needs are met, in both scenarios.  And the rabbits are very much loved, in both scenarios.

So no, my response to the loss of a rabbit is certainly not one of not caring, or not being bothered.  In fact, their passing probably affects me more than I would let on.  But I do think there is one big difference: I always expect my rabbit to die.

I don’t mean that in a negative way.  In fact, quite the opposite.  As a result of my experience with rabbits, I have learned how vulnerable their little lives are.  I know that just about every predator and disease out there is likely to affect these delicate little guys.  And in knowing just how vulnerable they are, I realise that every day my rabbit is with me is a bonus.  I know it could all end in an instant, so I don’t assume anything.  I don’t expect them to be with me forever, because I know they can’t be.  And when they pass, sad as it is, I don’t focus on their death and why they have gone, but focus on their life.  A life I was lucky to be part of.

I had a rabbit once.  Let me tell you how it lived….