Can I Help You?

It is a good morning that I don’t wake up to one or two panicked emails from bunny owners who have rabbits who are dying and they are seeking advice from me. Don’t get me wrong, I want to help people all I can, especially rabbits in dire need. It is just very hard to not think about some poor defenseless bunny at the mercy of someone thousands of miles away who may or may not take my advice.

Most often, I have to tell them to simply find and take their bunny to a rabbit specialist vet. Almost always, they have never visited a vet before and most certainly not a rabbit specialist. I know that many areas are not blessed with a plethora of vets who are trained to work with rabbits, but part of having a pet bunny is at least knowing where the nearest vet is located, should you ever need to see him in an emergency. When minutes count, do you want to spend a few hours trying to found out where it is you will have to go with your bunny.

The harsh reality is that every day a pet bunny somewhere gets in trouble and needs help from his human. Often, whether or not the little guy survives depends on how long before the owner notices that something is wrong and how he reacts. Our reaction will usually depend on the knowledge that we have about bunnies and the resources available at the time. Many rabbit vets do not work on weekends and so what do you do if your bunny is in distress late Saturday night? I have had this happen several times, myself.

If you are reading this blog, then you obviously have the internet available and that can be a wonderful thing. There is a wealth of information on tap there, but beware of some advice you may find. Finding a factoid posted more than once does not mean that much, since often the same misinformation has been copied and pasted from one website to another. Still, most of the time you will be getting good information, which in an emergency can be better than nothing.

Understanding that being desperate for some answers about what to do in an emergency leads to me receiving dozens of letters each week from distressed bunny lovers about their pets. Often, I can respond that most likely there is nothing to worry about, such as the myriad of emails I get from people the first time their bunny does some bright red or orange pee (I probably get that one once a week… haha). Other times I lose sleep worrying about the fate of some bunny whom I am sure was barely hanging on when their owner wrote me. With the popularity of Facebook amongst bunny lovers these days, I get even more amazing communications.

It is a good thing, since it means that we are slowly getting our message of rabbit education out there to the public, but it is also a double edged sword. When you put yourself out there like I do, you get lots of the horrible “dead bunny” stories, too. It is hard not to think about some of them and usually after my reply, I rarely hear back from the person about what happened. When I do, it is never good news, so it is one of those “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” situations.

Really, the only way that hundreds of rabbits are not going to continue to die every day from the “stupid owner syndrome” (don’t worry, we have all had it) is to educate the masses. When it becomes common knowledge how to properly keep a pet rabbit, most of these saddening emails will stop. Stories like my neighbor’s dog just ate my rabbit to my rabbit stopped eating two days ago are virtually all from lack of common knowledge. With rabbits, a little prevention goes a long way to avoiding these kind of sad stories.

So go ahead and please do write me or post in my blog. I will do what I can to help you and possibly even help you save your bunny, but please don’t wait until it is too late and your bunny is on death’s doorstep to do so. I am here to help you.

The Bunny Guy

Deadly Combination? Rabbits With Other Pets

One of the most common questions that I get asked by the public when I am at educational events is whether rabbits will get along with their other pets, such as dogs and cats. My answer is always the same: It depends on the dog or cat, not the rabbit. Rabbits are vegans and get along with all creatures.

This is a tough subject to write about at this moment, because a tragic thing happened last weekend that made me contemplate this issue. A friend who was fostering some rabbits that he rescued accidentally had his dogs get into the area that he was keeping the bunnies and they were killed. I am absolutely certain that no one was more horrified or saddened than this family.

They had with all good intentions saved these bunnies (mother and daughter) from a miserable existence in a petting zoo. They were not spayed and so were most likely going to suffer from tumors or cancer before they were four years old. After bringing them home, the family discovered that the daughter had a terrible malocclusion of her front teeth, so they had two surgeries to correct that problem. Both girls were also spayed, at considerable expense for this family.

Someone working at their home, left a door open and the tragedy occurred. While thinking about this sad story, I thought that this certainly happens hundreds of times a day across America. It is not because anyone intentional wishes for this to happen, but rather it is purely an accident. In my mind, this begs the question, “Should you even have a pet rabbit, if you have another animal who will potentially harm him?”

star and buns 067

Result of a predator attacking a pet bunny.

This is a tough question, but from the rabbit’s point of view in every case, I am sure you can say that the answer is probably a NO. I think it is one thing, if you have a dog or cat that you feel will learn to live in harmony with the bunny. I have seen this in many families and it worked for many years in mine. Millions of people have pet dogs, cats and bunnies living together happily.

Where I think the problem arises is when you have a critter whom you know will harm your rabbit and decide that you can keep them separate and protected from each other for long term. First off, I want to say that the rabbit virtually always comes out the loser, if for a single second you fail. I have heard this story about an accidental death of a bunny too many times to count. If it is so common, then why does it happen so often?

Maybe the problem is that we underestimate the prey drive of our other predator pets, like dogs and cats and overestimate our bunny’s ability to survive being bitten, even once by one of them. A dog does not even have to be trying to harm a rabbit to kill him. Most of the time when a dog hurts a bunny, he is trying to play with him.

A rabbit darting quickly across the room or yard sets off an instinct in many dogs that is just so intense that they cannot resist it. Before you can say two words, the deed is done.

Is this preventable? Possibly, but it is almost inevitable, even if you are very careful. You may prevent this deadly interaction for years, but it only takes a second of negligence and nature takes it course. In the case of my friend, it was a worker who was not used to constantly having to think about protecting the rabbits when the disaster happened. It could have happened to anyone, and IT DOES. It happens all the time.

Do you see that look in his eyes?

Do you see that look in his eyes?

This is why I have decided that it is truly not a good idea to have a pet rabbit and a dog or cat with a prey drive. No matter how well that you think you can do at keeping the bunny safe and happy, he is not going to be happy unless he gets time to run and play. If he is running and playing where a dangerous dog has the potential to attack him, then we have a problem.

One needs to honestly assess whether your dog/cat is one who would TRULY be a good companion for a bunny. If you have an older dog who likes to cuddle with a cat buddy and licks him, then you might have a dog who can get along with a rabbit. If you have a dog who chases squirrels or cats in the park, who wants to play rough with you all the time and is very puppy-like or hyperactive, he probably should not live anywhere near a house bunny. This takes an honest unselfish approach on the matter.

Why sentence a rabbit to a horrible violent death by choosing to bring one home because he is “just so cute”, knowing that your pet rottweiler would love to make him lunch, the first chance he gets. In my opinion, is just selfish and wrong-headed.

It can get a lot trickier when you are actually trying to make this choice in the moment and thinking about adopting or rescuing a bun. The answer is usually not just so black and white. I feel that when making this decision that you need to be very objective and remember that having a pet house rabbit is simply not for everyone. Forcing the issue and taking on a bunny, when in your heart you know you shouldn’t, is just a disaster waiting to happen. Maybe you need to wait until your situation changes at a later part of your life.

As I said, this is a tough issue and I am sure a lot of folks will disagree or have their own perspective on this issue. Please share your thoughts. What do you think?

The Bunny Guy

What To Do BEFORE You Get A Rabbit

I am sorry to say that most people get their first rabbit either one of two ways… They either get one on an “impulse” where they see a cute bunny that five minutes before they did not know that they wanted… OR they find a discarded bunny whom someone else had gotten impulsively and when it did not work out, they set him “free” somewhere.

If you are not one of these two types of people, you will not need to read this article. Kudos to you for being a loving responsible pet owner. IF you fit into one of these two categories, please read this article BEFORE it is too late.

The first thing a responsible rabbit owner does before they get their first rabbit is study a little bit about them. You will never learn the things you need to know about having a pet rabbit by the “seat of your pants”. Almost nothing that you learned growing up with dogs and cats is applicable and caring for rabbits is not intuitive. A smart person will take some time to learn a little bit about lagomorphs before they decide to adopt one, to see exactly what they are getting into.

I cannot tell you how many people do not do this and it is a formula for failure, especially if you are considering having the rabbit live indoors with you and your family (which is a must!). One of the first things you will learn, if you do your homework, is that your rabbit’s area will need to be “bunny-proofed”. This means that you will need to remove, block or cover anything that your rabbit can chew on in the area you plan to let him live. Not only must you bunny-proof his living area, but anyplace that he will run and get his exercise.

All toxic and dangerous items will need to be found and removed, such as houseplants (most are poisonous to rabbits and they will eat them) and places cleaned with household cleaners. There is a complete art to “bunny-proofing” and I will not do this whole article about the subject. Part of becoming a “bunny parent” is to learn how to do it and perfect it in your home. It is a trial and error thing for people who are new to rabbits, because your rabbit will find every flaw or weakness in your system. It will happen, so be prepared for it when you first start out with a new bun.

Notice I said ADOPT your first rabbit. There is really never a good reason to go out and buy a pet rabbit. Not when there are literally thousands of rabbits who will be euthanized this year because no one wants them any longer. Almost every breed of rabbit is available to be adopted and if the one you want is not, then your local rescue, humane society or house rabbit society will help you in finding a homeless rabbit that is suitable for you.

You will also need to learn how to feed your rabbit and rabbit pellets are not the answer. Pellets were designed for farmers to get rabbits fat quickly, so they could be sold for food. They are not a good food for pets whom you want to live 10-12 years and if you feed them exclusively to your pet, he will most likely only live half of that time.

Most of us do the only things we know, when we get our first rabbit. The way that most people first learned about rabbits was seeing them in a backyard hutch eating only pellets, so it is understandable that people do the same thing when they get their first rabbit. I did.

Nothing could be farther from what pet rabbits really need and you are basically sentencing your pet to a lonely frustrated existence. His health will eventually deteriorate and he will almost always die a premature death under these conditions.

Even if you are bunny smart and decide to keep your rabbit inside, one thing that almost everyone fails to do is to locate your future rabbit’s veterinarian before getting one. If your new bunny is not already spayed or neutered, you will want to have this done immediately. Rabbits who are not spayed/neutered are not very good pets. It is smart to check around and have chosen a vet prior to bringing home your rabbit.

Rabbits who suddenly find themselves in a new environment will typically become stressed. Stress in rabbits can bring on a whole host of health problems and it is not uncommon for a healthy bunny to suddenly display symptoms of being sick after getting a new home. He may also have parasites, such as fleas or lice and it is usually a good idea to have your new bunny checked out by a rabbit specialist ASAP after bringing him home.

Some areas are lucky to have a large selection of rabbit specialists to chose from. Other areas it may be a long drive to reach one. You should know this before you get your pet and be aware that you should not take your pet bunny to a regular dog or cat vet. If you are having trouble finding the right kind of vet, contact your local chapter of the House Rabbit Society or rabbit rescue and they will guide you to the proper vets in your area.

Do not get a rabbit because your six year old daughter wants one. Getting a pet rabbit for your children is never a good idea. First off, the one who is ultimately going to be responsible for feeding, cleaning up after and paying the vet bills is you. No six year old is capable of these things, in reality. You are deluding yourself if you think that your child will always act responsibly with a fragile pet rabbit at that age. I think that most children need to be seven or eight years old before they simply understand how fragile a bunny is. The bottom line is that rabbits are not a good “kid’s pet”, contrary to the popular myth.

Another facet of bunnies for kids, is that when your eight year old gets a rabbit, he is going to live until he/she is at least eighteen years old. Somewhere along the way, their interests will dramatically change (cars, dating, sports, etc.) and so just like adopting a pet dog, you must plan for your new pet, looking ten plus years down the road. I tell parents that their eight year old will probably be married with children before a new pet bunny passes away. This puts it into proper perspective for most.

There is a lot to learn about rabbits, if you are new to having them. There are whole books about the subject, such as my new book “The Bunny Lover’s Complete Guide To House Rabbits”. Many people find failure when they first get a rabbit, but there are many ways to avoid it. Most important is doing your homework and finding out whether a rabbit is really for you and your family BEFORE you bring one home. Unfortunately, this is most often not the case, hence the thousands of stray and feral rabbits hopping around (how many of us get our first rabbits).

I will end by saying THERE IS NEVER AN EXCUSE TO ABANDON A PET RABBIT. If you decide that a rabbit is not for you, you must relinquish him at a shelter or rescue. Do not set a defenseless prey animal, such as a bunny free to experience a horrible death at the hands of some predator. Please, do the right thing and let him find a new home with someone who truly wants him.

The Bunny Guy

9 Common Causes Of Rabbit Poisoning

1. Human Medications

You must never give medications meant for humans to your rabbit, unless you are specifically instructed by your rabbit’s vet. Never leave your medications in a place where curious rabbits can get to them to nibble on. We all know how bunnies can hop up onto impossible places, unexpectedly. Most human medications are very toxic for a bunny. Even benign over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can kill your rabbit. Simply don’t leave them laying around in your rabbit’s areas.

2. Insecticides

Insecticide poisoning is much more common than you might think. Almost all bug killers will also kill your rabbit, some in very small doses. Insecticides are intentionally formulated to last a very long time, so their residue can remain for many months. Never use or store insecticides around your rabbit’s abode or play areas.

3. People Food

Chocolate contains theobromine, which is toxic to rabbits. Humans have an enzyme that breaks down this toxic substance, but rabbits don’t. Too much chocolate will cause a high heart rate and seizures for your bunny. Another common toxic food is xylitol (the sugar substitute). Xylitol can cause seizures and liver failure in your pet. one very common human food that can be fatal for your rabbit is chewing gum. If they ingest gum, it can create an obstruction that will not digest. Should you discover that your rabbit has eaten any of these things, it is cause for an emergency visit to his vet.

4. Household Products

Most household detergents and cleaning products can be toxic for your bunny. Never use anything but a diluted vinegar and water solution to clean their abode areas and litter box. If you must use another type of cleaner, try and find an organic cleaner or rinse very thoroughly to remove all traces of it before allowing your rabbit into that spot.

5. Veterinary Medications

Another common toxicity problem is when rabbits receive the wrong amount or wrong medication that was prescribed by his vet. Be certain to go over dosage amounts and times with your vet BEFORE you leave his office. If in doubt, call him and clarify it before giving it to him. Medication dosages for rabbits are precisely measured according to their weight. It is very easy to give him too much, if you are not careful. Never skip dosages and never substitute medication from other pets.

6. Rat & Mice Poisons

You must be extremely careful when putting out poisonous bait for rodents, if at all. You can never let your rabbit become exposed to these deadly products. Most baits are grain based, which can be enticing for a rabbit. Just a few nibbles can result in a slow and painful death for your bunny. Best to not employ these types of rodenticides on your property if you have rabbits.

7. Plants

Most house plants are poisonous to bunnies. Rabbits have lost the ability to distinguish between good and bad foods since becoming domesticated, so rabbits will often ingest parts of a house plant if they can get to it. You should also be careful that plants do not drop or shed leaves and flowers into your rabbit’s area. When allowing your rabbit his supervised play time in the yard, you must be very careful to not allow him to ingest toxic plants that may be present there, as well. Many common backyard plants are poisonous.

8. Lawn and Garden Products

When letting your rabbits run and play on the grass, you must insure that no fertilizers or herbacides have recently been applied. Many public parks now regularly treat their grass with strong long-lasting herbacides to reduce weeds in their grass. These chemicals have been shown to be very bad for pets who eat and play on this grass.

9. Automotive Products

Poisonous anti-freeze and automotive chemicals should never be present in the areas that your rabbit lives, but that does not mean that there are not bunnies who are poisoned by these substances every year. Keep them away from curious bunnies to avoid any chance of accidental poisoning.

If you have any reason to suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, please contact your rabbit veterinarian immediately.