Therapy Rabbits Bring Smiles

Star and Snickers in their stroller during a therapy session.

Star and Snickers in their stroller during a therapy session.

I thought I would post this blog about Pet Assisted Therapy.

My focus has always been education about rabbits and so I almost turned down the opportunity to take a couple of my bunnies to one of these therapy sessions. I know a friend whose bunny went to classes to become a certified therapy rabbit, so I thought that mine would have to do this, too.

It turned out that the nursing homes that we have been visiting gladly accepted us to come visit them, without any kind of certification. They were so glad that our rabbits were interacting with their patients, no one was worried about their lack of credentials but me.

Star is a notorious nipper, but only when she wants to tell you something. Not wanting her to have an excuse to ever nip, I never let anyone hold her during our outings. She usually only nips when she wants to tell you that she needs to use her litter box or wants down from your lap. It is never a hard nip, but it would be totally unacceptable if it happened to a patient.

I solved this problem by bringing them inside their stroller. My rabbits love to sit quietly and get ear rubs and pets. Snickers has learned to lean way out of the stroller to beg for pets, if someone tries to ignore him or does not immediately do it.

During some of the rounds to visit the bed-ridden patients, Snickers like to hop out of the stroller on his own onto their bed. He thinks it is fun to get some pets and then hop back into his stroller to tell Star all about it. Everyone thinks it is so cute and Snickers has never nipped anyone ever in the year that he has been with us, so I think he is really a perfect rabbit for this.

Snickers hopping back and forth entertaining a patient.

Snickers hopping back and forth entertaining a patient.

My point of this article is that this has turned out to be one of the most fun and rewarding things that I do with my rabbits. I am so passionately focused on rabbit education, I initially did not see the value in talking to people who would most likely never have a pet rabbit during their lifetime.

What I found instead, was a glow of happiness that they spread where ever they went in the process. I highly recommend that if you have an adventurous rabbit who likes ear rubs to try doing this. The ones that I do are through a local Humane Society. The nursing homes usually make a donation to the shelter in return for our coming to visit, so it is a win-win for everyone.

I was very surprised how much my rabbits actually enjoy all of this attention, with Snickers begging for ear rubs and Star smiling while getting pet. The smiles on the faces of the patients are also very heart warming, too. It gives you a good feeling for the next couple days when you think about it. It only takes about an hour once a month, but I have truly grown to enjoy doing it, almost as much as my bunnies do.

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

Have You Found The Right Vet, Yet?

I have had an awful lot of very sad email this past month from desperate bunny owners whom are seeking advice from me about their sick bunnies. While I enjoy educating the public, I am not a rabbit veterinarian. Even with my dozens of years of rabbit experience, I am nowhere near an expert on rabbit medical issues.

Rabbit specialist veterinarians are Avian Exotics trained. They are technically bird doctors, but this is the specialty that is formally acknowledged as rabbit experts. I could never be anything close to that, because these vets often spend decades learning and working with ill bunnies.

This leads to another issue, which is that dog and cat vets often only see 5 or 6 bunnies a year. This is not the way to gain experience with bunnies. Having your vet searching for the right medication or treatment on the internet, is not a comforting feeling and when it comes to rabbits, experience is everything.

I work as a rabbit educator every year at the National Veterinarian’s Convention held here in San Diego and get to speak with hundreds of vets and their assistants from around the country. It is amazing how little some of them know about rabbits. What is even scarier is that if you brought them a sick bunny, I am sure most of them would try to treat him… BUT, do you think that your rabbit would be getting the finest in medical care at that point?

The truth is I have made this same mistake. The first time I took my bunny to my dog’s vet to ask why he always had mushy poop stuck to his butt. I asked if it was anything I was feeding him and the vet told us to just feed him unlimited pellets and he would be fine. I got a big hopper feeder and did exactly that. Of course, it only made his problem worse.

That poor bunny had almost daily butt baths and eventually died in this vet’s office. I will not go into the gory details. This illustrates to need to qualify the vet that you bring your rabbit to visit, which means you want one who sees a lot of rabbits, all of the time. You do not have to be an Avian Exotic Specialist to be a good rabbit vet. Instead, a vet needs to do a lot of study and work with rabbits to be up on the latest antibiotics and treatments for common rabbit ailments. Rabbit medicine is changing rapidly and so this is important.

It is easy to find a rabbit specialist vet in my area, because we have a couple dozen of them. Our local chapter of the House Rabbit Society lists all the bunny approved vets on their website and publications. Other House Rabbit Society Chapters also publish their own local lists. Go to the national HRS website to find a list of local chapters. They even have a vet list of their own, but the local chapter’s website will probably be more up to date and have more options.

If you happen to live in an area that does not have a House Rabbit Society affiliate, then search out your local rabbit rescue people. You may even be able to contact your local Humane Society to find who in your area is active with rescuing rabbits. These are the people who are going to know whom the good bunny vets are locally. It is a highly effective method to home in on a good rabbit specialist. Searching on your own, can be disappointing and a good reference is important when seeking medical treatment.

I highly recommend that you find your vet before you ever get a bunny. If you already have a rabbit, but still do not have a regular vet for him, then what are you waiting for? After your rabbit is already sick, is not a good time to frantically be searching for one. This will lead you to taking your bunny to the wrong vet almost every time. Again, I speak from experience. As our local bail bondsman says in his local TV commercials, “Better to know me and not need me, than to need me and not know me”.

Another really important thing to do with your bunny and his vet BEFORE he ever gets sick is to get a blood panel run on him while he is HEALTHY. Rabbit blood test values can vary dramatically from rabbit to rabbit. When your rabbit’s vet does not have anything to compare a test with, he is only guessing as to what is out of whack. This can waste precious and valuable time when trying to diagnose a sick bunny. When you know what the healthy values are, it is a lot easier for your bunny’s doctor to diagnose and treat him.

The last issue I would like to address is that you should learn how to tell when your bunny is sick. I always tell people that if you think your rabbit is sick, HE IS. Rabbits hide the fact that they are sick, because they are prey animals. Any break from a normal daily routine should may you suspect something.

Don’t jump right to conclusions and get dramatic, but if your rabbit normally never sits and hides in an out of the way place and now he is doing it, that should be a red flag. Now you should be paying attention to see if he truly is not feeling well. I will offer a small healthy treat to my bunny at that point, like his favorite dried herb or a sprig of parsley. If he refuses that, I am not super aware that something is just not right.

I may watch him for a few minutes, noting his posture and body language. I will feel his ears to see if he is cold or warm. Rabbits should not have ice cold ears, if indoors at room temperature. As soon as you have determined that your bunny is not OK, it is time for a call to his vet. The clock is now ticking.

I have written before about how to tell from body posture, if your bunny is hurting or ill. I cover this topic in Rabbit Communication, extensively in my new book, “The Bunny Lover’s Complete Guide To House Rabbits”. Get your copy for a lot more detailed explanation of what your rabbit is trying to say to you.

Meanwhile, you have got all the basics and if you still have not found the perfect vet for your rabbit, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

The Bunny Guy

No Such Thing As A Pet Rabbit?

I was informed this week that an event that I have attended as an educator for the past three years would not allow us to bring our bunnies this year. The Paw-In-The-Park held in Escondido is put on by the Escondido Humane Society and numerous sponsors. When the permits for the event were issued, it was stipulated that ONLY dogs would be allowed. We were basically told that our rabbits would not be welcome, even though they had done this many times before.

It reminded me of something that happened last summer. I have a group of friends who like to go out to dinner with our rabbits each week. We call it “Bunny Night Out”. Often, we just go to a local street fair and eat the street food, but during the summer it gets too crowded to push the buns in their strollers. During these times, we will all meet at a restaurant with a “dog friendly” outdoor patio.

Our favorite was a Japanese place that we had all been to many times before. One day after we had all ordered, the manager came up and told us we would have to leave. It appears that a complaint was made to the CA Health Dept. about our previous visit. This prompted a visit by a Health Inspector who informed the restaurant that they would be fined if we were allowed to return.

Not to get into the mental state of a person who would make such a complaint, my point is that while dogs are considered pets and therefore welcomed on pet-friendly patios, rabbits are still classified as “livestock” in the state of California. This was a technical violation of Health Codes that forbid “livestock” in dining areas.

These recent examples are just my personal experiences in the past year. Multiply this across the tens of thousands of people who have pet rabbits in California and we now have a much larger issue. It is time that we re-classify pet bunnies to be what they truly are… companion animals, no different than a pet cat or dog.

We are fighting a major battle trying to educate the public about how to properly care for and house their pet bunnies, but when the government is institutionalizing all the wrong ideas and myths, it is part of a much deeper problem.

It makes our job of educating people a lot harder, when even the government does not recognize our pets as such. It creates skepticism and even worse, resistance to our ideas. I have heard people I meet in the public rationalize that rabbits do not deserve a better life because they are not truly meant to be pets and belong on the farm (or dinner table).

I have not even heard of any kind of movement in California to change these laws. I am certain that any attempt at change would be met with stiff resistance by the farmer’s unions and lobbies. That is why I think that the best compromise would be to create a dual classification. At least it would acknowledge that many thousands of rabbits who are pets in homes across California exist and that is a good start.


The Bunny Guy

Your Rabbit And His Greens

Since St. Patrick’s Day is coming in March, it got me thinking about GREENs. Our Beach Bunny group even has a Green Salad Party every year for the bunnies at the beach. So I decided to write this article about salad greens and your bunny. Most green leafy vegetables are OK for rabbits, with very few exceptions, but that does not mean that you can buy him just anything at the supermarket. For a complete list of greens and vegetables that are OK for your rabbit, visit the House Rabbit Society list online.

Some bunnies do not tolerate certain vegetables very well and others cannot handle almost any at all. You must be careful about what greens you feed your pet rabbit, just like you must do with all of their other food. You should not suddenly introduce a strange new green into his salad, without watching to see how it will affect him.

It is best to only try one new green veggie at a time with your bun. Give just a small amount (a couple of 3″ squares) and then wait a day to see what happens. You will need to know what the signs for stomach distress are in rabbits.

If your rabbit is suddenly not active when he normally would be or if he is sitting in an unusual place for a long period. That should be a red flag. If he is constantly trying to get comfortable by stretching out and moving from one side to the other. This can be a sign of intestinal discomfort or gas. Being lethargic or lacking energy  or appetite can be another sign.

Any of these signals, should cause you to take notice. It does not mean it is time to panic, but you should now be aware that your bunny might have something wrong with him. You will want to start paying very close attention to him, at this point. If he is clicking his teeth loudly and sitting hunched over, that is a sign of extreme pain which needs immediate attention.

If I notice my bunny exhibiting any of these symptoms, I like to offer a healthy treat that I know my rabbit always likes, to see if he takes it. A rabbit who is sick will not eat.This is pretty universal among rabbits. It is always a bad sign when your rabbit refuses his favorite treat.

When you have given your rabbit an unusual (new) green vegetable in the last 24 hours, then you probably know the cause of this problem. This is why you only want to introduce one new green at a time, otherwise you will not know which green it was that upset your bunny’s tummy. You certainly don’t want to give it to him again, just to see which one it was.

If your rabbit is not acting normal and you feel that something is off, then almost always you are correct. Rabbits try and hide the fact that they are sick from their humans and when they break any of their routines, you should immediately be on the lookout for other symptoms that they are not feeling well.

Now that you know something could be wrong, you will want to check your rabbit’s litter box. Has he pooped in there, since you last cleaned it (hopefully you clean it everyday, otherwise this inspection is useless)? My bunny’s litter boxes are cleaned each morning, so if there is nothing in there in the afternoon, this is a sign of a possible problem. You should make a habit of checking your bunny’s box at least once a day. It is an important part of having a pet rabbit.

You should be extra vigilant if you think your rabbit is showing any signs of something being not right. Especially, if you gave him some kind of new food, green or treat in the last 24 hours. Stress is another factor that can cause these issues.

If you think your bunny is not feeling right, the signs will be subtle. You must be in very in tune with pet bunnies so that you know when it is time to take them to the vet. Waiting for something dramatic to happen, before deciding it is time for that car ride to the animal hospital is usually the difference between life and death. Enough said on that subject.

Even though more than 80 percent of your rabbit’s diet should be grass hays, one of the highlights of a bunny’s day is their salad time. With a little careful experimentation, you can find your rabbit’s favorite healthy green veggies to serve him. Just like other creatures, rabbits like variety. Sure they will gobble up some romaine lettuce every day, if you give it to them, but I have found they get much more excited over the little treats in their salad. Things like a sprig of dill or basil or a few squares of crinkly kale, along with their regular fare.

Be aware that rabbits can be fickle about their veggies. What may taste good to them one month, may not taste the same the next. Do not be surprised if your bunny’s favorite green does not change regularly.

Sometimes my bunnies are grabbing their green carrot tops first and other times it is the dandelion leaves or kale pieces that they are seeking first. I am sure that it is due to the variations of being grown on different farms with different seeds in different seasons or locations, etc.

This means that just because your rabbit turns down some kale or chard one time, does not mean he will never eat it. Just the other day someone offered some homegrown chard to my bunnies. They never liked it before, but readily ate this fresh stuff. It obviously had a different flavor than what I had been buying at the store.

Some people even go out and pick wild greens for their rabbits. I have a friend who goes out to large public parks, just to pick the dandelion leaves for her bunny. Just be careful not to pick anything that has been sprayed with any type of herbicide or pesticides.

If you have any question about whether something is safe or not for your rabbit, do not let them eat it until you have checked to see if it is on the “safe bunny foods” list. If you do not know what a plant is, do not give it to your bunny. Many wild plants are toxic for rabbits and domestic rabbits do not have the ability to distinguish safe from harmful plant species, like wild bunnies can. If you do not know for sure what a plant is and that it is safe, never give it to your rabbit.

Erin Go Bragh!

Getting Friendly With Your Rabbit’s Poop

litter box

A litter box works best when filled with fresh grass hay for your bunny to graze on. It encourages good litter box habits and gives busy bunnies something to do.

I thought I would start the new year by getting into a subject that all but a true bunny lover will find strange, your rabbit’s poop. People who don’t know much about rabbits may at first feel like us bunny lovers are obsessed with this topic. This is because when you truly are aware of your bunny’s health and well-being, your first and most obvious clue that something is amiss are his fecal droppings.

Rabbits are well-designed eating and food processing machines. They have evolved to where they have extremely efficient digestive systems, otherwise how could they live with such verve and energy on a diet of just grass (which is most of a healthy rabbit’s diet). As grazers, they need to be constantly eating. It can actually be fatal if their insides stop processing their food for even a day, which is a condition known as gastrointestinal stasis or GI stasis for short.

Cecotropes (cecal pellets)

Cecotropes (cecal pellets)


Cecotropes (Cecal pellets)

Knowing how your rabbit’s insides work are very important to keeping your pet bunny healthy. It is critical to understand that they are fermenters and that their food is digesting in their intestines by bacteria located there. This is why rabbits can often die when given the wrong antibiotic, because all the important good bacteria in their gut are killed. This is why you should never give any kind of antibiotic (or medicine) from another pet to your rabbit, without your vets express approval, but I digress.

Adding anything different or new to your rabbits fermentation system can cause an upset, until their body adapts to processing it. Us humans get a similar condition when we get Montezuma’s Revenge. Things like sugars and starches, which are not a natural part of a rabbit’s diet can cause this problem. I saw this when after not having been given fruit for many months, I gave some to my buns. They all got sick the next day. If they are getting sugars every day, then they do not get this reaction, but then that leads to other issues and problems, such as fatty liver disease and being overweight.

The best barometer of your bunny’s intestinal fortitude, so to speak, is their poop. It should be consistent and any daily variation with it is very telling. I recommend that you become very familiar with your rabbit’s little droppings daily. Every good bunny lover does this.

You want to see lots of firm but not rock hard round droppings each day in your rabbit’s litter box. They should easily smash between two fingers when fresh. It is a good idea to clean your rabbit’s box each day, because it gives you a chance to see how he is feeling by inspecting his poop. If you clean his box and there are not any in there, you now have a big red flag that should not be ignored. Rabbits are eating and pooping all the time, except for when they are sleeping. If you were to discover this, I would watch him for a couple hours to see if he goes, but if I offer him a treat or some green salad and he is not interested, it means that you have a sick bunny. Steps must be taken immediately or you possibly risk a very bad outcome. When it comes to GI stasis, time is of the essence.

If you are not cleaning your rabbit’s litter box every day, then it becomes a lot more difficult to know if he is using it or not. It is hard to tell if the piles of poop in the box are from today or yesterday or the day before, if it is not cleaned daily. Besides that, rabbits are very clean pets and tend to avoid a dirty box, not to mention that they eat more hay if you give it to them fresh in a clean box each day. Most people who have house rabbits put their rabbit’s hay into their litter box to encourage it’s use and to promote more grazing on the fresh hay.

One of the most important things you can do if you love your rabbit, is to learn to recognize when they are ill and take immediate steps to help them survive. Rabbits tend to have a very low survival rates for a lot of very common issues, simply because their owners are not paying enough attention to how their pet is feeling on a daily basis. When you think your rabbit is sick, almost 99 percent of the time HE IS.

You should familiarize yourself with what healthy good poop looks like and the difference between that and their cecotropes. Rabbits eat all of their food twice and the first time through their system, it comes out as cecotropes (or cecal pellets). They eat these and if your rabbit is healthy, you should very rarely find these, if ever. Finding cecotropes laying around or in his box are a sign that he may be getting too many treats or too much nutrition. This causes your rabbit to not feel the need to eat his cecotropes. Therefore,
finding cecal pellets from your rabbit on a regular basis should also be a red flag warning for you. I recommend taking appropriate action right away, should you begin to find these in your bunny’s area.

The most common reason for finding cecotropes is fruit, too many treats or too much green salad, or too many pellets. I would reduce the amount of these things that your rabbit receives until the problem goes away. I would start with the pellets and fruit first, since they are the highest calorie items. Rabbits do not ever need either one of those things and a very small amount goes a very long way, especially if your rabbit is of the smaller variety. A teaspoon or two is all that most bunnies need of pellets and I never give mine fruit, as I explained earlier.

It is possible to give your rabbit too much salad. He should only get an amount no more than twice the size of his head daily. That is the most he should have and he can certainly have less. Treats are also usually highly caloric and many store bought rabbit treats should never be given.

Never give your rabbit yogurt treats or anything with dairy, seeds, nuts, corn, beans, peas, legumes or popcorn. They are bad for your rabbit. Many of the rabbit treats sold in stores have one or more of these items and so beware. Just because a pet store sells them, does not mean that they are good or ok for your bunny. I would say that half of the items I see in our local pet stores should not even be sold to rabbit owners. I suggest that you give healthy green treats and compressed timothy (not alfalfa) hay cubes to your bunny. You can find some relatively healthy rabbit treats online, but avoid those that the main ingredients are flours and sugars, such as molassas or honey.

Timothy Hay Cubes

TImothy Hay Cubes are a good healthy treat for your bunny. Do not confuse them with Alfalfa Cubes, which are not the same.

One problem that you can see by looking at your rabbit’s poop is something called Mega-Colon. It is a deformation of your rabbit’s colon that causes his poop to become misshapen and egg-shaped. I have a rabbit who has this issue and her poop is sometimes small and sometimes very large, but very rarely round. This condition allows for a rabbit to easily get a condition called bloat, which is similar to colic in a horse. Bloat can be quickly fatal for a bunny. It puts intense pressure on their heart and lungs if it occurs high up in their intestines which can stop their heart or breathing. I have heard of
this happening in as little as 8 hours.

Bloat often appears to novices as GI Stasis, but can be more serious and more quickly. Your rabbit will appear to be in discomfort and will stop eating and pooping. He may keep shifting his position in an effort to relieve the gas that is building up in his abdomen. He may show signs of pain which is clicking his teeth loudly or sitting up hunched over. These are all signs that he is feeling discomfort.

To check for bloat, squeeze your rabbit behind his ribs in his belly area, gently. It should be squishy and soft, not hard and blown up like a balloon. You should do this when your rabbit is feeling fine, to acquaint yourself with how it should feel, normally. I check my Mega-Colon rabbit’s gut, every day to make sure that she is not experiencing any gas buildup, because I know that she is prone to it.

Mega-Colon poop.

Mega-Colon poop. Notice irregular size and egg-shape.

Mega-Colon poop.

Mega-Colon poop. Egg shaped and irregular.

You should not have to normally do this, unless your rabbit is having signs that something is amiss. Lack of poop in his box or signs of discomfort are good reasons to check for bloat. Not wanting his regular daily salad or a bunny treat are also signs that it would be good to check your bunny for gas.

Because they are fermenters, they are producing gas all the time and so a blockage or GI Stasis can be the reason for their bloat. It is not something to mess with and it requires an immediate visit to the vet. Do not wait, because hours can be life or death in a severe case.

Hopefully, you will already have a relationship with a rabbit specialist vet for your rabbit. When your bunny is dreadfully sick, is not a time to be out searching for the proper vet for your bunny. It is a waste of precious time. If you need help locating a rabbit specialist, visit the House Rabbit Society website ( and go to their recommended veterinarians list for your area.

The final thing I want to mention is the “string of pearls” that we often find from our buns. This is a sure sign that your rabbit is ingesting a lot of his (or his partner’s) fur and this issue will usually go away if you groom your rabbit by combing him. Rabbits cannot throw up fur balls, like a cat can. In fact, they cannot vomit at all and so once they have swallowed fur while taking one of their many daily baths, it must pass all the way through their system.

"String Of Pearls"

“String Of Pearls”

Generally, their system was designed for this, but they can get blockages if they swallow too much. This is especially true if they have low motility in their gut, which is slower than average movement or speed at which things move through. Low motility in a rabbit’s gut makes them more prone to fur blockage. It is best to regularly groom your rabbit and if you are finding these “string of pearls” in their litter box, then it is a sure sign that you need to “step up your grooming game”.

Every good bunny parent spends a lot of time examining and appraising their rabbit’s poop. It is part of doing it right. To the uninitiated, it may appear as if we are all a bit crazy for being into our bunny scat, but it is only because we truly love our buns and we care.

If you want to stay on top of what’s going on inside your rabbit, you too will want to learn about his poop. When you see that there is a lack of it or is has chanced in any way, you will want to find out why. Do not hesitate to call your vet and keep some of it for a sample. I have even gone as far as to email pictures of my bunny’s poop to her doctor. A rabbit’s poop tells a story, if you are savvy enough to understand what it is saying.

Happy New Year For Rabbits?

This year is rapidly drawing to a close and I felt that I needed to close it with this tome from my heart.

This was a busy year for me filled with the publishing of my new book, The Bunny Lover’s Complete Guide To House Rabbits and lots of rescue work with several local rabbit organizations. I am a busy volunteer for both the San Diego Humane Society and drop in monthly to the Escondido Humane Society to work solely with the rabbits. The San Diego House Rabbit Society is my first love and commitment and they garner most of my attention and time. I take my job as rabbit educator very seriously and am happy to say that my wife and I are driving forces in their efforts to change the way the public thinks about pet rabbits.

As always in life, this year has been a huge challenge. Several of my bunny friends have seen their lives take new uncharted paths and they were not alone, since we too have been challenged in ways that we never dreamed of in the past 12 months. The economy has put a crimp into many people’s lifestyles and so I know that we were not alone in feeling the crunch, financially.

I knew that we would never get rich off my new book, but it’s sales and reach have far outpaced my wildest dreams. That is a good thing, because one thing that I have noticed in these tough economic times is that many family pets have suffered from it all.

Pets who have been with families for years are being dropped off at the shelters because the people just cannot care for them any longer. I have been touched by this phenomenon over and over again, since these troubled times started. It breaks my heart to think that a once loved animal is now fighting for his life in a shelter, where he is afraid and exposed to all kinds of sad things. Often some of these animals go from a good life in a warm friendly home to a small cage or enclosure where they rarely get out or get pets. This has to be extremely unsettling for a pet who cannot understand why these things are happening to him.

I often wonder, what they think caused this to happen to them. I worry that they feel that they did something bad, so bad that they were abandoned and left behind. Who knows what goes on inside their little minds, but I am certain that they simply have no understanding of why they are suddenly there.

Putting my heart and soul into helping forgotten and left behind animals has changed my life and made my little problems in life seem small and inconsequential. It has also helped me through many tough times and count my true blessings over and over. It has been an escape for me many times this past year. I know I have helped change some lives for several of my friends and the bunnies that I work with. That alone, has made the struggle worthwhile.

There were so many brights spots this past year. Big orders from other rabbit rescue people for my book, because they felt it was the best educational tool available to teach newbies about having a pet bunny. It validated all the hard work that my editor Rani and I did to create it.

Meanwhile, Rani fell very ill and went into the hospital with failing kidneys and heart. She has since had kidney and heart surgery and is expecting to do several more. My thoughts and love go out to her, because she was my inspiration and support during the trying times of writing and publishing my book. It would never have been half as good as it is, without her guidance and knowledge.

Several of my bunny friends lost their jobs, place to live and even their health this past year. None of these things is ever fun, but they have all remained up and full of hope for better things to come. Their spirit has charged me up to expect great and good things this coming new year. I am putting my efforts and energy into moving our mission forward in the coming months. My biggest hope is that things will get a little better for pet bunnies everywhere, as a result of all of the good-hearted people out there who are working to change the way the public looks at their pets. Being the optimist that I am, I believe that we ARE making a difference.

What will my next project be? I have so many ideas and thoughts, that even I do not know for sure. I know that my plate is full and that I have a lot to do, but I am definitely going on with my fight to effect change, however small or seemingly meaningless. So in the vein of seeing the cup half full, I believe that it WILL be a better year for rabbits, if not just because so many people out there are working to hard to make it happen.

I learned this year that one of the greatest people I have ever known, passed away a couple years ago. His name was Robert Sturner. He taught me many things and changed my life forever. One of my favorite things that he showed me was that whatever you consistently and constantly dwell upon in your life, will become a reality. I truly believe this and live my life according to this important message. Dreams can become reality and create huge change, if you believe enough and do what it takes to make it happen.

Change will happen and that is a given. What direction changes take are determined by the dreamers who dared to think about things that many people told them were crazy or impossible. New ideas and ways of thinking are being fostered and dispersed every day and with the advent of the internet and international media, faster than ever before.

Someday, I dream of a world where pets do not suffer and experience only love from their owners. Pets have enriched my life beyond words. I cannot imagine a life without their blessings and love, which is second only to family and friends. Many people in the world have no family or good friends and so the love that they share with pets is the only goodness in their lives. More people need to experience this and they will when they discover how the unconditional love of a pet is life changing and beautiful.

Some of my friends lost pets this year. I shared in their tears and sorrow, as I truly know the depths of sadness and despair that can result from such a loss. It is like losing a close family member. Just the thought brings back the heart wrenching sadness that I felt when losing my last pet. The only thing that allowed me to mend was the love given to me by my new pets that we rescued, since. I feel blessed that I have so many cool loving bunnies to share what is left of my life with.

Now that this year is drawing to a close, I put forth that we CAN change the direction of everything and part of doing this is changing the way that we think and act. Those are the things that we personally can control. We cannot control the thoughts and actions of others, but we do affect them with ours. We can be the example for what is good. We can be the torch that shines into the darkness. Through our light, we can make it better.

Let’s light the world!

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

Why People Over-Feed Their Pet Rabbits

It suddenly dawned on me the other day why many people over-feed their rabbits, while I was talking to a couple who had just rescued a stray bunny who was nibbling the grass on their front lawn. They were lovingly telling me about how they had gone online and learned a little about rabbits and discovered that they should live indoors.

The nice man had gone out and bought a rabbit hutch at the local pet store, but because he had read that wire bottom cages were bad for rabbits, he converted it by covering the floor with a nice wood. He also cut off the legs and made it so the rabbit could hop in and out of the hutch when he wanted. The couple had learned a little about bunny-proofing inside their house and were learning the “hard way” as the went along about spots and places that they had missed, when their new bunny went out for play time runs.

It was quite obvious to me that these people had totally and completely fallen in love with this rabbit. They were eager to tell me all about him and asked me all kinds of questions, as they hungrily learned as much as they could from talking to me.

After we had spoken a while, we learned that their rabbit was already very over-weight and suffering from being over-fed. It was then, that I had the revelation about why so many people make this deadly mistake with their bunnies, especially people uneducated about them.

When we first get rabbits, we quickly learn that our bunny likes to interact and will easily approach you if you have some kind of food or treat for them. We all love it when our rabbit goes through his silly begging motions, which are usually quite cute and highly effective. When we are just learning about pet rabbits, this is sometimes the only interaction that we are able to have with our furry pets. Some of us get a Pavlovian response and will continue pass out the treats in order to interact more and get the approval from our otherwise aloof or distant bunny. This can become a habit and the toll that this takes is directly proportional to the caloric content of the treats that you bestow.

Of course, the more sweet or caloric the treat, the more your rabbit will beg and dance and mine even hop up into my lap to say, “Please, please, please”. It is hard not to give in to a bunny who has jumped into your lap and is giving your kisses to try and pry another treat out of you. Other rabbits will do their own brand of seduction to get that next treat, but I now realize how universal this behavior is.

The problem arises when you fall into the habit of using highly caloric food to get close and interact with your rabbit, because over time it builds up. I am not going to go into a long speech about how bad it is for your rabbit to be overweight, because I have written a lot about the subject. Let’s just say that an overweight rabbit will generally live less than half as long as a rabbit who is not. This means that instead of living ten or twelve years, an obese bunny can usually only expect to live about five years… maybe six if he is lucky.

Add to the equation that rabbits prefer sweet treats to ones that are not. People who are not rabbit savvy, do not know how bad that it can be for their pet. This is a formula for disaster. Rabbit vets see thousands of rabbits each year who are overweight and in the throes of some horrible kind of GI stasis, fatty liver disease and other problems that it causes.

Of course, it does not help that many of these treats that are so bad for your bunny are sold in pet stores and online at bunny websites. Virtually all rabbits will scarf down as many pieces of dried fruit, yogurt drops or treat cookies as you will give them and still do a dance for more. If you do not know any better, you might be inclined to even give them another and then another, when they woo you into it. If you do this every day for several years, your rabbit will eventually have problems from it.

Another big mistake that is frequently made is we over-feed our bunnies their green salad. I often see people giving their little five pound rabbit a half pound of salad each day. This is three or four times the correct amount to feed a bunny, each day. The amount of salad that I suggest you feed your rabbit should be no bigger than twice the size of his head, daily. This will account for different sizes of rabbits, since smaller rabbits should eat less than larger ones. So if you are giving your rabbit this mondo green salad every day, that too can lead to rabbit obesity over the years and dramatically shorten their life or cause many trips to the vet.

Probably the worst mistake people make is in giving their rabbits too many rabbit pellets. Most adult rabbits do not need them. They were actually designed for farmers to get a bunny fat very quickly, so you could eat him, not for a long healthy life as a pet. Many rabbit lovers never give them to their bunnies. If you do, I recommend 1/8-1/4 cup of timothy (not alfalfa) pellets a day. Even less is OK. I think that vets tend to tell people to give too many pellets. I have been told to let them have unlimited pellets by a vet before.

Pellets are the densest most nutritious food that a rabbit usually eats and so it can have a dramatic effect on their weight with just a little more or less each day. When rabbits become seniors and they have trouble keeping weight on, pellets are often used to help keep them from getting too skinny, but for most healthy adult bunnies, they must be given very judiciously, if at all.

In conclusion, I think people need to learn other ways to get close and interact with their pet rabbits other than just feeding them all the time. I know how easy it is to fall into this :”treat trap”, as I call it in my new book, The Bunny Lover’s Complete Guide To House Rabbits. I have been there myself, before.

Get down on the floor and interact with your bunny. Just being down on his level and in his space will eventually turn into interaction time between you. “Play” with your bun using simple toys. Some bunnies will nudge a ball back to you, if you gently roll it towards them. Rattles and small toss toys, like toilet paper tubes are fun to hand to your rabbit. He will sometimes take them from your hand and toss them.

These “fun” rabbit games are how you get close and enrich your rabbits life. I have had a bunny who like to chase the end of a shoe lace. She saw my cat doing it and learned to do it, too. She would grab the end and pull it with her teeth, just like my kitty would do, if I tossed it to her.

You will find if you spend close to an hour each day interacting with your rabbit, that your bond will become greater and he will be a lot more interested in you. I can virtually promise that you will both be happier, as a result. He will look forward to this time and approach you for pets and closeness.

Of course, you can reward your bunny with very small treats regularly, but look for the healthiest ones you can find. Get things that most closely resemble what their natural food would be. By this I mean fresh sprigs of cilantro or parley, instead of fruit or cookies. Apple sticks or a small handful of oat hay. Compressed hay cubes are good healthy treats of timothy hay that most rabbits adore. Get the ones without the pieces of fruit and seeds in them.

Never buy those gourmet pellets at the pet store. They have all kinds of things in them that rabbits were never meant to have, such as dried peas and corn, nuts and seeds and lots of other bad stuff. Many rabbits will pick out all the junk and not even eat the pellets. This is bad. I wish this stuff was not even sold in pet stores. Once again, people think that if they pay more money for this “deluxe” food, that they are loving their rabbit more. Little do they know that they are actually loving their rabbit to death.

If you are in the “treat trap”, get out now before it is too late. You can reverse obesity, but once it hits a certain point, there is no way to go back. Don’t wait until it is too late and you are sitting in the vet office crying about it like I have done before.

The Bunny Guy

Are We There Yet?

I often ask myself if we will see any real difference for pet rabbits in my lifetime. While we have come a long way from all rabbits living in horrible backyard hutches, there are still a significant number who still do. In my estimation from talking to the public during my educational efforts, between 80 and 90 percent still do.

We have had some change since 40 years ago, when all rabbits lived in hutches or cages, to a point where a small percentage now live indoors as pets. There is a trend for more young families to try a pet rabbit as a family pet. This is a problem because taking care of a rabbit is not intuitive. Unless someone teaches you how to correctly do it, most people will do almost everything wrong and have little success at basics, such as litter box training or preventing rabbits from chewing on stuff (they are prolific chewers).

If you were raised with dogs or cats and your only exposure to pet bunnies were the ones that your neighbor kept in a hutch in their backyard, then it is hard to know that they are supposed to eat hay, not big hoppers of rabbit pellet food. It is also not commonly known that pet rabbits need to see a rabbit specialist vets, not your regular dog or cat veterinarian. I recently had a friend who took her sick pet bunny to her dog and cat vet for a common rabbit ailment. He had her put the little guy to sleep for a problem that most of the time can be treated and cured by a rabbit savvy vet. You do not want to have your vet looking up how to treat your bunny on the internet, when it is a matter of life or death (which is what this vet did).

Probably the biggest reason I have become a rabbit educator is that housing, feeding and caring for a pet bunny needs to become common knowledge, just like how to feed, walk and pet a dog or cat. You cannot learn the proper ways to do things by the “seat of your pants”. I have met people who have had pet bunnies for decades who did not know basic things about them, such as that they eat all of their food twice. Knowing these things about your pet rabbit is important to understanding how to provide optimal care, especially when it comes to feeding and socializing with your “buddies”.

Another common misconception that has been slow to change is that people think rabbits do not need to be spayed or neutered. Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth. In order to have a successful relationship with a “house rabbit”, it is essential that they are spay/neutered, ASAP. I would never consider having a pet rabbit who was not, because of the many bad behaviors and problems that usually result. More than four out of five female rabbits who are not spayed will end up getting cancer or tumors by the time they are four years old. Yet, I find that at least 80 percent of female pet rabbits are not spayed, and never will be (or live to be).

How do we get the public to become aware that rabbits are not disposable pets and more than a cheap critter that you buy at a swap meet to put in a small cheap cage in your back yard or garage? I think most people would not do that to a dog or cat (although, I know there are people who do, because I have met them). The number of people who do know how to properly care for a pet rabbit has been slowly growing, due to efforts to educate the public and get the word out, but we have decades of work left to do.

The more people we get talking about this, the closer it brings us to that critical mass where it becomes common knowledge. I hope that if you agree with me, that you will take some of your precious time to support your local shelter or rabbit rescue in their educational efforts. The more we put it out there, the more it will richochet and reach more of the public.

Become an advocate for rabbits!

The Bunny Guy