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All posts in May, 2011

Years ago, rabbits were childrens’ pets. No one thought twice about sentencing them to a dreary life at the bottom of the garden in a tiny cage, because no one knew any better.
Most vets had no idea what to do with a rabbit and treated them as small dogs or as cats.Animal behaviourists considered them stupid and boring, and beneath their notice.
Now all that has changed.


We now know that rabbits are very different from cats and dogs. They are prey animals rather than predators and as such have very specific behavioural and environmental needs. They are herbivores, not carnivores and they need lots of exercise and lots of fibre. And they need company, preferably in the form of another rabbit.


 Rabbits come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be kept indoors and outdoors. This versatility has made them the 3rd most popular pet in the UK, behind cats and dogs. Britons keep 2 million rabbits as pets and one recent study estimates that 75% of these are not having their basic welfare needs met by their owners. 


As a bunny owner, there are 5 areas you must meet your pets requirements for. If you have a rabbit as a pet, or are considering getting one, please read on to see if you are really giving your pet all it deserves.


Environment
In the wild, rabbits have a large territory and exercise and feed in. This keeps them happy and healthy. 
Rabbits require a hutch for warmth and shelter, but should never be confined to it 24/7. They need a run attached to their hutch; this should be tall enough to allow the rabbits to stretch up to full height and they should be able to run, rather than just hop. A suggested minimum size of run for most rabbits is 8ft x 4ft x 2ft high.


Behaviour
Rabbits are intelligent and social animals, but have only been recently domesticated so their needs are very close to those of their wild relatives. They need a large enclosure and opportunities to run, dig and jump. They need to be able to hide if scared, and a change of scenery every so often. Regularly rotating their toys, and introducing new ones regularly will help prevent boredom.

Company
Rabbits are happiest with the company of their bonded bunny or a small friendly group. The best combination is a neutered male/female pair or two neutered females. Un-neutered does often go on to develop uterine cancer, and can be very grumpy so it’s best for everyone if they are spayed.
Rabbits shouldn’t be kept with guinea pigs, as they often bully them and have different dietary needs.
Humans shouldn’t replace another bunny for companionship but often provide a welcome supplement.

Health
As for most pets, there is a long list of things that can cause a rabbit to be unwell. Most vets these days have  some idea of how to treat common bunny diseases but it’s always worthwhile asking around to see if there is  a vet who is especially interested in rabbits near you.
Treatment can be involved and expensive.Some pet insurance companies do offer policies for rabbits, and you might want to consider taking some out.

Rabbits are fragile and flighty, and can break bones very easily, so if your pet suddenly seems lame or reluctant to move, you need to see a vet pretty quickly. Many rabbits hurt themselves leaping out of their owner’s arms after being picked up, so it’s wiser to leave them on the ground. If you have to cuddle them, sit on the ground and let them come to you.
A rabbit that isn’t eating is in serious trouble and should get medical attention as soon as possible. If they don’t have food coming in to their stomach, their gut stops moving and they can quickly die.
A lot of rabbits have teeth problems which cause them pain and illness. Bad breeding is a common cause of dental dysfunction as is a poor diet with not enough fibre in it.
Keep an eye on their poos. You should see round, hard individual pellets but if you see long strings of pellets stuck together or watery faeces then, again, see your vet.
All bunnies should be checked around their rear ends at least daily, as fly strike can develop within hours; but if you have a rabbit with diarrhoea or open sores, they need to be kept clean and checked twice a day. You can get fly repellent which can be applied to bunnies and will help keep them fly-larvae free, and fly netting around their cages can also be useful.
All bunnies should be micro chipped, in case they escape and vaccinated against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease, which are spread through flying insects.

Diet
70% of a wild rabbit’s time above ground is spent foraging for high fiber foods, such as grass and plant. The continual chewing helps grind down the rabbit’s constantly growing teeth and keeps their gut healthy.
Good quality grass and hay should make up the majority of your rabbit’s diet. The remainder should be small amounts of extruded pellets and a few bits of fresh vegetable.

If you want more detailed information on any of these welfare areas, then check out the Rabbit Awareness Week website. You will find lots of information on all aspects of Bunny care, as well as details of Rabbit Awareness Week events near you.

I dared to go into London on my own yesterday and got a phone call towards the end of the conference I was attending.

It was the dog walker saying The Lurcher had bounced sideways and got stuck on a tree. Then she had bounced off again and torn a couple of holes in herself.

It’s not much good being a vet when you are an hour away from your injured dog, and anyhow it was too bad an injury for me to attempt to repair at home, so I sent her off to a friend of mine.

By the time I got home, she had been cleaned up and the wound had been stapled together.

She was recovering from her sedation but still a bit wobbly and once we got back to the house she retired to the pool cover.

Today she’s fine. I had her on the lead in the park but she’s been doing speed laps of the garden this afternoon to make up for it. She is a dog of very little brain.

Some pets just should not be kept under the same roof.

The trouble is there are no hard and fast rules about what combinations will, and won’t, work and sometimes it’s just a matter of try it and see.
For example we have the Lurcher and we used to have 2 cats. Some lurchers and greyhounds get on fine with cats, others can’t live in a house with them, or any small furry animals, because of their excessive prey drive. We got our lurcher as a puppy, and she was brought up around a number of different animals, so the chances were good that she would learn not to chase our cats.

Unfortunately we had not reckoned with the temperament of our cats. Our cats have lived with the Old Boy, our 9 year old collie cross, for years, without any inter species friction. But along came the puppy, who yapped a bit, the cats took off, the puppy chased them, and so a habit was born.

If even one of our cats had been a bit tougher, and given the Lurcher a sharp whack across the nose for being so nosey or just stayed sleeping, rather than fleeing the room I’m sure things would have been different.
But now we have two cats who refuse to enter the house but deign to enter our separate utility room now and again. We leave food out for them and replace it when necessary, but they are obviously eating elsewhere as 7.5 kgs of dried food has now lasted us almost a year!
And I can now tell you exactly how embarrassing it is to have a neighbour from across-the-way and down-a-bit come over to you and ask if you can scan the ‘stray’ cat that’s been hanging around their house for the last few months, for a microchip.Of course, I didn’t need to scan it; when she described the big ginger tom that  was camping out at theirs, I knew it was one of ours. 
You can’t tell a cat where to live, so while she doesn’t want to adopt Ginger, she’s agreed to feed him for us and will notify me if he needs any veterinary attention.
We don’t know where our other cat is eating, but it’s obviously somewhere  with generous proportions as he’s looking a lot rounder than he used to. He is long haired and really needs regular grooming, but obviously isn’t getting this atm so needs to have his knots shaved. I’m going to have to wait until I find him in the utility room to have a go at sedating him so I can give him a good grooming.
On the other hand, we have rats, and used to have guinea pigs, that the Lurcher has showed no interest in at all. It’s only cats she hates; this is something it would have been useful to know before we got her.
Cats are a common factor in many inter species problems as they can be both ‘prey’ and ‘predator’.
Many a pet rodent, bird or fish has met it’s end via the family cat. I’ve also been told a story about a family cat who ate 3 newborn chihuahua pups, when the owners were out at work. I’m inclined to believe it; puppies of that size would make a convenient meal for a cat bored with dried biscuits.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have a bird/rodent/fish if you have a cat, but be sensible. Don’t let the prey species roam freely around a room/house with a cat in it. Not even if it’s a geriatric cat with arthritis and kidney failure. Cats are killing machines and some will respond  energetically to the presence of prey even while on deaths door.
Make sure the cage or tank you use to house your small pets is sturdy enough to keep the possible victim in, and the cat out. It’s a case of you get what you pay for. Bars are better than plastic enclosures for small furries, but check the clips that hold bars to plastic trays are not going to give way to a determined cat. It’s a good idea to keep the cage in a room that can be closed off from other pets when the house is empty of humans.
Our cats were regular hunters of mice and brought in the odd bird, but they were uninterested in both the rats and guinea pigs that shared our house with them. 
It goes to show that you just can’t tell.