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Fostering 105: Do-s and Don’t-s of Fostering Rabbits September 1, 2013

Filed under: Pets — Kolika C @ 10:57 am

So I have been fostering dogs and occasionally sit cats, what do I need to know about fostering bunnies?

Unfortunately bunnies are still a popular gift for kids especially around parts of the world that celebrate Easter. But bunnies are temperamentally fit to be kids’ pets. So when these mute, but subtle creatures don’t reciprocate the enthusiasm by our little human munchkins,  they become yesterday’s toys and end up in shelters across the country. Those with worse fate end up with “Nature”, aka killed by weather, raccoons, disease, birds of prey etc. So, dog mamas and cat papas everywhere, we need you to step forward and provide that warmth and extra corner you have in your home to bunnies in need of shelter.

Fostering bunnies is easy, but it’s not just cage them and done. They are easy because they don’t need constant attention or be taken out for walks on icy nights (indoor, well-exercised bunnies are a wonder to be with) Here are some quick tips:
  • TIME: Bunnies are however very social beings, although it might not seem so, so being around them when they are playing outside is a great idea.
  • LIVING QUARTERS/ CAGES/ HUTCHES/ ROOMS?:

    Foster bunny Theo (adopted May 2013)

    Foster bunny Theo (adopted May 2013)

    • Bunnies like big cages and in their cage, bunnies don’t need tons of stuff or toys, but they need SPACE. Unlike some dogs who feel cozier in smaller crates, bunnies should be able to stretch while reaching up/ standing up and still have room on top. Also when lying down fully stretched they should have 3-4X their length in the cage.
    • Bunnies are very, I repeat, very easily litter trained. I trained my first bunny to pee in her plastic litter box in exactly half a day. They are very clean creatures and my husband and I often wonder if we could ever learn from them and keep our home as spotless as Pupu keeps hers. She has a bald spot in her cage for napping, she has the area where she liked her hay to be (while she’s in the John), she has her water bottle.
    • We clean their cages once in 2-3 days but really 1-2 should be done. But I vacuum their areas at least once every day (more during shedding season), because the fur builds up around the cages and in litter pans and hay and then get consumed. If you see poop tied together like dumbells, it’s an early sign  that they are ingesting their loose hair.
  • FOOD: We grew up seeing pictures of bunnies gnawing on carrots. Wipe that from your brain and read on. Fresh veggies is good for some bunnies, but it is always safer not to overdo it, per every rabbit vet and every rabbit website we’ve been to. High oxalates in some greens can cause major gastrointestinal tract distress. In general rabbits can be prone to GI discomfort and gassiness. They can’t throw up like cats, so hairballs if ignored can kill them. 6 year old Purple, besides being a major queen, is a fart-bag. Although I say it lightly, she has gone to hypothermia couple times and scared us to death. So with the vets recommendations, we have strictly omitted greens. She thrives on hay, LOTS OF TIMOTHY HAY and water. Pineapple can be a life saver- little dime size pieces are great for hairballs and other gastrointestinal issues. You don’t have to feed them pellets and try not to give them hay with nuts etc. in them; it’s not going to kill them right away but take it from a erstwhile food scientist that bunnies are not equipped to metabolize complex carbs and proteins. Additional research against muesli type diet.

    Brownie, Purple, Blue

    Brownie, Purple, Blue

  • EXERCISE: Bunnies need a lot of excercise. They are not like dogs and won’t ask for entertainment, and some are lazier than others, but 2-3 hours is a minimum they need to be outside their cages stretching out and running and binkying. I leave them out  before feeding them in 30 min slots that way once they are tired I can lure them to the crate with a treat.
  • PETTING: Try not to pick them up, instead petting should be done when they are on the ground.
  • BUNNY SECRETS
    • Their fore-heads, above their noses are sweet-spots, to gain instant affection.
    • They will run their chin on things to “mark territory” and also as a sign of affection. So let them. It means you “belong to them”  (and in our family, it’s the highest honor you can get)
    • If you pet them and you can feel a slight grinding of their jaw, it means they are loving it (equivalent to a cat’s purr)
    • If they thump (loud thuds with rear feet), they are angry and they are trying to scare you. Give them space, stay back, let them calm down and come to you
    • Crazy jumps with no pre-determined direction = BINKY. A bunny’s ultimate expression of happiness and joy. Congratulations because you just succeeded in making this little furry genius very happy and perfectly comfortable with you! Good mornings in our family start with lots of binkies.
  • PERSONALITY: Bunnies can be shy but are rarely timid.  They have strong personalities and like the rest of us, prone to change with changes in their surrounding. Passive company helps them become confident and happy.
  • Blue poses for a photo after grooming Purple for a while... guess what? Purple is still waiting for "service"

    Blue poses for a photo after grooming Purple for a while… guess what? Purple is still waiting for “service”

    OTHER BUNNIES: Most rabbits love being with other bunnies, but unless they are litter mates, it’s a good idea to give them separate cages to sleep in and separate litter boxes, because no matter how much you love your best friend, imagine never having any alone time (gah!) Some rabbits, especially males, are however territorial (we all know our share of territorial males, don’t deny it) with other males around. Blue (earlier, Jack–one of my foster failures) is a total love, except when we fostered Theo (1 yr old male lionhead) which drove him temporarily into a massive territorial SOB. But he’s a different beast with Purple/Pupu (6 year old female bunny), he pets her, lets her have his food (which we try to avoid because she’s very greedy) and plays a lot with her, mostly because he thinks he’s courting her. Blue has been with us for almost a year now. When we first fostered him, I took a lot of time before I let him play outside with P or my other foster Chloe. Now all 3 play outside together and Blue loves dry-humping P (both fixed and P seems to enjoy  all the attention) when they play outside but have never hurt each other. That said, we never let them out unattended. So lesson: Watch Watch Watch & LEARN about their behavior.

    Brownie loves Chloe (adopted March 2013)

    Brownie loves Chloe (adopted March 2013)

  • OTHER ANIMALS: Rabbits can die of fear even  before a friendly swat lands on their very fragile spine. So it’s not what the animals will intend to do but what the rabbits perceive e.g. loud barks etc. scares bunnies. We are blessed with Brownie, who lacks prey drive completely. And he grew up with P… But your dog or cat might just want to be playful with them and cause you and the bunnies and themselves trauma that you never get over. So try to avoid contact with your cats or dogs, unless they have known rabbits before and are totally passive.
  • DESTRUCTION to PROPERTY: Bunnies are small, fragile but strong. They will chew through anything, yes anything if they set their mind to it. So beware of destructive behavior and what to do to prevent it. Also precautions never hurt. Remember scolding doesn’t work, short busts of noise like whistling, clapping, shushing or hoots do. (Yes, we make lots of crazy noises at home). My bunny room also happens to be my husband’s home-office and so we have to be extra-careful about wire-chomping. Some bunnies are better than others (Blue = angel, when compared to Purple) but precautionary measures never hurt.
If you don’t remember anything else, just remember this, bunnies are like furry, introverted geniuses. They love intelligent company, not in-your-face attention.  Don’t offer them stimulus and they are easily depressed. On the other hand, too much stimulus (too many bunnies, other animals like dogs and cats, too much handling, carrying around and hugging) will stress them out. So patience, passive company and lots and lots of opportunity to explore are the 3 keys to a well rounded, healthy, happy bunny. Not get ready for lots of binkies and a successful bunny parenthood.
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