Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Being a Bunny Parent

Many people are shocked when they meet me and find out I have a bunny. They are especially shocked when they find out his name is Meatwad. Many think it's cruel and unusual to call a little bunny who typically is a little ball of meat in the animal world, Meatwad, until I explain to them that he is actually a very popular character in an Adult Swim show and that he really doesn't care either way.

Living with a bunny is awesome but it comes with responsibilities just as any other pet. With easter quickly approaching, many folks decide to get their little munchkin a cute baby bunny but don't actually consider what the long term responsibilities of owning a bunny are.  Therefore, I'm going to explain some of the benefits and responsibilities that Meatwad has shown and taught me over the past few years, so that if you or a loved one is interested in adopting for Easter you can make a more-informed decision (or perhaps opt for visiting the petting zoo instead).

Where to get your bunny
First and foremost, ADOPT!!! There are tons of bunnies in shelters right now just like dogs and cats. Shelter animals have the benefit of usually being cage-trained and accustomed to people so half the work is already done for you! I hate to be harsh here, but for ever animal you buy from the pet shop, a few are killed at the shelter for lack of room. It's the saddest thing to think about but it's the cold hard truth. There are so many great buns out there with fabulous personalities just waiting for a forever home. You can search bunnies near you on Petfinder by simply typing in your zip code and selecting "rabbit" from the drop down menu. You can also google search rabbit adoptions near your home and usually the first few pages will lead you in the right direction.

Are you sure you're ready for this?
Secondly, bunnies are a long term pet. Many people don't understand that bunnies live as long as a lot of dogs and cats. In captivity they usually live for 7-10 years although some of the "dwarf" breeds can live up to 12.  The oldest bunny passed away at close to 19 years. A lot of people don't realize this when they meet my bunny or when they consider a bunny for a pet. 10 years is a commitment. My longest relationship is half of that and I already feel like I've known him too long * ; ) just kidding babe*

ok. So most people think of rabbits as those adorable little fluffballs that hop around their backyard, munching on dandelions and bolting off at the first sight of a human. Bunnies must hate human interaction, right? Wrong! Bunnies love attention but are different than other animals in how they let you know. In the wild, cats and dogs are predatory animals, therefore they are a bit more confident in jumping on you to show they're ready for a belly rub or behind the ear scratch.  Rabbits are unfortunately at the bottom of the food chain and therefore have to be extra cautious that you're not going to eat them.  When they want attention they will usually let you know by nudging your leg with the their nose, love dancing you, or just hopping up to you and looking at you until you pet them.

Prime example above. I was sitting on the floor and he decided I wasn't paying enough attention to him so he nudged my leg and made me pet him. I've managed to become fairly good at typing with one hand because of this phenomenon!

What you'll also notice is that your rabbit will warm up to you much quicker if you get on his level. I'm not talking about eating grass and pooping in a cage. I mean getting down on the floor and hanging out with him. Do you ever notice your shorter friends are happier when you're sitting down with them, seeing eye to eye? No? Bad analogy? Ok probably. But with bunnies, you are a giant towering human and if you're 10 times the size of him and talking to him from way up there, communication is lost.  Meatwad has learned to respond to me while I'm standing up but a lot of times I'll sit down on the floor with him and snuggle him to show him I care and that I'm willing to sit on the floor to be near to him.

Just a warning, not all bunnies love to cuddle. Meatwad will occasionally be in a good mood where I can plop him on my lap and pet him for a good half hour before he high tails it out of there. Some bunnies love to cuddle and will willingly hop on you and others just want to be pet and then left alone. There's not way to tell how your bunny will be unless you adopt him and the shelter workers tell you his overall demeanor!

Most people think rabbits are like Bugs Bunny. They picture them crawling out of a hole munching on carrots of course. But carrots are actually not the best thing for bunnies. You know how if you eat that pint of Ben & Jerry's I know you have in your freezer right now, you'll probably regret it in the morning because it seems to instantly go to your butt? Well imagine it was like that if you ate vegetables. That's how it is for bunnies.  A rabbits diet should be made up of mostly hay. Always always always have fresh hay and clean water for your bunny available. If you forget everything else, these are the 2 most important things. I use a little drip bottle and refill it once a day for Meatwad. Timothy hay, alfafa hay and grass hay are all safe options. I just discovered the Southern States Farm Co-Op store and bought a giant trash bag full of hay for $4. It's kind of amazing! I recommend going to farms/feed stores like that to pick up your hay since it is fresher than pet store stuff and you're also supporting your local farmer!

Pellets should be given as a once a day, small serving. Meatwad is about 5 lbs so I feed him a 1/3 cup of pellets at night when he goes to sleep. This also encourages him to get into his cage since he usually wants to stay up and snuggle by the fire with us.  I know the fancy kibble+bits looking pellets look appealing to you but your bunny really doesn't need all that extra. A simple bag of pellets (also can be purchased at a farm store for much cheaper) is good enough.

Fresh veggies can be given to your bunny, but leafy greens like kale, spinach, romaine lettuce etc. should be the majority of what you give your bunny. There's really not any specific limit that I've seen for these, I usually give Meatwad kale for breakfast and he eats it until he's full and comes back later for the rest. For a safe list of fruits and veggies for your bunny see here.  You'll notice almost every veggie is safe except for those in the onion family. This is a safe go-to list that I like to keep handy in case I have a new one for my little furry garbage disposal to try. The only thing you have to be careful about here is if you feed your bunny too much fruits and veggies he will become spoiled and won't want to eat his hay. I'm dealing with something similar right now!

Treats that are bought from the pet store should be given rarely. Just like you don't give your kid a giant bag of candy every day, you shouldn't give your bunny those treats either. Fresh fruits are usually a treat enough for them but if you are working on training your bunny, you can keep them around for that purpose or when he's been especially friendly and entertaining!

But where does it all go?
So if you have ever had a bunny or are thinking of getting one, you know or will soon realize that they poop. a lot. Bunnies have a different digestive system than we do and so food is almost instantly converted to poop! Don't freak out. Bunny poop is the most manageable type of pet poop to deal with! Bunny poop comes out in little pellet form, almost like cocoa puffs. (I know I've ruined you for cocoa puffs now). Bunnies are very easily cage-trained and once they are used to going in their cage they will usually pick one corner to do it in for the rest of their lives.  In the beginning, or if your bunny has an accident, it's best to pick up the poop with a tissue or paper towel and put it in his cage. When he realizes his poop is in on place, this is where he/she will start to go from here on out.  For this reason, a cage with a wire bottom and a removable tray is best.  The litter I like to use is the Carefresh Ultra Pet Bedding it comes in a variety of colors and is densely compacted in the bag so you get multiple uses out of it.  You will need to change this bedding once a week. If you get a cage with a removable tray you can simply dump the old in a trash bag and spread the new stuff out and voila, you're done!

Can a bunny just...hang out?
The thing that seemed to almost scare all of the installers coming to the new house when they walked in was that I had a rabbit stretched out, laying in the middle of the floor like a dog. "Is that a rabbit?" they'd all say. On every occasion I was tempted to tell him he was just a really funny looking dog but I held it in long enough for them to figure it out on their own.  Meatwad has free run of the house during the day and afternoon when we are home.  We put him in his cage at night simply because there are plants and other things he could get into if he explored unsupervised while we were asleep.  He has just recently learned how to climb the stairs and although he is still a bit apprehensive about them, once he gets going there's no stopping him. The other day I was in my craft room organizing things and I heard something down the hall. I figured there was a rogue bunny on the loose so I grabbed my camera, my suspicions were confirmed!

As soon as he saw me he came hopping as fast as he could, knowing in the back of his little bunny brain that he wasn't supposed to be exploring the house without me knowing. The reason he was being so paranoid that day is because earlier, he had been exploring downstairs while I was taking a shower and decided that my candles just smelled good enough to eat, literally!
You can see his little bunny teethmarks on something he normally wouldn't munch on but apparently I hadn't fed him enough or paid enough attention to him that day so he wanted to get payback.  In general, a lot of people have house bunnies that do have free roam of the house but they have already bunny proofed by concealing wires and making sure all the house plants and things that might smell yummy to a bunny are high up and out of reach.  Don't think that just because your bunny has never chewed on that fern before that he won't start tomorrow. Bunnies are very curious and they love to explore, new rooms and new plants alike. I recommend letting your bunny out when you are home so you can bond and enjoy the little binkys he does when he feels good. (binkys are when rabbits get really excited and hop and twist mid air while they are running)

General Care
Taking care of a bunny is a lot like taking care of a dog or kid. Except that unlike either of the 2 prior things, a bunny cannot tell you when he is hungry, or sad or hurt. It is up to you to make sure your bunny is happy and healthy. Check your bunnies cage every morning before you leave for work to make sure he/she has plenty of fresh hay and clean water. If at all possible, let your bunny hop around before you leave and then put a small handful of pellets in his cage, this lessens the pain of you being away all day. Bunnies do require annual vet checkups just like any other pet. Make sure you find a good vet near you that has someone trained in exotic animals (bunnies are classified as exotic, isn't that funny?) and listen to what your vet says. If you are unsure for any reason or forgot what your vet told you, you can always call or go online to check The House Rabbit Society and Binky Bunny are both great resources that I recommend but you can also look at various forums and blogs of other rabbit owners to see what they say.

First and foremost, remember, a rabbit is a living being and just like a person they require water, food, shelter and love to survive. If you are thinking about getting a bunny make sure you are ready to clean the cage weekly, sit down on the floor and bond and feed and provide fresh water daily.  There are a lot of things you have to do to have a bunny but I've found that the overwhelming joy of having a bunny in your life makes all of it worth it.

Kisses from Meatwad and me!

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