Go Ahead, Play With Your Food

Rabbit Foraging

Foraging. It’s what’s for dinner. Well, actually, it’s what you do to get your dinner. One way, at least. Let’s talk rabbit foraging.

Small animals spend a lot of time foraging. Think searching the meadow, forest floor, garden. Any place to find all of the yummies they love to eat. Eating = activity, and activity = good. So, as you can imagine, the search is as important as the food they find.

Anything to eat in here?

If we have domesticated rabbits who share indoor spaces, and searching meadows and forests isn’t really an option, how can we keep them busy and fulfill their instincts to find that grub?

Instead of just putting the hay, herbs, greens, pellets or any other rabbit food in one eating area, make eating a game. (If someone told me I had to go on a scavenger hunt for my food, I’d probably keel over. Or whine a lot. Either I like food way too much, or I’m not a great game player. Good thing I’m not a rabbit.)

Anyway, hide a little bit of food in the tent. A little tiny snack in the corner beside their tunnel. (Have you heard about our new mini-cookies? Don’t look now, but your rabbit is drooling. Also, they’re Belinda approved.) A little bunch of food near the back of their digging platform. Some at the far side of the room, behind your stack of “Animal Wellness” magazines. Or “People,” or Archie comics… whatever floats your boat. Try the kitchen, too, just where the sunlight comes in.

Now, help bunny go find all these stashes of goodness. The first few days, you’ll need to encourage and probably give some hints. Make sure your beastie gets to all the food… we don’t want anybody going to bed hungry. (Even if it’s in the Best Bed Ever.)

After a few days, they’ll catch on to this new way of doing things and they’ll head right out at food time, ready to play hide-and-seek… rabbit foraging will become the norm. Once they understand how to play, you’ll have to make sure they aren’t watching while you hide their food in the secret spots. Those sneaky little boogers will try to watch where you’re hiding their goodies for fast[er] food. Like a six-year-old on Christmas morning at 4 AM, while everyone is still in bed, trying to sneak a peak at the awesomeness to come.

You can also have your BBF (best bunny forever) earn some of the food, by teaching him his name and then calling him from the far side of the house. Ask him to hop to you. Or ask him to do some other specific task. We all feel better about ourselves when we do something right, and animals like to feel smart, too.

So, encourage rabbit foraging and go have an interactive meal with your friends. I promise, they’ll love it. And so will you.

Have you got any short movies or cute pics of your rabbit enjoying a game of find-the-food? Send them along! We’d love to see them.

Abigail Playing Games

Huh? Pasteurella?

Pasteurella. It kind of sounds like one of Cinderella’s evil step sisters, doesn’t it? Which is actually kind of fitting, because this bacteria? Well, it’s pretty nasty.

Pasteurella multocida is the scientific name, but those who have trouble remembering long scientific names, like me, call it “snuffles.” Snuffles sounds pretty harmless. Actually it sounds cute, like a little stuffed animal. But don’t let snuffles fool you. Pasteurella can be devastating, and unfortunately, it is also highly contagious.

Here’s the good news: if your rabbit is strong and healthy, with a great diet, proper weight, and lots of activity in his life, the infection will most likely pass without any problems (or sit there dormant).

Pasteurella is everywhere. It is common, and almost every rabbit will have the bacteria present at some point. It is kind of like the cold in humans – if we are healthy, we are far less susceptible. But if we are weakened, elderly, or have other issues going on, we can not only come down with a cold, but it can progress into some really nasty respiratory illnesses. Same concept for rabbits and Pasteurella.

The bacteria starts out in the nose. Since rabbits clean their faces with their front paws, the infection is then on their paws and forelegs. Then it is on the floor, and the toys, and, well, you see how this goes.

Infected rabbits who do get “symptomatic” usually begin with a snotty nose (kindergarten much?). This ick starts out clear, and then turns thicker and whiteish yellow. They snort and schnurffle. The infection can travel to their eyes, causing conjunctivitis, and to their ears. Ear infections may make them shake their heads, scratch at the bases of the ears, or turn their necks at a disturbing angle. At their worst, ear infections make the rabbit all disoriented, unable to walk properly or stand. Of course, at this point, your rabbit is feeling like poopoo, and usually eating comes to a halt. Now we are in danger of GI stasis on top of the Pasteurella… the original bacterial infection has snowballed into a full-blown crisis.

The time to begin treatment, then, is as soon as your rabbit shows signs of a respiratory infection. Not all respiratory infections are Pasteurella… but it is worth treating any snuffles with care. There are herbs that do a good job with respiratory support (Slippery Elm), and you may want to find an herbal support mix. Of course, a call to your trusted exotic vet is also something you definitely want to do if the symptoms do not go away within a few days, or if they worsen. Make sure your rabbit continues to eat enough fiber! This is critical to preventing a dangerous downhill spiral.

How Can We Prevent Pasteurella Infection?

We probably can’t prevent it entirely. We can lessen the likelihood of any symptoms, however, by reducing stress. Stress seems to have a big effect on which rabbits show symptoms and which don’t. We can make sure our rabbit’s immune system is strong and supported with diet. And we can isolate any rabbit showing symptoms from any other rabbit, since the spread of disease is through direct contact with mucous. Don’t forget – you can get the infected mucous on your hands and clothes just by handling an infected rabbit. So, if you’ve got one rabbit family member infected, wash up and change your clothes (you know, that hygiene thing) before spending time with any other bunny pal.

One of the best things you can do for your furry friend is to have a good relationship with a vet who specializes in small exotics. Go for a check up, meet, talk, get teeth checked regularly. Then when a crisis happens, you already have a good base of information, and a trusted resource for veterinary care.

So go make friends with your vet. They’ll help you kick that nasty Pasteurella out of your precious rabbit’s castle.

Rabbit Communication: Watch Those Ears!

Could you imagine if you couldn’t talk? (Sometimes I imagine other people not being able to talk… wouldn’t that be nice? Kidding… kind of.) In all seriousness, though, it would be super hard to communicate without words. So how do we communicate with our bunny babies, and show them that we know what they’re silently saying? If you really want to understand rabbit communication, watch those marvelous (and adorable) ears.


Rabbit ears are complicated. Are they up? Partly sideways? Sideways? Partly back? Fully back? Way way back? Is the fold facing in? Out? All of these ear poses are messages, loud and clear. If you aced bunny vocab, you know this. If you struggled to maintain a passing grade, we’re here to help.

Lop ears can’t do all the things that standy-up ears can, but the intention is there.  So watch a little more closely, especially near the base.

Context is everything. Forward facing ears can mean happy excitement, or can be at full attention trying to figure out if that thing is a predator or not.  Ears headed back can mean relaxation or anger, depending upon degree. Read gestures taking into account the full environment and prevailing mood.

When sleeping, asking for attention, or just sitting around watching the world go by, your rabbit’s ears are most likely pointed backward, folds facing out, in a relaxed way. Not pulled back tightly, not flattened, but just at rest.

When up on hind legs checking out the window for the Small Pet Select delivery, those ears are most likely straight up, moving around and taking in every sound. 

If angry, the ears go through several phases. You may see your rabbit’s ears head off toward the sides, and move steadily down as displeasure increases. If the situation does not improve, those ears start moving back, behind the head. Ohhh, you are in trouble now. Watch the way the folds change from facing out to facing down. Uh oh. If you get to the point where the ears are flattened against the head, you are most likely hearing some grunting, and we advise backing away with your hands in the air and heading out to buy your rabbit a make-up gift.

Fearful rabbits will also have ears pulled back and close to the head, so you've got to read the situation.

If your rabbit’s ears are doing different things (one is heading off to the side and one is up, for instance), your friend is possibly unhappy.  Something is going on, and it is worth checking into what may be wrong. Is she not feeling well? Is he in pain? Just having a bad day? Some rabbits have “helicopter ears” – ears going off in different directions, as if one side is standy-up and one not so much. Of course, this is perfectly normal for Hellies – they are a special case, and too cute for words.  Those helicopter ears do not mean there is anything wrong at all – in fact, let’s just send a shout out to all the adorable Hellies!

Don’t you wish we could telegraph so much information with our ears? Wouldn’t it be fun to give someone the ear? 

So, while bunny language may not include words, they’re communicating. Be on the lookout for what they’re saying.

The Easter Aftermath

Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the United States, coming in just behind dogs and cats. Despite their popularity, understanding of proper care – and lifespan – hasn’t caught up. Sadly, rabbits are also the third most surrendered pets. This time of year is tough for buns, too, as they face the aftermath of Easter.

Rabbits have an undeserved reputation as “starter pets.” Those bringing rabbits home as an impulsive Easter surprise often don’t realize what really goes into caring for a rabbit. Unlike gerbils, hamsters, mice, rats, or even fish, rabbits can live for up to a decade … or even longer. That’s a serious commitment!

Rabbits can’t be plopped in a pet store cage and left alone, either. Rabbits require lots of space and room to exercise. They should be spayed/neutered, and see the vet regularly just like dogs and cats. Because they are classified as exotic pets, these visits are usually more expensive. Not every rabbit will like to be picked up, cuddled, and held. Every rabbit is unique, and not all personalities will be a good fit for small kiddos just wanting to snuggle or play.

When families come to terms with the post-holiday reality, rabbits find themselves in shelters at alarming rates. The Georgia House Rabbit Society receives more than 500 requests a year from people trying to surrender pet rabbits. Red Door Animal Shelter in Chicago (like many other rabbit shelters nationwide) is over capacity this year with the amount of rescues they've taken in after Easter. In one weekend, Red Door rescued 32 rabbits from one location. (Psst. To donate toward Red Door’s medical bill at Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital for the rescued rabbits, call 847-329-8709.)

When shelters are physically unable to accept more animals, the rabbits find themselves at risk of being abandoned. Not only are these guys especially sensitive to heat and attractive targets for predators, but when left to their own devices they also will ​live up to their reputation for multiplying rapidly. ​Audrey Poole-Brown and neighbors in Huntington Beach, CA found a “dumping ground” for rabbits ​and diligently feed and spay/neuter the ​population, but it’s challenging to keep up:

"In the summer of 2012, neighbors started to complain about rabbits running loose in gardens of a school farm in Huntington Beach. Years of constant dumping and breeding had resulted in around 500 rabbits in poor condition. ​

​The school didn’t understand the severity of the problem because the rabbits were underground during the day … out of sight, out of mind! After contacting several organizations that were unable to help, we had hit a brick wall. All we could do was begin to feed them by tossing greens over the fences when we could.

​We knew we had to do more. In 2016, we started a GoFundMe. Fortunately, we knew veterinarians who were willing to work with us and we did receive some donations. The slow process began to trap, sterilize, and release.​ ​

​We were fighting a losing battle when Western University agreed to help. We drove rabbits to their facility every Friday to be spayed/neutered and held monthly adoption days. A stipulation was that rabbits had to be healthy, so the caretaker agreed to allow us to start to feed hay, at our expense.

​430 sterilizations later, we now have approximately 150 rabbits at the school farm, healthy and mostly fixed.​ But we still need the public’s help more than ever."

​Rescue organizations and ​rabbit lovers continue step up to help where they can. But, they ​can't do it alone. Obviously, adopting from a rabbit rescue or animal shelter makes a huge difference. You do more than just save a life; you'll also open up a spot for another rabbit in need of a second chance. If your home looks anything like ours though, you may already be at capacity. How else can you help your local rescues and shelters?

Foster

Okay, your home might be full, but what if it’s just for a little while? The shelter can be a scary place for a rabbit, especially if they are housed in a noisy area or can see or smell cats and dogs. If you’ve had experience with ill rabbits, the shelter staff would likely appreciate your expertise nursing them back to health. We all know syringe feeding should be classified as a full time job. Foster parents open up space for more rescue rabbits, give them additional exposure, become ambassadors for the shelter staff, and help homeless rabbits transition to the next chapter in their story.

Donate

Rabbit ownership isn’t cheap. Imagine having dozens – or hundreds – to care for. Food, medical care, housing, community outreach, and events are expensive. While monetary donations are always needed and appreciated, supplies are also in high demand. Do you have a surplus of hay? Cleaning supplies? Some old towels or blankets? Secondhand toys? Food or water dishes? Maybe even just some cilantro about to go bad in the fridge? Some rabbits in need would be appreciative!

Volunteer

As long as there are shelters overcrowded with rabbits, there will be a shortage of volunteers. Ask your local shelter or rescue if you and some friends could spend an afternoon cleaning litter boxes, trimming nails, or even just giving the rabbits some company and attention. See if the busy staff could use some help with transporting rabbits to and from vet appointments or picking up and dropping off donations and supplies.

Spread the Word

Are you a social media guru? Volunteer to do some networking for the rabbits in need of homes or update adoption websites. Feeling crafty? Design some fliers for a local adoption event, or help print updated signage. Educate the public by distributing informational material on rabbit behavior and proper care. Create “resumes” for bunnies searching for forever homes. Your local organizations probably have their own unique needs, but don’t be afraid to come armed with new ideas. The possibilities are endless!

P.S. We love supporting shelters and rescues, and will do all we can to help out with your events. Just fill out this form and let's see what we can do together!


​References:

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/04/rabbits-easter-animal-welfare-pets-rescue-bunnies/

http://www.humanesociety.org/animal_community/resources/tips/help_shelters_rescues.html

Excessive Thirst in Rabbits

excessive drinking in rabbits

Is your rabbit hitting the bottle more than usual? Most rabbits drink anywhere from 50-150 ml of water per kilogram of body weight. This means, in most cases, a six-pound rabbit will drink about or under a cup and a half of water in 24 hours. If your rabbit has always been a heavy (or light) drinker, there is less cause for concern than if you're noticing a sudden change. 

Hold the Intervention

​Don't jump to conclusions just yet. Environmental changes can cause cause rabbits' drinking habits to vary. It's getting warmer out there. Even if your rabbit doesn't spend a lot of time outdoors, warmer temperatures can cause her to drink more than usual to stay cool. Conversely, with the air conditioning running, she may actually be a little chillier than she's used to indoors. Cold rabbits burn more calories to keep warm, meaning their bodies cue them to eat a little extra, and in turn drink a little extra, too. 

Is she getting less fresh veggies than normal? Fresh foods, especially celery, cucumber, melons, and lettuces, are mostly composed of water. If she's not receiving as much hydration from food, she may feel a little more parched than usual. Experiment with her diet and see if her drinking habits vary when she's given various fresh snacks. As long as her poops don't become too soft and she's still eating enough hay (about the size of her body per day), it's no big deal for your rabbit to get a lot of her hydration from veggies. 

​Speaking of hay, a new type of hay and renewed enthusiasm for some high-fiber snacking can cause rabbits to drink a little extra. This is nothing to worry about either. A new type of pellets or changing the amount of pellets given daily can ​have a similar result.

​Aside from temperature and food, are there any other changes in the household? Rabbits may ​throw back a few extra ounces a day if stressed. Anything from the loss of a pal to new smells or sounds in the home can cause anxiety in rabbits. If nothing else has changed, pain or illness may be the root cause of excessive thirst. 

​Is it time to dig deeper?

​Once changes to the diet or environment are ruled out, it's time to look into alternative explanations. Rabbits may ​favor the water bottle when they are in pain. This could be a result of anything from an injury to a tooth issue, and should be investigated by an exotic vet. Be sure to tell them when you noticed the ​increase in thirst, as well as if you've noticed any other changes in behavior, eating habits, bathroom routine, or weight.

Just like us, rabbits' bodies change as they age. Organs might not work quite as well as they used to. Bladder stones, kidney failure, a pancreatic tumor, or liver disease can all cause the water dish to receive extra attention. Although rare, diabetes will make your rabbit drink more. Diabetes (or diabetes-like symptoms) is most common in rabbits that aren't fed a proper diet. An obese rabbit showing symptoms of diabetes can control or even reverse the condition with some lifestyle changes.

​Excessive thirst isn't a problem in itself, but rather a possible symptom of a bigger issue. Never withhold water from a thirsty rabbit; their body is telling them they need the extra hydration to compensate.

​References: 

​https://www.petmd.com/rabbit/conditions/urinary/c_rb_polyuria_polydipsia

​https://www.vetstream.com/treat/lapis/freeform/polydipsia-polyuria

​http://binkyabout.com/excessive-thirst-and-excessive-urine-production-in-rabbits/

​http://veterinarycalendar.dvm360.com/urogenital-disorders-ferrets-and-rabbits-proceedings