Sunday, August 10, 2014

Back to School Bunnies?

It’s that time of year again - back to school time! But should a rabbit be heading into the classroom? The truth of the matter is that having rabbits in the classroom rarely, if ever, works out to the advantage of the rabbit, the teacher, or the children.

Adorable bunny ready for school!  Okay, not really.  Let's make sure all pet rabbits are home schooled!

There are many factors that make having rabbits in the classroom something to avoid. Below you can read some of the main points in TBHRR’s reasoning not to adopt bunnies into this situation:  

  • Rabbits live a decade or more. This means that not only will the teacher be responsible for this new pet for quite a while, but rules regarding classroom pets may change in this time as well as the teacher’s own career path or desire for a classroom pet. 
Rabbits can live as long as some breeds of dog!  Nikolai here is almost 14.

  • Rabbits require a constant supply of hay, as it makes up 80-85% of their diet. This presents a problem not only of keeping supplies on hand, but also many children are allergic to hay. In the same vein, the children could be allergic to the rabbit itself. Allergies are one of the most common reasons we see for rabbits being abandoned at shelters. 

  • Rabbits are crepuscular and therefore will not be active during the day when the children are in school. They will mainly want to nap and have quiet time, only wanting to come out to play and interact during dawn and dusk.  

  • Rabbits are prey animals and as such, don’t enjoy large groups, loud noises, or children running.

  • Rabbits also do not enjoy being picked up. They have extremely strong back legs and can kick with such force that they can break their own back if not properly handled. For this reason, we do not let children under the age of 16 pick up rabbits.

  • Rabbits can and will bite and scratch. Since their way of communicating is very subtle, and they are not very vocal, most children do not realize that the rabbit is getting upset and can get injured before they realize anything is wrong.  All of us in rescue have been bitten or scratched by frightened rabbits - it hurts!

  • Rabbits require a large space. We recommend at least 16 square feet, which is the size of a standard puppy exercise pen. The cages typically marketed for them in pet stores are horribly cruel. They do not have room to play or keep themselves clean. They also lead to them becoming aggressive and they become foul-smelling quickly. The sort of space a rabbit requires is hard to accommodate in a classroom setting. 
Bunnies need large habitats, not tiny pet store "starter cages".  Not many classrooms could provide this.

  • Rabbits are very sensitive to stress. If they are being moved around in a car daily or on the weekends, they can stop eating and go into gastrointestinal stasis. Rabbits require consistency in their life and should never be sent home with different children.

  • Rabbits need to see an exotics vet that is rabbit savvy. If the rabbit were to go into stasis or fall ill in some other way, they usually pass away fairly quickly. These vets are quite pricey and if the rabbit is ill, vet visits are an emergency. Everything from an ear infection to a day of not having a bowl movement can be deadly in a rabbit. 

Think bunnies are cheap pets?  Think again.  This was my latest unexpected vet bill.  Bunny stopped eating...cost me almost $400.  In addition to emergency care, they need yearly checkups by a rabbit-savvy vet to make sure they are healthy.

  • Rabbits require a variety of rabbit-safe fresh vegetables daily, which can be hard to provide at school. Their GI tract is very delicate, so if a child were to mistakenly give the rabbit the wrong vegetable or slip them something inappropriate, it could be fatal to the rabbit.

  • Rabbits do enjoy being part of a family and receiving attention. They cannot usually get this in a classroom since they are most active at dawn and dusk. They also require at least 3 hours of time outside of the cage each day to play and have some more mental stimulation. Without this they can go ‘kennel crazy’, and start to be aggressive or withdrawn.

  • Rabbits are not low-maintenance or low-cost pets. They require specialized food, a large space, toys, games, and ways to enjoy their natural behaviors such as chewing, digging, and running. They also need a yearly checkup at the vet,  regular nail trims, and to be groomed at least once a week.

If the goal of a classroom rabbit would be to teach the children about them, TBHRR would be happy to come in with a few bunnies and do a presentation about house rabbits and adoption. 

In conclusion, if you are still thinking of having a rabbit in the classroom...

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Healthy Living - Lagomorph Style!

Okay, it's now into the post-Easter season.  Maybe you are one of the people who purchased a rabbit on impulse for Easter and are now doing the right thing - trying to research how to properly care for your new pet.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad information out there.  It even misleads people who have been bunny parents for a while.  Look no further!  Here is some basic information on what NOT to buy and what TO buy instead!

We know.  Almost all bunny parents have been there.  You go to the pet store to find a house for your bunny.  Naturally, you peruse the small pet section.  Where else would you look?  Well, turn away from the small pet section.  I guarantee that every single rabbit cage available for sale is much to small for even a dwarf rabbit (who, by the way, need EXTRA room because they are so energetic!).  We particularly cringe at the "starter kits" that come with other things that are unhealthy for your rabbit.

Please, please don't buy this!!  A cage this small is only appropriate for transport.
You may be asking, "If I can't find a rabbit cage in the rabbit section, then what on earth can my rabbit live in??"  Head to the puppy section!  A puppy exercise pen is a GREAT alternative!  All you need is a litter box, water & food dishes, toys, food, and you're all set!  You can also build a condo out of storage cube grids.  It can be fun designing a unique habitat for your rabbit!

A condo made from storage cube grids
An exercise pen habitat
Okay!  You now have your bunny set up in a nice big pen.  Now what to feed her?  She a rabbit - she just needs carrots and rabbit chow, right?  And the one that says "nutritious" and has all sorts of extra bits in it should be extra healthy, right?  WRONG!!

Let's start with the basics.  The number one item in your bunny's diet should be unlimited grass hay.  What is grass hay?  Look for timothy, orchard grass, bluegrass, brome - those are some of the more common ones.  What to avoid?  Alfalfa.  Alfalfa is a legume hay, and much too rich for healthy adult bunnies.

So what about those pellets?  First of all, do not buy anything that says "Fiesta" or that has colored bits or seeds in it.  These WILL kill your bunny - whether by choking on a seed or long-term problems caused by obesity.  Contrary to what the package says, they are not nutritious at all.  Think of it as putting lots of Snickers bars in your cereal.  Not so healthy, huh?

What should you look for?  A plain, high-quality, high-fiber, timothy-based pellet.  Please don't buy the Walmart food.  Yes, a good pellet will be more expensive.  Some good brands include Oxbow and Zupreem. 

NO!!!!  This WILL KILL your rabbit.

YES!!  Plain, timothy-based pellet.
And remember, your bunny should only get a very limited amount of pellets.  My 4-5 lb buns get 1/8 cup each day.  The House Rabbit Society has a good guide here:

The other part of your bunny's diet should be fresh greens each day.  Forget the carrots!  They are high in sugar (you can give an occasional piece as a treat).  Oh, but bunnies DO love carrot tops!  Dark, leafy greens are great - and bunnies love herbs such as cilantro, basil, and parsley too! 

Well all know about those adorable begging bunny faces, so what do you give for treats?  The pet store has all sorts of brightly packaged rabbit treats.  Surely those are okay, right?  Sorry.  Nope.  Those seed sticks with honey?  Again, this can KILL your rabbit.  Avoid anything with corn or seeds.  And please don't feed yogurt drops.  Bunny digestive systems are not designed to digest dairy products.  There's even a treat out there called "Frosted Donuts".  Don't.  Just don't.  Only a few treats that you can find at a pet store are appropriate.  Look for things like plain dried fruit (but be careful, these have a lot of sugar).  Oxbow, available at Petsmart, makes its own line of treats.  Small pieces of fresh fruit make wonderful treats.  Your bun will love you forever if you give him a blueberry or a little piece of banana (I swear my bunnies know the sound of a banana peeling).  Specialty rabbit websites such as the Bunspace store sell awesome bunny treats.  You can even make homemade bunny cookies!

If it resembles styrofoam,
Pro-health?  Not so much.  STAY AWAY.
"Bunny Potpourri" from the Bunspace store - an excellent treat!
I am happy to have just found American Pet Diner Smaks Treats on the Petco website!  APD is another good brand.
So what else should you avoid?  They sell salt licks in the small animal section, how about that?  It's a waste of money, they are completely unnecessary.  Vitamin drops to put in their water?  No, definitely not.  Your bun should get all the vitamins she needs from her diet, and the drops may even prevent her from drinking water if she doesn't like the taste.  What about the bags of hay with dried fruit mixed in?  Nope, stick with plain hay.  Too much sugar in all that dried fruit, and your bun will pick out the "snickers bars" and leave the healthy stuff! 

All in all, once you get the basics down, it is easier to figure out what is healthy for your bunny.  Have you had your bunny for a while and are just now figuring out that you haven't been providing the healthiest environment and diet?  Not to worry, you can still get things on the right track. We can always answer any questions you might have.  We love helping bunny parents who have the best interests of their bunny in mind.

Do you really want to make sure that you are being the best bunny parent you can be?  You are in luck!  Inquire about our free Bunny Basics classes - it's everything a beginning bunny parent needs to know!