Friday, 14 January 2011

The Reality of Rabbits

There's a lot of misconceptions about rabbits. A lot of people think they're cute, cuddly, friendly, clean, easy to handle, good with children etc.


I've had experience looking after rabbits for nearly a decade. See that gorgeous grey and white dutch rabbit on the top left? That's our boy Hunee (I didn't name him), and he turns 10 in March 2011. We had two other rabbits like him - they were all brothers - called Thumper (grey and white) and Crunchie (black and white). Unfortunately they are now in Bunny Heaven, but now we have two more little rascals by the name of Chilli (middle) and Oscar (right). 

Rabbits may be cute, but each rabbit has it's own little personality and one that can change throughout the months and years you have them. Are rabbits cuddly? Well, Hunee is. Hunee thoroughly enjoys being handled and having cuddles with his human family, but Chilli and Oscar are the complete opposites. Chilli has a mind of his own and will do whatever the hell he likes, and Oscar is a maniac who will scratch and kick his way out of your arms if you don't hold him tight enough.

The next topic is friendliness. I am telling you right now that rabbits have mood swings too and won't hesitate to nip or bite you if they are angry. Recently for example, I went to get Oscar's bowl out of his hutch so I could feed him and he ended up biting my finger. A proper bite on the knuckle; I bled and everything. It wasn't a terrible bite and the blood wasn't gushing out, but they are confident enough to break your skin if they feel like it. This is why they are not necessarily easy to handle or good with children, because some rabbits can have Diva Attitudes.

As for clean...well, rabbits do groom themselves, yes. However (I can only speak for bucks, because I've only had bucks) they will poo wherever they like. They each have a litter tray and it does get used, apparently they can even be litter trained (we tried but alas, it didn't work), but not all the time. And their poo can smell. Especially if one suffers from diarrhoea. 

Let me tell you about Hunee's sweet, adorable brother Crunchie, who unfortunately passed away June 11th 2010:
Crunchie was the perfect, docile rabbit. He absolutely adored attention and would let you stroke and cuddle him till the cows came home, he would shower you with affection by licking you until you had no skin left (this didn't happen but probably would have done) and was just generally very loving, very sweet and curious about the world around him. However, Crunchie, no matter how hard we tried, was a little on the tubby side. This caused a number of problems, one being the fur. Rabbits will molt in the summer, and they will molt a lot. You may often see tufts of fur poking out amongst the fur, it can be really noticeable and you can even pull out the fur yourself. It doesn't hurt them as the fur is already loose. But anyway, the reason why this is bad is because tubby bunnies can't reach everywhere therefore making it very difficult to groom themselves, so you will sometimes have to groom them for them. You may need to do the same with a fit rabbit, but with a chubby bunny you will need to do it more regularly and more often. Another bad thing is that if they do have lots of tufts of fur, rabbits may end up swallowing it through grooming. Rabbits aren't like cats and can't cough up fur balls due to their complicated digestive system, so the tuft of fur will get stuck in the intestines, the rabbit won't be able pee or excrete and if left untreated it can become dangerous and fatal. (If this happens, giving your rabbit pineapple juice will work wonders as the acid helps break down any blockages. I have had to do this a few times with my rabbits including Crunchie, who nearly died from this exact problem when he was just a year old).
This is how much fur I got out of Hunee. Crunchie's was very similar or worse.
Another problem that tubby bunnies have, which links back to their cleanliness, is that they may not be able to properly clean their bottoms. Crunchie, for some reason, suffered from diarrhoea pretty much all his life despite us feeding him less rabbit mix, more pellets and more hay etc. It didn't matter what we did, he would have it. Anyway, sometimes the diarrhoea was so bad that it would clump together and stick to his bottom (not to mention completely REEK) and the poor thing found it uncomfortable. Sometimes it would just drop off if he walked round the garden, but we sometimes we had to clean it for him. Crunchie was perfect though; he would sit there on your lap with the patience of a saint whilst tissue after tissue would clean his bottom. Sometimes it would be so bad that he needed to have a bath. Sounds cute, but it's rather time consuming. And gross.
The other dangerous thing about diarrhoea being stuck on a rabbit's bottom is Fly Strike. I am both relieved and surprised that Crunchie never suffered it, but Fly Strike is absolutely terrible and can be avoided if your rabbit is cared after properly. Diarrhoea smells worse during the summer because of the heat, and that attracts flies. Flies will latch onto the poo stuck on your rabbits bottom, lay their eggs, and then when the maggots hatch they will eat their way through the poo and can end up inside your rabbit which can end in a fatality. But Fly Strike can be prevented by making sure that your rabbit A) Doesn't suffer from diarrhoea, B) doesn't have any poo on their bum when they go outside or C) has had a certrain spray sprayed on him that repels flies.

A rabbits digestive system is complicated so if you are thinking of buying a rabbit you will probably end up experiencing some runny poo at some point. Hopefully not to the extent that Crunchie had though! Not all rabbits have it that badly, but it is just a word of warning. Those ignorant about rabbits may assume that they are clean and do not smell, but trust me, they can smell a lot. Chilli, Oscar and Hunee both have perfectly normal, round poos but they can still smell despite having a normal, healthy diet. I don't know why, but trust me. It stinks. Including the wee! I cannot stress this enough - please do not buy a rabbit if you are not prepared to get your hands dirty once in a while. Rabbits need you like a newborn baby relies on you when they have bad bottoms.

Back to personalities. Like every human, cat or dog, rabbits have their own personalities too. Amongst all the problems you have when it comes to looking after rabbits, interacting with rabbits makes it so worth while. Rabbits may be a bit silly sometimes and hit things when they run around at high speed, but they are intelligent creatures. All of the rabbits I've had have always known when it's food time (when the light goes on in the rabbit room at night-time they are all up by the bars acting like zombies that are in desperate need to chew a brain or two), Thumper was known to put his paws in his food bowl and rattle it around when he wanted food, all the rabbits will look at their water bottle, look at you, drink a bit, and look at you again hinting that they want you to squeeze it because they're too lazy to lick the spout (I'm serious), they will tell you when they want to be stroked by forcing their heads under your hand, they will examine every corner of your house to see if they can outsmart you by going somewhere they shouldn't, etc. They are cheeky little things but it's always funny seeing how their minds work, how they see the world and how they have their own way of communicating with you. That's what makes the hardwork rewarding in my opinion, because you can actually communicate and play with them, but you have to adhere to their individual personalities.


When we first got Hunee, he was the Devil. Moody, unsociable and willing to attack anyone who dared bother him, he was very difficult to handle and I was actually afraid of him. This is why rabbits can be unsuitable for children. When all 3 of them (Thumper, Crunchie and Hunee) were old enough, they got the snip. Getting the snip can alter the personalities of rabbits as it lowers their testosterone levels and it particularly worked with Hunee. Instead of being a boisterous rabbit with a personality similar to someone in the Mafia and would growl at you if you dared enter his personal space, Hunee became very shy. Before, Hunee would try and wriggle his way out of your arms if you held him, but now he will happily stay there and enjoy all the attention in the world. He won't lick you like his brothers did, but will come up to you and nudge you lightly to say hello and will interact with you.
When Crunchie passed on, Hunee became rather depressed and quiet, but when we got the new bunnies about a month later, Hunee got a spring in his step. As we had 9 years of experience under our belt, we brought up the two new rabbits slightly differently and now Hunee has accomodated to it too. In the past, Hunee was always partial to a bit of cuddling on the sofa whilst we watched TV, but now that we have given them more freedom around the house, Hunee is more than happy and confident enough to jump off the sofa whenever he wishes and have a wander around. Chilli is a cheeky rabbit, and Hunee is increasingly copying his attitude which I find hilarious for a 9 year old rabbit! It's like he's discovered the meaning of life all over again. Recently he started tugging at my jeans with his teeth, and then eventually going after my top that was situated on the radiator and eventually pulled it off! But when he's not being cheeky, he is happy enough to sit under the chair I am using right now and lay by my feet. Cuteness overload.


I assure you that Chilli is not dead in the above photo. He is well and truly alive! In fact, he has energy bursting out of him almost 24/7. That's why I can only take pictures of Chilli when he is laying down, because he just moves too much!
He is an energetic soul who enjoys being around humans. In fact, sometimes I wonder if he knows he's a rabbit. However, he hates being picked up! As they are now allowed to run around in the living room unlike our past rabbits who could only run in the garden, we set up a little area and when Chilli's hutch door gets opened, Chilli runs straight to the right area. Too cute and so clever! Although we can't manually handle him it doesn't really matter, as he for some reason knows where to go. We bought a teddy bear for Chilli who has become Chilli's best friend and sex partner. It's his sex partner because Chilli humps the poor thing ALL the time (it's actually how we found out Chilli was a boy as the people in the pet shop told us he was a girl...) but Chilli genuinely loves the bear. He always licks it and plays with it, and if you pick up the teddy bear and run with it, Chilli will follow! It's absolutely adorable and a good way to get Chilli on the right path if he starts to wander off when he isn't supposed to. But this is why I love playing with Chilli because he loves to play with the bear. He prefers being played with as opposed to be being stroked. He likes to have his own space and can keep himself amused at all times. He may even chase his tail now and then.


Oscar is a small framed, dainty little rabbit but can zip around at the speed of light. Even though he is very sweet, he can be a bit of a nightmare and Oscar is the perfect example of why rabbits aren't necessarily for children. Oscar hates being handled with a passion. The moment you try to pick him up he will try to escape, even if it means you, the owner, getting injured. Because he hates to be handled, it makes it very difficult to catch him if he is being let out for a run. Rabbits need lots of exercise and they love grass, so of course he needs to be let out to have a good run around, but when time is up he won't let you get him. He will run around the garden trying to avoid you, even if he is absolutely shattered, and you can literally be out there for an hour. So, what do you do to combat this problem? It's a difficult situation. Oscar is my sister's rabbit and she can handle him the most, so I think that the only thing you can do is to just spend as much time with him as possible so he can get used to you. When he lays down he loves to be stroked and fussed over, just don't pick him up unless you want a ton of scratch marks. Don't get me wrong, Oscar is an absolute sweetheart and rarely bites (apart from the one time when I went to feed him) I just find him a complete nightmare to handle.

The Conclusion

Every rabbit is entirely different, and it can be difficult to tell what your rabbit's personality is like when you're "rabbit shopping" in a pet store. All of our rabbits have been bought from a pet shop (when we got our first 3 we were rabbit beginners, and I didn't even choose the new two) but apparently it's strongly advised that you get pets from either animal shelters or breeders, as they have been surrounded by people who have loved and cared for them properly, therefore probably easier to handle. 

So considering 3 of my rabbits were brothers and the other two were bought at the same time, can they run around together? Well, no. Not anymore. When they're babies/only a few weeks old they can run around and play with each other no problem in my experience, but a couple of months later when they start to hit their teens, they start to get aggressive towards each other, they will try to dominate each other and mark their territory. 
Thumper and Hunee got into a horrific fight once and a rabbit fight is similar to a cartoon sketch - it's one big fuzz ball with fur flying everywhere! But the fights can be very dangerous. Our rabbits have been injured but nothing serious - they have however been cut and started bleeding, so if your rabbits start to fight I would recommend trying to break it up before it happens rather than let them have it out. I tried to stop Hunee and Thumper in mid-flow by myself when I was a teenager, but one of them (don't know who, they're both grey and white) bit the side of my hand which bled and gave me a mysterious marking which scarred me for a few weeks. Oscar and Chilli nearly fought a couple of times but we separated them when we knew it was going to happen.
So what can you do to make them less aggressive? Apparently getting them "done" can reduce their aggression for the reason stated earlier, but I found this to be untrue when our 3 Dutch rabbits were done, as they still fought afterwards. So how did they live their lives? Each rabbit had their own hutch, inside and out, but these hutches were close together so they could still see each other and be in each other's company. They spend their days outside and their nights inside. Several years later, we tried to put Hunee and Crunchie together when they were 8 or 9 years old. We held the rabbits so that we could stop them in case they began to charge at each other, but it turned out to be a good result as Crunchie started to lick Hunee!

Chilli and Oscar during happier times together...
The problem with getting rabbits "done" though is that they have to go under anaesthetic, and that's something rabbits don't always respond well to. My rabbit Thumper died not long after his 3rd birthday in an operation, and my friend's rabbit died just a few hours after being under anaesthetic. They even have to go under anaesthetic to have an X-Ray done just so they stay still. Rabbits are small, fragile little creatures but you have to decide what you think is best for your rabbit. With Hunee, getting the snip worked wonders for him as he became much more manageable, but as for Chilli and Oscar, we like them just the way they are and we don't want them to change so it depends entirely on the rabbit and entirely on the owner. Hunee and Crunchie have been under anaesthetic a few times and have both been fine, but after Thumper's horrid death on the operation table it has made us very wary and we try to avoid anaesthetic if possible. For example, if your rabbit needs an X-Ray, I recommend them getting an ultrascan instead as they don't need to be put to sleep.

Rabbits are much more hard work than some people realise. Hutches need to be cleaned out according to how quickly they get dirty (with Hunee we can do his weekly, but with Chilli we need to do it at least every other day), they need to be fed properly to avoid stomach issues and given the proper amount of attention, and if they become ill they need to go to the vets immediately as they quickly deteriorate. As gorgeous as rabbits are, they can be both docile and vicious, but each and every one of them are fragile.
Rabbits were not made to just be shoved in a hutch and be said hello to once in a while. Rabbits need constant love and attention otherwise they can get depressed. If you're buying a rabbit for a child then the child can get bored and you, the parent, will have to look after it. Children can get bored of any pets, not just rabbits, but people need to be made aware that rabbits are unique and can be difficult to manage. Having a rabbit is not the same as having a gerbil or a hamster, not in the slightest. 

I could go into plenty more detail, but if you're that interested in getting a rabbit then get a rabbit book written by a professional (because I am not professional, I am going by my own experience) and doing some proper, extensive research. They are mysterious little things but not always the ideal pet, so please do rabbits a favour by either buying one and looking after it correctly and lovingly, or by not getting them and let them go to someone who can care for them properly. It doesn't matter how nightmarish or difficult the rabbit is - all it needs is a little bit of patience and a little bit of love.

1 comment:

Ingrid said...

Awww, reminds me of my bunnies. The first one I had used to jump up whenever he saw me, but wasn't easy to handle.

My last one was the sweetest thing ever, although he bit me once in his 11 year lifetime, but I deserved that because I hadn't had the time to pay him much attention, so he probably thought: I'll get ya beotch XD