Earlier this week, Christina over at Home Made Ocean made a post about pets on her blog, so I mentioned my rabbit. She said that she was heading to my blog to hopefully see pictures of her, and that's when I realized the monstrosity- I have yet to introduce her on my blog!
Meet Belly, our one and only bunny rabbit daughter. Okay, so maybe we're a little bit weird, maybe even a little bit bunny-obsessed. But what many people don't understand is that Belly, like many other rabbits, is a very intelligent little creature. I don't know the scientific specifics of rabbit intelligence, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that she's comparable to a cat. She has her own rabbit language, complete with gestures and social standards, she plays with her toys, she pouts when she's upset, she gives "kisses", she jumps for joy (also known as binkying), she has her favorite foods, and she chills out on the couch with us after a long day of adventure.
I think that Belly has exceptional personality traits because we've cared for her since she was quite little, and she's always had room to explore and has had lots of human contact. It pains me to think of all of those bunny rabbits being treated like hermit crabs or fish in their tiny cages, with the only human contact being feeding-time. If I could take home all of the poorly-treated bunny rabbits, I would. I purposely avoid the bunny sections in the pet shops and cringe when I see these beautiful creatures in their tiny cages in other's home. I hope to one day be able to open up a bunny shelter for unwanted or hurt bunny rabbits. Yes, I'm going to be the crazy bunny lady.
For anyone thinking about getting a rabbit, or for anyone already with a rabbit that wants to make their home a happier one, I can help you. Belly's home is pretty spacious for a rabbit's home. If you create a similair setup for your loved furballs, I promise that they will be very happy just like Belly. However, if you cannot afford something of her home's build and stature, that is okay too, and I will share with you the bare minimum of what your bunny needs to live a long, healthy, and happy life with you.
Belly's home, seen to the right, is actually a ferret cage that we found on-sale at a local pet shop. I found one exactly like it, online here, for $160. At first, she didn't want to use the "stairs", but figured out how to use them within about a week. Until you're sure that your rabbit understands the concept of the "stairs", make sure that there is a supply of food and water on both levels.
If you cannot afford a cage like this, your rabbit can still live a happy life. However, please beware of cages that you find in pet shops that are marketed for "small animals" even if they include rabbits. Most of these cages are simply too small for a rabbit of any size, and I'm not even sure why they're legal. A wonderful article I found here about rabbit cages claims that the cage "...should be at least 24-30' wide x 16-18' high for rabbits up to 6 pounds; 24-36' wide x 16-18' high for rabbits up to 8 pounds; and 36-30' wide x 18-24' high for larger rabbits or a pair or small rabbits (Rabbits at Chandrabeal)." If you do choose a cage that is nearing the "at least" requirement for cage sizes, please make sure that your rabbit gets a lot of time outside of his cage. Just like you wouldn't like to be locked up in a bathroom all day, your rabbit doesn't want to be locked up in such a small space either.
As for the cage's material, if your rabbit has adequate toys and things to chew on inside of his cage, chewing the cage itself shouldn't be a problem. However, just in case, I would say that it's best to stay away from plastic cages, as those are very easy for bunnies to snack on and could make for an unhealthy bunny.
Please also pay attention to what the bottom of the cage is made of. I don't like when the bottom of the cage has slits or wires, because your little bunny's feet can get caught and cause distress. If you must have a cage with bottom slits, make sure to put a layer of newspaper to cover the bottom of the cage. Belly's cage has carpet squares (that were not chemically treated) that my mother found long ago. They work perfect in her cage by allowing her feet something to grasp, while allowing me to simply vacuum them when it's rabbit cage cleaning day. If you're lucky enough to find carpet squares, please make sure that they are not chemically treated with ANYTHING, and that the carpet is too low for your rabbit to nibble on.
Litter Boxes: Belly has a purple V-shaped litter-box that we picked up at a pet store. It is made out of plastic, but we've yet to find a sturdy alternative. If you find one, let me know! We fill the litterbox with a thin layer of recycled, natural, pet bedding. You can buy this bedding in many pet stores, or online here in different quantities. Please do not buy "cedar-chips" or any other pet bedding. These kind of pet beddings are known to cause respitory distress in small animals, including rabbits, and are bad for your rabbit's overall health. They can even cut your rabbit's lifespan.
How do bunnies learn to use a litter box? Just like cats, rabbits are clean animals that don't want to sit around in their own filth. When given the chance and a perfect "spot" to go, rabbits will choose to go potty in one place. This might need a little bit of encouragement by cleaning the rabbit's cage of any waste to deter him from going in a different spot, and by placing a bit of the waste in the litter box to signal that this is the place to go.
It's important to change your rabbit's litter box at least once a week. If you have bedding in your cage but your rabbit is good about using his litterbox, that bedding can be changed a little bit less often, as long as it's clean. If you notice and signs of smelly bedding, your rabbit is liking not peeing in the litter box and the bedding should be changed often, too.
Food and Nutrients:
A food bowl that has the ability to connect through bars and be secured is usually preferred because rabbits are playful creatures and, especially when bored, like to make mischief! I can't count how many times Belly has knocked her food over (even to different cage levels!) before she had a secured food bowl. Regardless of what kind of food bowl that you choose, the importance is in making sure that your rabbit is fed daily! Rabbits at Chandrabeal saves the day again with a nifty little chart comparing your rabbit's weight and how much food he should get that can be found here. Try to stay away from any food that is too colorful, as most of these colorful food bits are made of sugar and purely for the buyer's content. Simple food pellets made from Timothy Hay will do. I buy Nature's Promise Timothy Naturals, because it's labeled that the food is monitered for pesticide use and contains healthy, simple nutrients without all of the fluff.
Just as important as pellet feeding is making sure that your rabbit has an unlimited access to hay. There are many different kinds of hay, and I find that it's best to alternate them to jazz up your rabbit's routine. Rabbits love Alfalfa hay, but because of it's high calcium content, make sure that as an adult rabbit, this kind of hay is only fed once a week. Other hays, like Timothy and other grass hays, can be fed in unlimited amounts, and should be! Hay is an important part of your rabbit's health, as it helps the rabbit's special digestive system.
You also must feed your rabbit a healthy variety of fruits and vegetables daily. Some foods, like Romaine lettuce, can be fed daily without problems. Other foods, especially ones high in Vitamin A, need to moderated. Some sugary fruits also need to be moderated. Rabbits at ChandraBeal here has a comprehensive list.
There isn't much evidence on salt licks and the health of rabbits. Some say that it's a necessity, and others say that it's completely unnecessary. They're cheap, and one lasts a long time, so I keep one hooked to Belly's cage just in case.
There's also great debate over whether or not rabbits need wood chews, or hard things to chew on. While there's good evidence that it could be unecessary, there is also some evidence that without hard things to chew on, rabbit's teeth could grow too fast. My mother once told me horror stories about rabbit's teeth growing into their skulls because of not having wood chews, so whether true or not, I keep plenty of wood chews in Belly's cage just in case and you should too. Not only could they be important for health, but rabbits like to nibble on things to pass the time and play.
Water: Make sure that your loved one always has access to a water bottle. The ones that hang from the cage bars are perfect. Make sure that you place it somewhere that your rabbit can get to, but also where your rabbit won't have to awkwardly bend down to drink. Because of the size of Belly's cage, we keep one water bottle hanging from both levels.
Play Toys: Rabbits love to play! Belly's favorite game is throwing her ball around in the air, and it might just be the cutest thing that I've ever seen (See above). Safe chewing toys include anything made of wood, cardboard, or healthy grasses. Belly has many wooden toys and grass balls that we've bought her from the pet store, but I'm always amazed when her favorite toy is an old toilet paper roll filled with hay or a fruity treat. Her other favorite toy is an infant's toy ball that my mother purchased her a while back. I don't like that it's made of plastic, but she loves it SO much that I can't bear to break her heart and take it away. She especially likes when I roll it towards her. She either picks it up and throws it into the air, or she rolls it back. She likes to do the same thing with plastic measuring cups and even a deck of cards.
Have fun with your rabbit! They're playful and loving creatures that love contact with others. If your rabbit jumps high into the air and seems to "spazz", that means that he's binkying, something that rabbits do when they're full of joy. If you watch your rabbit binky, you're doing something right! If your rabbit grunts at you or put his ears back and lunges, it means that the fun is over and that he feels threatened, so it's time to back off.
I referenced Chandra Beal's Rabbit page on her blog many times because I found that it was an awesome source of rabbit knowledge, so don't be shy to go back to her blog here to read more.
Rabbits are beautiful creatures and they're so often thrown into the category of animals like hamsters and mice, that it's easy to see why many are unaware of the rabbit's intelligence. We adore our Belly and we hope you do too!
I would love to see any pictures of your bunny rabbit's lovely homes :)