Thursday, February 7, 2013

How to Train Your Rabbit: My Adventure There and Back Again


I had a rabbit once, for two weeks. Why? Because I’m a sucker for stray animals. One night I found a stray black rabbit down the street from my house. A few pieces of lettuce later, I have the rabbit in my possession and safely ensconced in a tall laundry hamper, with lid. I figured it was the safest thing to keep him in temporarily. Fortunately for the rabbit, we always have an extra kennel and I have plenty of plastic shoe boxes. The poor rabbit lived in the ghetto with his shredded newspaper litter and iceberg lettuce and carrots for food. I decided that he needed proper care, so $40 later, he had real rabbit food, fresh aspen shavings litter, sweet potato sticks, sea grass sticks, wood blocks, timothy hay cubes, and a willow stick ball. Yep, this rabbit was livin’ large. And then the fun started.

Rabbits can be litter box trained; just don’t come out knowing to use it, like cats. So for the first few days, the whole cage was his litter box. Gradually, after throwing his poop in the box and wiping up his pee, which is toxic in my opinion, I came to realize that the box was both too small and in the wrong corner of the cage. Apparently rabbits are very picky and function better when each corner, or half, of the cage is set with a specific function, ie bathroom, food, water, toys. And the rabbit will let you know where the bathroom shall be. Once you get past this initial hurdle, however, there’s smooth sailing.

Rabbits are fairly easy to care for indoors. Start with a good sixed cage that is easy to transport or take apart for cleaning. Smaller rabbits need a larger cage as they tend to be more active whereas a larger rabbit is more sedentary. For the litter box, get a plastic shoebox or washtub big enough for the rabbit to set comfortably. For the litter itself, use aspen shavings or pellet style cat litter. Also put a bit of hay, timothy for adults, on one side of the box. They hay is good for them and rabbits tend to poop while they’re eating so this serves a dual purpose. Get some nutritious food and a few snacks, but don’t over feed the rabbit either! Fresh water should of course be available at all times. Make sure to get some wood blocks or cardboard and toys to keep him busy.

Cleaning the cage doesn’t take long. Go ahead and let the rabbit run around for his exercise while you’re cleaning. Keep an eye on him, though! Rabbits can get into some tight spaces. I opted to clean the cage everyday to cut down on any odors, so I only placed enough litter to cover well the bottom of the box. Either way, dump the litter out, wash the pan (remember, rabbit pee is disgusting), refill and replace. Sweep up any stray poops and litter. Wipe off food bowls and the bottom of the cage. Refill water and replace everything as it was. See, that was easy!

Now that you’re done cleaning, play with the rabbit! He may be more interested in hopping arounf the room but he will get back around to you and would love some head scratches before hipping off again. If you want to pick him up for cuddles, make sure you support his back legs, otherwise he’ll lick out. Once you’ve got a secure hold on him, cuddle away! When playtime is over, gently put the rabbit back in the cage and give him a treat. This will reinforce the idea that it’s okay to go back in the cage.

And that, my friends, is how to care for a rabbit. At least, for two weeks. Long term, find a vet and get it fixed. Yes, you can spay or neuter a rabbit and it’s inexpensive! If you’re getting a rabbit for your kid, be sure to show them the proper way to hold the rabbit and remember that you’ll be doing all the work. The internet is your friend for info but always ask the vet if something goes horribly wrong.

To help cut down on rabbit over breeding, adopt a rabbit from your local rescue group! The adoption fee will include a snip or spay and will make room for another rabbit to be rescued. Please remember that pet rabbits are domestic animals and don’t have the necessary skills anymore to survive in the wild, so please don’t release them.

Links:
Magic Happens Rabbit Rescue
PetSmart Rabbit Care & Nutrition