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Rabbits in the House

December 13, 2012

IMG_2596While others keep dogs or cats, I keep house rabbits. Yes, you read right, rabbits, and they live in the house, as part of the family as any dog or cat would. Some would say they aren’t as affectionate or expressive as the typical pet; seen as a barn animal raised for meat or to be a pet to live out a lonely life in an outdoor hutch, but please let me change your learned perceptions.

First off, once they are spayed/neutered they are quite clean and easy to litter train. Of course you have to make sure all the wires are out of reach and there are some messes and some chewed clothing/boards, but whose dog hasn’t done that at some point? Just as dogs can be different, each rabbit is different. Some like to dig more, others obsess over chewing. There are many breeds and I find the really small ones called “Neatherland Dwarf” to be like the Jack Russels of the rabbit world. Mine are more or less mutts, but all domesticated rabbits derive from the same species of European Rabbit.

squeezing under my chair

squeezing under my chair

Wheata and Dooby are quite calm and more active during the morning and evening and prefer to lay around and sleep the afternoon away. I can trust them to be out most of the day and they return to their ‘warren’ of a cage during the night.

Now rabbits are ‘prey’ animals so there are some major differences. They easily get nervous, but once they know their ‘territory’ and you, and some of the common household noises they let their guard down a little and then you really see them for who they are.

Rabbits aren’t ‘cuddly’ as we would like them to be and most tolerate being picked up but would rather you just left them on the ground where its safe. However, on the comfort of the floor they can be little snugglers. My male will lean into you and snuggle under your arm and give bunny ‘kisses’ in appreciation for such a petting. My female is a little more independent and only wants to be petted in her timing. Usually in the evening as I slouch in my office chair I’ll let an arm dangle to the floor and call her and she’ll come and gladly shove her nose under my hand to receive affection. Last night she lay there for a full 40 minutes as I watched TV.dooby1

They do like to jump up and sit up high, some love the top of the couch, my male prefers Israel’s office chair.

Now as you may have noticed in my previous posts I love to ‘observe’ and try and understand the most of subtle of cues. I have shared the lives of many small parrots and they are very intriguing to be with, but none compares to the subtle language of the rabbit. If you are in the presence of this soft bundle with big eyes you can either be ignorant and say “oh its so cute” but you’re really thinking they are quite shy and stupid. Or you can allow your most acute of senses come to life and try understanding why the rabbit does what he does. As I sit writing this my male is nudging my leg with his nose. This can either mean one of three things: He wants me to move my leg because it is clearly obstructing his path and after a couple nudge warnings he may nip to get the leg to move….or he is demanding that I reach down and pet him, to which he will gladly lay down to receive this affection…..or he has sorted and ate all his favorite parts of the hay and now wants a fresh handful.chair

They love routine. If I don’t get up my regular time and they have eaten all their hay my female will find the noisiest most amplified sound to make in the cage. I have their little box in a cardboard bottom and at first I thought she would just chew the box because it was there, but after speaking with other rabbit owners I realize she really was finding the thing that makes the most annoying noise to get your attention. She’s not just chewing the box, she’s grabbing it with her teeth and then letting it go to hit the cage and vibrate off the walls. Another rabbit I know has found the door stopper to be most effective. And bedtime…they have totally convinced me they know when 10 o’clock is. they start circling my feet and following me, nudging me, even jumping in my lap telling me its time for our bedtime food in our cage to tuck us in.IMG_5205

Once you learn to read their body language they are very expressive. They freely show joy as they run down the hall, jump in mid-air, kicking up their hind feet and twisting their body, what owners call a “binky”. They show annoyance by putting their ears back flat as a horse would and emitting a low grunt, which I say sounds something like a hippo. Each has its own distinct personality and some are very opinionated, grunting and boxing you with front paws as soon as you reach into the cage. They show contentment by gently grinding their teeth, also know as a rabbit purring. They usually sleep in a ball with their feet curled up underneath them but when they feel extremely relaxed they flop on their side outstretched; this has scared more than one owner, fearing their rabbit has died.

wheata9Despite popular belief I find them quite intelligent. They have learned their names and when I call them for a treat they will come running! My female Wheata I have clicker trained, a method of conditioning where you click when they do the correct behavior you want them to and then you reward them. She has learned the verbal word for: “kiss”, “turn-around”, “stand-up”, “through” (go through the hoop), and “up up” (to jump on something). (see video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_2t_GuJj6k) Both my rabbits are currently in a club some of my friends and I have started where our rabbits navigate through a course of jumps and obstacles.

http://vancouverrabbitagilityclub.com/
We practice weekly and travel to perform “demonstrations” to advocate the potential rabbits have as pets. Most rabbits enjoy the course and once they get use to it do it on their own with us following behind. We don’t force the ones who are fearful or reluctant.

So I hoped I have changed your outlook on rabbits a little.try2 - Copy

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