Is Your Bunny Binky? September 26 2015

Anybody who has read ‘Watership Down’ and Bigwig’s near gruesome death, having been caught in a snare, knows that the plight of the beloved bunny is not always a happy one. International Rabbit Day may be about raising awareness of some of the harmful practices that involve our furry friends in such things as fur farming and cosmetic testing, however have you ever thought that the animal in your hutch, may not be as happy as you think? The rabbit is the third most popular pet in the UK with 1.7 million owned by households and 2 million in the US. That’s a lot of potential misery.  Here’s a quick checklist to help you bring some fun to the life of your bunny:

  • Lonely? Isolated? Depressed?  These are not just human emotions.  If you look at rabbits in the wild you will see they are social animals and can easily get lonely and bored when alone.  If your rabbit is aggressive, this is a sign that it is not a happy bunny.  Make sure your rabbit has at least one other bunny to love - alas a kindly owner is not enough.  They will also look after each other by mutual grooming and warn of danger by thumping their hind legs.  If you are lucky you will hear a low hum as they run around each other to indicate affection and contentment.

  • Bored? Wild rabbits always seem to be busy running about, foraging for food, digging as well as constantly on the look-out for danger - on top of this they always breed like…well…rabbits!  So does your rabbit have enough mental and physical stimulation?  Keep them occupied with a variety of activities such as tunnels to run through, tree stumps to climb, toys to play with and if in the event of perceived danger, somewhere to hide.  Try and vary this (though not too much), on a regular basis.
  • Trying to escape? It may not be that your beloved bunny is trying to tunnel its way out of your affections, it is just that rabbits love to dig. Remember in the wild they live in warrens.  So rather than allow it out in the garden to dig-up a much-tended lawn, give your rabbit its own sand or earth pit to dig away at all day. If you are tempted to allow your pet out of its hutch for a run around, just remember that it can reach a speed of 40mph! 
  • Fearful of other animals? They may be scared (even to death) of other pets in the house as both can be attacked by cats and dogs  - Hazel and Woundwort in ‘Watership Down’ will testify - although the latter was alas never seen again.  Their almost 360-degree vision is designed to protect them from danger. Whilst having a hiding place is a partial solution, getting them used to other pets as early as possible as well as providing a sturdy hutch will keep them happy and away from harm.  Don’t be tempted to release your rabbit into the wild as they may not live much longer than a day.
  • Not eating properly? Bugs bunny may have eaten nothing but carrots, however to make sure your herbivore of a rabbit gets a proper diet, its main food should consist of fibre such as hay and grass.  Supplement this with vegetables and fruit for added nutrition.  As a rabbit’s 28 teeth never stop growing, they enjoy food that they can chew - even their own droppings (cecotropes).  Alas chocolate Easter eggs are only for us and not the Easter bunny. Do not even try this as they cannot vomit. Whilst hot or cold weather does not affect wild rabbits, your pet needs to be protected from excessive heat and hypothermia too.  

  • Overweight and lethargic? If your rabbit would rather be slumbering than jumping, train it to become more active.  Set up some small jumps and tunnels to run through and entice it over with little rewards.  Remember their incredibly strong hind legs mean that they can jump up to one metre high and three long, so allow them plenty of space to jump rather than just a meek hop. This will keep you both mentally and physically active as you think of new ways to entertain.  Whilst rabbits may not be able to read any of our personalised signs we can make for their hutch, they can be trained to respond to their name too.   Obviously you need to make sure your rabbit is not over or under-fed with a fresh supply of food - not rotting vegetables and fresh water.  Hang our double-sided personalised sign on the hutch or by the food to let others know whether to feed or not. Yes, we can add more than one name and bunny - remember they are social animals.

With it costing you on average £3,000 to look after a rabbit over its lifetime - approximately 8-12 years - let’s make sure it is a happy one.  How will you know?  Well if you rabbit is ‘binky’, it will run, jump, flick its feet and spin, which all means it is a very happy bunny.