His Naughty Little Friend

When I was a housewife, before I started my master’s degree (which should basically have the title, ‘Lucy wants a master’s’), I had a lot more time to pay attention to my rabbits. Now, I am still a housewife (in the sense that I take care of it, because I like how it grounds me) but I’m also doing my MSc in Obscure Science (not housewifery or even midwifery, either of which would be useful), and I have a social life now thanks to the university’s writing (Lucy starts a book club) and sports societies (Lucy goes sailing), and doing a placement at an academic publishing house (Lucy wants a career), where I code their website and copyedit bibliograhies into English from bizarre languages; then I’m also applying for grad schemes with Severn Trent (Lucy still wants a career) and writing my romance books (Lucy… writes something??). While I’m cooking his dinner or sorting out the dishwasher in the evening (Lucy’s a fifties housewife again), I tend to look out of the window and see the rabbits. It’s the only time of day I tend to notice them now, but don’t worry, they’re not being ignored. Ricky – I mean my Dearest – can spend lots of time with them because he’s getting hardly any work due to having a very foreign last name which is career-fatal in post-Brexit-vote-Britain (Lucy and Ricky still want to move to Canada).

Poppy and Fifer are the only two rabbits living in the huge indoor-outdoor enclosure (Lucy gets a rabbit… or 4), who live in the big shed in our garden which I think the council built in the fifties so housewives got some reprieve from their husbands filling their home with tools (like mine does, since our shed is home to our rabbits). After Fifer lost Katie (Douglas Adams never had to write about these sort of problems) I thought he’d never love again, then Poppy appeared. The bunnies love each other so much it makes my heart grow three sizes just to see them grooming each other. Until Timmy goes outside. Then sparks fly because Poppy is a romantic at heart.

Poppy is a very determined rabbit (by Fifer’s standards). Fifer wants her all to himself, and she wants some sort of three-way with Timmy (our indoor rabbit). If Timmy is outside, every time Fifer hops away from the fence for a few minutes, his naughty little girlfriend is straight over to where Timmy is sitting, and she’s trying to get out of the rabbit run to be with him. I think she might be a polyamorous rabbit, but Fifer has no interest in a guy-on-guy relationship.

I think in Poppy’s mind, there’s no problem with having two boyfriend rabbits and she can live a life of luxury. I guess she’s a little bit of a bored housewife sometimes too (maybe she can be Ethel in our Lucy analogy; she’s also a housewife) and wants something more than a giant rabbit hutch, 24/7 indoor/outdoor access, an attentive (if slightly overprotective) boyfriend and a nice view of the rest of the garden. She wants the excitement of a second relationship with Timmy. She adores Timmy just as much as she loves Fifer. Fifer, however, disagrees, and he’ll chase her away and bite her if he catches her showing an interest in Timmy.

little Timmy and his bed
Timmy lounging on his bed in the living room next to a pile of his toys.

Anyway, it’s been even more fun this weekend, as we had to put Poppy and Fifer in the kitchen due to the November 5th fireworks. Guy Fawkes night is a British thing where people celebrate that something horrible happened to someone for standing up for what he believed in, because people need to know that conformity is hella important and whatnot. I was raised Catholic by my strict Irish grandma (who looked after me in fits and bursts when my mother was lounging around the house sleeping her life away and waking up to shout at us, hit us or lock us out and tell us how lucky we were to not be Chinese, where, apparently, people were starving. Long story short, my grandma stepped in whenever we started missing school, but sent us home again every time my mum promised she’d changed).

My grandma was an amazing woman (I’ve kept her last name after I got married, in the matrilineal style – when I was engaged, one of my biggest worries was how to respect my husband by taking his name while still honoring my grandma by keeping hers, so I split my double-barrel, dropped the side I had no affinity for, and replaced it with my husband’s name). So, anyway, I digress a little, but the point is, when you’re raised Catholic by a grandma who never moved on from the fifties and sees *everything* you do, you tend not to burn Guy Fawkes for being a Catholic criminal. She was more vigilant than the nuns that I knew, but like the nuns, she was lovely until you were naughty, and she was lovely again straight after. My grandma died in ’99, when I was twelve, but as far as I know, my entire extended family has never made a Guy to burn.

Maybe it’s my old-fashioned upbringing, but as an adult, I find the idea of burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes to be in very poor taste. We wouldn’t stand for people doing that to Saddam Hussein, for example, we’d say it was racist jingoism, but Guy Fawkes? Get kids to scrounge money by walking him round in a wheelbarrow then set him on fire. Because it’s British.

Poppy is his naughty little bunny
Poppy wants her picture taken.

Anyway, the rabbits are terrified of fireworks and last week the neighbors on one side decided to have huge loud expensive fireworks aimed over our garden, and I was being pelted by shells of fireworks and getting sparks inches from my face and explosions a couple of feet above my head while I was trying to get the rabbits in, so we planned ahead and got them in early this weekend, to make sure my PTSD wasn’t triggered by a giant dick with too many fireworks. Because of our brand spanking new door between the kitchen and the living room, with the see-through glass panels, the rabbits can now see one another when the door’s closed. I open their indoor hutch because I don’t agree with confining them just because the rest of the world is setting off incendiary devices for entertainment. To be honest, the heat level in the kitchen is far too hot for outdoor rabbits so I try and keep the thermostat low while these two are inside. So while Poppy is hopping around in the kitchen, she can get a glimpse of Timmy, but Fifer can’t smell him, so he doesn’t know. But his naughty little girlfriend sits by the kitchen door and watches Timmy while he sleeps (Timmy sleeps a lot). If only Fifer knew what she was doing, she would be in so much trouble!

Poppy and fifer little rabbits
Fifer decides it’s time to put his foot down

Keep Your Rabbit Cool In A Heatwave

Keeping rabbits cool in summer can be daunting.  This has been the hottest week of the year in the UK, and with temperatures pretty much soaring worldwide in the Northern Hemisphere (sorry, Oz), it’s important to keep bunnies safe from sun and heatstroke too!

rabbits die in hot hutches keep bunny cool

We all know that dogs die in hot cars, but rabbits regularly die in hot hutches as well, especially young rabbits (less than a year old). Lack of ventilation, hutches placed in direct sunlight, and the ammonia from a hutch that hasn’t been cleaned in a while all take their toll on rabbits. I’m not being OTT here, these are all things I’ve learned from having tons of buns for years. Here’s how to keep bunnies cool and safe and happy and snuggled in all this hot weather we’ve been having:

Don’t:
Leave rabbits in a hutch on hot days. They need to be able to move around and find shade (or a cool breeze) and additionally, they panic if they feel trapped, which will only make them hotter.

Assume their water bottles are sufficient. Rabbits have been not drowning in puddles for thousands of years, and a bowl of water that they can put their face in to cool down will really help them out. Be aware that they might knock it over, and refill as needed.

Put sunblock or other human sun protection products on rabbits:  It sounds good in theory, but please never do this.  Rabbits will lick it off and ingest it, and sunscreen’s not good for them, and it won’t reach their skin in any case.

Leave hutches in direct sunlight. Even when the rabbits aren’t in them, they will get hot and cause the ammonia from their urine to degrade. This can cause a potentially toxic vapour that can suffocate rabbits when you put them to bed.

Forget to clean the hutches out at least once a week in summer. The temperature and the amount of insects around means that it’s easy for a hutch to acquire maggots, which will lead to bunny fly strike, a deadly disease.

Ignore warning signs: If your bunny is visibly too hot, not really moving much, breathing heavily, and clearly uncomfortable, you need to take action (see how below).

Never, ever, ever touch a nest with newborns (younger than 8 weeks) baby rabbit kittens in it:  Even to move them somewhere cooler.  If the mother smells the babies have been interfered with by anyone who isn’t herself, she will reject them and they will die (yes, you can try to hand rear them, no, it often doesn’t work).  The mother will move them if she thinks they’ll have a better chance of survival, and she comes from a long line of rabbits who didn’t fail to care for their young (or she wouldn’t be alive herself), trust her to know what’s best for her babies, unless she’s got brain damage.  Rabbits have very good mothering instincts that are better than those of most human mothers.  Additionally, if you go near the nest while she’s around, she will attack you very viciously.  Put an ice block or a frozen bottle of water next to the nest, but not in it, and let the mother move it herself.  The only exception to this is if one of the babies needs a vet.

Do:
Get them a good sized enclosed rabbit run and put them out all day in hot weather (check they can’t dig out, or make sure your garden fence/wall will stop escapes if they do, if you’re at work all day). Leave the run in the shade and remember the shade changes direction as the sun changes position in the sky. An old doormat or cardboard box over one corner of the run will provide shade.  Don’t forget to give them water in the rabbit run!

Freeze some ice blocks for them and put these in the rabbit run so they have something cold to lie next to if they need it.

You could also put bricks in the freezer (if you remember from my article on keeping bunnies warm I mentioned putting a brick in the oven then put it in the rabbit hutch at night) and put these out in the hutch to cool the air in the hutch.

Get them a water bowl as well as their bottle (or a second water bowl) so that they always have some water, and check it every few hours if it’s a really hot day. Water is the most important thing for keeping bunnies alive in hot weather. If you do nothing else from my article, do this.

Keep topping their water up.  Water water water water water.  That’s what rabbits need in hot weather.

If bunny gets too hot: Emergency bunny first aid for heatstroke:
If your bunny is visibly uncomfortable from the heat, get a jug or bucket of water and get the bunny wet. Avoid the face and ears, you just want to get their body wet to increase heat loss. If the bunny doesn’t jump up and try to run away (they really don’t like getting wet), check the temperature of their ears.

If the bunny’s ears are hot and the bunny is not moving much, breathing heavily (or not breathing), and generally unresponsive, they probably have heat stroke. It is preceded by heat exhaustion, which stops them raising the alarm about their state (this is true of humans too, although in people, the face tends to go red and they can even stop sweating).  This is more deadly to small animals than it is to humans (and it’s pretty dangerous to humans). At this point, you need to make an emergency appointment with the vet and get your bunny the care he needs to survive.

Personally, I wouldn’t waste any time, and I’d get a sick bunny to the vet (any vet) as soon as possible because they are stuck with a fur coat and feel the temperature a lot more than we do, they don’t have a very good cooling system and they’re not designed to be above ground trapped in a hot environment in summer weather, usually they’d be in their underground burrow at this time of day in the summer, chilling out with their friends.  We have, over centuries, forced them to live in our environment for our own entertainment, the least we can do is try to make it comfortable for them.