I got this infographic about how to pick up and hold a rabbit, in an email from Pets At Home, and while I know how to look after my bunnies, I thought it might be useful for anyone with a rabbit (or considering getting a rabbit) just to see one of the ideal ways to handle a pet bunny. There are other ways you can hold a rabbit that will still bring them comfort and reassurance but this is definitely useful if you’re thinking of getting a beautiful rabbit (don’t worry about the “rabbits are calmer when they can’t see,” all of my bunnies like to see what’s going on when they get picked up). I think this is helpful whether you’re getting a bunny either as a houserabbit or a garden rabbit. Bunnies are especially popular to buy over Easter time, and I urge you to wait until four weeks after Easter if you’re getting a bunny, because that’s when the shelters (and Pets at Home’s adoption section, where 3 of my 5 rabbits have come from) start getting inundated with unwanted Easter bunnies. It’s a very, very sad situation and I wrote a story about it last year to show what life is like for a lot of rabbits, from the rabbit’s point of view. People buy them, don’t understand how to care for them, then leave them in a tiny hutch and throw food at them once a day (if they remember). If the rabbit is lucky, the owner finally admits they were wrong and gives the animal up for adoption so it has a chance of a loving home, but many owners of unwanted rabbits don’t bother. No animal wants to live like that and I’d like to think that all my readers are compassionate enough to read my other rabbit care articles before getting a bunny. It’s very tragic that the most popular rabbit article on my site is “what to do with an unwanted rabbit” and last year it made the top 10 after Christmas and Easter (and after Christmas this year). Anyway, here’s the infographic. Click the picture to enlarge:
I don’t own the image, it’s copyright to Pets at Home, this post is not sponsored and no affiliate links, I just thought it would be a useful resource for people with rabbits who aren’t members of Pets at Home VIP club (if you live in the UK, I strongly recommend you join them because it’s free and you get loads of benefits such as discount vouchers and free magazines with useful information like the infographic above). You can join in any Pets at Home store or online.
Would you ever get a rabbit? Have you already got one?
So we weren’t sure if we were going to get another rabbit after losing Banacek – surely it’d have to be a pretty special new bunny.
Two weeks ago I had to go to Pets At Home to get Poppy a corner litter tray because she’s destroying her hutch by insisting on using it as a toilet (all our other outdoor buns do it in their rabbit runs). That’s when I first saw Timmy. Soft, snuggly, adorable, special Timmy.
He was a beautiful orange colour with Banacek’s eyes and ears, and cute white patches on his front paws that made him look like he was wearing socks. I thought nothing of it – Cleo was still listless and mostly sitting around the house at this point. She was in no way ready for a new friend and neither were we – it was only about a week after Banacek had died. I took a good look at Timmy and noticed he had done some of those yellow gloopy poos that Banacek had done just before he died. I informed the staff and they said they’d keep an eye on him. I went home disappointed because we really shouldn’t get another rabbit right now, especially one with potential digestive problems.
Because of Poppy’s little “problem” I had to do a full cleanout of her hutch on Monday, and I used up all the hay and most of the sawdust, but I still needed more hay to make her upstairs sleeping area warm and cosy (and edible), so at 6pm I found myself driving over to Pets at Home again to get a bag of hay.
Timmy was still there, in all his beautiful snuggly orangeness, looking very interested in his hay. I had to collect my husband from work immediately after getting the hay, and I told him that the cute bunny was still there who I’d seen before.
The next morning, I tried to put him out of my mind, but when I came back from dropping my Dearest off at work, I then had to put up with Cleo acting very out of sorts – she was running laps around the living room and leaping in the air and pulling my blankie off me (I was cold) and trying to climb on the sofa. These are things she doesn’t usually do. She was trying to get me to play with her more than normal. So I tried, but I couldn’t follow her through the tunnels and hiding places we’ve made for the rabbits to play in. I scooped her up and carted her off to Pets At Home to see if there was an appropriately adorable bunny up for adoption.
I was surprised to see that Timmy, with his one up ear and one down ear, was still there.
We introduced them and he really liked her but she was scared and running away, so I decided to bring her back later in the afternoon. This time, Timmy went straight to her, and he snuggled up with her in her pet carrier.
They didn’t separate the whole time they were around each other.
When I took Cleo back to the car (so I could come back and complete the adoption paperwork and buy the sawdust I forgot to get earlier in the week), Timmy looked heartbroken and started attacking the door to his enclosure to get back out again. I came back from the car, and another person was there trying to adopt Timmy. I was all like “oh hell no he’s mine bitch.” Actually, I just said “I’m sorry, but he’s coming home with us, he’s just been introduced to my other rabbit and they loved each other.” but she acted like I’d slapped her with the rabbit. If she’d got there first I would have just been happy for Timmy that he was finally getting adopted – that’s not an empty promise, it’s happened before with 2 different bunnies that I intended to adopt. Sometimes it’s not meant to be, but this time, it was.
We brought him home and they’d told us to just put him in his hutch the first night, but he looked so lonely and vulnerable that I put Cleo in with him. She disagreed with being in a hutch (she hasn’t been in a hutch in over 2 years) so they both ended up hanging out in the living room until bedtime.
At night we put him back to bed in his hutch and in the morning, I put him and Cleo into the rabbit carrier and took him to the vets for his check up and vaccinations. Apart from when we’re in bed (when we have to put him back in his hutch until we’re sure he won’t fight Cleo) they’ve been inseparable ever since.
Here’s some photos:
So far, his interests seem to include running around REALLY FAST, pooing everywhere (they’re the size of freaking marbles WTF?!?!) and humping Cleo. So I put this bunny romper suit on him so he definitely couldn’t get Cleo pregnant, because he can’t be neutered for a couple more months (he’s 4 months old and the romper suit is to stop them chewing at stitches but it covers the right places):
He doesn’t like the romper suit, and he runs around less while he’s wearing it.
I’m in the middle of editing some videos of him and I’ll upload them all to Youtube as soon as they’re ready.
Cleo is very happy and the house doesn’t feel empty any more. Now he’s just got to learn to take the stairs – the first couple of times he tumbled back down them again, but I was there to catch him, and I’ll always be there to catch him, until he learns to go up and down the stairs on his own.
We got a new rabbit to replace Katie, her name is Poppy.
She and Fifer seemed to bond well and we kept them together since we adopted her on Wednesday, after we first visited her on Tuesday (edit: got days wrong). They’d had two dates at the adoption place and he seemed to warm to her. It was going so well that we put them both in Fifer’s hutch.
He chased her out because it still smelled of Katie.
So we sorted them out with the spare hutch and put them in the kitchen. They were back to getting along until yesterday.
Then we put them out in the run again and I thought at first that they were running and playing, but it turned out they were fighting (in a weird, running around kinda way, not the usual scrappy kind of way).
We brought them in and they were fine again.
Then, yesterday morning, RIGHT as we both had to leave for work, they started fighting in the hutch.
We separated them quickly, but put them back together in the run in the evening. My dearest came to bring them in and Poppy was sitting out in the rain looking sad, Fifer was in his house, he had chased her away. There was rabbit fur everywhere, and in the darkness my husband assumed this was her fur. She had a bite on her nose. I found out this morning, when I went to check on Fifer, that what actually happend was that she viciously attacked Fifer (but we thought he’d attacked her because she’s the one who needs veterinary treatment) and literally torn half his fur out. He also has a (less severe) bite on his nose. I put them both in the garden this morning to see how they reacted to each other’s presence. She kept running towards Fifer and he kept running away then changing his mind and standing his ground. He chased her away from him, then he ran off and hid from her. He doesn’t want to know her at all any more, so she’s got to go back to the adoption place. ARRRGH. I’ve never had a failed adoption before, it’s really heartbreaking because she’s a lovely rabbit, and I know he’s a difficult one, but ultimately she’s too attacky to be able to live with him and if she’s too attacky for Fifer, I sure as hell aren’t letting her near my other buns. The week’s just gone from sad to worse in under 24 hours.
On Tuesday, I put Fifer on his rabbit lead because the carrier was at the vets with Katie. There was a spare carrier, but two boxes and a husband don’t fit in my car safely. It turns out Fifer much prefers to wear his harness and sit on someone’s knee for car rides than to be put in a box. We learned he likes looking out of the window. I told him we were going to see Katie. I wanted him to have the chance to see her again, because whilst I’d been worried about her when I took her to the vets in the morning, I had had no idea that this was going to happen or that we weren’t getting her back. I’d been worrying in the morning because Katie was worrying; it was like she knew.
We arrived at the vet’s 20 minutes early. Contrary to what the receptionist had said earlier, we were shown straight into a room and Katie was brought out for us by the nurse. We put Fifer on the table with her so they could talk in bunny language to each other and share a moment. She wasn’t very with it because they’d sedated her, she’d been in so much pain after the anaesthetic wore off that they had to, apparently. She still looked like she was in pain, and she basically just sat there and Fifer came and snuggled her and licked her nose and she just stared at him for the longest time, then she nuzzled him with her nose and sat next to him.
Our usual vet (not the one I’d seen in the morning or the day before, but the one who founded the practice and who has been seeing us since we first started going here, a few weeks after they opened) came in to talk to us about Katie’s situation. She showed us the X-rays. It was much MUCH worse than it had sounded on the phone, and as soon as I saw the X-rays I started crying because Katie’s skeleton was effectively crumbling away inside her. Before we came to the vet, I’d kept an open mind and if I’d thought there was the slightest chance of her having a pain-free or fulfilling life after that day, I would have paid the money. I would have remortgaged the house if I’d had to to pay to save Katie. But there’s only so much that can be done, and the leg was today’s problem, but as the X-rays of the rest of her showed, her other leg could split at any second, her knees were fucked, her spine was fused together, her hips showed significant lack of bone density, and that was just the lower half of her body (which was what was X-rayed). This more experienced vet told us she thought Katie was probably about 7 years old, and that from the bone density throughout her skeleton, it was extremely likely that she wasn’t actually fed rabbit food by her previous owners. From this day on, her life was only going to be vet stay after vet stay, interspersed with what they called “cage rest,” during which her movement would have been inhibited as much as possible and she would have spent months in extreme agony until this leg healed, then there would have been the rest of it, a ticking timebomb inside her ready to go at any moment, causing her more unspeakable pain and fear. I wanted my squishyboo, but I wasn’t going to keep her alive so I could selfishly stroke her nose.
Would I still have adopted Katie if I had known she was so old? Resoundingly yes. I just would have maybe expected this instead of it being such a shock. It was only last week that I was thinking that one day, in a few years time (with her and Fifer being our youngest rabbits – or so I thought), the only bunnies we might still have of our current set would be Katie and Fifer. I thought she would even outlive Banacek, who we got when he was a tiny helpless baby three and a half years ago. Because she should have just turned three last week, when I got her vaccinated. She should have had about another five to seven years of life. That was what was most shocking I think – because we have some very old rabbits (over age 10) and Katie looked and acted nothing like them.
Before I took her to the vet, she had taken herself to a spot in her hutch and stayed there. When I came to pop her in the box, she screamed in pain but she didn’t resist. She knew her time had come and she was very serene about it. I didn’t understand at the time (hence my worry before and after dropping her off at the vet that the anaesthetic would be the killer here). I never expected to end the day having to make a living death or death decision over my favorite bunny.
While we were talking to the vet, Katie seemed to perk up a bit, and she started eating the cilantro that my Dearest had brought for her and strewn over the examination table. Then, with superhuman effort, she managed to get up and hop over to where Fifer stood opposite her, and she faltered when her injured leg touched the floor, but that didn’t deter her, she went to lick his face profusely. Then she turned around, and just lay down sideways on the examination table. She only managed to do it for a few seconds before she had to get up again because her leg hurt too much in that position, but after her little energy spree, she turned to my Dearest and licked his hand, then she turned to me and licked my hand, then she licked Fifer’s nose again, then she sort of switched off again, it was as if she was saying “there, now I’ve done everything, now I have said goodbye to you all, I can go now. I’m ready.” I was in floods of tears throughout. The vet picked Katie up and took her out (they can’t do rabbits the way they do dogs because their veins are too small so she had to do it away from us then bring her back).
When the vet took Katie in the back to do it, Fifer just sort of sat there staring at the floor looking morose. Then, about a minute or so after she’d left, Fifer suddenly looked straight up towards where she’d been taken, he stared at that spot for a second, then he lay down on the examination table. It was as if he knew the exact moment when she died. After Katie was PTS (put to sleep), the vet put her on the examination table for us and then she just let us stay in the examination room and take our time.
I let Fifer have a look at her. He declared that she smelled strange then indicated that he wanted to leave. So we bundled Katie up so carefully (the vet let us have a towel). I just scooped Katie up, supporting her head because she was limp, and held her for about ten minutes, just rocking her and crying and kissing her nose and trying to deal with the situation. Then I popped her back in her dog carrier (she’s the size of one) and took the bunnies home.
When we got home, I popped her in the big outhouse where Fifer’s hutch is (they have 24/7 indoor/outdoor access and no door on the entrance to the hutch for their own freedom to roam), and I lay her down next to the hay pile. We fed Fifer and we had given him copious snuggles and strokes.
On Wednesday morning, after the school run, the first thing I did was go to see Fifer. I went to his outhouse and just sat by Katie’s body with him. I noticed there was now some broccoli in her ear. He had tried to feed her broccoli at some point in the night. The rest of her had been thoroughly groomed.
Rabbits have a special ritual when one of their herd dies. They sometimes do a rabbit dance around the dead one, and they often groom them. It’s critically important that they get to see the dead body after the bunny has been PTS, which is why I put Katie out with Fifer overnight. That morning, I lifted her up – rigor mortis had set in by now – and I took her out into the outdoor run so that Sebastian could see her as well. Fifer of course had priority because they were bonded first, but Sebastian loved Katie and would often be found on the other side of the fence snuggled up to her.
When I got Sebastian out of his run and put him next to Katie, he nosed her then lost interest. He didn’t seem to care. I put him back away and gave the rest of my attention to Fifer who was clearly mourning his Katie. Fifer sat with me and Katie for hours in the garden, and when I went to the flowerbed to dig her a grave, he came and “helped” without getting in the way. He knew what we were doing. He’s very intelligent. I lined the bottom with lots of her favorite plants. After that, I popped Katieboo in the outdoor toilet room so that bugs and birds didn’t start on her, then waited for my Dearest to finish work so we could bury her.
After I moved her, I watched Fifer from the kitchen. I saw him sniff around where she’d been before, then he laid down where her body had been, and stared into space wistfully. This is why they have to see the body – otherwise, they will wait for weeks sometimes for their friend to return (because they think they’re out feeding and haven’t come back) and they won’t eat or drink if you’re not careful.
When He got home from work, we wandered down the road and picked loads of dandelions and daisies for her. Dandelions were her favourite thing to eat that grows wild, and she’d eaten all the ones in the garden which is why we went looking. We were losing light, as the sky turned a dark pink, it was Katie’s favorite time of day (bunnies naturally are most active in the hour around dawn and the hour around dusk, and out of all of our buns, Katie and Fifer are/were the most in tune with their natural rhythms). We gathered her some broccoli and a whole carrot from the fridge, and all the rabbit nuggets that had been handed back by the vet because she wasn’t eating properly. I got her out of where I’d put her, and rigor mortis was wearing off again so she was a bit more movable than before. I placed her carefully on the bed of plants, then we placed the dandelions, daisies and broccoli where she could get at them (I put some of the broccoli behind her ears as per Fifer’s broccoli-feeding attempts, in case he knew something about all of this that we didn’t, such as that rabbits eat backwards in the afterlife maybe). We snapped the carrot and placed it in front and behind her. Then we took the bunny nuggets and scattered them around her, so she was totally insulated from soil by all her favorite snacks. It’s what she would have wanted.
The hardest part was putting the soil over her. It felt so wrong. She just looked like she was sleeping, peacefully, dreaming, with her eyes slightly open. I covered all the rest of her then I did her face last because it was so hard. Then after I’d covered her a bit I handed the shovel to my Dearest and let him put the next layer on. I was too upset. I didn’t want to let her go.
In the end, I took over again because he was too upset too. Fifer stood beside us, looking on, I’m not sure what he was thinking but he knew she was there. We put a protective fence (made of spare panels of rabbit run) around her because the last thing I want is a cat to dig her up and eat her. I’ve let Fifer out since and he’s gone to the place where she’s buried and he’s nosed at the fence, like he’s saying “that’s where Katie is, isn’t it mummy?” and I’ve replied (because I do) with “yes, honey, that’s where Katie is.”
He seems to be coping pretty well. He’s just gone back to being his loner, lonely, languishing self from his pre-Katie days. We’ll probably need to get him a new friend soon but for now I want to just let him (and us) get over this profound loss.
My Dearest asked me a question yesterday that threw me. He said, “what are your thoughts about pregnancy now?” and my answer was “it’s strange that you should ask, because when I was holding Katie’s body in the vets, the only thought in my mind was ‘if we get pregnant RIGHT NOW then we might get her reincarnated spirit.’ Because I know that Katie will get reincarnated if she doesn’t just get a free pass to the afterlife. Look, I know it’s weird but in the last 12 months I’ve lost 2 parents and 2 rabbits, I think I’m allowed to have strange afterlife ideas.
The night after she died, I had a dream that her and my dog Dillon (childhood BFF) were both pissed that only humans get let into the afterlife (in my dream it was Elysian fields, pearly gates, huge drinking festhall of Valhalla – the works – all together in the same place), so they broke in (Katie burrowed then Dillon barked at anyone who tried to stop them) until St Peter and Hades both turned up and St P. said “well, you’ve clearly made a lot of effort so Imma let you stay” and they went to the fountain of youth and drank from it and tore around heaven like racing cars.
Then I had a dream about all the ginger people I know, all in the same room, and I was looking for Katie but she wasn’t there. I had that dream the next night as well. Weird, huh?
I’m going to miss my Marmalade Princess Katieboo.
I don’t think there’s another rabbit the same as her in the whole world.
I also need to give a big shout-out to my vets who were really really wonderful about the whole thing (even when I got stressy, and even sent Fifer a condolences card with a pair of rabbits on it). If you live in York, you can’t do better than Vets4Pets for rabbit-savvy vets.
So I thought after all these months, it might be nice to actually introduce our rabbits to you. I know I put lots of pictures of them up and obviously do all the rabbit care articles as well, so let’s go through them, in order of when we got them:
Banacek is a mostly white, with brown splodgy bits on his fur, that used to look exactly like someone had drizzled treacle on his back when he was a baby. Now he is an adult, it looks more like a respectable snowy camouflage. We got him in April 2012, the week after Mother’s Day (UK edition, usually 2 months earlier than everyone else has it). We bought him brand new from Pets At Home because there were no adoption bunnies in a 50 mile radius, and there hadn’t been for months and months (literally, I bought hay, toys and a food bowl for a new rabbit about 7 months before we finally gave up on getting an adopted bunny and just bought one). He had up ears when we first got him, but after about a year they both gradually became lop ears, apparently this happens sometimes with particular cross breeds where the genes can’t make their minds up whether to give the rabbits up or down ears. For a while he had helicopter ears, and even now, one of his ears is much more lop than the other. After about a year, we realised he was profoundly lonely, and given that we weren’t allowed a bunny in our house, we started to look for a new house of our very own so we could bring a friend home for him to adore. It took a ridiculous length of time but we found our perfect house and then we looked for a friend for him. He likes to jump on the sofa and try to drink my tea (with soya milk and no sugar, of course – the bunnies are lactose intolerant and I have a milk allergy). He also has developed a habit of trying to steal my toast in the mornings.
Cleo (2005 to present, we had her 2013-present):
When we were looking for a friend for Banacek, we were sure that we wanted someone who was adoptable, since we felt bad that we had bought Banacek, even though there were no adoption bunnies at the time. We looked everywhere but there were no female rabbits for adoption. Banacek was a male and we knew he hadn’t got on with other males since he’d been neutered at 7 months old, because he had regular playdates with my friend’s rabbits. At long last, we found an advert on Gumtree. There were three rabbits up for adoption, all Netherland Dwarf bunnies, about 15 miles from where we lived. The owners were emigrating. We phoned and asked questions. We were initially disappointed, as the female hadn’t been neutered, and neither had one of the males, and the males were kept separate from the female, and they were all eight and a half years old. We knew bunnies could live to see a decade, but I also knew that this was not always the reality of having a bunny, and I didn’t want my current rabbit to be lonely again in six months if his new friend died. This was in September 2013. We asked if we could arrange an introduction, and the following day, we took Banacek on the car ride that would change his life.
Cleo, Sebastian and Neville’s former owners had two outdoor runs, where the bunnies played out all day during the day, then went back to their hutches at night time. We put Banacek in to meet Cleo. At first she was terrified – Cleo had never seen such a big rabbit! She wouldn’t stop running away and we didn’t think this was going to work – she was such an elderly bunny, and Banacek was so young and full of the joys of spring, that it looked doomed to fail. We left them alone for half an hour, though, and Cleo started offering her nose to Banacek. Netherland Dwarves do this to say hello, and other bunnies don’t do it as much, so it was astounding to us when Banacek offered his nose back! He had never done this on any of his playdates with other buns the same size as him! They soon were chasing each other as a game, rather than out of fear. Three days later, we brought Banacek back, to check whether they were still going to get on or not, and they remembered each other straight away (which rabbit care websites claim is impossible). The hardest part was having to put them in separate boxes to get them back down the motorway to our home, as they didn’t want to be apart!
We put them in the living room and let them play together. I was still worried about leaving them unsupervised so I put Cleo in her hutch outside every night at bedtime, because she is such a tiny rabbit and I didn’t want to close her into Banacek’s hutch in the living room until we knew he was happy for her to be in there – and for about two months, she showed no interest in going into his hutch to explore. One day, though, she had a bit of a cut on her nose and I wanted to keep her in as the weather was getting colder, so I put her into Banacek’s hutch, ready to pull her out again at the first sign of trouble, but she was ok, he was ok, and we came downstairs the next morning to find them snuggled together on the bottom floor of the hutch. We did have to make some reasonable adjustments to the hutch as it was designed for a bigger rabbit and Cleo couldn’t climb up to the higher platforms, but once we put extra climbing blocks in for her to get onto, she was soon on the top floor at night time with Banacek – which was his favourite spot!
Neville (2005-2015; we had him 2013-2015)
Neville and Sebastian were twin brothers, and were from the same litter as Cleo. When we went to get Cleo, my husband fell in love with the boys too. The only problem? Banacek didn’t get on with them. After a couple of scuffles we had to give up on the idea of a rabbit foursome in our living room, so we then had to think seriously about what to do. We decided that, if we only wanted to get rabbits to be friends with Banacek, then perhaps we shouldn’t get any rabbits at all, not even Cleo, because in our eyes they wouldn’t all be equals. We re-examined why we wanted rabbits at all, and came to the conclusion that if we brought Sebastian and Neville home, it would be because we liked them and wanted them to be happy in a new home, not with any kind of illusions that they would ever be friends with Banacek (but it would be great if they ever did). My husband decided he liked them anyway, and so they came home with us too.
Neville was always the loudest, most energetic of the two. He was the one who had been neutered, and he was definitely the dominant twin. Sebastian was a quieter bunny and liked to sleep for long hours, while Neville was the most playful little bun, always starting games with his brother. More than that, they had never been apart since they were conceived by their parents. When Neville got attacked by Fifer, later on, we took Sebastian to the vet with him to keep Neville’s stress down, and kept them both in the bathroom for a while, until Neville had healed.
Neville went on to make a full recovery, but about eight months later, just one month before his tenth birthday, we found him dead in a corner of his hutch. We left him out for the other bunnies to see, as this helps them with their grief (if they don’t see the dead bunny, they will assume they are out somewhere, and will sit and wait for them to come home for weeks). We buried him in our back garden the next evening.
Sebastian (2005-present, we had him 2013-present)
We didn’t think that Sebastian would cope without Neville, and watching him grieve was profoundly sad – if we’d had to guess, we both expected Sebastian to go first, not Neville, as he was less active and often didn’t leave his hutch during the day. We thought he was winding down in life. It’s five months later, and Sebastian is still going, still just as inactive as ever. Occasionally we see him running round, but not often. We tried introducing him to other bunnies, but it turns out that he wants some peace and quiet in his retirement, and hasn’t been particularly kind to Fifer when we tried to get them to be friends. We are letting him have his own space as he seems content with the friendship that Katie and Fifer keep offering him through the fences between their rabbit runs, but face to face he is less than polite to them.
Fifer (2014 to present)
When I first saw Fifer in Pets At Home, he was 3 months old, and named Clover, and they thought he was a girl. I thought she was the most adorable little bunny I’d ever seen, and she clearly was annoyed that she was up for adoption, disliking the attention, preferring instead to hide in a tunnel so only her back legs and tail were visible. She was a beautiful wild-looking bunny, and when I asked the store manager if I could handle her, she attacked him viciously, covering his hands in angry bloody scratches in seconds. They clearly had a history. The second he passed her to me, Clover stretched out her nose and snuffled mine, to see if I was friendly. Then, when I brought her closer to me, she licked my face and snuggled into my neck. She came home that same day, I didn’t care that we already had four rabbits (and really, I had shared ownership of Banacek, who is his own bunny, Banacek has Cleo, and my husband has Sebastian and Neville, so Clover would be a bunny just for me), she was my little darling. I had high hopes that she would integrate with Cleo and Banacek, and offset how hard it was going to be for Banacek when Cleo died, as Cleo was 9 years old at this point. Hilariously, I booked her in for a spay, and cried when I gave her to the vet to sort out. The vet took a look and pronounced her male. So we changed her name to Fifer. Fifer got neutered, a procedure I was far less stressed about, and he came home and we stopped trying to introduce him to the other rabbits. We gave him his own section of the garden to play in, which he really liked. After about three or four months, though, he seemed really bored and disinterested in life. He just sat in the same spot, day after day, staring wistfully at Sebastian and Neville. We’d tried to get them to make friends before, and it had all gone wrong, so we didn’t want to try again until we were certain they would be okay. Fifer had other ideas.
I came downstairs one morning to find Sebastian and Neville’s rabbit run strewn with fur, Banacek was sitting at the front of his run, staring into the kitchen window (he lived outside all of last summer) and Cleo, Fifer, Sebastian and Neville were nowhere to be seen. I went straight outside, concerned that the boys had been fighting, and I was very surprised to see Fifer sitting in Sebastian and Neville’s run, looking like that girl at the start of Battle Royale. I scooped him up and popped him on his own side of the run, and he had the sense to stay there. I opened the shed doors to get to Sebastian and Neville’s hutch and found Sebastian trying to bite my hand, clearly trying to protect Neville, who was very very badly injured and had taken himself off to a quiet corner to die. I ran to the house and grabbed a rabbit carrier, brought it back to the hutch, carefully extricated Sebastian, then even more carefully got Neville into the carrier, trying not to hurt him more by picking him up. I left the other bunnies where they were, closed the runs and gave the vet a heads up that I was coming in with an emergency, and drove straight to the vets. After 4 hours of surgery and three hours of recovery, I got a phone call telling me Neville was going to live, but we needed to keep him indoors for two weeks and give him strong painkillers and antibiotics and examine his wounds several times a day.
We didn’t know what to do about Fifer. We were obviously very angry, hurt and upset that he had gone out of his way to try to kill Neville, but we also knew that every time we’d tried to introduce them, Neville had attacked Fifer. Fifer had learned this behaviour from Neville. My husband suggested taking Fifer to the RSPCA, and we discussed whether we thought that what he had done was bad enough to warrant him being put to sleep. I was heartbroken, and I didn’t think it was fair on Fifer, that he was such a young rabbit, not even a year old, for his life to be over when he had his whole life ahead of him. It was the hardest thing we had ever faced with our rabbits, and I felt awful for bringing Fifer home in the first place. I think this was when we realized he was at least a half-wild rabbit, and when we researched them, we found out he has the right shapes and behaviours to be at least part wild. Our best guess is half-wild, half-Netherland Dwarf. Despite all my negative feelings, I also felt that I had a responsibility towards Fifer. He was my bunny, where none of the others were in the same way. I went out to see him after two days of not looking at him when I fed him, and I picked him up, and I just held him and cried, because he was my little bunny and I didn’t know how he could do such an awful thing to another bunny. He just snuggled me, but I could tell he knew he’d crossed a line. But I’ve crossed lines in the past, and felt like there was no redemption in sight, like I would never be able to make things right, and I knew how Fifer felt. So I made the decision that any mother would. I bought him a bigger, new hutch all of his own, I got my husband to build it, I placed it in the living room, and I moved Fifer indoors. I decided that if he was too wild, then we needed to bring him in so he could be around us and learn how to be more domesticated. After about three months of taking it in turns with Banacek and Cleo to be indoors for the day, and always sleeping indoors at night, Fifer had shown a great improvement in his behaviour. He stopped acting in fear and started feeling more confident. That was about the time when I saw Katie.
Katie (2013 to present, we adopted in late 2014)
Katie was (you guessed it) another adoptable from Pets at Home. She actually came from the same holding enclosure as Fifer. Her story was that she was dumped outside my vets in a cardboard box one night, so they passed her on to Pets At Home. When I first saw her, I was very excited because I thought she was the perfect size to be safely paired with Fifer. When I took Fifer for his vaccinations, I asked the vet about her, and she said that Katie had a lovely temperament and would probably get on with Fifer. The best guess is that she’s two years old, but nobody really knows. She was already microchipped and neutered when we got her. I went to Pets At Home and arranged an introduction between Katie and Fifer. There was uncertainty, there was scuffling, but ultimately, Fifer learned that this ginormous female marmalade bunny was just immune to his aggression. She would literally just lie down and ignore him. When she got bored, she’d lunge at him then go back to sleep. After two hours of introduction, we decided they were getting along. We didn’t take her until the Saturday, when we took Fifer back, expecting to have to re-introduce them. They remembered each other, though, and shared a bowl of vegetables. They were so friendly, I brought them both back in the dog box that we’d brought Fifer in (Katie was too big for those cardboard Pets at Home boxes), and when we got home and I opened the box, they just lay in there together for about an hour before coming out. Katie moved into Fifer’s hutch straight away, and they’ve never been apart since. Katie thinks she’s the size of Fifer, and he seems to think he’s the size of Katie; she’s very timid, and I don’t know what happened before we got her, as she has a lot of fears and hang-ups, but Fifer looks after her and makes her feel safe. In return, she seems to have helped Fifer to become a kinder, more loving rabbit. I would never separate them.
So that’s all our bunnies. We reconfigure who lives where on a regular basis so they all get their fair share of life indoors and outdoors, and we’ve just bought a new hutch (a £30 fixer upper two storey ex display model, down from £99, from Pets At Home) so Banacek and Cleo can move out for the summer to keep them cooler, and so we can get Katie and Fifer back indoors and spend more time with them.
So there’s obviously a lot of topical debate at the moment about whether anyone should get a rabbit at all over Easter. I wrote a cautionary tale about impulse buying a rabbit and believing that a child has the maturity to care for one over a long period of time. I’ve also written about getting a rabbit and of things you need to know about bunnies before you get one. I’ve also written a long catalogue of posts on rabbit care which you can find here. My main reason for writing this article is because some people might get a rabbit at Easter and be the best bunny parents ever. They are not the majority. There is a huge increase in rabbit sales at Easter and pet shops generally don’t give a damn who buys their animals (except my local Pets at Home store, whose staff are actually amazing and I’ve seen them refuse sales a few times due to ethics), so it’s down to you as a responsible human being to be sure you’re not just getting caught up in the moment, and that you’re going to love your bunny and meet their needs forever. If you’re even reading this, statistics show you’re probably a responsible bunny parent because you’re doing your research.
Here are some things you need to really think about before you get a live rabbit, and the preparations you need to make:
1. They look so cute, but have you held one?
Have you any past experiences and have you ever actually met and handled a rabbit? Any reputable pet shop will let you handle a bunny and take your time over choosing the right one. Would you be better getting a cuddly toy or a bunny calendar?
2. My child wants one, but can she look after it?
For some reason, parents often believe that their child is different, and that their child will have the sustained interest in a living being to be able to care for it. They can’t. That’s why we don’t let kids babysit each other, and why people get all concerned about underage pregnancy. All living things have the same set of needs to be met, and children are still learning how to meet their own needs independently, let alone another animal. Any pets brought into the house MUST be brought under the understanding that they are a FAMILY pet, and therefore that it is EVERYBODY’s responsibility to look after them. If you know your 6 year old forgot to feed Nibbles, or that Nibbles isn’t getting enough outdoor playtime, it’s your job as your 6 year old’s parent to pick up the slack.
Think about it from a management point of view. If you’re a supervisor and one of your employees doesn’t do the job right, you don’t leave the job undone, you either get someone else to pick up the slack or you do it yourself, making sure that the employee knows this wasn’t cool. If they consistently fail to do the job, you give their job to someone else on a permanent basis either in-house or elsewhere. For example, if your 6 year old isn’t doing the job, give it to someone else in the house, or do it yourself. You can’t let the job suffer because the employee isn’t doing it right. As a parent, you are a manager of your own house.
3. Before you get a rabbit, plan for about a week. Choose what sort of hutch they’ll have, and make sure it’s arrived before you bring Nibbles home. Bunnyproof your house, even if they’re outdoor bunnies, you need to nominate one room of the house to be a care room for if they have to recover from any vet care. Nominate a cupboard to store hay, dry food, water bottles, bowls, sawdust and newspaper and spare litter trays and toys. Buy all that stuff and check it fits, then choose another place for all the overflow that doesn’t fit! Make sure you know what food to get and why. Rabbits need lots of hay to eat, and a bit of nuggets every day.
4. Make an outdoor play space for your bunny so they can get their daily amount of natural daylight and fresh grass. If you don’t have anywhere, you’ll need a rabbit leash and to commit to taking Nibbles to the park each day (and you will need to protect him from dogs). Otherwise, a rabbit pen is a good choice for the garden, but cover the top so Nibbles doesn’t get eaten by Felix down-the-street when he comes over the fence on his daily walk.
5. Do you have enough money for a vet bill? What will you do if, a week after you bring Nibbles home, he breaks his leg or back? What if the neighbour’s cat attacks him and he needs $400 of reconstructive surgery? Will you be able to afford vet care? Consider a pet insurance plan (although read the fine print, I haven’t seen one that actually covers all of my rabbits due to age, and what they do cover is stuff I can pay myself without blinking, so I just pay all vet bills upfront for my 5 bunnies). Consider putting £10 (or $10) aside each week as an emergency fund for your rabbits. Don’t rely on charitable organizations like the PDSA, they’re not there to be taken advantage of, they’re there for genuine emergencies for low income animals, not for you to irresponsibly take on a pet you can’t afford to care for. You will need vaccinations every year and each rabbit will need neutering.
6. Invest in a pet vacuum.
You might also need Cage and Hutch Flea Spray cleaning products, grooming brushes, and a dustpan and brush. I recommend getting some carpet cleaner if you’re going to have houserabbits for when you’re litter training. You’ll also need an open litter tray (or three) and to find out about litter training.
7. Now you’re ready for a rabbit. Go and get one or possibly two (but beware- when hormones kick in at 4-6 months, they may not be as snuggly, even after they’re neutered, so I recommend getting one then introducing them until they find a good companion, to avoid ending up with loads of single lonely angry bunnies) get them from an adoption centre by first preference, and remember that this is the start of a beautiful friendship, that can span two decades if you look after them well and are lucky.
Rabbits are the eponymous prey animals. They have been hunted for hundreds of thousands of years by nearly every carnivore they’ve ever had contact with. They’ve got a lot of history of fear in their collective past. Rabbits are by their nature survivalists who will even cause themselves harm to live a little longer, to escape danger. While I know you’re going to provide a safe, stimulating and calm environment for your bunny, they have no idea, and since they don’t speak human, they aren’t reassured when you tell them that it’s okay.
Signs of a frightened rabbit:
1. He stomped his foot: He’s not having a hissy fit, he’s telling you he’s scared. The foot stomp has many uses in nature: In a burrow, the shock might bring the roof of a burrow down for protection; in a field, the loud noise might disguise the quieter sounds of running away; the noise might also be an attempt to make a prey animal think there’s a larger animal nearby. To other rabbits, the foot stomp says “I’m in danger.” I see mixed responses from different rabbits. When we first brought Cleo home she was afraid of everything. After being a hutch rabbit for eight years, the transition to house rabbit was difficult. When Cleo stomped her foot, Banacek used to run to her to see what the problem was and would usually lick her face to tell her it was safe, but then she started doing it when she wanted him to pay her attention. This backfired; she’s stomped so much that he doesn’t really pay attention any more. Since he’s stopped giving her attention, her stomping has reduced over the past few months. When Katie stomps, however, Fifer runs in the opposite direction. I think he takes any danger warning as a sign to run away.
2. He bit you: This usually only happens when you’re carrying them – a rabbit’s strongest defence to any danger is being able to use their back legs to run away as fast as possible. When his back legs aren’t touching a flat surface, he will often scratch and sometimes bite you. The scratching isn’t actually aimed at you – it’s just a byproduct of him trying to run away while you’re holding him. The biting, on the other hand, is his last resort. Rabbits know they’re not very effective biters (although I have a scar on my left hand to remind me how effective they can be) so they tend to only use this when they’re out of options. If he’s bitten you, tap the bridge of his nose (don’t hurt him that’s the last thing you should ever do to a rabbit – pain doesn’t make them learn, it makes them more scared, I know this not from personal experience but from studying psychology – some of the studies done on rabbits were and still are awful) and say “NO” loudly. Eventually, positive experiences of being held and not dropped will reinforce to the bunnies that they are safe when you pick them up. Also, depending on how panicked the rabbit is, making sure their back legs are on a solid surface can really reassure them. Be careful though – if I give Katie anything for her back legs to kick off, she will wind me and fall five feet to the floor in her attempt to escape. Some rabbits just won’t let you pick them up, and it is best all round to accept this and let them be. There are ways around it, such as transporting them everywhere in a pet carrier.
3. His eyes are super-wide, you can see the whites of the eyes: Rabbits open their eyes as wide as they can when they’re scared – it’s not vastly wider than their normal eye-opening, but it’s subtly different. They do it so they can see as much as possible – most mammals do this during times of fear – at normal eye openness, the eyelashes and lids protect the eye from dirt and particles getting in and causing damage, but when fear strikes, the eye opens wider to gain a greater field of vision.
4. He’s running away from you, and you’re not trying to play chase the bunny: A rabbit who is scared will not stop running until he finds a safe place to calm down. Chasing him when he’s in this state, even though you’re trying to get to him to comfort him, will just make this go on for longer. Take a break, sit down (if you can), wait a few minutes for him to calm down. Then gently go towards him, don’t look at him (I turn my head in an obviously different direction so they don’t think I’ve seen them), crouch down or lean over, reach out a hand and stroke that nose. At first, you might not get as far as stroking the nose, but over a series of days, eventually the rabbits will learn to let you comfort them, as they start to accept you as part of their herd. With Cleo, it took her five months to let me stroke her nose. Now she can’t get enough of it.
How can you prove to your rabbit that they are safe?
There’s no quick and easy way to tell a bunny they are in a safe place. Backing off a lot helps, patience, and letting them have control over some aspects of their existence. Don’t try and pick them up and cuddle them – they don’t find it reassuring the way we do. I find that leaving their chewed up cardboard toys around, even when they start to become a bit unsightly (as long as they’re still safe), leaving some of their own bunny droppings in the new litter tray (I pinch a few from the old one when I empty it) so it smells of them, and leaving their things where they’ve left them, makes them feel like this is a place for them.
Basically I just treat the rabbit’s property as if it’s… their property. I know a lot of people disagree and think pets should know their place, but with rabbits it’s important for their cognitive development to let them feel safe. There are limits to this, of course, such as if the rabbit’s toys are in disrepair, if they’ve claimed something that you don’t want them to have (e.g. a shoe that you like), and if they’ve had “accidents” on their toys. In these instances, reclaim the shoe, clean the “accident” if you can, if it’s cardboard, will that piece cut off without losing the rest? And if the toys are in disrepair, it’s time to throw them out. Always replace like with like.
If their favourite tunnel has to be thrown out, make sure they get a new tunnel asap. You can make a tunnel easily from cardboard, and you can often buy them from the pet store. If their squeaky toy bit the dust, buy them another one. If their wicker basket got too chewed up, get them something else made of wicker. Do you get the idea? Try and keep the rabbit’s environment as stable as possible, make sure their hutch or sleeping space is sacred to change, and they will start overcoming their fears and learn to become inquisitive, vivacious and loving companions.
Mostly I’ve been discussing the lounge or rabbit room toys so far. Let’s talk about their living area. The way the living area is designed and furnished can also go a long way to making rabbits feel safe.
How to make your rabbits feel safe in their home:
Firstly, make sure they’ve got places to hide. Unless it’s an emergency, treat these areas as totally sacrosanct. Not even the Pope or Antonio Banderas can go in there. Boxes or a platform work well.
Secondly, they will reorganize the contents according to where they want them. Unless this is stopping them getting in and out of their hutch or a significant part of it, leave it all where they put it. It might not look tidy to you, but rabbits are obsessive compulsive. They will find where they think something looks best and will make it be there. This is also why they need cardboard “projects” – boxes they can chew into new shapes. I imagine them as Feng Shui experts moving things to places where their mysterious energy is flowing best. They’re not, of course, but I like to imagine it because they can be very particular about their reorganizing. You will upset your bunnies and make them feel they don’t belong in your home if you interfere with this (again, if it’s soiled, dangerously broken or you didn’t want them to have it, take it out).
Thirdly, they will not interact with items in the way you want them to. Having had dogs, who chew bones, I expected rabbits to chew their little toy hemp carrots by putting them between their front paws and chomping on them for hours. They actually delicately nibble them for a few minutes, then move on to something else, then later they’ll come back and nibble some more, or throw them in the air and wave them around. They don’t recognise their pet bed as a bed – they lie next to it for warmth, not on top of it. They do like to sleep on a good piece of carpet, but you have to be careful that they don’t eat any of it. Making them feel safe and confident includes being accepting that they have their own minds and their own ways of doing things and using things. Obviously, look out for their safety and make sure their needs are being met, but what I mean is, don’t be selfish and don’t stop giving them cardboard because they keep chewing it up. If you don’t want a chewy pet, get a cat or a tortoise or something instead of a rabbit.
Fourthly, if it’s time to let them out for the day, let them come out in their own time. If you keep going into their hutch when they’re asleep or playing and dragging them out and putting them elsewhere, they will not feel that they have enough control over what they do in their lives and that makes for a sad bunny who doesn’t know what to do when you finally get them out of their hutch. Let them come out in their own time, unless there’s a pressing reason, and reassure them that you’ve missed them. I repeat “hello, hello, I’ve missed you, I’ve missed you.” In the same exact tone and speed of voice every day, so they recognise the sound pattern as “time to get up.” Now when they hear me say it, they are usually by the entrance to their hutch ready to hop out and they generally come straight downstairs to meet with their herd. This is part of respecting their choices – by not coming out, they express a preference for staying inside.
These come from the following principles, which in my opinion should govern interaction with any people or pets, regardless of status, intelligence or species:
1. Respect their belongings.
2. Respect their home and environment.
3. Listen to their opinions and respect their choices, if they express any.
4. Take care of them for their benefit, not yours. Make decisions that are in their best interests.
If more people followed this with their pets, children and disabled relatives, there would be far less problems in the world. But it would be a start if this was applied to bunnies. They will love you for it, once they start feeling less scared (which will be pretty quickly once they stop feeling threatened).