Sunday, 10 May 2015

Cages and Puppy Pens

A cage is a common item purchased by almost all pet owners, while puppy pens are used to set up a play area.

Firstly: cages.

The common misconception
As bunnies are generally considered to be small-sized animals, many people tend to have the idea that they should be housed in cages when kept as pets. This, I must emphasize, is incorrect.

Consequences of caging a bunny:
  • The bunny becomes unable to carry out some of his/her natural activities.
    • Example of natural activity: binky, which obviously requires space.

      Billy, The Real "Energizer Bunny", binkying on a bed. Look at him go!
  • The bunny becomes isolated.
    • Imagine being cooped up in a small, transparent room, watching everyone else walking freely around you, but you can't be a part of them due to your restrainment.

      This is what a bunny feels like when he/she is constantly caged.
  • Over time, the bunny is likely to become more territorial.
    • As a result of restricted living spaces and the lack of natural, daily interaction between humans, the cage is the only place the bunny feels belong to him/her. The bunny becomes extremely protective of it. Sticking your hand into the cage is perceived by the bunny as intruding his/her territory, and hence he/she may lunge at you or bite your hand, while making an angry grunting noise.
    • This is one of the reasons many bunnies are dumped. The act of lunging and showing irritation is seen as 'aggressive'. It is crucial to understand that this so-called 'aggressive' behaviour is caused by the inadequate living conditions the bunny was housed - NOT an inborn personality. These unique individuals are terribly misunderstood!

Caging could, indeed, cause a number of adverse physical and mental effects on a bunny. However, it is also essential to realize that cages are often needed when you have a bunny (or any other pet). Housing a bunny in a cage only becomes a problem when the bunny is kept in it too long

The proper uses of cages:
  • To house the bunny during the first few days of his/her arrival in your home.
    • As the bunny is not yet familiar with the new surroundings, it can be a little intimidating for him/her if you give a large, opened space straightaway.
  • To place the bunny in it for him/her own safety.
    • For example, when you're not at home or when you're sleeping during the night.

Which cage to choose?
There are several factors to consider when purchasing a cage:

1. The size of the cage
  • There must also be sufficient space left to put in your bunny's other items, eg: food bowl.

2. The structure of the cage
  • The door of the cage should be on the side, NOT on the top, so that whenever the door is opened, the bunny can hop into and out of the cage at his/her own will.
  • Personally, I'd recommend wire cages. These have a tray underneath it. Besides being more hygienic (as the bunny won't be resting directly on top of used litter), it makes your job of clearing out litter and poop easier.

    A wire cage (Please excuse the stained tray!)
3. The bunny's age
  • If your bunny is young (6 months old and below), he/she will definitely grow in size as time goes by. You'll need to take this into account. Don't buy cages that are too small!

Preventing sore hocks
Sore hocks - a condition in which the sole of a bunny's feet becomes raw and inflamed.

Sore hocks

One of the causes of sore hocks is improper flooring. If you press your palm with a certain amount of force onto the flooring of a wire cage, you'll immediately feel the uncomfortable (and possibly, painful) pressure of the thin, rigid metal bars on your hands. 

Bunnies experience the same discomfort when they stand on it.

Personally, I place a rubber matting in the wire cage to allow my bunnies' weight to be distributed evenly over the flooring. I've been using this for years and it has worked perfectly - their feet has stayed furry and comfy!

What to put inside a cage?
Ask yourself this question: What does your bunny needs when he/she is in the cage?

The items in a bunny's cage varies, but here's a list of the things you'll definitely need to put into it:
  • a food bowl
  • a water bowl OR water bottle
  • a hay feeder OR hay rack
  • optional: toy.

The simple layout of Jippie's cage; the cloth is a toy, which Jippie likes to dig, rearrange and lounge

Now moving on to the closely-related topic of puppy pens.

Play areas
As discussed above, a cage is not enough and therefore cannot be a bunny's main, daily living quarters.

The purpose of a play area is simple: to give the bunny more space and freedom.

Setting up a play area is relatively easy:
  1. The most important thing you'll need to have are several puppy pens.

    Puppy pens

  2. Link them up by their hooks and arrange them to create a space that is at least 2m x 2m. (#Tip: make use of walls.)
  3. The play area should consist of: the cage, a litter box, and various toys.

    This is Jippie's play area; the cardboard box is his hideout.

Where to locate?
The entire play area, including the cage, should be placed:
  • indoors
    • Why?
      Bunnies living outdoors are exposed to many dangers, eg: predators, hot weather conditions.
  • most preferably where most human activities are carried out, eg: near the living room.
    • Why?
      This allows the bunny to observe what your daily activities are - one of the keys to a good bunny-human relationship. 
  • away from direct sunlight
    • Why?
      The bright light would be uncomfortable for the bunny's eyes and the location may be rather hot!

  • The cage, along with the tray, should be washed every 2 - 3 months. You'd be surprised how much wispy fur will be sticking in-between the bars.
  • The floor of the play area should be mopped (or steamed, depending on the type of flooring you have in your home) at least once a week to keep the bunny's space fresh and hygienic.
  • Litter boxes should be cleared and washed everyday to prevent unpleasant odour.

A good housing environment is simply one that suits your bunny's needs and fits your home! There are no exact instructions on how to set up a play area - this is simply a guideline. Try to see where things can be improved for your bunny along the way. This is what I did, and what I'm still doing as well.

First published on 01/06/2011

Note: If the owner of the sock hock image reads this, can you please provide me with a link to your website for credit purposes? I've found this image quite a while back and have forgotten to note down its source. My apologies in advance!

Saturday, 4 April 2015

New Box

Using a cardboard box as a toy seems an economic and relatively easy way of entertaining a bunny, but it's been at least two months until we found a new, suitable box for Jippie. Previously, the boxes that we've got from purchasing various goods just couldn't fit the requirements. They were either too flat, too short or too cellophane-taped.

Saturday was the local supermarket's no-plastic-bags day, so they provided boxes for people to carry their groceries. Finally, finally, finally ... a good, hardy cardboard box. (Hey, we didn't grab it greedily or anything, it was needed for our day's shopping anyway.)

I cut away the flaps and cut out two holes, making the box into a tunnel. My younger sister drew a cartoon of Jippie onto the box. She loves drawing comics.

A frolicking Jippie!

I drew a picture of a carrot and apple, but I'm not good at drawing so ... y'all aren't going to get a glimpse of how it looks like. Anyhow -

Psstt - Jippie!! We got a new box for you!

"What? I'm busy."

Ah, there's the old brown box. There're actually urine stains on it ... All because once, Jippie urinated on the floor and well, the liquid flowed right towards and soaked the box. We were going to throw it away, but as a replacement wasn't given to Jippie, he became depressed and sulky. And so, the box was placed back to his play area.

Now, back to the present. Jippie, don't you want to check out the new box? *eager, sparkling eyes*

"I'm busy, hoomin."

... Fine. Never mind, folks. He'll be sure to explore it later once we place a veggie strand or two on its top. (Okay, he did sort of inspect the box five minutes after these photos were taken. He poked his head into one of the holes, with his ears erected and alert, as if checking to see if there were anything suspicious hiding inside the box!)

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Three Years Old!

Our beloved boy has turned three years old. Oh, how time flies! This sounds old-fashioned but - it seems like only yesterday that we brought him home.

This little prince has opened up even more parts of the bunny's world to me. Through him, I've learnt how bunnies would also have special needs. I thought I'd already know everything after reading lots of bunny books, but it turns out there's still so much to learn.

Jippie never let his disability get in his way - his binkies are spectacular! Sometimes, he would trip on the splayed leg when turning a corner (when he runs too fast), but he simply stands up and resumes his energetic hops. 

He's a shy fella, though. It took a really long time before he completely trusted us. In the past, when we were eating apple and cutting out a small piece for him, he would stand beside his treat bowl politely, waiting for us to place the apple inside the bowl. Getting too close to humans wasn't something he felt comfortable with. 

Now, the apple routine has changed. Jippie's steps his feets on ours and uses his nose to bonk our legs impatiently! (... And occasionally his claws would poke our skin at a certain angle ... Ooouchh!!) 

Every single night before I go to sleep, I gently rub Jippie's cheeks and tell him, 'Good night, Rup. See you tomorrow, boy.' And I say, 'I love you.' Maybe animals can't understand human language, but they can feel and understand our voices. 

The arrival of bunnies in my life is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Without them, I would never have anything else I have today. They changed my life. Even if they have crossed the Bridge, they're still close to my heart. They're with me, just not physically. 

Jippie's our special boy and we love him so very much. Happy birthday, little Jup. xx May we have many bunderful years ahead together! 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Litter Training Your Bunny

What is litter training?
Litter training is the process of training an indoor pet (in this case, bunnies) to dispose of his/her waste materials in a litter box. Bunnies can be trained to urinate in a litter box.

Benefits of litter training:
  • your cleaning work is eased and the process is made faster. Further benefits from this include:
    • you'll have more time for your bunny.
  • the bunny's play area space can be expanded. Further benefits from this include:
    • more toys can be placed into the play area.
    • you'll have more space to sit when you're hanging out with your bunny.
    • bunny will have more space to hop, run and binky.
  • the bunny can be given full access to all places of the house. Further benefits from this include:
    • interaction between bunny and human naturally increases even more.

The advantages listed above obviously benefits both bunny and human. However -

Expectations and reality facts:
  • the bunny will still be extremely likely to poop at random places OR while hopping around.
  • occasionally (or even a few times a day), bunny may still urinate outside the litter box.
  • the litter training process may take weeks or months; the time varies between bunnies.
  • young bunnies (below 6 months old) tend to be more difficult to litter train.
  • adult bunnies (above 6 months old) tend to be easier to litter train.

Beginning with the Right Attitude
  • DO NOT scold, hit, or punish your bunny in any way when he/she does not use the litter box. The bunny would associate the litter box with bad treatment in this way, and this does not help the training process.
  • When you spot your bunny using the litter box, DO
    • give lots and lots of praise!
    • reward your bunny with a piece of his/her favourite vegetable each time.
  • Bunnies learn by doing the right thing and being rewarded, NOT by making mistakes and being scolded.

Things needed:
Note: Various suggestions are listed in (i), (ii) ... etc.

1. Litter box
  • Purpose: The litter box is where the bunny hops inside to urinate.

(i) Household-item-turn-litter-box
This is the litter box my bunnies use. It is a two-layered basket-like object - its original usage was for people to place washed vegetables and fruits in it to dry.

  • Notes on litter box:
    • If the litter box purchased has two layers, check that the holes on the upper layer are smaller than your bunny's feet. This is because if the bunny's foot gets stuck in one of the holes, there is a dangerous risk of the leg breaking as he/she attempts to pull out the foot in panic.
    • You can place rubber matting on the upper layer to better ensure safety.

      Rubber matting on upper layer of litter box

(ii) Cat litter box*
More on using cat litter boxes for bunnies here

2. Litter
  • Purpose: To be placed in the litter box to absorb the bunny's urine.

(i) Newspaper
  • the cheapest and safest kind of litter.
  • you can tear newspapers into shreds or simply into halves before you line them on the litter box.

    Dutchie amidst shredded newspaper.

(ii) Carefresh litter*

  • Notes on litter:
    • It is strongly advised that you DO NOT purchase the following types of litter:
      • pine OR cedar shavings - phenols, natural volatile chemicals in the wood, have been found to cause respiratory problems and liver damage in bunnies.
      • clumping OR clay-based litter - causes potentially fatal blockage if the bunny consumes it.
    • Personally, I also advise that you DO NOT purchase any shavings that are sold in different scents. Once, I bought a "natural" scented shaving and I noticed that my bunnies (and also me) sneeze a lot when the shavings are used. When I stopped using the shavings, everyone returned to normal.

3. Some poop and urine-soaked litter
  • Purpose: To be placed in litter box. This tells the bunny that the litter box is where he/she should "go".

4. Puppy pens
  • Purpose: To confine the bunny to a limited area and used throughout the litter training process.
    Puppy pens
  • Note on puppy pens:
    • The puppy pens should be able to be hooked and unhooked, so that they can be rearranged to create different play area sizes.

      One of the hooks

5. A shallow storage box (optional)
  • Purpose: To contain the litter box. I use such a box because sometimes, my bunnies back up so far in the litter box that urine goes over the edge.

    The storage box lined with a layer of newspaper

*Recommended by many bunny owners, but I personally have not tried this.

The litter training process
1. Place your chosen type litter into the litter box.

A layer of newspaper at the bottom and shredded ones on top.

2. Place urine-soaked litter and several poop into the litter box.

Placing urine-soaked newspaper into the litter box.
(Alternatively, you can use a paper towel to mop up a puddle of urine and place that.)

Placing poop into the litter box.

3. Place the prepared litter box in your bunny's favourite toilet spot.
  • Also, make Timothy hay available right next to the litter box. Bunnies like to munch on hay and use the litter box at the same time.
I've made two holes in a paper towel and stuck hay into them; the paper roll is hung onto the cage using a S-hook.

Jippie eating hay

4. Confine your bunny to a limited area using puppy pens.
  • When your bunny successfully uses the litter box for a period of time, eg: a week, rearrange the pens to create a larger space. Then, after a week, if he/she successes again, expand more!
  • Example:

Week 1
Week 2

Week 3

The cleaning chores
  • Litter boxes should be cleared and washed daily
  • Rinse the box thoroughly with water. 
  • DO NOT leave out any areas, or they'll get really foul-smelling.

As an additional note here, I would suggest that you buy more than one litter box, so that while Litter Box #1 is being washed, your bunny can use Litter Box #2.

The cleaning process:
  1. Wear a mask and a pair of plastic gloves.
  2. Throw out the litter and wash the litter box.
  3. Place new litter into a second, clean litter box.

General tips
  • If your bunny has chosen a new toilet spot right after the litter box is placed in his/her old one, move the litter box to the new spot. It's easier to follow the bunny's choice rather than instruct (which is quite impossible) him/her to urinate in a spot you have chosen.
  • If your bunny has many favourite toilet spots, you can supply the bunny with more litter boxes, one for each spot. Reduce the number of boxes gradually as your bunny develops the habit of using a litter box.

Lastly, as a reminder, be patient when litter training your bunny! Bunnies learn by doing the right thing and being rewarded, NOT by making mistakes and being scolded.

First published on 04/08/2011