Sunday, 15 November 2015

Daily Observation

Bunnies exhibit subtle symptoms when they are ill. As their caretakers, it is important for us to notice these signs quickly - this is an ability you will come to possess over time through daily interactions with your bunny.

A quick list to check if your bunny is healthy: 
  • eats food, especially hay, as usual
  • produces poop throughout the day
  • mostly active - instantly perks up when you bring him/her a treat
  • carries out all bunny activities (eg: grooming) normally
Alerting symptoms: 
  • eats significantly less hay
  • does not show interest in favourite foods (eg: vegetables, fruits)
  • produces small-sized, abnormal poop OR none at all
  • rests in same position and location without moving much 
  • lethargic, sluggish movements

It is not uncommon for bunnies to have mild digestive ailments every now and then. From personal experience, this is often the cause of why a bunny "doesn't seem him/herself" on a certain day.

In these cases, high-fibre hay is always the #1 solution.

To encourage hay consumption:
  • Hand-feeding
    • Pick a fresh strand of hay from the package and wiggle it in front of your bunny's mouth to entice him/her to eat it.
  • Increase water intake
    • I have found that giving 1/8 to 1/4 cup of diluted tomato juice helps. Just one 1/8 cup, though!
    • Note: The tomato juice must be freshly made. Use a juicer. DO NOT purchase bottles or cartons of pre-packaged juice from the store.
  • Accompany your bunny more often
    • Have you been giving your bunny less attention lately? A good dose of praises and pets can do wonders!
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Grooming Your Bunny

What is Grooming?
Grooming involves brushing your bunny's fur and, if necessary, trimming your bunny's nails. Generally, short-hair breeds require less coat maintenance. It's the long-hair breeds that require more attentive fur care.

Wally the Angora rabbit (Look at how well-trimmed his long fur is!)

The Purpose of Grooming
  • To reduce ingested fur
    • Bunnies are clean creatures. One of their daily activities is grooming themselves with that cute little tongue. However, they tend to swallow a lot of hair in the process, and that is why they occasionally need assistance from us to brush away the excess loose fur, especially during molting periods.
  • Short nails for safety
    • Long nails are uncomfortable for a bunny when he/she hops. 
    • Long nails are more likely to get accidentally caught in items and teared off - needless to say, this would be painful for the bunny! 

What to Use
Bunnies have delicate skin, so it is important that you take note of the type of brush you use: 
  • soft bristle brush or fine-toothed comb is recommended. 
  • Personally, I strongly advise against using a slicker brush. The metal teeth can be quite uncomfortable for a bunny's sensitive skin. 
Metal slicker brush - A no-no tool when grooming bunnies.

How to Groom Your Bunny
The steps are very easy - in fact, there are only two steps.
  1. Pet your bunny so that he/she assumes a resting position.
  2. Follow the direction of your bunny's fur when you brush!

Dealing with Heavy Shedding
Bunnies tend to go through a heavy shed at least once a year. During such periods, a soft pet on your bunny's back would literally send loose fur fluttering in the air. A few more strokes and it's not an understatement when I say you'll yield this:

A ball of loose fur

Jippie and the ball of fur

Now, what should you do?

  • Brush more frequently
    • Alternatively, you can simply stroke your bunny more often. The thin layer of sweat on your palms naturally picks up and removes the loose fur. 
  • The right foods
    • Check on your bunny's hay consumption - make sure he/she is eating hay! Fibre is crucial in pushing all the ingested fur out of their gut. 
    • If your bunny isn't a keen water drinker, offer more vegetables when he/she is shedding. Water is important to ensure an efficient digestive system as well.

During a heavy shed, there might be:
  • a change in your bunny's fur colour (eg: dark brown to light brown) 
    Left: 2-month-old Dutchie, his fur is pure black.
    Right: 2-year-old Dutchie, the tips of his black fur are light brown!

  • mildly bald patches, the thinning out of fur, and artistic patterns appearing
    A heart shape?

Be reassured that a change in fur colour is perfectly normal, and where there are mildly bald patches, the bunny's fur should grow back quickly within 1 - 2 weeks. 

Dealing with Other Issues
  • Long-hair
    • The effective method to make long fur more manageable is simple: keep the hair short. You can trim the fur to about 1 inch
    • Make it a must to brush your long-hair bun daily. Lack of manual brushing will often result in the fur tangling into severe mats.
  • Matted fur
    • DO NOT attempt to pull out the chunk of fur with your fingers. You may potentially injure your bunny's delicate skin. 
    • Use a pair of scissors with a rounded end to carefully trim away the mat. 

Trimming the Nails
Many bunny owners are nervous about the idea of cutting their bunny's nails. The greatest fear is bleeding. However, as long as you're careful and equipped with the correct information and tools, the task is not as difficult as it sounds!

Which section of the nail you should cut:

This is the nail clipper I use:

General instructions and tips:
  • A bunny's nail should be trimmed about every 4 weeks.
  • Instead of estimating from where the quick ends, you can simply position the clippers several millimetres from the tip of the nail and make the cut there, just to be safe.
  • You can ask a family member or friend to help coax and restrain your bunny while you trim the nail.

An excellent video on how to trim a bunny's nails:

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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 excretions in a litter box. Bunnies can be trained to urinate in a litter box.

Benefits of litter training:
  • Your job of cleaning the litter box is eased and the process is sped up!
    • Your bunny's play area space can be expanded, since he/she wouldn't be urinating after every other hop.
        • Your bunny can even be given full access to the entire house!

          Obviously, the advantages listed above benefits both bunny and human. However -

          Expectations and reality facts:
          • Your bunny will still be extremely likely to leave poop at random places OR while hopping around.
          • Occasionally (or even a couple of times a day), your bunny may still urinate outside the litter box.
          • The litter training process may take weeks or months; the time varies from bunny to bunny.
          • 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 come to associate the litter box with bad treatment, 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.
          • 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
          • 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 a panic manner.
            • 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
          • Litter is to be placed into the litter box to absorb the bunny's urine.

          (i) Newspaper
          • the cheapest and safest kind of litter.
          • you can shred the newspapers before you line them in 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, which are 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 and marketed as "scented". Once, I bought a "natural" scented shaving and I noticed that my bunnies (and also me) sneeze a lot when the shavings are used. Everyone returned to normal when the shavings are no longer used.

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

          3. Some poop and urine-soaked litter
          • These will be placed in litter box. This sends the bunny the message that the litter box is where he/she should urinate.

          4. Puppy pens
          • Puppy pens are used to confine the bunny in a restricted 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)
          • I use this to contain the litter box.. I use such a box because sometimes, my bunnies' furry bums back up so far in the litter box that urine goes over the edge.

            The storage box lined with a layer of newspaper

          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 inside.)

          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 with 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

          Cleaning chores
          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.
          • Litter boxes should be cleared and washed daily
          • Rinse and scrub the litter box thoroughly with water, or they'll get really foul-smelling over time.

          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 multiple 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.

          As a final reminder: Patience is key when litter training your bunny.

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          Bonding With Your Bunny

          What is Bonding
          Bonding probably sounds like a heavy word! Actually, it simply involves you, the human, hanging out with your bunny and both of you getting to know each other more.

          Jippie enjoying pets

          The First Step: Abandoning Preconceptions
          "Affectionate", "cuddly", and "friendly" - these are the words that tend to come to one's mind when thinking about a bunny.

          Bunnies are indeed wonderful, intelligent creatures, but the typical "cute" image of a bunny doesn't represent the actual animal. It is very important that you see your bunny as an individual.

          Each bunny has his/her own unique personality; some are naturally adventurous, some are feisty and bossy, while some are shy and are more on the introvert side. 

          When bonding (or in less intimidating words, hanging out) with your bunny:

          • Open the cage door and let your bunny come out on his/her own.
          • Sit near, but not directly beside, your bunny. Keep a polite distance. Your bunny will come to you if he/she wants to.
          • Talk to your bunny, speak gently and give compliments: "Hello, you're a handsome bunny, you know that?"
          • If you wish to pet your bunny, approach slowly with your fingers and start from the head. It is better to position yourself beside your bunny when doing so instead of directly in front of him/her.
          • Make any sudden, loud noises or movements.
          • Carry and cuddle your bunny. He/she is not familiar with you yet, and so might kick and struggle when held against their will, potentially injuring both of you.
          • Use your whole hand on his/her back. It may startle him/her.
          • Follow or chase your bunny around - you would appear as a threat!

          When it is time for your bunny to return to his/her cage or play area, use a strand of vegetable or a tiny piece of carrot to tempt and guide your bunny back. Try to use carrying only as a last resort.

          If your bunny seems more interested in knowing the furniture or bookshelf rather than you, there is no need to become disheartened or angry! The keys to a good relationship are:
          • Allocating time daily for your bunny.
          • Making yourself the source of affection and pets.
          • Making yourself the supplier and waiter of your bunny's food.
          • Focus on your bunny when you're with him/her. Stop the incessant chatter that is so often present in our busy heads. It's not quality time spent if your mind is constantly on other things.
          • Of course, lots of patience and love.
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