BARKS from the Guild November 2018

Page 46

behavior

Bunny Myths Busted

Emily Cassell addresses eight commonly held misconceptions about rabbit behavior and

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care and provides practical solutions to ensure a bunny’s basic needs are met abbits are one of the most popular pets in the world, but they are also among the most common to be surrendered to shelters. Studies conducted in the U.S., U.K., and Canada have found that guardian-related issues were the most likely to contribute to rabbit relinquishment to a shelter as opposed to rabbit-related issues (like behavior problems). (Ellis, McCormick, & Tinawro, 2017). A study conducted in the U.K. found that 50 percent of rabbit guardians misunderstood their rabbits’ basic dietary needs and lifespan (Quesenberry & Carpenter, 2012, p.171). Indeed, in my own Facebook poll of several rabbit rescues, “I didn’t know what I was getting into” was one of the most commonly cited reasons for surrendering a pet rabbit. As a rabbit behavior professional, I run into many well-meaning rabbit owners seeking help after realizing that their preconceptions about rabbit ownership are not entirely correct. I have the fortune of interacting with and helping these individuals who are committed to creating a happy life for their bunny. As a shelter volunteer, I am also faced with the aftermath of obtaining an animal who does not meet expectations. There are many myths that surround rabbit ownership. To complicate matters, unsafe foods, toxic substances, improperly-sized cages, and dangerous toys are marketed inappropriately for all species of small animals, including rabbits. It’s no wonder that rabbits are often surrendered due to guardian-related issues. While a guide to proper rabbit care would be appropriate here, it would also make this issue of BARKS about as thick as a dictionary, so let’s settle for some myth-busting, and dispel some common misconceptions about rabbits instead.

Myth #1: “Rabbits Can Live Full-Time in a Small Cage”

Walk into any pet store, and you can find an assortment of cages labeled for rabbits. Well-meaning new bunny parents picking up one of these cages are walking right into a lifetime of frustration, just like the bunny they are bringing home. According to The Rabbit House (2018), a minimum of 12 square feet is required for a rabbit’s living space. However, rabbits need time outside of their “house” daily for their physical and mental welfare (Quesenberry & Carpenter, 2012, p.70), so they need an exercise area as well. The Rabbit House provides the following suggestions for minimum dimensions of a rabbit’s living space: Width: Length of your rabbit when fully stretched while resting (about 2 feet for smaller breeds, 3 feet for large/giant breeds). Length: Distance your rabbit covers in 3-4 hops (about 18 inches for small breeds, 2 feet for large breeds). Height: The height of your bunny on his hind legs without hitting his head (about 2 feet for small breeds and 3 feet for large breeds). Consider what rabbits are best known for: hopping! A bunny with-

Walk into any pet store, and you can find an assortment of cages labeled for rabbits. Wellmeaning new bunny parents picking up one of these cages are walking right into a lifetime of frustration, just like the bunny they are bringing home. 46

BARKS from the Guild/November 2018

Photo © Emily Cassell

Rabbits are popular as pets but are also one of the most common species to be surrendered when they turn out not to be the “easy” pets people expect

out room to hop is sure to become frustrated. This often leads to stereotypical behavior, which most commonly manifests as bar biting. Bar biting is often loud and commonly occurs when the rabbit is most active – at night. Bunnies are also fond of lifting and tossing items, so rattling the cage while biting creates some amusement in place of frustration. No one enjoys a pet that keeps them up all night. It is unfortunate that one of the very first choices a new bunny owner makes, a choice that is influenced by misinformation, sets up both bunny and bunny guardian for frustration and failure. What, then, is the best recommendation for a bunny house? I would encourage bunny owners to pass the “small animal” section of their pet store and head for the dog crates instead. A small bunny, or one who is being litter-trained, can do well in a large or extra-large dog crate, while larger bunnies do well in an ex-pen. Regardless of the size of bunny’s house, it still is important that the rabbit gets plenty of time outside of his pen. Bunny-proofed rooms, a protected section of the yard, or an enclosed patio are all good options for an exercise area.

Myth #2: “Rabbits Are Easy to Feed”

Bunnies are small, so they must be cheap to feed, right? It could be argued that any animal is cheap to feed, but how healthy that animal will be depends on the quality of his diet. The majority of commercial feeds marketed for rabbits contain food items that are toxic, indigestible, or just unhealthy for rabbits. Rabbits are known as hindgut fermenters, which mean that they require a lot of fiber in their diet. They cannot digest dairy, starches, proteins, or sugars well. Here, again, a new bunny owner is set up to fail. There is an infinite amount of diets “formulated for rabbits” that are simply not healthy for them.


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