Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rabbit Personalities

One of the most helpful articles I read while planning to become a new rabbit owner was Your First House Rabbit: What to Expect by Dana Krempels, Ph.D. It’s a short article, but it really hammers home what the world must feel like from a bunny’s perspective. One of the lines that always stood out the most to me is:
"Probably the single most frequent question we get about rabbits as companions is, 'Is a rabbit more like a cat or a dog?' The answer: neither. Dogs and cats have been bred for centuries to not be afraid of humans. Rabbits have been bred primarily for meat, fur and physical characteristics. That means that when you adopt a bunny, you adopt a lovely, domestic animal with the heart and spirit of a wild animal."
Having originally gotten into the idea of rabbit ownership based on the misconception that a rabbit had a similar personality to a dog, this was disappointing to read. I somehow translated the notion that rabbits can be social, like dogs, to an idealistic opinion that rabbits love nothing more than to cuddle up with you or fetch your favorite pair of slippers.

It is true that parts of Walter’s personality remind me of dogs I’ve had in the past. Walter is excited when I come over to greet him. He’ll do almost anything for a special treat (usually a sprig of basil or mint). Sometimes he’s content to lie on the floor and receive pets. And when I’m sad or sick, sometimes I think he notices and cares.

But there are also many of Walter’s personality traits that are brand new to me in a pet. Walter holds grudges. If he thinks he’s been treated unfairly (kept in the cage too long, banned from the bathroom, etc.), he sulks. He won’t be friendly for hours. He’s disobedient. Walter never comes when he’s called. Walter is stubborn and willful. If he has his mind set on accomplishing something, like squeezing underneath the entertainment center to get to some wires, he’ll stop at nothing to do it.

Walter is more like a human than like any dog I’ve ever owned. It certainly makes rabbit ownership exciting – and frustrating! What were your misconceptions about rabbit personalities prior to owning your first rabbit? How did your rabbit surprise you?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Things Ruined by Rabbit Teeth

I've decided to compile a list of all the things Walter has destroyed with his chompers.  This list does not include items that we’ve given to him as rabbit-approved chewthings.  I will update this list as it grows, which it will inevitably do.  Please feel free to leave your own list in the comments section.

  • Over a dozen buttons on the remote control
  • Wires to two surround-sound speakers
  • Power cord to a laptop battery charger
  • Approximately twenty inches’ worth of baseboard molding
  • Six inches of doorframe molding
  • A few inches of closet door wood slats
  • One rubber stopper from a doorstop
  • Several sections of a wicker basket
  • Portions of the handle to my Longchamp bag
  • Pieces of various shoes and flip-flops

Monday, September 27, 2010

Rabbits Love Chores

Early on in my rabbit ownership, I read online somewhere about a woman whose rabbit would follow her around the house as she cleaned.  I thought this was adorable but unique, and after knowing Walter for a few months, assumed this would never be the relationship I had with my bunny.  But, as it turns out, Walter’s favorite part of the week is Chore Day.  I am sure he is the only one in our house that enjoys this day.  My boyfriend and I use a divide-and-conquer approach to chores, which puts the apartment in quite a state of commotion.  Walter loves the hustle and bustle of Chore Day.

First up is the laundry.  For Walter, this means a chance to hang out in the bathroom for hours on end.  It’s easiest to sort the laundry loads if the bathroom door is open, so Walter takes full advantage of this opportunity.  As I sort darks, lights, and whites, the rabbit hops from pile to pile, smelling the dirty clothes, digging through mounds of socks, and trying to figure out how to climb into the laundry basket.  In between laundry loads, Walter lounges behind the toilet, taking naps and grooming himself.  Occasionally we’ll hear him darting in circles around the bathroom, turning it into his own race track.

While I’m taking care of the laundry, Paul sets to sweeping the apartment.  This fascinates Walter.  For starters, the broom itself looks like a fun toy with chewable parts.  This makes sweeping pretty difficult. Unlike the laundry, where the rabbit is present but out of the way, sweeping the apartment usually involves getting Walter to stop chewing the bristles or at least moving out of the area that Paul’s trying to sweep.  Once the rabbit has had enough of the bristles, the next challenge is getting him out of the dust piles.  These are not laundry piles; he can’t hop around in them.  But he smells bits of hay or rabbit droppings or rabbit fur, and he wants to explore the piles that smell just like him.  This often means one pile of sweepings has now turned into three little piles, complete with a trail of dust to wherever is Walter’s next destination.  Sweeping is not Paul’s favorite chore.

The last big chore of the day is cleaning the rabbit cage.  Typically, I disassemble the cage in the living room, leaving Walter with all his toys, food, and the top portion of the cage to play with.  I carry the bottom of the cage into the bathroom, where I empty it of bedding, hay, and droppings, wash it, disinfect it, and dry it.  Every now and then, Walter will hop into the bathroom to see what’s going on, but leave after a few uninteresting minutes.

Last night, I only had enough time to do a quick clean.  This meant scooping out all the dirty bedding, leftover hay, and non-litter-boxed droppings and replacing it with clean bedding.  I kept the cage in the living room while doing this.  That was a mistake.  Walter, a routine-loving rabbit, was very confused and displeased by this.  Though he was busying himself on the other side of the room, he dashed back to his cage just as I set to work, hopped inside and stayed put.  Knowing better than to clean a cage while the rabbit is inside, I waited.  And waited.  Paul tried luring Walter out of the cage with a fresh bit of pepper, but Walter would not budge.  Finally we gave up and let Walter just stay in the cage and eat the pepper.  Eventually, the rabbit got bored and left me to cleaning, but not without perching himself on my leg to watch the quality of work being done.  What a micromanager!

There are plenty of chores that do not interest our rabbit, like washing dishes and cleaning the bathroom.  And while I enjoy his company and rabbit-style assistance with keeping the house clean, I can’t help but wish he had opposable thumbs that could hold a broom or fold some laundry every now and then. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Walter's Easter Photo Shoot

As promised in my last post, here are the pictures from Walter's first Easter.  He's about a month or so old here and these pictures were taken about a month before I was able to pick him up and bring him home.  I love his "airplane ears" in the first picture, as well as his squinty eyes in the last picture, which seem to show that he's so over this photo session.  What a little grump!

Look at all that baby bunny fat!
He could be a Cadbury Egg bunny.
Is this over yet?
Many thanks to his breeder, Terry, of KNT Trail Rabbitry for providing me with these pictures - and so quickly, too! She and her family have since decided to no longer breed rabbits, but still have some available kits in the nursery.  If you live in the Maryland/DC/Northern Virginia area, I highly recommend Terry and her rabbits.

Love Bunny

I'm still waiting to hear from the veterinarian about Walter's blood test results.  The labs won't come back for another two or three days, so I'm being as patient and hopeful as I can.  In the meantime, Walter seems to be as happy as a clam! All evening long yesterday, he was playful and only a tiny bit mischievous. Rabbits, in my experience, can be moody and unpredictable.  I am eternally grateful for days like yesterday when my bunny can be trusted to roam the apartment without an overly watchful eye, entertain himself with rabbit-appropriate toys, and turn to me for a snuggle or two.  Snuggly rabbit days always remind me of an email that I received from Walter's breeder:
"Walter is such a love bunny!  We had an Easter photo shoot today, so there are new pics up."
(I'm working to see if I can retrieve copies of the photo from Walter's Easter glamour shots, since I didn't seem to save them anywhere on my computer.  Once I get them, I'll post them here.)

When we first brought Walter home with us, he spent a lot of time ignoring me and Paul.  He was downright adamant about doing anything but letting us pet him.  I knew that it could take a while for a bunny to bond with its owners, but I was impatient; I was used to owning a dog, which love everyone forever instantly.  During Walter's initial veterinarian exam, the doctor told us that he could tell our rabbit would be docile and sweet once he outgrew his childhood.  At this point, I couldn't believe it.

I'll never forget the first time I realized that our rabbit did bond with us. After spending weeks celebrating the tiniest moments of rabbit affection (seriously - I would get excited because Walter let me run my hand down his back one whole time before hopping away), it was almost like a switch flipped in Walter's bunny brain.  He was, as usual, hanging out underneath the sofa.  I laid down on the floor to check on him and expected him to look at me with apathy.  Instead, he scooted his body just a few inches closer to me, stretched out his neck, and offered his bunny face for a forehead and cheek scratching session.  And that's when I heard (and felt!) him grind his teeth softly: the rabbit equivalent to a kitten's purr.

From then on, we were official friends.  He began following me around the house, "helping" with chores (his favorite is laundry - he likes to hop in the piles of clothes while I sort darks from lights), and laying down next to us while we watch TV, content to receive rubs when he's not in the midst of a cleaning session.

He's still a naughty bunny on some days, but he always redeems himself with his sweet rabbit eyes and a simple snuggle or two.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Does Walter Have E. Cuniculi?

I dropped Walter off at the animal hospital this morning for blood work, after receiving a call from the veterinarian last night. The doctor informed me that he found crystals in the rabbit’s urine, which can be a sign of Encephalitozoon Cuniculi, familiarly known as E. cuniculi.

E. cuniculi is a parasite that young rabbits can contract while still nursing from an infected mother, or sharing a close space with other infected rabbits. The parasite attacks the rabbit's central nervous system.  Symptoms of E. cuniculi include incontinence, loss of function in the legs, eye twitching, cataracts, liver failure, kidney failure, and the dreaded head tilt, along with other neurological symptoms.

Many rabbits will test positive for the parasite but never show symptoms.  Additionally, I’ve read that those who do show signs of being affected can live happily and healthily with the aid of medications.  Despite this, I would (of course) rather that Walter’s blood work results came back negative.  I won’t know for a few days, though.  The discovery of crystals in Walter’s urine, coupled with the head shaking I’ve witnessed him doing for the past two days, has me quite stressed, anxious, and worried about my bunny.

Do you have familiarity with treating a rabbit with E. cuniculi?  What was your experience like?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Bunny and the Bathroom

There are two rooms that are typically off-limits to Walter: the bedroom and the bathroom. We keep the bedroom door closed, since our bedroom also serves as our home office and there are just too many wires to keep out of Walter’s mouth. We keep Walter out of the bathroom for more entertaining reasons.

For a few weeks, we decided to expand Walter’s bunny-approved play area to include the bathroom. He loved the cool temperature of the floor tile, and it was another new space for him to run laps. (Aside from our living room rug, the whole apartment has hardwood flooring, which doesn’t give Walter a whole lot of traction while he runs: hilarious for us, annoying for him.)

For the most part, Walter’s experience in our bathroom was uneventful. He would spend the entire day there, simply lying behind the toilet. Every now and then, he’d get up to clean himself or venture out to use the litter box, but he was mostly content with having found a cool place to take a nap. So far, allowing our rabbit to hang out in the bathroom was going well, until one day when Walter was in a particularly adventurous mood.

Walter, napping next to the toilet.

Ever fearful that the rabbit would try to hop onto the toilet seat, but instead fall into the toilet, I was sure to keep the toilet lid closed. As I walked by the bathroom on this particular day, I noticed that Walter had hopped up onto the seat. Grateful that I remembered to close the lid, I didn’t notice Walter’s curious gaze at the bathroom counter.

Twenty minutes later, Paul and I heard a loud crash coming from the bathroom. We ran over to see what had happened and found all our countertop accessories now on the bathroom floor, alongside a broken ceramic toilet brush canister and a bunny giving us his best “I didn’t do it!” face.

I sat with Walter for the next half hour, trying to deter him from attempting his jump from the floor onto the counter again.

Later that afternoon, we found Walter sitting on the floor, surrounded by toilet paper. He had managed to start pulling the TP from the roll, and instead of breaking off from the roll, the never-ending ribbon of bathroom tissue formed a little fort around the rabbit. He couldn’t have been more pleased with himself.

These events weren’t enough to ban the bunny from the bathroom entirely. It wasn’t until Walter chewed off six inches of the doorway’s molding that we realized the extent of his bathroom mischief and had to kick him out of his favorite room completely.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ring the Alarm!

My boyfriend and I often say that Walter is an “urban bunny.” Admittedly, Walter was born on a small farm in Maryland, amongst several other rabbits, two goats, and a handful of chickens. But at a mere two months of age, he was brought to our downtown DC apartment: an entirely different landscape.

I thought the transition might be a little difficult for him. Our neighborhood is up-and-coming, meaning that it’s in the process of redevelopment and so parts of the neighborhood are brand spankin’ new, while other areas still breed poverty and crime. As such, police, fire, and ambulance sirens are a common noise. We also live near a baseball stadium, so fireworks are another common disrupter. I know these sounds used to startle my dogs, so I assumed they would be also be painful to the sensitive ears of a rabbit.

But Walter is unfazed. He’ll perk his floppy ears up every now and then, but generally goes about his day unaffected. The dishwasher disposal, another hair-raising noise that we try to protect him from, gets little more than a quick look between hops. Other noises, like alarm clocks and microwave beeps, get recognition, though not full-on attention, but nothing triggered Walter’s response to sound like the smoke detector.

I don’t even remember what I was cooking. What I do know for certain is that I left it in the pan for just thirty seconds too long. As smoke filled the kitchen faster than our stovetop hood could vent it out, I asked Paul to prepare for the smoke detector’s alarm. This entailed setting up a dangerously wobbly stool underneath the alarm, having various tools in hand to disable the detector, and finding a thick pillow to muffle its beep.

We weren’t prepared. Before Paul could even get to the stool, the alarm went off in all its glory. Walter, who was resting underneath the couch, darted out, ran three frantic laps around the living room, and dashed back to his hiding spot under the sofa. He stayed there for two hours after we silenced the detector, refusing to come out even for a sprig of basil.

I’ve heard of other rabbits who don’t like the sound of certain musical styles, other animals, or household appliances. What’s your rabbit’s noisy pet peeve?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Eating Baseboards: A Love/Hate Story

Walter loves to chew on our apartment’s baseboards. His appetite for baseboards is voracious. Paul’s and my enjoyment of fixing the walls every six weeks is not. We have tried all sorts of things to deter our rabbit from nibbling on the walls, to no avail.

We put down double-sided tape, so he would get annoyed with his whiskers getting stuck in the glue while chomping. Walter resolved this by simply eating the tape, too. (We quickly abandoned this strategy and removed all the tape.)

We bought an over-priced bottled of lemon oil, but haven’t used it yet out of sheer laziness and the fact that I no longer remember where I stored the bottle. I read mixed reviews about lemon oil: some sources say that putting it on the wood will deter the rabbit entirely; some say that the rabbit will enjoy the taste and thus chew more. The same goes with bitter apple spray, which we have not yet purchased.

We tried teaching Walter the word “no” by filling a spray bottle with water and spritzing him while shouting “NO!” every time he started gnawing. Walter was unfazed by the water and just noshed away.

I finally decided to ascribe to the old adage, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Walter wanted to chew a baseboard, so I’d give him his very own baseboard to chew. I debated the method for accomplishing this for a while, unsure about how to affix wood blocks to the wire sides of his cage. Fortunately, my coworker came up with a clever idea: Using cable ties to secure chunks of wood between the slotted sides.

I bought a pack of 10 white plastic cable ties, and a pack of 10 stainless steel ones, too. I wasn’t sure which ones to use at first: the stainless steel ones would ensure that Walter wouldn’t eat the cable tie, but the sharp edge could be dangerous and, as it turned out, they were hard to pull tightly enough around the wood blocks. I decided to use the plastic ones, and fortunately Walter's teeth hasn't come near them (yet).

I also spent a while pondering what to use for the wood blocks. I read many conflicting articles about rabbit-safe woods, until I finally settled on the majority opinion: untreated pine. After wandering aimlessly in the lumber section of Home Depot for half an hour, I stumbled upon a bin of pine wood shims. They were untreated, about eight inches long, and could be grouped together to make a block thick enough to satisfy Walter’s need to chew.

I got home and set to work. I made three “baseboards” that were four shims thick. One was placed at rabbit-mouth-level in front of his litter box, the other at rabbit-mouth-level if he chose to sit on top of his wooden bungalow, and the third was set vertically in the other corner of his litter box, in case Walter felt like getting creative while chewing.

My hope was that Walter would spend enough of his cage-time while we’re at work chewing on these rabbit-friendly baseboards, and then no longer have the urge to chew on our actual baseboards during out-of-cage time. And it worked! ..For about three days.

Six weeks later, Paul and I got out our wood filler and paint cans and set to work on the baseboards.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rabbit or Vampire?: Pictorial Evidence

For those of you who may not be sure what I'm referring to when I mention the "Dracula" markings on a rabbit's forehead, please see the picture below.  This photo is from Round II of Walter's shedding, so the line isn't as dramatic as the first time he began to molt.  But it gives you a general idea:

Image on right courtesy of Clip Art :)

Rabbit or Vampire?

Most rabbits shed twice a year: once in the spring, and once in the fall.  I’ve read it’s also possible for some rabbits to be in a permanent state of molting.  Unfortunately, my rabbit falls into that second category.

Walter first began shedding a few months ago.  He got the signature “Dracula” markings on his forehead, and it moved slowly from there onto his back, where it then spread sideways down towards his belly.  The whole process took several weeks, and was hell on our apartment’s cleanliness – and on my allergies.

Just as I thought we could finally put the broom away, I noticed the Dracula lines once again forming on his face.  A week or so later, the division between new and old fur crept onto his back.  And so the process began again.

I wonder if this is a nutrition or sunlight thing.  I read somewhere that lighter-colored rabbits need exposure to more sunlight than dark-furred bunnies.  Is this true?  If so, could a lack of sunlight contribute to constant shedding?  It seems like a silly question to ask, but if the difference between Walter shedding every day of the year and not is simply opening the blinds of the window more often, then perhaps it’s worth it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rabbit Cage Set-Up: A Diagram

I love browsing the web for fun rabbit pictures. My favorites are those that show rabbits enjoying their cages and habitats. I love seeing what kind of crazy set-ups people have provided for their rabbit. Because I live in a 700-something square foot apartment, I don’t have the luxury of donating an entire room as my pet rabbit’s domain. So, given this limitation, I try to make his cage as much of a bunny haven as possible.

So, here’s a replication of Walter’s bachelor pad:

We originally bought Walter the Clean Living Large 2-Level Cage, but after doing some more reading, decided that a rabbit might prefer a longer cage rather than a taller one. So, despite Paul’s pleas to keep the prettier, more adventurous cage, I returned it and picked out the Super Pet “My First Home for Rabbits” cage in extra large. I hated that it was purple, but it was my only option.

Next, I picked out the WARE Small Animal Bungalow as a hiding place for Walter. He rarely uses it to hide, but instead likes to lie half-inside, while keeping his head out in order to see (and hear!) what’s going on in the apartment. He also likes to use it as storage for his favorite toys. I routinely find his favorite ball in the bungalow, and since the sound of him playing with this ball often wakes me up at night, I think Walter hides it in the bungalow so I won’t take it away from him at bedtime. Walter uses the bungalow as a look-out as well, hopping on top of it to see what’s going on in the other room, and watching me as I prepare his meals in the kitchen. When I walk back to the cage with his food, he hops excitedly from the roof to the other side of the cage and back. Walter’s strangest use of the bungalow, though, is squeezing his body between the side of the bungalow and the side of his cage, hiding between the two, with only his one ear perked up to hear what’s going on.

Hanging on the back wall of the cage is Walter’s hay buffet. It’s great because it keeps the cage clean, but sort of worthless because my rabbit prefers to eat the hay off the ground. As I have horrible allergies, Paul is the “hay manager,” and kindly takes care of removing hay from the buffet and sprinkling it on the floor.

Near the hay buffet are two ceramic dishes: a white one for water, and a blue one for food. Walter started off using a water bottle, but I couldn’t find one that wouldn’t leak. The trouble with the ceramic dish is that, despite its weight, Walter’s antics throughout the cage inevitably knock the dish over and a mess of water goes everywhere. If you have recommendations for a new water bottle, I’d love to hear them! The one for his food works well enough, though Walter often paws it closer to him while he’s sitting in the litter box, and this almost always results in the dish being turned upside down and food spilling everywhere. I thought rabbits liked to keep their habitats clean!

And finally, the litter box. Yes, it’s just a Rubbermaid Take-Along container. We started out with the standard Small Animal High Corner Litter Pan from Petco, but my rabbit would always scoot his little bunny butt over the side and urine would go everywhere. No repositioning could fix this problem, and I couldn’t find another high-backed litter box in the right dimensions. Surprisingly, the Rubbermaid container has worked really well for us; it’s big enough to fit the entire width of the cage to avoid misdirected sprays, but skinny enough that Walter still has ample room to hop around.

I would love nothing more than to give Walter his very own bedroom filled with tunnels and boxes with cut-outs and digging stations. But alas, the reality is that I simply cannot. His set-up works for him though. He makes his own tunnels via furniture that isn’t flush against the wall, and he makes the most of the space underneath the couch as a digging station. He’s a creative rabbit, and he seems happy. It always amazes me, though, that at the end of the day – even if he thinks he should be allowed more playtime before bed – he is content to retreat to his cage and really considers this his own little sanctuary.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rabbit Health Mysteries, Part 2

My rabbit is more stubborn than I thought.  Over the past two weeks, I started noticing little dribbles of liquid that Walter would leave behind as he hopped about the apartment.  We first noticed it on the sofa, which Walter turns into his own running track when we’re not occupying the seats (and sometimes, even if we are!).  I investigated the fluid – it seemed to be clear, colorless, and odorless.  It was just a few small drops, so Paul hypothesized that Walter had sat in his water bowl, or in one of the many tiny puddles of water made by Walter gallivanting in his cage. This idea made sense, and I brushed it off as a onetime thing.

But then it happened again later in the week.  I had just introduced pea pods into his diet, so I thought that this might be the culprit and immediately stopped incorporating them into his meals.

A few days later, Walter was in the middle of a particularly thorough grooming session: nothing out of the ordinary.  I checked on him ten minutes into his cleaning ritual and noticed that he was sitting in a fairly large puddle.  He was nowhere near his water bowl – or any other water source, for that matter – so the fluid presumably had to have come directly from him.  Again, I inspected the substance.  Again, it was clear, colorless, and odorless.

At this point, I began to worry, and sent an email to my veterinarian.  While waiting for a response, Paul discovered two new wet spots on the carpet.  Later in the evening, these wet spots turned from the carpet’s own color to the color of dried rabbit urine: not a good sign.  So I turned to my #1 rabbit resource: Rabbits for Dummies.

The book informed me that urine spots outside of the litter box, for rabbits that are well trained, can be a sign of a urinary tract infection.  I stopped there and picked up the phone to schedule an appointment with my vet.  Unable to squeeze him in on Saturday, we waited until Monday morning.  This is where Walter’s stubbornness kicked in.

My vet, who is great with rabbits from my personal experience, is very keen on not disrupting the sensitive nature of a rabbit’s body.  So, he said, instead of trying to use needles to get a urine sample, he would need to wait for Walter to produce a sample on his own.  I dropped Walter off in the early morning before I left for work.  By the time I left the office, Walter still had not peed.

So he had to stay overnight at the veterinarian clinic, which I’m sure he hated.  Hopefully that taught him a lesson about stubbornness! And hopefully he’s produced some urine this morning, so I can bring him home with me this afternoon.  I am still waiting to hear back from the doctor.

In the meantime, my vet let me know he did an X-ray on Walter’s belly.  He apparently found some non-food items in his stomach, which should easily pass, but asked me, “Has your rabbit been chewing anything strange lately?”  Well, would you consider the baseboard of our apartment strange?  Or maybe the buttons to our remote control?  Or how about a few pages from the phonebook? I could go on and on.

Anyways, I certainly hope my rabbit does not have a urinary tract infection, but I’ll be glad to know what has been causing him to go to the potty outside of the litter box!  Have you gone through this with your rabbit? I’d love to know what you learned to be the cause of this fluid, and whether it’s urine or something else.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Trouble with Travelling with a Rabbit

Dogs love car rides. Windows down, tongues out, noses sniffing the air as it breezes by: I don’t know a single dog that doesn’t wildly wag his tail when you ask, “Car ride?” Rabbits, in my experience, have the opposite reaction.

There’s no easy way to travel with a rabbit. Few, if any, airlines allow you to bring your rabbit onboard as a carry-on. I do know that some airlines allow you to bring rabbits on as checked baggage, but the thought of doing this to such a sensitive animal seems pretty cruel. Really, the only way to travel with your rabbit, in my opinion, is by car. For Walter, this is torture enough.

I bought a travel carrier for Walter the day before I picked him up from the breeder. I needed something to transport him home in. I wanted one that met airline regulations, just in case the situation ever arose that he absolutely needed to fly. I ended up with the small Petmate Kennel Cab in tan and black:

It’s sturdy, easy to assemble, and overall a good size for Walter. It’s easy enough to get him to voluntarily enter the carrier – he’s a pretty curious fellow, and even more so if there’s a chunk of green pepper inside. Once he’s in, it’s one swift movement to lock the door and then he peers up at me with sad rabbit eyes, begging me to let him out.

Unfortunately, Walter doesn’t get the concept of simply laying down inside the carrier, which makes carrying him in this crate a verifiable nightmare. I still need to get a carrier pad or blanket for the carrier floor, but for the time being, I use a bit of bedding on the floor to keep him comfy. This always backfires on me as Walter, determined to break free, begins trying to dig his way out, sending all the bedding flying through the carrier door and landing all over my apartment, the elevator, the hallway, etc.

Once he gives up, I begin the process of carrying him out to the car. This sounds easy enough, in theory. He’s already inside a crate, how hard is it to hold the handle and walk outside? Turns out, it’s pretty hard when you have a rabbit hopping from one side of the carrier to the other, constantly shifting the weight of the carrier. At some point, I’ll hold the carrier in both my arms, giving it sort of an awkward hug, and probably a lot more support so my rabbit doesn’t feel like he’s moving uncontrollably through the air. This doesn’t prove to be super effective, either, and Walter continues to hop to and fro in the carrier.

Once we reach the car, I buckle Walt in the backseat, watch as some more bedding goes flying through the door onto my car seat, and tell him we’ll be at our destination soon enough. Walter repays me by sulking in his cage for thirty minutes after we’ve ended our trip, and then going to the bathroom anywhere but in his litter box.

For those of you who have travelled by air with your rabbit, what was your experience like? For car connoisseurs like myself, how have you made the trip more bearable for your bunny?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Walter Discovers the 1-900-Hotline

I’ve come across a lot of suggestions for simple rabbit toys: cardboard boxes filled with hay, old paper towel rolls, towels and blankets, paper bags, etc. I love these suggestions because all of these things are pretty easy to find around the house, easily replaced, and [mostly] recyclable.

Most importantly, these items cost next to nothing. This is essential, since Walter gets bored of toys within 48 hours. Being able to offer enough of a playtime variety without breaking the bank is critical to both Walter’s mental and physical stimulation, as well as my wallet.

Of all the suggested homemade toys, Walter’s favorite is the phonebook. In the age of the internet, no one I know uses a phone book anymore, but it’s still customary for most apartment complexes to provide one for each unit. Or, in our case, at least two per household. Why anyone needs two phonebooks in a one bedroom apartment is beyond me, but Walter is glad to have them.

He has a great time tearing out pages (and sometimes chewing them, if I’m not careful) and gets excited when he figures out how to flip to the next page. The great part for me is that the book is enormous – no matter how many pages Walter yanks out, there are still hundreds more until the book is devastated.

Walter has two phonebooks. We keep one just outside his cage, in front of a doorstop that Walter likes to nibble when no one’s watching. We put it there to block the rubber stopper and encourage him to play with something else. The other phonebook is in Walter’s favorite hangout spot: under the couch. Walter will spend hours underneath our sofa, and the phonebook gives him something to focus his energy on.

One day, Paul and I decided to give the apartment a good cleaning, including under the couch, which was now full of bunny fur (and dust bunnies). I pulled out the phonebook to begin sweeping. When I looked to see what page he was on, I saw something typical of an teenage boy, but surprising for an adolescent rabbit – the book had been opened to the “Escort Services” section of the yellow pages!

Amused and slightly mortified, I tried turning the page to something more appropriate, but Paul insisted that I let Walter enjoy his "alone time" under the couch. ;)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rabbit Health Mysteries, Part 1

Let me preface this by telling you all that I’m a slight hypochondriac. I’m one of those obnoxious patients that goes on WedMD and diagnoses myself with a heart attack when I’m really just experiencing heartburn. It’s inevitable that I would transfer my hypochondriac self-diagnoses on to my rabbit.

Prior to getting my pet, I had done enough reading to know that rabbits are the master of disguise when it comes to disease, and that I needed to keep a close eye on his behavior and body if I wanted to keep him healthy. So, when Walter first came home with me in April, I set him up for an initial veterinary exam, just to make sure we were starting off on the right foot. I prepared for the vet visit by suspiciously watching every grooming session, every scratch of the ear, and every bathroom visit. I created a laundry list of questions to ask Walter’s new doctor, and of course, came up with all sorts of potential problems he may have.

Now, this was problematic for a few reasons. For one, I had only been with Walter for about a week! I didn’t know anything about his personality or his quirks. For another thing, I had never owned a rabbit before, and all the research in the world won’t fully prepare you for everything. And lastly, I’d read so many articles and books about rabbit behavior that I actually couldn't keep all that information organized inside my brain. So I picked out tidbits of knowledge here and there – and whatever I picked out always assumed the worst.

Walter sure shakes his head a lot. Maybe he’s developing the head tilt!

Or maybe I should’ve remembered that rabbits shake their head when they don’t like something you’re doing. (Walter shakes his head at me when it’s time for him to go into his cage at night, but he thinks it should still be playtime.)

Why is Walter scratching all the time? He must have mites!

I probably should have noticed that he never scratched the same spot twice; if he had mites, it was more than likely that he’d have a defined problem area or two. This was just generalized scratching because, you know, he had an itch.

As it turns out, Walter’s initial vet exam went just fine. He did have the beginnings of an ear infection, which meant I had to tackle him twice a day and sneak drops into his ears. But after a few days of the drops and a few more frantic emails to the vet (“Why is Walter’s fur thinning?” Answer: because the ear drops occasionally made it out of his ears and onto his fur, and the liquid was greasy, making his fur clump together.), I learned to trust myself as a rabbit caretaker and know the difference between a silly rabbit quirk and a real health issue.

What was your biggest bunny health scare?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Walter and the Rabbit-Sitter

One of the meanest jokes that someone has played on me recently happened when I left Walter at my friend’s house for the weekend. We had only had Walter for two weeks before my boyfriend and I were scheduled to go away for a long weekend. Rather than torture Walter with a five-hour car ride to North Carolina, I searched for rabbit-friendly kennels with space for my bunny for a few days. This search proved unfruitful (though a few months later, I did find an appropriate kennel) and facing the possibility of cancelling our trip, decided to take a friend up on her offer to help.

Already a nervous new pet-owner, I was reluctant to put Walter in the care of a novice rabbit-sitter. On top of this, my friend owned a very curious and overly-friendly dog, and as such, Walter would be staying in her basement for the weekend. Of all the things to worry about, I most feared that he would be lonely down there by himself. (Why I thought he’d be more entertained at a kennel is beyond me.)

At any rate, this seemed to be my best option. The morning of our trip, I drove out to the ‘burbs to drop Walter off. Paul and I set up a little home-away-from-home for him. We had purchased a rabbit playpen that gave him about nine square feet of space and could serve as a cage when we traveled. Inside the playpen, we put his travel carrier as a hiding place, as well as his litter box, hay rack, food dishes, and toys. It was a pretty good set-up, considering it was just for the weekend – and despite having all those items inside the playpen, he still had ample room to romp around.

After bidding my bunny farewell and assuring him that we’d be back in a few days, Paul and I took off for Raleigh. I texted my friend to let her know where I had set Walter up, and asked her to text me back when she got home to let me know that the set up was in an okay place. Just as we hit the North Carolina border, I got a text message:

Amanda: Where’s Walter?
Me: I set him up in the basement, remember?
Amanda: I’m in the basement. Where is he?
Me [confused]: He’s right at the bottom of the stairs; you can’t miss his giant playpen!
Amanda: Yeah, I see all his stuff, but I don’t see him anywhere in there
Me [worried]: He’s probably hiding in his travel carrier.
Amanda: No, I checked. He wasn’t in there.
Me [really freaking out]: WTF??

As this transpired, I became more and more frantic. I immediately jumped to the worst-case scenario: Walter had escaped the cage, chewed some major electrical wires in the basement, and was lying behind the washing machine, dead as can be. Paul tried to alleviate my hysteria by telling me that Amanda was probably just kidding. “Who jokes about this?! She knows how nervous I am about Walter! What a horrible person!” I yelled back at him, panic-stricken. Worse than my overactive imagination was the fact that ten minutes had passed and Amanda hadn’t texted me back. I began plotting ways to convince Paul to turn the car around and head back home to search for Walter.

Until finally..

Amanda: Just kidding! He’s right here eating some hay. I gave him some food when I got home, too. Have a fun weekend!

..What a jerk!

Later in the weekend, Amanda sent me another message saying that she must’ve jinxed herself, because Walter did, in fact, escape from the cage. More than once. Apparently, he figured out that if he backed up against one side of the playpen and charged as fast as he could towards the seam of the enclosure, he could break through and hop to freedom. What a clever, mischievous bunny.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hungry, Hungry Rabbit

My boyfriend tells me that Walter is getting fat. Like a good mama, I insist he’s just maintaining a healthy weight - it’s good to have some meat on your bones! Right?

But how do I tell if my rabbit is really gaining too much weight? Per my last entry, I certainly can’t scoop him up and hold him while standing on the scale, so I’m never exactly sure of his actual weight. And, the last time he was weighed was his first vet check-up, which was five months ago when he was still a very baby bunny. Walter’s done a lot of growing over the past few months, maturing from a newborn bunny into a full-grown adult.

I am starting to notice that he’s beginning to get that telltale fat bulge on his chest that indicates that maybe he’s put on a few too many pounds. It’s the only way for me to know that he’s gaining weight. I found this chart, taken from the Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association website, very helpful:

Walter is probably about a 3.5, according to this scale. So if I want him to be a solid 3, where do we cut back on his food intake? And what’s the appropriate amount of daily food for a seven month old rabbit? Some sources tell me to offer my rabbit an unlimited amount of pellets and fresh veggies until he reaches one year of age, while others suggest cutting back to one-half cup of pellets per six pounds of body weight, but sources vary with regards to how many vegetables he should receive each day. What’s the right amount here?

I’ll admit that I probably spoil Walter with too much food. But who can resist a rabbit that jumps for joy at the sight and smell of a brussel sprout?!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rabbit Techniques: Picking up your rabbit

I've had Walter for about five months now and still have not mastered the art of picking him up. From the day I considered owning a pet rabbit, I read about the dangers of picking up your rabbit improperly. One instance of incorrect positioning could lead to a spinal injury, surgery, or death. This set me down a path of insecurity and paranoia related to carrying my pet bunny.

It doesn’t help that Walter has quite a mind of his own. He likes adventure! And while he enjoys the frequent cheek-rub or scratch on his forehead, he doesn’t want to be “tied down.” He likes the freedom to hop about on his own, and makes it quite known when we’re infringing upon his adventure and exploration time.

So I set out for YouTube. I found several videos like the one below, all giving great pointers and encouraging advice for picking up your rabbit, but I couldn’t relate to a single video.

For starters, look how well-trained and well-behaved that rabbit is! The chances of me getting Walter to sit patiently on a table while I practiced these new techniques was just as likely as me teaching him to speak English.

I still haven’t gotten the hang of it. I freak out and panic anytime I watch someone attempt to pick him up. My boyfriend, friends, family, and I all bare scars of the scratches we’ve received while Walter writhes away from our grasp. Not being able to master this practice has been a hindrance for my pet’s care, as well.

The inability to pick him up translates into an inability to get him to hold still for health inspections (by me, not by the vet; Walter melts like putty whenever the vet handles him!). I can’t get him to let me clip his toenails or check his belly for abnormalities. I can’t even pick him up when he refuses to go voluntarily into his cage! Clearly, this makes for an occasional long night before bedtime.

So, what works for you? What techniques have you employed to be able to successfully pick up your rabbit?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bunny Bar Mitzvah

Walter’s reluctant co-owner is my boyfriend, Paul, with whom Walter and I both live. Despite Paul’s hesitation to fully embrace rabbit-ownership, he still refers to himself as Walter’s “dad.” And, like any split-religion family, claims half-ownership of Walter’s religious orientation. My boyfriend is a self-proclaimed “quasi-Jew,” which means that he’s not religious by any means, but was raised amongst the Jewish culture. This means that Walter is half-Jewish. I mean, he does eat Kosher, after all.

In Judaism, a celebration is thrown in honor of a person’s thirteenth birthday. For males, this is called a bar mitzvah and, according to tradition, is the moment when a boy officially becomes a man. In the rabbit world, from all I’ve read, this moment can be equated to the day a rabbit reaches its seventh month of life.

Today is Walter’s bar mitzvah. He turned seven months old today and earns the title of “rabbit” instead of “bunny,” though I told him he’d always be a bunny to me. In celebration of this occasion, I bought Walter two new toys: a willow ball and a timothy lounger:

The ball was intended to entertain him by rolling on the floor and making fun noises. Instead, he’s already chewed it apart and made a giant mess of willow sticks on our carpet. Alternatively, the timothy lounger was meant for being chewed, and Walter cautiously puts his front legs in the lounger while taking a few chomps, but is a little tentative about committing to full-on lounging inside the toy. At any rate, I consider a toy to be successful for Walter if he plays with it for three consecutive days. He has some serious toy-related ADD.

Part of me feels like something magical should happen when a bunny reaches his bar mitzvah: he miraculously stops chewing wires, digging our hardwood floor, and going to the bathroom on the couch. But as I type this, I’m watching him hop around the apartment, eyeing the baseboards for an afternoon snack. I just heard him scratching the floors underneath the couch. I guess it takes more than a bar mitzvah to make a perfectly-behaved rabbit.

Happy seven-month birthday, Walter. And, of course, Mazel Tov.

Friday, September 3, 2010


So, how exactly did I become a rabbit owner? The answer is simple: I love having a pet.

I grew up with dogs and have very fond memories of playtime and snuggle time with man’s best friend. I’ve always loved them for the companionship and the easy entertainment they provide, but I live in an apartment and sometimes keep hours that are not fair to a dog’s bladder. So I started exploring other pet options. I’m allergic to cats, fish don’t provide the same type of companionship, and I found birds and rodents to not be quite my style. And then, I stumbled upon the idea of owning a rabbit. Rabbits, I read, are social and interactive. You can litter train them. And on top of that, they are adorable.

But, adorable or not, I needed to do my research. So, I read every piece of information I could find, I researched breeds, considered adopting versus buying from a breeder, and made sure I had the space and finances to keep a rabbit happy and healthy. After all that, I decided it would work. And that’s when I found my “wascally wabbit,” Walter – a Holland Lop who will be seven months old in September.

But even as prepared as I felt, rabbit ownership was – and still is – surprising at every turn. That’s why I’ve created this blog. I hope to create a community of rabbit-owners and lovers, find some answers for my own bunny questions, and hopefully provide some entertainment as I try to navigate through the bizarre world of owning a rabbit.

Before I go on, let me explain this blog’s title. “Noozles and bonks” may sound like a nonsense phrase, but for my family, it was a nighttime ritual. I have a sister who is six years younger than me. Growing up, she never settled for a simple kiss goodnight from our mother and father. Instead, she created “noozles and bonks.” Noozles are simple nose rubs, while bonks are great onomatopoeias – it simply means bumping two foreheads together, creating a great “bonk!” sensation. Noozles and bonks always went hand in hand. We never did one without the other, and every night without fail, this is how we would tell my sister goodnight.

I chose this for the name of my blog because each morning, Walter greets me with a delightful noozle to say hello. Every evening, upon my return home from work, I receive another furry noozle. And right before bed, as Walter has finally settled down and found his favorite resting spot, I curl up next to him for our gentler version of bonks – a simple touch from my forehead to his.

Noozles and bonks, bunny style.