Reader A. S. writes:

I have had a wonderful little dwarf rabbit for about three weeks and I was hoping you might consider a rabbit advice column. I’ve never had a prey animal before and he is weird! What are your bunnies like? Do you let them run around loose? What if you want to pet them but they keep running away? And what can I feed him for treats besides kale?

Dear A.S.:

Fluffers at the vet after a long battle vs. MRSA. (Yes, that MRSA.)

You’ve found a subject extremely close to my heart: my bunnies. It’s definitely a subject most people know very little about, but once you become a bunny person, it’s a lifetime thing. I have so many favorite links, I’ll just pepper them throughout this (sure to be enormously long) piece.

As most of my friends know, I have three. Zelda and Vonnegut were adopted via the Hug-a-Bunny Rabbit Rescue in New Jersey, and Fluffernutter (or Fluffers) is a permanent foster from New Mexico House Rabbit Society. She actually came in as part of a very neglected trio, and lost her two mates pretty quickly after I took them on.

You’re right — having a prey animal as a companion is a completely different experience from the usual fluffy choice of cat or dog. It’s great that you recognize that, because most misunderstandings in rabbit-human communication come from the fact that people expect rabbits to be like other furballs, and they simply aren’t.

So when you’re dealing with your dwarf bun, keep in mind that most of his brain and reflexes are programmed to convince him that you and everything else around him are out to get him, and eat him. Also, remember that all rabbits have their own personalities, and while there are certain things they all have in common, yours is going to demonstrate personality traits I can’t even begin to fathom.

Zelda in a sprawl.

Most bunnies do not tolerate being handled. They don’t like being picked up, I think mostly because it means they can’t escape. Therefore, if you wanna’ pet your bunzor, get down on his level and let him tell you when he’s ready. My bunnies like to sleep under the bed when I’m on it. Sometimes in the middle of the night I can reach down and pet their noses. They like that I haven’t moved or threatened them; I’m just kinda’ petting them where they are. Fluffers has a way of telling me when she wants to be petted — she sits under the desk chair and faces me when I’m in bed. Of course, I have to roll over and sit in an uncomfortable way, leaning down to pet her nose, but that’s how bunny petting goes — you do what they need, or it doesn’t happen. Vonnegut has a certain bow he does that we call “the snuggle position”. It’s his way of communicating that he would like to be groomed (which is how rabbits communicate dominance — the highest ranking bunny gets groomed). He likes to have his whiskers scratched and there’s a spot on his back that makes him lick the floor (in the same way a dog starts to air-scratch when you get that spot behind his ear).

Some bunnies may never take to being touched at all. Zelda tolerates it, but not for long. She’ll let me rub her back for a bit, grinding her teeth in pleasure, and suddenly she’ll rear up and “box” me and run away. Zelda prefers to gaze to show her affection, which is a favorite activity of bunnies in love. Once again, remember that as prey animals, being stared at can be a sign of aggression from a predator, so the fact that a rabbit is willing to sit in a room and gaze at you means it’s love. Take into account how your bun is sitting: the harder it would be to get up and run away, the more comfortable and relaxed your bunny is. Sprawled out with legs behind, flat to the ground, is probably the most comfy a bunny ever gets, unless they’re doing the dead bunny flop, rolling onto their back with legs outstretched, which Zelda does all the time.

The Language of Lagomorphs gives a fantastic idea of what your bunny is trying to “say”. It’s worth a read, and is really funny, too.

Vonnegut waking me up in the morning.

Bunnies are a lot more playful than most people give them credit for and need room to get their play on. Free-range bunnies are awesome. They run laps at weird hours and do binkies galore. Mine jump on the bed in the morning to wake me up (mostly to remind me they need breakfast). So yes, I’ve let my bunnies have free roam over the house, but that can be problematic, especially if you’re renting. Bunnies are destructive. They need biologically to dig, chew, and run. Running probably won’t be a problem (although I once had a downstairs neighbor complain about bunny feet on wooden floors), but they will destroy your wallboards and carpets, not to mention phone cords or electrical cords. Those are extremely dangerous for bunnies, btw. You’ve got to bunny-proof whatever area your bunny is going to be out in. I’ve bought linoleum from Home Depot and lined the walls with cardboard boxes. Buy a cheap room-size rug you don’t mind the bunny destroying. My bunnies are very literary and eat books, so any bookshelf they come in contact with is empty on the bottom. I do give them books to play with — mostly, the phone book. Giving bunnies toys can help mitigate the room destruction, so get your buns a few wooden chew toys.

There are a lot of great bunny proofing tips at rabbit.org. Save yourself the hassle and do it early. Trust me.

My rabbits are litterbox trained, which is pretty easy. Of course, given the number of buns in the house, they’re not 100% all the time (it’s a territory thing), but I’m okay sweeping up their easy poop and using vinegar on the wayward pee. Just remember that bunnies like to eat hay while they’re doing their business (weird, I know, but they also eat some of their poop, too, so… goes hand in hand).

Speaking of eating, bunnies need leafy greens and pellets, but most importantly, they need hay. They should have 24/7 access to timothy hay, which you can get at many petstores and feed stores. I buy a bale at a time. In terms of treats, I give mine a piece of banana once in a while, or apple or blueberries. Oats are good too, but you’ve gotta’ be careful because starches can pile the pounds on your little bunny.

You may want to consider getting your bunny his own special friend. Bunnies are social creatures, and live in warrens full of family and friends. Your bunny may crave another friend to talk to in his own language. Of course, it means he won’t be as bonded with you, but it can really make life easier for him in the long run.

The number one thing I should emphasize to you is that you should get your bunny spayed or neutered, even if you don’t decide to get a second companion. A lot of problematic rabbit behaviors subside with the absence of those hormones (like spraying, nipping, aggression), plus it lengthens their lifespan. Your rabbit and your household will be much happier.

Okay, I think that’s all I can give you off the top of my head. Welcome to the world of being a bunny person. We’re a quirky, fun people, I promise. In fact, why don’t you find a chapter of the House Rabbit Society or a rescue group near you? You can learn a lot from seasoned bunny veterans, plus find people who know what they’re doing to bunny sit when you go out of town. (This can be hugely important. Trust me.) And why not volunteer a bit for the buns that aren’t as fortunate as yours?

Congrats on your new friend. I wish him a long lifetime of binkies.


4 Responses to “bunnies”

  1. 1 Jarrod Tonder
    September 24, 2011 at 5:36 am

    “Love is the child of illusion and the parent of disillusion.” ~ Miguel de Unamuno

    • 2 nelly
      March 15, 2012 at 3:53 am

      Our bunny is having problems with leg wounds again. There were some comments on Q&A site on the best antibiotic for that kind of wound and I don’t remember the name. I can’t remember which site it was, since I had been searching the web for assistance at the time. It was not tetracycline. It was something else maybe starting with a “c” ??? Do you happen to know the name of this antibiotic. We thought we might ask the vet. Bunny is in the hospital now not responding to the antibiotic on the wounds that had to be lanced and drained. He is an indoor bunny, very clean environment. This is the second time he has had wound problems with same leg. He is 10 yrs old. It appears that lady on that site had about the same trouble with their older dwarf bunny and that medicine helped. –

      • March 15, 2012 at 8:52 am

        Hi Nelly,

        I’m sorry I don’t know what antibiotic that would be. If you have the money, the best thing to do is have the vet take a culture and let him/her figure out which antibiotic works. We had luck with azithromyacin. We used cipro on our bunny’s eyes once. That may be the one you’re thinking of, but I’m not sure. Your vet should know which antiobiotics are okay for rabbit use and which aren’t (some are very deadly). I suggest visiting http://www.rabbit.org for ideas and tips. It’s definitely a useful site. Good luck with your dwarf bunny! I’m sorry to hear you’re having troubles.


  2. 4 nelly
    March 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    can anyone tell me if a domestic indoor dwarf bunny can have msra? Our bunny has had sores drained from his foot and antibiotic placed inside the wounds. he is ten years old. please answer as soon as possible. we are concerned about bunny

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