I got this infographic about how to pick up and hold a rabbit, in an email from Pets At Home, and while I know how to look after my bunnies, I thought it might be useful for anyone with a rabbit (or considering getting a rabbit) just to see one of the ideal ways to handle a pet bunny. There are other ways you can hold a rabbit that will still bring them comfort and reassurance but this is definitely useful if you’re thinking of getting a beautiful rabbit (don’t worry about the “rabbits are calmer when they can’t see,” all of my bunnies like to see what’s going on when they get picked up). I think this is helpful whether you’re getting a bunny either as a houserabbit or a garden rabbit. Bunnies are especially popular to buy over Easter time, and I urge you to wait until four weeks after Easter if you’re getting a bunny, because that’s when the shelters (and Pets at Home’s adoption section, where 3 of my 5 rabbits have come from) start getting inundated with unwanted Easter bunnies. It’s a very, very sad situation and I wrote a story about it last year to show what life is like for a lot of rabbits, from the rabbit’s point of view. People buy them, don’t understand how to care for them, then leave them in a tiny hutch and throw food at them once a day (if they remember). If the rabbit is lucky, the owner finally admits they were wrong and gives the animal up for adoption so it has a chance of a loving home, but many owners of unwanted rabbits don’t bother. No animal wants to live like that and I’d like to think that all my readers are compassionate enough to read my other rabbit care articles before getting a bunny. It’s very tragic that the most popular rabbit article on my site is “what to do with an unwanted rabbit” and last year it made the top 10 after Christmas and Easter (and after Christmas this year). Anyway, here’s the infographic. Click the picture to enlarge:
I don’t own the image, it’s copyright to Pets at Home, this post is not sponsored and no affiliate links, I just thought it would be a useful resource for people with rabbits who aren’t members of Pets at Home VIP club (if you live in the UK, I strongly recommend you join them because it’s free and you get loads of benefits such as discount vouchers and free magazines with useful information like the infographic above). You can join in any Pets at Home store or online.
Would you ever get a rabbit? Have you already got one?
So we weren’t sure if we were going to get another rabbit after losing Banacek – surely it’d have to be a pretty special new bunny.
Two weeks ago I had to go to Pets At Home to get Poppy a corner litter tray because she’s destroying her hutch by insisting on using it as a toilet (all our other outdoor buns do it in their rabbit runs). That’s when I first saw Timmy. Soft, snuggly, adorable, special Timmy.
He was a beautiful orange colour with Banacek’s eyes and ears, and cute white patches on his front paws that made him look like he was wearing socks. I thought nothing of it – Cleo was still listless and mostly sitting around the house at this point. She was in no way ready for a new friend and neither were we – it was only about a week after Banacek had died. I took a good look at Timmy and noticed he had done some of those yellow gloopy poos that Banacek had done just before he died. I informed the staff and they said they’d keep an eye on him. I went home disappointed because we really shouldn’t get another rabbit right now, especially one with potential digestive problems.
Because of Poppy’s little “problem” I had to do a full cleanout of her hutch on Monday, and I used up all the hay and most of the sawdust, but I still needed more hay to make her upstairs sleeping area warm and cosy (and edible), so at 6pm I found myself driving over to Pets at Home again to get a bag of hay.
Timmy was still there, in all his beautiful snuggly orangeness, looking very interested in his hay. I had to collect my husband from work immediately after getting the hay, and I told him that the cute bunny was still there who I’d seen before.
The next morning, I tried to put him out of my mind, but when I came back from dropping my Dearest off at work, I then had to put up with Cleo acting very out of sorts – she was running laps around the living room and leaping in the air and pulling my blankie off me (I was cold) and trying to climb on the sofa. These are things she doesn’t usually do. She was trying to get me to play with her more than normal. So I tried, but I couldn’t follow her through the tunnels and hiding places we’ve made for the rabbits to play in. I scooped her up and carted her off to Pets At Home to see if there was an appropriately adorable bunny up for adoption.
I was surprised to see that Timmy, with his one up ear and one down ear, was still there.
We introduced them and he really liked her but she was scared and running away, so I decided to bring her back later in the afternoon. This time, Timmy went straight to her, and he snuggled up with her in her pet carrier.
They didn’t separate the whole time they were around each other.
When I took Cleo back to the car (so I could come back and complete the adoption paperwork and buy the sawdust I forgot to get earlier in the week), Timmy looked heartbroken and started attacking the door to his enclosure to get back out again. I came back from the car, and another person was there trying to adopt Timmy. I was all like “oh hell no he’s mine bitch.” Actually, I just said “I’m sorry, but he’s coming home with us, he’s just been introduced to my other rabbit and they loved each other.” but she acted like I’d slapped her with the rabbit. If she’d got there first I would have just been happy for Timmy that he was finally getting adopted – that’s not an empty promise, it’s happened before with 2 different bunnies that I intended to adopt. Sometimes it’s not meant to be, but this time, it was.
We brought him home and they’d told us to just put him in his hutch the first night, but he looked so lonely and vulnerable that I put Cleo in with him. She disagreed with being in a hutch (she hasn’t been in a hutch in over 2 years) so they both ended up hanging out in the living room until bedtime.
At night we put him back to bed in his hutch and in the morning, I put him and Cleo into the rabbit carrier and took him to the vets for his check up and vaccinations. Apart from when we’re in bed (when we have to put him back in his hutch until we’re sure he won’t fight Cleo) they’ve been inseparable ever since.
Here’s some photos:
So far, his interests seem to include running around REALLY FAST, pooing everywhere (they’re the size of freaking marbles WTF?!?!) and humping Cleo. So I put this bunny romper suit on him so he definitely couldn’t get Cleo pregnant, because he can’t be neutered for a couple more months (he’s 4 months old and the romper suit is to stop them chewing at stitches but it covers the right places):
He doesn’t like the romper suit, and he runs around less while he’s wearing it.
I’m in the middle of editing some videos of him and I’ll upload them all to Youtube as soon as they’re ready.
Cleo is very happy and the house doesn’t feel empty any more. Now he’s just got to learn to take the stairs – the first couple of times he tumbled back down them again, but I was there to catch him, and I’ll always be there to catch him, until he learns to go up and down the stairs on his own.
We got a new rabbit to replace Katie, her name is Poppy.
She and Fifer seemed to bond well and we kept them together since we adopted her on Wednesday, after we first visited her on Tuesday (edit: got days wrong). They’d had two dates at the adoption place and he seemed to warm to her. It was going so well that we put them both in Fifer’s hutch.
He chased her out because it still smelled of Katie.
So we sorted them out with the spare hutch and put them in the kitchen. They were back to getting along until yesterday.
Then we put them out in the run again and I thought at first that they were running and playing, but it turned out they were fighting (in a weird, running around kinda way, not the usual scrappy kind of way).
We brought them in and they were fine again.
Then, yesterday morning, RIGHT as we both had to leave for work, they started fighting in the hutch.
We separated them quickly, but put them back together in the run in the evening. My dearest came to bring them in and Poppy was sitting out in the rain looking sad, Fifer was in his house, he had chased her away. There was rabbit fur everywhere, and in the darkness my husband assumed this was her fur. She had a bite on her nose. I found out this morning, when I went to check on Fifer, that what actually happend was that she viciously attacked Fifer (but we thought he’d attacked her because she’s the one who needs veterinary treatment) and literally torn half his fur out. He also has a (less severe) bite on his nose. I put them both in the garden this morning to see how they reacted to each other’s presence. She kept running towards Fifer and he kept running away then changing his mind and standing his ground. He chased her away from him, then he ran off and hid from her. He doesn’t want to know her at all any more, so she’s got to go back to the adoption place. ARRRGH. I’ve never had a failed adoption before, it’s really heartbreaking because she’s a lovely rabbit, and I know he’s a difficult one, but ultimately she’s too attacky to be able to live with him and if she’s too attacky for Fifer, I sure as hell aren’t letting her near my other buns. The week’s just gone from sad to worse in under 24 hours.
On Tuesday, I put Fifer on his rabbit lead because the carrier was at the vets with Katie. There was a spare carrier, but two boxes and a husband don’t fit in my car safely. It turns out Fifer much prefers to wear his harness and sit on someone’s knee for car rides than to be put in a box. We learned he likes looking out of the window. I told him we were going to see Katie. I wanted him to have the chance to see her again, because whilst I’d been worried about her when I took her to the vets in the morning, I had had no idea that this was going to happen or that we weren’t getting her back. I’d been worrying in the morning because Katie was worrying; it was like she knew.
We arrived at the vet’s 20 minutes early. Contrary to what the receptionist had said earlier, we were shown straight into a room and Katie was brought out for us by the nurse. We put Fifer on the table with her so they could talk in bunny language to each other and share a moment. She wasn’t very with it because they’d sedated her, she’d been in so much pain after the anaesthetic wore off that they had to, apparently. She still looked like she was in pain, and she basically just sat there and Fifer came and snuggled her and licked her nose and she just stared at him for the longest time, then she nuzzled him with her nose and sat next to him.
Our usual vet (not the one I’d seen in the morning or the day before, but the one who founded the practice and who has been seeing us since we first started going here, a few weeks after they opened) came in to talk to us about Katie’s situation. She showed us the X-rays. It was much MUCH worse than it had sounded on the phone, and as soon as I saw the X-rays I started crying because Katie’s skeleton was effectively crumbling away inside her. Before we came to the vet, I’d kept an open mind and if I’d thought there was the slightest chance of her having a pain-free or fulfilling life after that day, I would have paid the money. I would have remortgaged the house if I’d had to to pay to save Katie. But there’s only so much that can be done, and the leg was today’s problem, but as the X-rays of the rest of her showed, her other leg could split at any second, her knees were fucked, her spine was fused together, her hips showed significant lack of bone density, and that was just the lower half of her body (which was what was X-rayed). This more experienced vet told us she thought Katie was probably about 7 years old, and that from the bone density throughout her skeleton, it was extremely likely that she wasn’t actually fed rabbit food by her previous owners. From this day on, her life was only going to be vet stay after vet stay, interspersed with what they called “cage rest,” during which her movement would have been inhibited as much as possible and she would have spent months in extreme agony until this leg healed, then there would have been the rest of it, a ticking timebomb inside her ready to go at any moment, causing her more unspeakable pain and fear. I wanted my squishyboo, but I wasn’t going to keep her alive so I could selfishly stroke her nose.
Would I still have adopted Katie if I had known she was so old? Resoundingly yes. I just would have maybe expected this instead of it being such a shock. It was only last week that I was thinking that one day, in a few years time (with her and Fifer being our youngest rabbits – or so I thought), the only bunnies we might still have of our current set would be Katie and Fifer. I thought she would even outlive Banacek, who we got when he was a tiny helpless baby three and a half years ago. Because she should have just turned three last week, when I got her vaccinated. She should have had about another five to seven years of life. That was what was most shocking I think – because we have some very old rabbits (over age 10) and Katie looked and acted nothing like them.
Before I took her to the vet, she had taken herself to a spot in her hutch and stayed there. When I came to pop her in the box, she screamed in pain but she didn’t resist. She knew her time had come and she was very serene about it. I didn’t understand at the time (hence my worry before and after dropping her off at the vet that the anaesthetic would be the killer here). I never expected to end the day having to make a living death or death decision over my favorite bunny.
While we were talking to the vet, Katie seemed to perk up a bit, and she started eating the cilantro that my Dearest had brought for her and strewn over the examination table. Then, with superhuman effort, she managed to get up and hop over to where Fifer stood opposite her, and she faltered when her injured leg touched the floor, but that didn’t deter her, she went to lick his face profusely. Then she turned around, and just lay down sideways on the examination table. She only managed to do it for a few seconds before she had to get up again because her leg hurt too much in that position, but after her little energy spree, she turned to my Dearest and licked his hand, then she turned to me and licked my hand, then she licked Fifer’s nose again, then she sort of switched off again, it was as if she was saying “there, now I’ve done everything, now I have said goodbye to you all, I can go now. I’m ready.” I was in floods of tears throughout. The vet picked Katie up and took her out (they can’t do rabbits the way they do dogs because their veins are too small so she had to do it away from us then bring her back).
When the vet took Katie in the back to do it, Fifer just sort of sat there staring at the floor looking morose. Then, about a minute or so after she’d left, Fifer suddenly looked straight up towards where she’d been taken, he stared at that spot for a second, then he lay down on the examination table. It was as if he knew the exact moment when she died. After Katie was PTS (put to sleep), the vet put her on the examination table for us and then she just let us stay in the examination room and take our time.
I let Fifer have a look at her. He declared that she smelled strange then indicated that he wanted to leave. So we bundled Katie up so carefully (the vet let us have a towel). I just scooped Katie up, supporting her head because she was limp, and held her for about ten minutes, just rocking her and crying and kissing her nose and trying to deal with the situation. Then I popped her back in her dog carrier (she’s the size of one) and took the bunnies home.
When we got home, I popped her in the big outhouse where Fifer’s hutch is (they have 24/7 indoor/outdoor access and no door on the entrance to the hutch for their own freedom to roam), and I lay her down next to the hay pile. We fed Fifer and we had given him copious snuggles and strokes.
On Wednesday morning, after the school run, the first thing I did was go to see Fifer. I went to his outhouse and just sat by Katie’s body with him. I noticed there was now some broccoli in her ear. He had tried to feed her broccoli at some point in the night. The rest of her had been thoroughly groomed.
Rabbits have a special ritual when one of their herd dies. They sometimes do a rabbit dance around the dead one, and they often groom them. It’s critically important that they get to see the dead body after the bunny has been PTS, which is why I put Katie out with Fifer overnight. That morning, I lifted her up – rigor mortis had set in by now – and I took her out into the outdoor run so that Sebastian could see her as well. Fifer of course had priority because they were bonded first, but Sebastian loved Katie and would often be found on the other side of the fence snuggled up to her.
When I got Sebastian out of his run and put him next to Katie, he nosed her then lost interest. He didn’t seem to care. I put him back away and gave the rest of my attention to Fifer who was clearly mourning his Katie. Fifer sat with me and Katie for hours in the garden, and when I went to the flowerbed to dig her a grave, he came and “helped” without getting in the way. He knew what we were doing. He’s very intelligent. I lined the bottom with lots of her favorite plants. After that, I popped Katieboo in the outdoor toilet room so that bugs and birds didn’t start on her, then waited for my Dearest to finish work so we could bury her.
After I moved her, I watched Fifer from the kitchen. I saw him sniff around where she’d been before, then he laid down where her body had been, and stared into space wistfully. This is why they have to see the body – otherwise, they will wait for weeks sometimes for their friend to return (because they think they’re out feeding and haven’t come back) and they won’t eat or drink if you’re not careful.
When He got home from work, we wandered down the road and picked loads of dandelions and daisies for her. Dandelions were her favourite thing to eat that grows wild, and she’d eaten all the ones in the garden which is why we went looking. We were losing light, as the sky turned a dark pink, it was Katie’s favorite time of day (bunnies naturally are most active in the hour around dawn and the hour around dusk, and out of all of our buns, Katie and Fifer are/were the most in tune with their natural rhythms). We gathered her some broccoli and a whole carrot from the fridge, and all the rabbit nuggets that had been handed back by the vet because she wasn’t eating properly. I got her out of where I’d put her, and rigor mortis was wearing off again so she was a bit more movable than before. I placed her carefully on the bed of plants, then we placed the dandelions, daisies and broccoli where she could get at them (I put some of the broccoli behind her ears as per Fifer’s broccoli-feeding attempts, in case he knew something about all of this that we didn’t, such as that rabbits eat backwards in the afterlife maybe). We snapped the carrot and placed it in front and behind her. Then we took the bunny nuggets and scattered them around her, so she was totally insulated from soil by all her favorite snacks. It’s what she would have wanted.
The hardest part was putting the soil over her. It felt so wrong. She just looked like she was sleeping, peacefully, dreaming, with her eyes slightly open. I covered all the rest of her then I did her face last because it was so hard. Then after I’d covered her a bit I handed the shovel to my Dearest and let him put the next layer on. I was too upset. I didn’t want to let her go.
In the end, I took over again because he was too upset too. Fifer stood beside us, looking on, I’m not sure what he was thinking but he knew she was there. We put a protective fence (made of spare panels of rabbit run) around her because the last thing I want is a cat to dig her up and eat her. I’ve let Fifer out since and he’s gone to the place where she’s buried and he’s nosed at the fence, like he’s saying “that’s where Katie is, isn’t it mummy?” and I’ve replied (because I do) with “yes, honey, that’s where Katie is.”
He seems to be coping pretty well. He’s just gone back to being his loner, lonely, languishing self from his pre-Katie days. We’ll probably need to get him a new friend soon but for now I want to just let him (and us) get over this profound loss.
My Dearest asked me a question yesterday that threw me. He said, “what are your thoughts about pregnancy now?” and my answer was “it’s strange that you should ask, because when I was holding Katie’s body in the vets, the only thought in my mind was ‘if we get pregnant RIGHT NOW then we might get her reincarnated spirit.’ Because I know that Katie will get reincarnated if she doesn’t just get a free pass to the afterlife. Look, I know it’s weird but in the last 12 months I’ve lost 2 parents and 2 rabbits, I think I’m allowed to have strange afterlife ideas.
The night after she died, I had a dream that her and my dog Dillon (childhood BFF) were both pissed that only humans get let into the afterlife (in my dream it was Elysian fields, pearly gates, huge drinking festhall of Valhalla – the works – all together in the same place), so they broke in (Katie burrowed then Dillon barked at anyone who tried to stop them) until St Peter and Hades both turned up and St P. said “well, you’ve clearly made a lot of effort so Imma let you stay” and they went to the fountain of youth and drank from it and tore around heaven like racing cars.
Then I had a dream about all the ginger people I know, all in the same room, and I was looking for Katie but she wasn’t there. I had that dream the next night as well. Weird, huh?
I’m going to miss my Marmalade Princess Katieboo.
I don’t think there’s another rabbit the same as her in the whole world.
I also need to give a big shout-out to my vets who were really really wonderful about the whole thing (even when I got stressy, and even sent Fifer a condolences card with a pair of rabbits on it). If you live in York, you can’t do better than Vets4Pets for rabbit-savvy vets.
So I thought after all these months, it might be nice to actually introduce our rabbits to you. I know I put lots of pictures of them up and obviously do all the rabbit care articles as well, so let’s go through them, in order of when we got them:
Banacek is a mostly white, with brown splodgy bits on his fur, that used to look exactly like someone had drizzled treacle on his back when he was a baby. Now he is an adult, it looks more like a respectable snowy camouflage. We got him in April 2012, the week after Mother’s Day (UK edition, usually 2 months earlier than everyone else has it). We bought him brand new from Pets At Home because there were no adoption bunnies in a 50 mile radius, and there hadn’t been for months and months (literally, I bought hay, toys and a food bowl for a new rabbit about 7 months before we finally gave up on getting an adopted bunny and just bought one). He had up ears when we first got him, but after about a year they both gradually became lop ears, apparently this happens sometimes with particular cross breeds where the genes can’t make their minds up whether to give the rabbits up or down ears. For a while he had helicopter ears, and even now, one of his ears is much more lop than the other. After about a year, we realised he was profoundly lonely, and given that we weren’t allowed a bunny in our house, we started to look for a new house of our very own so we could bring a friend home for him to adore. It took a ridiculous length of time but we found our perfect house and then we looked for a friend for him. He likes to jump on the sofa and try to drink my tea (with soya milk and no sugar, of course – the bunnies are lactose intolerant and I have a milk allergy). He also has developed a habit of trying to steal my toast in the mornings.
Cleo (2005 to present, we had her 2013-present):
When we were looking for a friend for Banacek, we were sure that we wanted someone who was adoptable, since we felt bad that we had bought Banacek, even though there were no adoption bunnies at the time. We looked everywhere but there were no female rabbits for adoption. Banacek was a male and we knew he hadn’t got on with other males since he’d been neutered at 7 months old, because he had regular playdates with my friend’s rabbits. At long last, we found an advert on Gumtree. There were three rabbits up for adoption, all Netherland Dwarf bunnies, about 15 miles from where we lived. The owners were emigrating. We phoned and asked questions. We were initially disappointed, as the female hadn’t been neutered, and neither had one of the males, and the males were kept separate from the female, and they were all eight and a half years old. We knew bunnies could live to see a decade, but I also knew that this was not always the reality of having a bunny, and I didn’t want my current rabbit to be lonely again in six months if his new friend died. This was in September 2013. We asked if we could arrange an introduction, and the following day, we took Banacek on the car ride that would change his life.
Cleo, Sebastian and Neville’s former owners had two outdoor runs, where the bunnies played out all day during the day, then went back to their hutches at night time. We put Banacek in to meet Cleo. At first she was terrified – Cleo had never seen such a big rabbit! She wouldn’t stop running away and we didn’t think this was going to work – she was such an elderly bunny, and Banacek was so young and full of the joys of spring, that it looked doomed to fail. We left them alone for half an hour, though, and Cleo started offering her nose to Banacek. Netherland Dwarves do this to say hello, and other bunnies don’t do it as much, so it was astounding to us when Banacek offered his nose back! He had never done this on any of his playdates with other buns the same size as him! They soon were chasing each other as a game, rather than out of fear. Three days later, we brought Banacek back, to check whether they were still going to get on or not, and they remembered each other straight away (which rabbit care websites claim is impossible). The hardest part was having to put them in separate boxes to get them back down the motorway to our home, as they didn’t want to be apart!
We put them in the living room and let them play together. I was still worried about leaving them unsupervised so I put Cleo in her hutch outside every night at bedtime, because she is such a tiny rabbit and I didn’t want to close her into Banacek’s hutch in the living room until we knew he was happy for her to be in there – and for about two months, she showed no interest in going into his hutch to explore. One day, though, she had a bit of a cut on her nose and I wanted to keep her in as the weather was getting colder, so I put her into Banacek’s hutch, ready to pull her out again at the first sign of trouble, but she was ok, he was ok, and we came downstairs the next morning to find them snuggled together on the bottom floor of the hutch. We did have to make some reasonable adjustments to the hutch as it was designed for a bigger rabbit and Cleo couldn’t climb up to the higher platforms, but once we put extra climbing blocks in for her to get onto, she was soon on the top floor at night time with Banacek – which was his favourite spot!
Neville (2005-2015; we had him 2013-2015)
Neville and Sebastian were twin brothers, and were from the same litter as Cleo. When we went to get Cleo, my husband fell in love with the boys too. The only problem? Banacek didn’t get on with them. After a couple of scuffles we had to give up on the idea of a rabbit foursome in our living room, so we then had to think seriously about what to do. We decided that, if we only wanted to get rabbits to be friends with Banacek, then perhaps we shouldn’t get any rabbits at all, not even Cleo, because in our eyes they wouldn’t all be equals. We re-examined why we wanted rabbits at all, and came to the conclusion that if we brought Sebastian and Neville home, it would be because we liked them and wanted them to be happy in a new home, not with any kind of illusions that they would ever be friends with Banacek (but it would be great if they ever did). My husband decided he liked them anyway, and so they came home with us too.
Neville was always the loudest, most energetic of the two. He was the one who had been neutered, and he was definitely the dominant twin. Sebastian was a quieter bunny and liked to sleep for long hours, while Neville was the most playful little bun, always starting games with his brother. More than that, they had never been apart since they were conceived by their parents. When Neville got attacked by Fifer, later on, we took Sebastian to the vet with him to keep Neville’s stress down, and kept them both in the bathroom for a while, until Neville had healed.
Neville went on to make a full recovery, but about eight months later, just one month before his tenth birthday, we found him dead in a corner of his hutch. We left him out for the other bunnies to see, as this helps them with their grief (if they don’t see the dead bunny, they will assume they are out somewhere, and will sit and wait for them to come home for weeks). We buried him in our back garden the next evening.
Sebastian (2005-present, we had him 2013-present)
We didn’t think that Sebastian would cope without Neville, and watching him grieve was profoundly sad – if we’d had to guess, we both expected Sebastian to go first, not Neville, as he was less active and often didn’t leave his hutch during the day. We thought he was winding down in life. It’s five months later, and Sebastian is still going, still just as inactive as ever. Occasionally we see him running round, but not often. We tried introducing him to other bunnies, but it turns out that he wants some peace and quiet in his retirement, and hasn’t been particularly kind to Fifer when we tried to get them to be friends. We are letting him have his own space as he seems content with the friendship that Katie and Fifer keep offering him through the fences between their rabbit runs, but face to face he is less than polite to them.
Fifer (2014 to present)
When I first saw Fifer in Pets At Home, he was 3 months old, and named Clover, and they thought he was a girl. I thought she was the most adorable little bunny I’d ever seen, and she clearly was annoyed that she was up for adoption, disliking the attention, preferring instead to hide in a tunnel so only her back legs and tail were visible. She was a beautiful wild-looking bunny, and when I asked the store manager if I could handle her, she attacked him viciously, covering his hands in angry bloody scratches in seconds. They clearly had a history. The second he passed her to me, Clover stretched out her nose and snuffled mine, to see if I was friendly. Then, when I brought her closer to me, she licked my face and snuggled into my neck. She came home that same day, I didn’t care that we already had four rabbits (and really, I had shared ownership of Banacek, who is his own bunny, Banacek has Cleo, and my husband has Sebastian and Neville, so Clover would be a bunny just for me), she was my little darling. I had high hopes that she would integrate with Cleo and Banacek, and offset how hard it was going to be for Banacek when Cleo died, as Cleo was 9 years old at this point. Hilariously, I booked her in for a spay, and cried when I gave her to the vet to sort out. The vet took a look and pronounced her male. So we changed her name to Fifer. Fifer got neutered, a procedure I was far less stressed about, and he came home and we stopped trying to introduce him to the other rabbits. We gave him his own section of the garden to play in, which he really liked. After about three or four months, though, he seemed really bored and disinterested in life. He just sat in the same spot, day after day, staring wistfully at Sebastian and Neville. We’d tried to get them to make friends before, and it had all gone wrong, so we didn’t want to try again until we were certain they would be okay. Fifer had other ideas.
I came downstairs one morning to find Sebastian and Neville’s rabbit run strewn with fur, Banacek was sitting at the front of his run, staring into the kitchen window (he lived outside all of last summer) and Cleo, Fifer, Sebastian and Neville were nowhere to be seen. I went straight outside, concerned that the boys had been fighting, and I was very surprised to see Fifer sitting in Sebastian and Neville’s run, looking like that girl at the start of Battle Royale. I scooped him up and popped him on his own side of the run, and he had the sense to stay there. I opened the shed doors to get to Sebastian and Neville’s hutch and found Sebastian trying to bite my hand, clearly trying to protect Neville, who was very very badly injured and had taken himself off to a quiet corner to die. I ran to the house and grabbed a rabbit carrier, brought it back to the hutch, carefully extricated Sebastian, then even more carefully got Neville into the carrier, trying not to hurt him more by picking him up. I left the other bunnies where they were, closed the runs and gave the vet a heads up that I was coming in with an emergency, and drove straight to the vets. After 4 hours of surgery and three hours of recovery, I got a phone call telling me Neville was going to live, but we needed to keep him indoors for two weeks and give him strong painkillers and antibiotics and examine his wounds several times a day.
We didn’t know what to do about Fifer. We were obviously very angry, hurt and upset that he had gone out of his way to try to kill Neville, but we also knew that every time we’d tried to introduce them, Neville had attacked Fifer. Fifer had learned this behaviour from Neville. My husband suggested taking Fifer to the RSPCA, and we discussed whether we thought that what he had done was bad enough to warrant him being put to sleep. I was heartbroken, and I didn’t think it was fair on Fifer, that he was such a young rabbit, not even a year old, for his life to be over when he had his whole life ahead of him. It was the hardest thing we had ever faced with our rabbits, and I felt awful for bringing Fifer home in the first place. I think this was when we realized he was at least a half-wild rabbit, and when we researched them, we found out he has the right shapes and behaviours to be at least part wild. Our best guess is half-wild, half-Netherland Dwarf. Despite all my negative feelings, I also felt that I had a responsibility towards Fifer. He was my bunny, where none of the others were in the same way. I went out to see him after two days of not looking at him when I fed him, and I picked him up, and I just held him and cried, because he was my little bunny and I didn’t know how he could do such an awful thing to another bunny. He just snuggled me, but I could tell he knew he’d crossed a line. But I’ve crossed lines in the past, and felt like there was no redemption in sight, like I would never be able to make things right, and I knew how Fifer felt. So I made the decision that any mother would. I bought him a bigger, new hutch all of his own, I got my husband to build it, I placed it in the living room, and I moved Fifer indoors. I decided that if he was too wild, then we needed to bring him in so he could be around us and learn how to be more domesticated. After about three months of taking it in turns with Banacek and Cleo to be indoors for the day, and always sleeping indoors at night, Fifer had shown a great improvement in his behaviour. He stopped acting in fear and started feeling more confident. That was about the time when I saw Katie.
Katie (2013 to present, we adopted in late 2014)
Katie was (you guessed it) another adoptable from Pets at Home. She actually came from the same holding enclosure as Fifer. Her story was that she was dumped outside my vets in a cardboard box one night, so they passed her on to Pets At Home. When I first saw her, I was very excited because I thought she was the perfect size to be safely paired with Fifer. When I took Fifer for his vaccinations, I asked the vet about her, and she said that Katie had a lovely temperament and would probably get on with Fifer. The best guess is that she’s two years old, but nobody really knows. She was already microchipped and neutered when we got her. I went to Pets At Home and arranged an introduction between Katie and Fifer. There was uncertainty, there was scuffling, but ultimately, Fifer learned that this ginormous female marmalade bunny was just immune to his aggression. She would literally just lie down and ignore him. When she got bored, she’d lunge at him then go back to sleep. After two hours of introduction, we decided they were getting along. We didn’t take her until the Saturday, when we took Fifer back, expecting to have to re-introduce them. They remembered each other, though, and shared a bowl of vegetables. They were so friendly, I brought them both back in the dog box that we’d brought Fifer in (Katie was too big for those cardboard Pets at Home boxes), and when we got home and I opened the box, they just lay in there together for about an hour before coming out. Katie moved into Fifer’s hutch straight away, and they’ve never been apart since. Katie thinks she’s the size of Fifer, and he seems to think he’s the size of Katie; she’s very timid, and I don’t know what happened before we got her, as she has a lot of fears and hang-ups, but Fifer looks after her and makes her feel safe. In return, she seems to have helped Fifer to become a kinder, more loving rabbit. I would never separate them.
So that’s all our bunnies. We reconfigure who lives where on a regular basis so they all get their fair share of life indoors and outdoors, and we’ve just bought a new hutch (a £30 fixer upper two storey ex display model, down from £99, from Pets At Home) so Banacek and Cleo can move out for the summer to keep them cooler, and so we can get Katie and Fifer back indoors and spend more time with them.
So there’s obviously a lot of topical debate at the moment about whether anyone should get a rabbit at all over Easter. I wrote a cautionary tale about impulse buying a rabbit and believing that a child has the maturity to care for one over a long period of time. I’ve also written about getting a rabbit and of things you need to know about bunnies before you get one. I’ve also written a long catalogue of posts on rabbit care which you can find here. My main reason for writing this article is because some people might get a rabbit at Easter and be the best bunny parents ever. They are not the majority. There is a huge increase in rabbit sales at Easter and pet shops generally don’t give a damn who buys their animals (except my local Pets at Home store, whose staff are actually amazing and I’ve seen them refuse sales a few times due to ethics), so it’s down to you as a responsible human being to be sure you’re not just getting caught up in the moment, and that you’re going to love your bunny and meet their needs forever. If you’re even reading this, statistics show you’re probably a responsible bunny parent because you’re doing your research.
Here are some things you need to really think about before you get a live rabbit, and the preparations you need to make:
1. They look so cute, but have you held one?
Have you any past experiences and have you ever actually met and handled a rabbit? Any reputable pet shop will let you handle a bunny and take your time over choosing the right one. Would you be better getting a cuddly toy or a bunny calendar?
2. My child wants one, but can she look after it?
For some reason, parents often believe that their child is different, and that their child will have the sustained interest in a living being to be able to care for it. They can’t. That’s why we don’t let kids babysit each other, and why people get all concerned about underage pregnancy. All living things have the same set of needs to be met, and children are still learning how to meet their own needs independently, let alone another animal. Any pets brought into the house MUST be brought under the understanding that they are a FAMILY pet, and therefore that it is EVERYBODY’s responsibility to look after them. If you know your 6 year old forgot to feed Nibbles, or that Nibbles isn’t getting enough outdoor playtime, it’s your job as your 6 year old’s parent to pick up the slack.
Think about it from a management point of view. If you’re a supervisor and one of your employees doesn’t do the job right, you don’t leave the job undone, you either get someone else to pick up the slack or you do it yourself, making sure that the employee knows this wasn’t cool. If they consistently fail to do the job, you give their job to someone else on a permanent basis either in-house or elsewhere. For example, if your 6 year old isn’t doing the job, give it to someone else in the house, or do it yourself. You can’t let the job suffer because the employee isn’t doing it right. As a parent, you are a manager of your own house.
3. Before you get a rabbit, plan for about a week. Choose what sort of hutch they’ll have, and make sure it’s arrived before you bring Nibbles home. Bunnyproof your house, even if they’re outdoor bunnies, you need to nominate one room of the house to be a care room for if they have to recover from any vet care. Nominate a cupboard to store hay, dry food, water bottles, bowls, sawdust and newspaper and spare litter trays and toys. Buy all that stuff and check it fits, then choose another place for all the overflow that doesn’t fit! Make sure you know what food to get and why. Rabbits need lots of hay to eat, and a bit of nuggets every day.
4. Make an outdoor play space for your bunny so they can get their daily amount of natural daylight and fresh grass. If you don’t have anywhere, you’ll need a rabbit leash and to commit to taking Nibbles to the park each day (and you will need to protect him from dogs). Otherwise, a rabbit pen is a good choice for the garden, but cover the top so Nibbles doesn’t get eaten by Felix down-the-street when he comes over the fence on his daily walk.
5. Do you have enough money for a vet bill? What will you do if, a week after you bring Nibbles home, he breaks his leg or back? What if the neighbour’s cat attacks him and he needs $400 of reconstructive surgery? Will you be able to afford vet care? Consider a pet insurance plan (although read the fine print, I haven’t seen one that actually covers all of my rabbits due to age, and what they do cover is stuff I can pay myself without blinking, so I just pay all vet bills upfront for my 5 bunnies). Consider putting £10 (or $10) aside each week as an emergency fund for your rabbits. Don’t rely on charitable organizations like the PDSA, they’re not there to be taken advantage of, they’re there for genuine emergencies for low income animals, not for you to irresponsibly take on a pet you can’t afford to care for. You will need vaccinations every year and each rabbit will need neutering.
6. Invest in a pet vacuum.
You might also need Cage and Hutch Flea Spray cleaning products, grooming brushes, and a dustpan and brush. I recommend getting some carpet cleaner if you’re going to have houserabbits for when you’re litter training. You’ll also need an open litter tray (or three) and to find out about litter training.
7. Now you’re ready for a rabbit. Go and get one or possibly two (but beware- when hormones kick in at 4-6 months, they may not be as snuggly, even after they’re neutered, so I recommend getting one then introducing them until they find a good companion, to avoid ending up with loads of single lonely angry bunnies) get them from an adoption centre by first preference, and remember that this is the start of a beautiful friendship, that can span two decades if you look after them well and are lucky.
Trigger Warning: This story may trigger feelings that you need to help animals in some way, shape or form.
My earliest memories are of my mother, my brothers and sisters. We had shared a womb. So comfortable and soft, I felt perfectly safe and happy with them. Sometimes we would push each other out of the way to get milk, but we loved each other really.
After a few weeks, tiny, scared and helpless, we were all lifted up and put into a metal box. It hurt our paws. We looked to our mother to protect us, but she just stayed where she always did, unresisting, submissive, she had seen this all before.
We were put into a lorry. A yawning metal monster. There was darkness, and noises. Terrifying noises. Squawks, squeaks, squeals. As we stayed in the lorry, I realised they weren’t predators, they were the sounds of frightened animals. More creatures, taken away from their home too soon, left in this dark place which lurched and tipped sideways, leaving us struggling to balance. One of my brothers hurt his foot in that dark place, when the lurching stopped abruptly, and the monster we were inside let off an ear rending honk for what seemed like ages. My brother lost his balance and got his foot trapped in the bars in front of us. He struggled, and got free, but his foot looked very swollen and painful.
At long last we stopped. Light came in as the back came off. We were moved out of the lorry. They picked me up and turned me upside down, I thought my spine might break then I felt sleepy, but I was so afraid that I tried to fight it. They told me I was a girl and put me in a new box. When they came to my brother with the hurt foot, they poked at his foot and called him damaged goods, unsellable stock, and they held him high in the air. They let go. Later they told this important looking inspector that they had dropped him while he was wriggling. It was classed as an understandable accident. My brother, dead on the concrete floor.
My brothers and sisters knew what had happened, and were all very scared. They were treated as I had been, and either put in the same box as me, or put in a separate box. Then we were all put out in a bright place with lots of tidy shelves. We didn’t go on the shelves though. We were left in a small enclosure with glass windows. There was no roof. The lights were bright but it was warm and there was lots of golden sawdust on the floor, some toys for us to play with, a food bowl and a weird metal tube. We huddled together for hours, all the girls, and in the next pen, I could see that the boys did the same. We didn’t know where we were, what was going to happen to us. When someone opened the front we all stomped and cowered even further away from the glass windows. They poured some brown stuff into our bowl. Put some yellow stuff down on the sawdust. Closed the front again and left us.
One of my sisters sniffed the yellow stuff. She indicated that it was supposed to be grass, by chewing it. The rest of us were very surprised. Surely there was some mistake. Grass was green. We had seen it. The light was strange here, too. We were all very hungry, so gradually we unhuddled to try this yellow grass. It was dry and flavourless. We ate it anyway. Soon we were very thirsty, so we drank from the metal tube. It was much bigger than the one we’d had before, and we all struggled to drink from it, but there was no choice.
Later, different people came in. Small people who shouted and banged on the glass a lot, they were terrifying. One of my sisters got picked up by one. The small person hit her because she tried to struggle away from the uncomfortable grip. The person who fed us was not looking. My sister was taken away in a cardboard box by that small person. She was terrified. We never saw her again.
There were also tall people, who towered down over the open top of our enclosure. We were afraid that they might eat us. Sometimes there were dogs, walking on their leads. They paralysed us with terror, especially when they tried to get at us and started barking. We were trapped. If they jumped in here, we would all be dead. We felt so vulnerable.
Dark time was worst. It was cold, and we all jumped at every noise, terrified of the murky shadows we could see beyond our enclosure. Above us, some rodents would dig and chew and run on their wheel at night. We found ourselves relieved in the morning when the light came back.
That second day, someone took me and my sister away in a box. We were scared, and we stayed close to each other for safety. We didn’t really see where we went, although we were bumped and tilted a lot so we guessed it was like that terrifying lorry monster again. We wondered if we had been bad, if this was our punishment. Maybe we hadn’t groomed each other enough. Or eaten too much food.
The top of the box was opened at long last. We were face to face with a face. It was bigger than either of us. An enormous hand reached in and picked up my sister, then, empty, it came back for me. I fought it with my feet to try and escape, but it squeezed me so hard that I couldn’t breathe. It put me down in a small wooden box. There was a very low ceiling, and the back of it was also made of wood. They closed the front – a wire mesh door – and clipped a small water bottle to the front. There was food and hay and sawdust, but there were no toys or other bunnies. Just me and my sister. We chewed at the wooden walls. Then we went to sleep. We waited for something interesting to happen.
Two days later, someone came out to see us. It was a small person, but not as small as some of the other ones we had seen. We were squealed about. Then the mesh door was opened, and a hand reached in. It pulled me out and ensconced me in a squash. There was a second hand, which stroked my back. I liked that. I wiggled my nose and clicked my teeth together and enjoyed the attention, even though I disliked being picked up. Then I was put back in the hutch and it was my sister’s turn. She was stroked then returned to the hutch.
The mesh door was closed again. Was that it? We were bored. Really bored. We had nothing to do. We groomed each other until our coats shone. We slept until we were the most beautiful bunnies. We scratched at the floor and chewed at the wood. We were still really bored. We both wanted to explore, to forage, to run really fast, to chase each other, to flop on the solid ground and all we could do was chew our hutch.
The one who had stroked us… she was coming back, wasn’t she? She seemed happy about us. She did come back out that evening, and gave us lots of the yellow hay and lots of the brown food and stroked our backs a little bit. We were still a little wary but she seemed not to want to harm us.
A week later, she let us out in the garden. At first we were afraid that we were not allowed out. We had been in that tiny box for a week. We grew bold. We ran around chewing green grass and playing chase with each other. After a while, she caught us both and stroked us and put us in our box again. That had killed half an hour. It was over too soon. We were bored again. We chewed our hutch some more.
Every day, she came to feed us. Then one day, she didn’t come. We were so hungry that we chewed our hutch extra to ease our aching tummies. The next day, she didn’t feed us extra, just the normal amount. We didn’t know what had happened. A few days later, it happened again. We started to realise that we couldn’t depend on this small person at all. We were hungry. Then our bottle went bad, and all the water tasted funny and made our poo sloppy. The tummy ache started to become constant. And all the time, nobody cleaned out our hutch. We tried to keep each other clean but we were fighting a losing battle because only our sleeping corner was clean. My eyes watered and I sneezed and wheezed a lot.
After long weeks, the man who brought us here came out. He let us run around the garden. We were so happy we ran and played and nibbled plants. He seemed to be emptying our box. Then he saw where we had chewed it. He hit us both and told us we were bad rabbits, but we didn’t know what we had done. Had we eaten the wrong plants? Should we have stayed in the hutch when he opened the door? He didn’t seem to be making an effort to catch us or put us away. We were both confused. We decided to put it out of mind and we went off around the garden again playing. Slightly more afraid now of this tall person. Then he filled our box with new sawdust and hay and food, and put our bottle back on the front, and herded us back into the box. We were bored again. We slept and chewed our hutch some more.
From that day, the tall person brought us food. He never stroked us or spoke to us like the girl had. He just threw the food in, closed the door and left. We didn’t really understand, but we had each other and that was the main thing.
As we got older, we started having little arguments. Sometimes she would scratch my ears and sometimes I would bite her nose. We were getting quite large, now, and it was a struggle to fit us both in our sleeping place. We certainly couldn’t stretch out like we used to. Our backs ached from always being hunched over. We dreamed of running around the beautiful garden that we could see, but instead we were stuck in a wooden box that was too small for us.
Weeks turned into months. That first winter was the most awful. The cold made us both cry and flatten our ears against our backs, but we had to sit out in the cold next to the bare wire mesh door, because our sleeping room was too small and we could barely sleep in there, let alone hang out. We craved more food, but every day the tall man just threw the same amount in. The rain came in and made our home damp. My sister got a wheeze. The man didn’t notice. Eventually, she was struggling so much to breathe that she died. I tried to raise the alarm but nobody came. I stomped my foot for hours, but nobody came. The man threw food in, and didn’t notice. It was a week later, when maggots were eating my sister’s body, that he finally investigated the smell, and saw that she was dead. He pulled her out and tossed her in a tall thin plastic box full of black plastic bags. I don’t think he was sad. I was the only person who mourned her. All the hopes we’d had, all the things we had wanted to do – to chew, to climb, to snuggle, to run as far as we could. She hadn’t even finished growing – as I found out when the box I lived in got even smaller.
Now, I was sad and lonely. I didn’t eat my food. I didn’t drink anything. I didn’t even chew my hutch any more. I just sat there and did nothing. I stared out at the garden I would never get to play in, wishing I could have my sister back. I keened for her loss. And I was so cold, now that she wasn’t here. I missed her profoundly. Nobody noticed or cared, until the man who brought the food saw that my bowl was overflowing. He tried to put the food in my face but I wouldn’t eat it. He put me in a smaller cardboard box and I hoped we were going back to see the rest of my brothers and sisters. That would have made me feel better – just to know there were other bunnies in the world who loved me.
Instead, we went to a place that smelled of fear, death and, predominantly, dog. There were dogs everywhere. Barking, whining, walking, wagging their tails. I cowered in my box and stomped my foot so they would know I was really large and not to mess with me. The man took me into a room and pulled me out of the box. Another man looked at me, held me, turned me this way and that. They made people-noises, the new man seemed irritated, then he put me back in the box. He said a lot of things to the man who had thrown food in my wooden box. The food man left me there and I never saw him again. Apparently if I wouldn’t eat his food he didn’t want to know. The other man put me in a new cage near some cats and dogs. I was terrified of the smell, but they didn’t seem to notice me, maybe they were asleep. The man, who I discovered was called a vet, brought me green plants and gently stroked me. Nobody had stroked me for months. I was so excited that I wanted to nibble the green plants, but the dog smell stopped me. What if this was a trap to find out if I ate plants? Dogs ate things that ate plants. I decided it wasn’t worth the risk. I went to sleep. Hours later, I was awakened to find that I was moving again.
I stopped moving at another brightly lit big place. I could smell rabbits, as well as cats and dogs. I nibbled my green leafy plants. Over the next few weeks, I went back to the scary dog place, where they made me go to sleep and when I awoke I felt so ill that I thought I must be dying. I sat in a corner of my new cage for days, feeling sorry for myself. It hurt so much and I felt like something had been taken from inside me – like I’d been violated somehow. Then after I got over that, my life changed forever.
Another bunny came to see me. He seemed as surprised as I was about being in the middle of an unfamiliar room, with an unfamiliar bunny. I said hello with my nose. He didn’t bite it. That was a good start. We sat staring at one another for long minutes, until he came towards me. I was afraid so I ran away. Round and round we ran, until he stopped chasing me, and I cautiously hopped towards him. I sniffed his face. Then I sat down next to him. He seemed okay. We stayed like that for a long time, until one of the tall people here put us both in my cage. It was much bigger than my old box in that garden. I spent a lot of time sat next to my new friend, even though there was so much to do. Early in the morning we would run around in huge fast circles. Later on, we would chew some cardboard and make nice shapes out of it. Then we would eat together, then we would wash ourselves and snuggle up. I wished my new friend could have met my sister; I know they would have been friends.
One day, someone new came, and they picked me up. Then they picked up my new friend. I was suddenly very afraid that we were going to be separated, and I didn’t think I could bear it. I licked my friend’s head as soon as he was back on the ground and he stomped to show them that his place was with me. Whatever we did must have worked, because a few days later, the same someone came back with a plastic box with some hay in it, and we were both encouraged into the box, then we were taken on another journey. At the other end, the box was opened, and the landscape was the strangest I’d ever seen.
The floor was squishy but slightly coarse and beige. The light came from a big square on the wall, a bit like the door on my box where I used to live, but there was no fresh air coming from this square. There was a huge thing that had lots of platforms and ramps, and a little white picket fence in front of it. On the floor, just inside the picket fence, there was a food bowl and a water bowl. They had pictures of orange triangular things on them. There was also a green leafy thing on the floor that looked like some sort of vegetable. In a basket made of thick hay, there was lots of green stuff that looked like it actually used to be a plant! I was quite afraid that we weren’t supposed to have come out of the box, this was all so big and open. Would we get hit for escaping? I was very hesitant, but my new friend was braver. He hopped right on out towards the food bowl and rubbed his chin over it. I wasn’t having that, so I copied him, so he would know it was MY food as well. The people were watching us and making their strange people noises. I was still scared, so I ran for the smallest place I could see, and hid there. Eventually, the people went away but I stayed hidden in case it was a trap. My bunny friend seemed to be less scared than I was. The distance between me and the walls and the ceiling was making me feel queasy. It was the biggest box I’d ever been left in. Was it really all for me and my friend? After a few hours, the people came back in. I knew it! I stayed in my hiding place. They left again. They had brought us some more vegetables. I wondered if they would get angry and send us away if we didn’t eat them. I stretched my nose out and sniffed. The food seemed so far away. I stretched some more. Then my back legs had to follow and they sprung back to the rest of me. My back was sore from stretching out. I tentatively nibbled some of the green stuff. I don’t quite know what happened because I swear I only tasted it, but it was gone really quickly. I think it ate itself. It was very tasty. I hoped there would be more.
Running round was so much more fun with a huge space to run in, and I really liked climbing, too, once I got the hang of it. After a few days, I became quite confident and I started to climb on everything. I found a really good vantage point at the top where I was the tallest bunny ever, and I laid out there, relaxed, with a great view of any intruders. My bunny friend joined me, and it became our main hangout.
What I liked best about our new home was that the people who brought us food would also come and sit with us. If we were lying down, they would gently stroke us both, and we would click our teeth appreciatively. I wished my sister had lived to see such happiness. The other thing they did, was they talked to us in their odd people noises. They had a sound for everything! We learned that we had names, and we learned that we felt very happy when we were told, “good bunny” because it was always accompanied by a stroke or a treat. We also learned to feel very sorry for ourselves when we were told “bad rabbit” because the sound was barking, like a dog, and there were no strokes or treats for bad rabbits.
Years came and went. I enjoyed every new day and the possibilities it brought. I loved the new and thoughtful toys that my people brought me, and I really felt like they were a part of our herd, even though they didn’t sleep with us. Sometimes, we saw the rest of their burrow, and it was huge. Everyone had their own separate nest space and there was a communal one down lots of small platforms, one after the other, that I learned to run up and down really quickly for fun. Near the communal nest space was the food place. It was full of food. Sometimes the smell upset me because it reminded me of the smell of my sister when she was dead. Usually, though, the smell was exciting and made me look forward to my own food time – even if I never had the same food as them. Well, unless I hopped up and ran off with a leaf or a slice of carrot.
I was so happy in my new home, and I thought how lucky I was to get such a wonderful place to live. There are millions of rabbits who don’t make it this far in life, whose owners leave them in a wooden box at the bottom of the garden, who maybe throw some food at them if they remember.
They live sad, pointless, lonely lives of boredom and lack of fulfilment. The only reason I can think why people do that to us is because their own lives are the same, and they don’t see why animals should be happy if people aren’t. Worse still, they “free” rabbits into the wild, where they get eaten before they can even find their way, or where they die of diseases that people invented to kill wild rabbits, or they do all sorts of other unimaginable things to bunnies who have no voice of their own.
Occasionally, though, you will find your person, and they will sit with you and tell you things, feed you intriguing vegetables and take you out to interesting and safe outdoor spaces, they’ll stroke you and make you toys, and love you unconditionally, and understand when you get scared and bite or scratch them, they’ll never shout at you or hurt you, and most of all, they will be glad that you are around. And when you find a person like that, the days fly by in a flurry of excitement until one day you are old and fat, and you have led a longer and happier life, full of love and fulfilment.
Ideas for keeping your bunnies warm, and how to move indoor bunnies outdoors or outdoor bunnies inside:
Sometimes the weather gets cold. Like, really cold. As you know, rabbits love to go out whether it’s rainy, sunny, snowy, windy or foggy. Rabbits just love to play. Pet rabbits are different to wild rabbits because they do not have the same ability to keep warm in the cold – particularly if they don’t have a very large run. Wild rabbits keep warm by running fast over entire fields and by snuggling up underground in big groups for warmth. They sleep during the day when it is warmest and they come out at night when it is coldest so they can keep themselves warm in the chilliest time of day. Domesticated rabbits lack a lot of these instincts, and can become uncomfortable in the cold, so you need to help them out a bit. Also, older rabbits can get arthritis so it’s essential for any bunnies over 6 years of age to be kept toasty warm in winter.
Here are some ways you can keep your bunnies warm during cold weather:
1. Heat up a brick: Get half a house-brick and put it in the bottom of your oven after you’ve finished cooking dinner, while the oven cools. When the brick is warm, put it in the rabbit’s housing. I never put bricks directly in the hutch, but in the shed where the hutch is kept, to warm the air and so they have the option of snuggling up with it but aren’t forced to keep going past it every time they want to leave the hutch. If you only have a hutch and no shed, however, put the brick in one corner of the hutch, moving the food bowl if necessary so they can lie next to it. Don’t put it in the private sleeping area as this should remain undisturbed as much as possible (see below).
2. Give them extra straw: During winter, rabbits like to build a big snuggly nest in part of their hutch. Females especially love to do this. Make sure they’ve got lots of straw available to do this (but don’t put it directly in the nest – they like to build it themselves), and try not to disturb that part of the hutch – they probably won’t poo in there until Spring.
3. Fill their water bottles or bowls with warm (not hot) water: This will mean that if temperatures go sub-zero, their water will take much longer to freeze, because there’s more temperature to go down. Team this with a thermal bottle cover and it will take an extremely low temperature to make ice out of their water.
4. Give them extra food: Only a bit, mind – you don’t want fat bunnies! Extra food gives the bunnies more energy which they will need to keep themselves warm. Staying warm burns extra calories – just ask any mountaineers – so the extra food is very important.
5. If it’s really cold, or if it’s snowed heavily, bring your bunnies in periodically to warm them up – at least once per day. This will enable them to fight the cold and you will get a chance to check them over and make sure they’re healthy.
6. When you check your bunnies, check their bottom for mud build up. Rabbits who have been playing outside in the mud sometimes get a shell like coating of mud around their bum and back legs that needs cleaning off ASAP to avoid skin and fur problems, especially if they’re old and can’t or won’t clean themselves.
7. Cover their hutch with a blanket: even if their hutch is in a shed or conservatory, covering it with a blanket will ensure they don’t get too cold. Make sure they still have ventilation, though, otherwise carbon dioxide will build up which can kill them.
8. Protect the hutch from the wind. Either situate it so it’s touching the house (but not where any guttering might leak onto it) or so it’s touching a fence. Ideally, make a double-skinned hutch by getting a small shed and putting their hutch in it, take the hutch doors off and improve the shed with some extra platforms. This would keep them warmest of all, if you can’t have them in your house. It also means they have lots of play space for days when they want to stay in their indoors.
Katie and Fifer used to be one of our two pairs of houserabbits, and used to play outdoors about six to ten hours a day, but one day we expanded their outdoor play space and they’ve refused to come indoors since (they literally hide under their wendy house – although they do also love playing in the whole garden when we let them out of their run). All the photos taken are of them in their run, which is pretty huge.
They didn’t like being cooped up in the living room without a constant supply of fresh grass, so even though we have read lots of articles about how rabbits are best suited to living indoors, we have decided it was the right decision for this particular pair of bunnies to move them outdoors. We repurposed a brick outdoor shed and took the downstairs doors off their two storey hutch so they had 24/7 indoor outdoor access. They have been a lot happier since then, since they don’t have to wait to be put outside anymore and if it rains they can go into their hutch now instead of under their wendy house. Banacek and Cleo, on the other hand, hate outdoors and run straight back inside when we try to get them to go out into the garden, so we would never move them out permanently and certainly not in winter.
I have been told and read from a number of sources that if a bunny was kept indoors last winter, they should not be put outside the next winter, and vice versa. This is not true, you just have to make it a sensible, managed move that takes their needs into consideration. Cleo used to be an outdoor bunny and lives indoors now, and Katie and Fifer moved out in September. You can’t just throw them out in a 3 foot hutch and expect them to cope. Be aware that they may be surprised at the temperature difference, make sure their hutch is snuggly warm and cosy, and that they have a constant supply of hay and fresh water (especially when it snows as this covers up the grass and plants). If they are coming indoors, they might honk, circle and generally display sexual behaviour (even if they’re neutered) as bunnies think it’s spring when their temperature suddenly and prolonged increases, and their hormones all come out in their behaviour. It passes after a couple of weeks. Make sure indoor bunnies have a cooler part of the house to retreat to for those times when they get too hot as rabbits don’t cope well with heat either and don’t adjust very quickly. The main thing is to ensure your bunny is happy. If they’re happier outdoors, put them out. If they’re happier indoors, bring them in. If they like both, get a cat flap and show them how to use it.
What do you do to keep your rabbits warm and toasty in winter? Do you move them indoors or let them get accustomed to the weather?
Sebastian has always been a reclusive bunny, Neville always spoke up for both of them and so part of Sebastian’s challenge in the future is going to be to learn to speak up for himself, to draw attention to his own needs without someone else there to do it for him. Obviously, my OH and I will keep a good eye on him, but we rely on our rabbits to tell us when they’re unhappy with something we’re doing so we can change it and provide a better environment for them. Sebastian’s just… never really done that.
Earlier this week, I couldn’t see Sebastian playing outside and felt that familiar worry, so went out to check on him. He was just sat in his hutch staring listlessly into space. I picked up his chewy play carrot and he attacked it with vigour, shoving at it with his nose and tearing at it. I think it still smelled of Neville, and I got the impression Sebastian was taking out his anger, that Neville had left him behind. I’m trying really hard not to project onto Sebastian though, because my mother died at the beginning of last month (literally two days after I started this blog, good job I’d prepared quite a few posts in advance and just needed to do photos and put it all together, but I didn’t think it was a good time to say), and I’m seeing behaviours in Sebastian that I know I’ve been exhibiting.
Anger. Anger at everything. That she went away. That I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her. Anger that the house got broken into over Christmas and that a lot of her favourite things got taken. That I thought we had more time. Anger at the stupidity and senselessness of it all. She was 53. Sebastian is very angry when he smells Neville on the toy carrot.
Sadness. This feeling that there is a huge rift in your life that will never be repaired, that some energy conduit has been cut away and you can no longer feel a connection to someone. Sadness that she didn’t get to do half the things she wanted to. Sebastian sometimes has water around his eyes. I know people say rabbits can’t cry but mine all seem to when there’s something sad happening. The first night we put Banacek outside last summer, when we came to get him he was sitting in the garden, staring through the kitchen window, waiting for us and crying. The first night we brought Katie home, and she realised she wasn’t going to be separated from Fifer ever, she had water under her eyes too (until he bit her, then she bit him back, then his eyes were watering but that was probably pain because she’s a lot bigger than him. He’s never ever started on Katie again).
Excessive energy. Sometimes when I see Sebastian he’s just running around his rabbit run (which is sizeable) letting off steam. I got an early Christmas present of my OH which was a pair of roller skates, so I could just run and run and run. Sometimes I still lie in bed and just want to go for a long walk and just keep walking until I’ve reached the end of the world.
Aggression. This is like anger but towards other people for no apparent reason. Sebastian does it with me, he bites my fingers, and he’s never been a biter before (except play bites). It’s like he’s saying “you control our lives, you’re all powerful, bring Neville back.” I keep getting aggressive towards my OH, but we have a specific way to settle our differences so it doesn’t get very far.
Sadness. Sometimes this is just sitting for hours staring into space. We both do that.
Looking for answers. I see Sebastian sometimes trying to dig a hole to get to where we buried Neville (which was outside the rabbit enclosure). He knows it’s happened but doesn’t understand why. Why Neville and not him. Why not some other elderly bunny who had an even longer life? He stares at Cleo (who is the same age) and wonders why she’s fine, and he, Sebastian, is fine, and Neville is not. I look at elderly people in Tesco and wonder, what did they do differently that my mother did wrong? Of course, there’s no answer because cancer is just down to bad luck, and old age is just something that catches us out, there’s no reason why some people die of old age in their seventies and others don’t go until they hit 100, thirty entire years later, and the same for bunnies.
Distraction. We both seem to spend an awful lot of time doing the most random things. Sebastian even enjoyed a car ride on Monday when I had bathed him and didn’t want him to go into shock on his own because baths can be traumatic for bunnies. He just sat in a box on the front seat and snuggled up to my hand, which was stroking him whenever it was safe to do so. I seem to spend a lot of time doing housework, gardening, and sorting out minutiae for the rabbits.
Reaching out to people. I’ve become a lot more talkative on social media, as well as more communicative with other family members. Sebastian sits at the side of his run and tries to get close to the other two outdoor rabbits, who are both quite young and don’t really understand what Sebastian is going through. When I brought him in on Monday, I sat him on the sofa and he just did his best impression of a bunny slipper, sat between me and my OH, and let me just continually stroke him. Every time I got up to make a cup of tea, I had to take him with me because otherwise he would get very anxious and start stomping his foot, which we know is a sign of fear.
Not eating. This is another thing we’ve both been doing. We have both been barely eating, and when we have done, it’s been fresh vegetables. I’m slowly weaning myself onto pasta, rice and chips again, and trying to get Sebastian to eat some hay, because we both need our starchy carbohydrates. I’ve recently discovered fruit in a big way, so I’m actually getting three things that look like meals every day. Sebastian is not that into fruit. We do share an interest in parsley, however.
The Replacement Question
I’ve been debating whether to get Sebastian a new friend as soon as possible or whether to wait longer. The House Rabbit society suggests asap, with it being easier to bond a bereaved rabbit because they’re emotionally vulnerable. I think rabbits are all different, and that three to five days is not enough to deal with their feelings before shoving them towards someone new. I feel it’s a bit insensitive to go “oh, sorry the person you shared a womb with and have never been apart from your entire life is now gone. Let’s get you a nice guinea pig…” Also until his anger and aggression have abated it might not be the best time to try and bond him, although the flipside is that new bonding might help get rid of the negative feelings. My OH doesn’t have as much experience with pets so is leaving it to me. And my decision making is worse than ever at the moment. I think the upshot will quite probably be that we’ll take Sebastian to Pets At Home on Saturday and show him the adoptible rabbits (if they have any), and if he strikes up a nice relationship with one of them, we will bring them home. Part of me is worried that he’ll bond to a Giant Rabbit, and that we will be silly and let him, which would be woefully inappropriate for both of them – it’d be like pairing a dog and a horse.
I think, even though we’ve both lost a lot of people we were close to (Sebastian’s dad died 2 years ago, his previous owners moved to Australia eighteen months ago, and obviously being a 3D person who makes a lot of connections I’ve lost at least a dozen people in my life and been to even more funerals for all those people who I didn’t really know but were peripheral to my life in a way that I still needed to pay my respects), nothing has prepared either of us for this depth of loss or sadness. I know I will be okay because I have my wonderful other half (terminology – we’re actually both complete circles that overlap) who looks after me and sorts things out and holds rabbits when I’m trying to pour tea. The trouble with rabbits is they only make a connection to one individual at a time (usually), and in their serial monogamy, they lose the support network that other animals have, because other rabbits who see them frequently don’t seem to understand the significance of the loss.
For now, lots of attention, lots of understanding, giving him the space to act out (but making sure this doesn’t become a time for bad behaviour to be learned. I feel that letting him for-real bite me would be completely unacceptable but play biting me, or attacking his toy carrot is another matter), giving him lots of extra tasty food so he is encouraged to keep eating, My main concern is making sure he feels there is a reason to keep living, because I know rabbits are very emotional creatures and can sometimes die of loneliness or a broken heart.
Plenty of attention, warmth, love and affection, whilst making sure Sebastian isn’t smothered so he can also do his own thing. And tea. But not for him. I think he’s our only rabbit who doesn’t try to drink our tea. Maybe he should start…
There are no pictures today. I felt it would be exploitative of the situation.
Warning: This post talks about the loss of a rabbit.
Today we opened the bunny house up to find that Neville had passed on in the night. We are still very upset about this. To try to make it better, I made this video to show what Neville used to get up to with his brother and life partner Sebastian:
Both rabbits were born in March 2005, so we are unsure what to do about Sebastian, whether to find him a new life-partner or not, because he probably doesn’t have many years left to live, and, if we are getting him a new partner, whether a rabbit or whether a different species of pet would be better. It’s a difficult question for a bunny of such a big age – celebrating his tenth birthday in March – and one we are going to think about very deeply before we make a decision.
Whatever we decide, we will continue to do our best to make Sebastian feel better. We are going to have a little burial for Neville tomorrow in the flowerbed, and get a little stone bunny statuette thingy from Homebase or some other garden centre, to put on his grave, so we can always know he is there. We are very lucky that we own our own home and can do such things without any landlord getting snotty about it. I am going to plant some lavender on top so we can see the circle of life taking place as time goes on.
One thing that the houserabbit society says very clearly about bereaved rabbits is to let the bereaved rabbit spend time with the body of the deceased one. We don’t know how long Neville had been gone by the time we found him (he had been fine the night before when we fed him) but when I pulled him out of the corner of the hutch, rigor mortis had set in and the chest cavity had already depressed (sorry! Archaeology graduate! We deal with dead things).
I gave him a thorough examination, I listened for a heartbeat and tried to check if he was breathing at all (he was very stiff but I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t paralysis), and I think he died of old age because he was showing no signs of illness or injury, he was nearly ten and the average age for a rabbit to live to is between five and seven, and outdoor rabbits don’t live as long as indoor rabbits, and winter is a time when organisms are more likely to die than other times of the year.
I left him out on the ground for Sebastian to see, just to definitely make sure that Sebastian had had a chance to comprehend what had happened. Then I put him in the other run because Fifer and Katie were very stressed and I don’t think they had quite known why they were so stressed. Katie had a little snuffle. Fifer went nuts and started trying to scratch and bite Neville’s body, which really horrified me, so I pulled Fifer off him and put Fifer a few feet away.
I have researched this since, and found out this is actually a normal reaction that some rabbits have when they are confronted with the loss of a friend. Fifer and Neville had a complicated past, but generally in recent months had been snuffling each other through the bars of their runs, and Neville (as you can see digging in my video) was always trying to burrow into Fifer’s run to be near him. Apparently some rabbits do get very angry and become rage-filled balls of hate for a little while after a death. Like people, all rabbits deal with death differently (and differently to people, too – some rabbits get very energetic and start running and bouncing around when they find their friend to be dead, not because they are happy, but because they are just reacting to the loss differently).
We had to keep them separated though because when they were face-to-face without a rabbit run between them, they always fought with each other. Fifer is still very upset that his arch-nemesis is no more. Katie, his life-partner, is now comforting him. She did also do a very peculiar thing while I was distracted with Fifer – she somehow got into Sebastian and Neville’s hutch and ran through it, around the run and was well on her way to Sebastian when my other half sensibly grabbed her and popped her back onto her side of the run. I think she had the best intentions and probably wanted to comfort Sebastian, but she’s three times bigger than him and significantly stronger, and we couldn’t take the chance that she wasn’t going to accidentally hurt him. A vet visit with a bereaved bunny is the worst thing you can ever hope for, because in the bereaved state they need stability and continuity of people and place.
I have bagged Neville up and put his little body in one of the outhouses overnight just to keep him safe until we return him to the earth tomorrow.
We had gone to pets at home on Sunday and I’d bought a new toy for Sebastian and Neville, a little grass or wicker playhouse, just like the one that the indoor bunnies had demolished (that I talked about in a different post). I bought it against my better judgement even though I didn’t have much money, I just got this strong feeling that they needed a new toy right there and then, and when I put it inside their hutch, they were both so happy that Neville just disappeared into the new toy and had so much fun, and Sebastian was chinning it and nibbling it straight away as well. I am really glad that Neville’s last week was a happy one with lots of fun and that I bought him that toy and that he was able to play with his brother Sebastian in his final days on Earth – I don’t really have any particular beliefs about afterlives and things, something which I struggle to comprehend, but I hope he is happy, wherever he is, and that there are lots of carrots and parsley for him to nibble, and that the earth is soft enough for him to dig in.