Where I blab about bunnies and encourage your bunny (and other animal) stories.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

'Twins together' comment, or the longest post yet

Hannah said...


Question--I have a really sweet bunny named Jameson who is such a mush it's ridiculous. He's also got a little attitude though, but you know how boys are. Anyway, I want to get him a bunny friend (because rabbits are social animals, and I think he would like a friend!) But I need to know...

-What does it take to socialize bunnies before you can house them together

-How big of a cage do you need (any ideas on where to get them at a good deal?)

-How much does it cose to nueter/spay and can you get it done at any vets?


So there's a few things here, Hannah. And I hope you came back to see if I answered your questions. (And are you the Hannah I know from TT?)

How long have you had Jameson? How does he act with you? Are there circles being run around your feet when you walk? Does he follow you everywhere? Does he cuddle with you and melt into your arms? If he does, he's bonded to you. He misses you more than you know when you're gone and is happier than a human can ever be when you come home. Right? If he doesn't, he likes you, but he's not bonded to you. You said he's a mush, but that he's got a tude...essplain, Lucy!

What does it take to socialize bunnies before you can house them together? Well, it depends. It depends on how long Jameson has been bonded to you, whether you get a boy or a girl, what kind of "housing" you're talking about (how big is the cage or room that they are enclosed in, if they're enclosed at all), whether the new friend is a baby or an older bunny, what kind of personality the new bunny has, etc. etc. The best thing, which is of course not possible in all or even most scenarios, is a few meetings before you make your decision (or, as will happen, Jameson makes his decision). If you are rescuing or adopting from a shelter, the people who run the joint will probably encourage this -- a meeting of the bunnies in a neutral place to both of them, a field or a room that the new one doesn't "own." The last thing a shelter wants is the bunny coming back to them because she/he didn't bond to your first bun.

How big of a cage do you need? The rule of thumb is 8 times the size of each bunny... So 16 times the size of the average of two. However, you could work yourself into an algebraic migraine with cubic feet and bunny sizes... here's what you do: get or build yourself (I always opt for building -- it's just cheaper and you are guaranteed the design that works best for you) a cage that is as big as you can fit in your house/apartment/room/whatever. Don't squish yourself into a corner, but don't make them hop on top of each other to get to the litter box, either.

Three of my bunnies are free roam. They have run of my apartment all the time -- whether I'm there or not. The only exception to this is when SweetPea is out of her cage and in the living room, in which case Hops can decide which sister(s) he wants to hang out with and picks a room and then the baby gate goes up in the bedroom doorway. This isn't so much so Ariel and Kayla get out (they hardly ever go into the living room; they just like the bedroom better) as so Pea doesn't get in. Ariel or Kayla and Pea will rip each other to shreds if they're in the same room and encounter each other without the benefit of bars between them. Literally "rip each other to shreds" -- if you've never seen bunnies fight in earnest, it's horrifying. They are definitely built for battle; ever read Watership Down?

Here's a sorta crappy pic of the cage I built about four years ago for Ariel and Kayla, when I got Hops and he got their old cage, which is now Pea's. It's a regular Musical Cages at my joint, except Pea's the only one with one that matters... the condo here is just sorta home base for Ariel and Kayla now. They love it; even though the door is always open, they'll spend probably 70% of their time in the cage, on any of the three levels.

This pic, BTW, also depicts a scenario I test about every six months. This was taken in July '04, when Pea was about three months old (she's a bit bigger now ;-}). I was trying to see if the girls would take to her or beat the piss out of her. Turns out the latter. They are just fine if there's a barrier between them, but put them together and fur and blood fly. Like I said, horrifying. Best to be there so as soon as you feel the tension mount, you can pull them apart.

At any rate, you can kind of see the cage. It's made out of NICs (Neat Idea Cubes -- sold at most home improvement stores or Target for $15-$20 for about 6 cubes' worth of grids 14" on each side). NICs are not called NICs everywhere, BTW. But if you look in Target in the section they have for making your own shelving (bookshelves, really), you'll find a box of these guys. Depending on the size of the cage you make, costs for supplies can run you about $25-$100. The travel cages I've made (the three the kids are in now, actually, since I'm in PA at my parents' house -- yes, listening to Kayla sing, this girl doesn't stop!!) cost about $15-$25. You spend more money than you think on cable ties, which hold the hold thing together, bc you waste a lot by attaching and then clipping them. Best to buy cable ties by the hundreds at Home Depot. No, I'm not kidding. The first time you build a cage, you'll see what I mean. There are plenty of resource sites for cage building with NICs out there -- if you know of any or run any, please post your link.

The girls condo (the pic above) is three levels with two additional "hops." You can't see the bottom floor bc there's cardboard surrounding it, but there's vinyl flooring on the bottom, on top of which sit all the litterboxes and hay boxes. Basically, this is the mess level. The vinyl flooring makes it crazy easy to clean out (wipe it with vinegar and you're set). The far left corner behind Pea's little butt is a hole in the second level, where the first hop is. That's how they get from the bottom to the second floor. The second floor is the food floor. The dish by Pea is the food dish and the big salad dish goes right in front of the open door. Kayla is drinking water on the second hop, which leads to the third level. The third level is the play level -- toys and towels are up there. If they get tossed down, I put them back up top. This gives them more tossing room and an open space (28" x 28") to jostle and cuddle and move and toss toys and whatnot. You'll notice the corner litter box up here behind Hops in the picture bc I had to give in -- the girls were getting too lazy to hop all the way down to the litterboxes to pee, so I stuck in a corner box that hooks onto the grids.

The girls have plenty of room in this sucker. Even with the door closed. To do the math, it's three cubes wide and two deep and three tall, 42" x 42". With three levels and two hops, that makes more than 25 cubic feet of bunny living space. Kayla is barely three pounds; Ariel isn't quite four pounds; Hops is just barely four pounds. Like I said, build for what you have. If you can only have a cage that takes up 28" of floor space, build that. If you build what you want, it'll be perfect. If you buy a cage, it'll cost you upwards of $120 and it won't be exactly what you want. For sentimental reasons, I'm still holding onto the cage I originally bought for Amber in 1999 -- but it's made of metal and not the coated kind that the NICs have. It gets rusty and the openings are too small between the floor bars to clean very well. It benefits from a good hosing down every now and then, but that's a bit difficult living in an apartment complex, so you see my problem... At any rate, it's not exactly what I want, it's not exactly big enough for Pea (who grew bigger than any of my previous four bunnies did), and I'll probably end up building it up instead of replacing it all together because it's the cage that Amber had and the sentimental value is worth the extra work to clean it. And bunny lovers reading, don't worry -- my kids NEVER walk on wire floors. There is carpet on Pea's top floor and litterboxes cover her bottom floor. The ramp has carpet, too. If you don't know, wire is HORRIBLE for bunny feet. Keep them off it even if it means dirtying a different towel every day. Your bun will thank you.

That being said, if you trust Jameson and his new friend to behave themselves, free roam is really what makes bunnies happiest. Lots of space gives them room to be moody and ample opportunities to cuddle. And every bunny goes through about 15 of these cycles a day. "I love you." "I want my alone time." "I love you again." "I need to not be near you." "Will you snuggle and kiss my head?" "No, no, I need to be a hermit." You'll probably have noticed this already with Jameson -- sometimes he'll be all over you and sometimes he'll run away from you or allow you to pet him, but not to pick him up. They set their own rules about the company they keep. However, that being said, free roam requires a LOT of bunny proofing of a room or house or floor or apartment. It took me two weeks to move into my current digs over two years ago. Four days to unpack, five to go to the Vineyard and sleep and veg, and the rest to bunny proof my pad so that I could get a shower and have the kids out and be confident that they wouldn't wreck the joint in the 20 minutes I wasn't watching them.

How much does it cose to neuter/spay and can you get it done at any vets? Clearly, the phrase "breed like bunnies" has reached your ears a time or two... With the 80% occurrence of ovarian cancer in unspayed (i.e., intact) female domesticated bunnies before the age of three, unless you're breeding them, which I don't recommend for, well, anyone, YOU MUST SPAY YOUR GIRLS. So good for you, Hannah, for asking me about this!

I'll answer the second part first. NO -- you cannot get it done at any vet's. You MUST look for a vet with a specialty in "exotic" animals and make sure that they are bunny savvy... This could be easy enough as calling a particular vet's office and asking them, "Are you bunny savvy?" A better way to do it would be to access the House Rabbit Society's recommended vets or PetBunny's list of recommended vets. The HRS is the nationally recognized authority on house rabbits, and PetBunny is a listserv I've been a member of since 1997, I think. At last check (mine), the list was a solid 300 members, some of whom are very active and some lurk and some check when they have time, which is every few months. The listserv (and check PetBunny.net, which is run by my friend Shari Worden, for info on how to subscribe if you're interested) has a WONDERFUL base of bunny lovers, from novices to experts. I must warn you -- subscribe to the digest if you don't have time to read the 300+ messages a day that get posted to this list. We are a very chatty crowd, but it's all great info and you can subcribe or not to the off-topic posts and the BC posts (which stands for bunnies chatting, which is freakin' adorable, but also kinda time consuming around the holidays especially).

Here's a bit of the reason why you need a bunny-savvy vet -- the anesthesia that vets normally use for cats and dogs during surgery like spays and neuters kills bunnies. A vet that doesn't know bunnies doesn't know this very simple fact. Also, the antibiotics (and, incidentally, flea control med if you need one) are also not the same, necessarily, as the meds you'd use for dogs or cats. If you haven't figured out, bunnies are prey animals, which means that they reproduce faster and more abundantly and are WAY more fragile (biologically speaking) than a cat or a dog or another predator. One too many raisins a day makes them sick for two days. One too few can do that, too. They always walk a line of fragile balance and it can be disrupted completely in a VERY short amount of time, as I tragically found out four years ago when Amber died in my arms in a vet's ICU 22 hours after I found he had lost all control of his hind legs. He was, incidentally, 11 days shy of his third birthday, so he was still a baby by all accounts. He was, as you may have guessed by my way-too-accurate description of a bonded bunny at the beginning of this post, bonded to me like super glue.

Anyway, enough of the sad. Get a bunny-savvy vet that has been listed and recommended by at least one of the lists I've referenced. Second question: How much does it cost? I go to a vet that is run by two women vets who are arguably the best bunny vets in the country -- Drs. Hartman and Tast. They charge about $125 for a spay (although with pain killers and anesthesia and overnight board and a pre-spay physical it ran me about $200 for Pea a year ago) and less, I think, for a neuter. The spay is more involved and invasive -- just another joy of being a girl. The neuter is a few snips and they're done; the spay is the removal (usually) of the ovaries and uterus because of the high instance of ovarian cancer.

The boys don't have any biological reason to get fixed. It's all hormonal/behavioral for them. So you may notice Jameson doing some silly things if a girl comes along (they should only be allowed to be together after a spay and some recoup time for the girl). He may chase her incessantly and spray what seems like pee, but what isn't really pee at all at her, at you, at everything. If he's not a baby, he'll calm down (probably); and if he is a baby, he'll still calm down because he'll grow up (probably). But you can't fault a dude for being horny. I've never heard it done before I did it or since, but you CAN bond an intact male with spayed females. It takes a lot of animal behavior understanding on your part, strong-willed girls who can run away from him (so, not enclosed in a small cage) if need be, and a stuffed animal bunny for times when he just needs to hump. This sounds a bit sick at first, but I've had two boys and neither of them were neutered and both of them were/are very happy kids. I just don't believe in "fixing them" if you can get around it and if they won't get sick from keeping their jewels. Plenty of people would disagree with me on this one or wouldn't dare find out because of the behavioral issues that may happen, but my vets don't and that's what matters. When Amber would start to look at my leg a little sideways, I'd say, "Go get Daisy" and he'd walk right over to this little white stuffed bunny and hump away until he was settled. Hops needs to physically be put on Willow, his "girlfriend," but he knows what to do once he gets there. Usually he won't opt for her when he can chase two perfectly healthy girls around (that'd be Ariel and Kayla, for some reason he's never gone after Pea), but he doesn't argue when I need to stop the craziness of his 3 a.m. urges.

So, yeah, I could write about this stuff for hours. Actually, I just did. I've got loads more experience and advice. If you'd like to know, Hannah or anyone else, or if you think I'm off the mark, just comment and post some more questions and I'll diatribe my way into some more answers. Thanks for writing and check out those links.


  • At 12/24/2005 11:11 AM, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Dana, awesome, awesome post. There's info out there but I think what I read from you covered a lot really well. I wouldn't be surprised if it gets linked to :) It was really helpful to see your cage design--one quick question, can you take it apart if you have to move?

    I've had Jameson for 5 months or so, and yeah haha he definitely does that "i love you so much! pet me pet me pet me!" and following around etc., and then sometimes it's "i don't want to be picked up, thank-you-very-much." And when I say he's a mush, it means 90% of the time if I pick him up he goes completely, completely still, and we'll just sit or lie together for as long as I can stay still for, haha--or if he's running around my apartment (I'm home now, so he's in his cage a lot more, because I have a two year old half brother who doesn't quite understand how not to scare a bunny, or "money" as he calls it, haha) he'll hop on over to me or my other roommate emily (who he's also in love with) and put his head on the ground, or nudge our hands begging to be petted, and again become completely still. So that's what I mean when I say he's a mush :) And he gives me bunny kisses too, those are my favorite :)

    He's got a little attitude meaning, he KNOWS he's not supposed to go behind our entertainment center because of all the wires, but he'll sloooowly hop over to the side, then slowly hop some more, knowing I'm watching him, until I'll go "Jameson!" and he'll run away really fast. Repeat 20 minutes later. Haha. It's like a bunny version of Mother May I, I guess :)

    Anyway, again really great advice--maybe your next article should be on potty training bunnies--I've been trying and trying with Jameson but he'd much rather lie in his litter boxes and chill out than use them as litter boxes.

    Also, idea--since your site gets so many hits, maybe you should set up a message board? Could be fun to see what kinda conversation you generate :)

    a pic of jameson is here:




Post a Comment

<< Home