Posts Tagged ‘bonding’

How to Become a BFF: Your Bunny’s Best Friend

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

by SaveABunny volunteer Mai Salvado-Da Rocha

How to Become a BFF: Your Bunny’s Best Friend
For the single-bunny households

My husband and I adopted five bunnies from SaveABunny: two bonded pairs and one bachelor bunny. The two pairs – Nibbles & Laxmi, and Cameron & Peri – provide each other with lots of comforting grooming, sniffing, and snuggling, but Frankie, our bachelor bunny, doesn’t have a bunny mate to snuggle with, so I have done my best to be as good a best friend I can be, considering that I’m not a bunny.

I have worried that Frankie is lonely because he doesn’t have a bunny mate, but attempts to introduce him to other bunnies have failed. He is a paradox; when he’s around other bunnies, he’s aggressive, he makes a sweet growling noise (obviously meant to be very fierce) in his throat, and he comes out of his corner swingin’, no matter how gentle the other bunny is. However, when people come around, he runs out right into the center of the fray, honking with happiness and excitement. When I change my sheets or rearrange my furniture, he doesn’t hide in safety. No, Frankie comes out, sits on my clean sheets, hops under furniture that I can barely hold, makes figure 8s between my legs when I’m walking, and just generally makes his presence very, very known. Because he gets the growlies around other bunnies, yet acts like a puppy when people visit, I’ve come to the conclusion that he is a “people bunny,” not a “bunny’s bunny.”

Even if Frankie doesn’t want a bunny mate, I still want him to get all the benefits of being cute and furry, so I have compiled a list of the things I do with him to make him feel loved and assured that he’s not missing out on anything by being single.

Check ears and eyes at least once a day. When bunnies groom each other, they pay careful attention to the eyes and the ears because those parts of the body are extremely important.  Frankie, a survivor of the terrible Hayward abuse/hoarding case, has one damaged eye. He can see out of it, but it is lacking lashes, so things get into it, and it tears up often. So I pet his head and feel if there are any crusty deposits that have collected in the corners or if there are stray hairs on his eyeball. The crusty deposits are easily removed with your hand or a soft cloth, but when he gets a clump of fur on his eyeball, it’s very hard to remove. I gently manipulate his eyelids until the clump attaches itself to one of them and then remove it with my hand or soft cloth. Most bunnies don’t have this problem because their eyes have lashes, but it’s a good idea to check your bunny’s eyes just the same. And, when you look into his ears, make sure they’re clean and dry, with no fluid or dark flecks in them. If you couple these examinations with lots of petting on the head and face, your bunny won’t even notice you’re playing doctor. (Note: if you find something that seems as though it doesn’t belong, make sure that you contact your bunny doctor immediately.)
Frankie is at his most rambunctious in the mornings and evenings. So that is when I bring out the toys. Unfortunately, Frankie is too smart; he knows immediately which items to turn his nose up to, and which items to chew and bat with his paws. Every toy, wicker ball, sea-grass mat or apple stick we’ve given him has been completely ignored. Instead, he chews every cord he can, tears pages out of books, gnaws on homework (try that excuse with your professor!) and nibbles holes in pillows, sheets, blankets, clothing, and shoes. Note: This wouldn’t happen if we kept Frankie in an x-pen or otherwise contained, but he’s so good with his litter box that we let him have free run of the bedroom. We don’t care if he chews up the bedclothes or papers; we’ve just trained ourselves – or perhaps he has trained us – to accept that any object that he can reach is fair game. Except for the cords. He could hurt himself with those, so we keep those out of the way. He sure likes them, though, and when he’s eyeing one (I can always tell; he gets a naughty look in his eye), all I have to do is say, “Frankie!” and he’ll hop away guiltily. He knows that he’s being extra naughty if he’s contemplating the cords. So, if your bunny is active in the mornings and evenings, those are good times to have more active fun with him: give him paper to chew (phonebooks and newspapers are good) or play tug-of-war with him, tickle his tail, or give him an invigorating, all-over body massage. Experiment, see what he likes, and make sure that he has plenty of water and hay so that when you’re done playing, he can replenish himself.
Frankie, like our other bunnies, likes to nap for most of the day. If you are home at that time, you can slowly insinuate yourself into your bunny’s dreamtime. Our bonded bunnies like to sleep right next to each other, sometimes side by side, and sometimes face touching face. Getting cozy with your bunny when he’s sleeping will probably take you longer than it would if you were a bunny. So be patient. When it looks like he’s relaxed (when his back paws are kicked out behind him or he’s lying on his side or lying on all his paws with his eyes closed), get close to him and get into the rhythm of his sleep. Watch his breathing and pitch your breathing to his. Sit still for a while and calm yourself because no bunny wants to be abruptly woken by a restless human. When you’ve centered yourself and feel that you’re in communion with his sleep, try petting him very lightly – lightly enough so that you don’t wake him – on the head or back. Do that for a while, either until you get tired or until he gets restless. Try that a couple of times, making sure that he doesn’t mind it. If he does, he’ll let you know by moving away.

The next step is to sit with him and ground yourself while he’s sleeping, but this time, try laying your hand gently on his back or side or (as Frankie likes) on his forehead. Keep your hand there, still, for as long as you can. If you get tired, remove it and massage it to get the blood flowing again, and then repeat. The idea here is to get your bunny comfortable with another physical and emotional presence near him when he sleeps – comfortable enough to not run away and keep sleeping. This step might have to be repeated quite a few times, with your hand in different places, before he relaxes. If he did OK with the first step but shied away at the second, then go backward and do the first step over and over until you can try the second again.

Now this is the payoff. When your bunny feels secure enough to sleep with you sitting right next to him with your hand on him, try putting your face right down next to him, first maybe next to his side or back. We all know how tempting it is to bury our faces in their soft fur; if you approach him carefully, as is outlined here, not only will you get a greater chance to do that without him scrambling away, but he will benefit, too, because your presence will be a friendly, caring one, and who wouldn’t want to sleep with that next to him?
Chances are that you’ll have to lie down in order to be comfortable enough to put your face right next to your bunny. Make yourself as comfortable as possible when you’re doing this because constantly shifting will wake him up, and he’ll probably be grumpy without his juice and slippers. At first, try the side and back. Put your face just close enough to touch (and inhale, if possible, that good bunny smell). After doing that a few times, hopefully lying there long enough so that both of you enjoy the experience, try putting your face next to his face. Be careful here; if your bunny is a biter (like Frankie is), that could result in some interesting facial scars. Or, if you accidentally bump your bunny’s nose, he’ll probably be startled awake. So try to angle yourself so that you can touch his face with your face while you lie in a position that’s comfortable for you, too.
When you are finally able to do this, it’s guaranteed relaxation. You get to be very intimate with your bunny, close enough to inhale when he inhales, and feel his breath on your face when he exhales. You can feel his whiskers tickling your skin, and maybe his soft facial fur against your cheek. I’m lucky; Frankie has unusually furry cheeks (we call them his “muttonchops”) so I can easily feel his fuzzy face next to mine. Lying like this with your bunny will calm you, help you forget the trials of the day, and maybe even bring your blood pressure down. And it will give your bunny a sense of companionship, someone who loves him so much and whom he loves so much that he can sleep in his or her presence. If you can manage to do this once a day, depending on your respective schedules, it will be a good way to bond with him and make you both feel appreciated.

When we feed the bunnies their nightly greens, Nibbles and Laxmi dive right in to their bowl, heads first, as though we hadn’t fed them for days and as though they hadn’t been supplied with fresh hay all day. They just love those greens. And when they eat, one of them will often snatch a piece of parsley or cilantro right out of the other bunny’s mouth! But since they love each other so much and there’s no competition for resources, nothing happens; there’s no battle for treats. They just go on, placidly eating, until the food is gone. Now, I do not recommend snatching the food from your bunny’s mouth while he’s trying to eat, but there is one way that you can bond during dinner time. You can take the greens out of the bowl one by one and feed them to him. One of the cutest and most amusing sights in the world is watching, close-up, a bunny eat. He’ll mow down the length of the stem and then crush the leafy parts into his mouth, dripping water or bits of leaf if it’s all too big for him. I like to lie on the floor and feed Frankie and get a very close look at his mouth. His upper lip is divided like a lion’s so that he can squash more food at a time in his mouth, and his little front teeth show through his lip when his mouth moves. His lower jaw moves in a circular way, and he just downs that food faster than you can say, “Greedy bunny!” Feeding him allows him to associate your scent with a reward – his greens – and it affords you much entertainment. Make sure that you wait until he’s done eating before you go because, chances are, he will lick his little paws and give his face a thorough grooming, another adorable scene to watch.

There is no way that you can be exactly like a bunny mate, but in some cases, that’s good. Making your bunny happy is a matter of observing him closely, seeing what he likes and dislikes, experimenting slowly and gently with petting, massaging, toys, and games. As in every good relationship, there’s give and take, so the more time you spend with him, learning about him, the more fulfilling your relationship will be for the both of you. And if you REALLY want to try to be as bunny-like as possible, you can do what I did once and lick your bunny’s forehead. I don’t know if he enjoyed it or not, but it left me with a mouthful of fur and probably the beginnings of a decent-sized hairball.

Add two rabbits. Stir. Garnish with basil. (ch. 2)

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Firstly, humongous apologies for making you wait so long for a sequel. I was on vacation, you see. It was awesome. It so awesome that I got pharyngitis and couldn’t think straight for two weeks.

Since I’ve been gone, you may have noticed a small change. I would like to officially (and belatedly) welcome DKM to the SaveABunny Blog as our second contributor. She has astonishingly good timing, as it turns out, and I hope she will continue to make me feel less guilty for infrequent blogging for a very long time.

But back to business.

As you may or may not remember (it was awhile ago, I know) I acquired my second bunny, Linda Maureen, outside a whole foods one day in a cardboard box.

I brought her home and dropped her in the bathroom with some hay. I was excited to introduce her to my first rabbit, Ellis. I was hoping they would fall instantly in love and that I would be able to leave them alone together when I left town in a couple weeks. Why not hope, right?

Now, rabbit bonding isn’t really a straightforward, one-step process.  It can take weeks – months even. Every rabbit is different, and every rabbit couple has different dynamics. I’m excited to share some first-hand experience but in addition, you should check out the official bonding guide recommended by SaveABunny. I didn’t exactly follow it. I tried though.

The first thing I did wrong was completely throw any modicum of patience I had out the window. Linda had been out of her box huddled in the bathroom corner for about five minutes before I decided to bring in Ellis and see what he thought of her.

What’s wrong with this idea?

1. Who knows what kind of weird diseases she might have been carrying around. Sure, she looked extremely healthy and was definitely still less than a year old, but what if she’d had something? Then Ellis would have gotten it, and then I would have two sick bunnies. I should have kept her quarantined until her vet visit that weekend. I did, at least, give her a good once-over to make sure there was nothing obviously wrong with her. And to make sure she actually was a girl. But I recommend a full quarantine. Better safe than sorry.

2. She had just come from a cardboard box, and before that a house with four kids in it, and before that, a school with who knows how many kids trying to pick her up and grab her and poke her and who knows what. And before that, I have no idea where she was, but any way you look at it she was traumatized. Then I decided to introduce her to a big scary boy rabbit without so much as warning her first. Ok, well I did warn her, but I don’t think she understood me.

All I had to do was open the bathroom door a nudge, and there was Ellis, just dying with curiosity to meet this sweet-smelling new lady I’d brought home for him. He immediately came up to her, sniffing her out. She retreated even farther into the corner. He started licking her face. She shivered. All seemed to be going well. Ellis was in love at first sight. I don’t blame him, she was a total cutie.

Then he started humping her, which when introducing rabbits, you should expect someone to do. It’s a normal dominance behavior. Please, please make sure at least one of them is fixed first though. (Ellis had been fixed since I got him from SaveABunny. Linda has an appointment next week.)

I let Ellis hump her a little until she started making these adorable little whimpering noises. Any time a rabbit makes a noise it’s bad. Unless they’re purring. Any other time = bad. But it caught me totally off guard how extremely cute her little noises were, which may have made me not take them as seriously as she would have liked me to. But I eventually shooed Ellis off of her and sent him back into the living room.

Now, let me backtrack a little. I chose the bathroom as their first meeting place for two reasons: one being that it was a small space and they couldn’t get into too much trouble in there, and other being that it was the room Ellis had spent the least amount of time in, so it was the most neutral territory. That’s an important thing to have when bonding – neutral territory. It’s in the guide.

Unfortunately Linda couldn’t stay in the bathroom forever, so I partitioned off a space in the living room next to Ellis’. I got her her own litterbox, and gave her some of Ellis’ extra toys that he was kind of bored with anyway, and I gave her a little water bowl and a nice stack of hay. She started to relax. They sniffed at each other through the partion. They laid down next to each other. Things were looking extremely good considering they had only known each other for two hours. Yay!

I let them out to play together the next day. Every time  Ellis got close to Linda, she would run away. It was kind of cute. Ok, it was totally cute, they’re bunnies, everything they do is cute, but I could sense Ellis’ frustration. All he wanted to do was prove to her his undying devotion, and she was playing hard to get. Or she was just terrified he would squish her trying to hump her again. I don’t really know what was going on her tiny little little bunny brain. I still never know what goes on in her tiny bunny brain. Women. I don’t understand them. Ellis, I get. Women, not so much.

This continued every time they were together for next three days. After the second day, in fact, Linda had somehow escaped her partitioned area  while I was asleep and had shared the living room with Ellis until I found them in the morning, realized what had happened, shrugged, and ditched the partition completely. They hadn’t killed each other so I figured they might as well get used to sharing the space.

This is not an advisable step in the official bonding guide.

They had been so cute, flirting through the bars of the parition before, that I figured eventually she would stop running away from Ellis and they would be bonded in no time. But, like I said, I’m impatient. Tricks were called for.

First, I forced them to share. I put down a big pile of greens and their mutual love of arugula brought them together for a few minutes of communal chewing. Then Linda ran off.

Ellis had some tricks, too. He had started sneaking up on her from behind, and when she was just about to scamper off, he would bite her in the butt. I tried telling him that was no way to impress a lady, and it wasn’t. It just made her more afraid of him, which made her run away more, which made Ellis even more frustrated. I don’t think he really grasped the whole psychology of the situation, though.

He eventually tried a new strategy. Pointedly ignoring her, he walked right by her and then flopped down, with his little feet out to the side, looking in the exact opposite direction from her. Totally smooth. Totally aloof. Except that his ears were following every sound she was making. I gained a new appreciation for his abilities as a slick lady’s man that day. What a move. It almost worked, too. After a few minutes, she slowly, timidly came up behind him and started sniffing, ears and whiskers forward. Then, unable to restrain himself any longer, he whirled around and chased her across the room. Nice one, Ellis.

It was my turn. I had read in the bonding guide that you can trick bunnies into grooming each other by smearing banana on their foreheads. I didn’t have any banana so I used a little piece of tangerine. Then I held them down facing each other. First I gently let Ellis up. He started licking the tangerine off her face with the excitement of a man who had just been given a supermodel covered in chili-cheese fries. Or, um, something else delicious but more attractive. He didn’t stop at the tangerine mark, anyway. He licked her whole face, her cheeks, and behind her ears before I stopped him. Next, I let up Linda. She gingerly licked the little orange mark I’d made on Ellis’ forehead. He squinted. Then I let them go.

About four minutes later, Ellis approached Linda in middle of the living room floor. She didn’t run away. He started licking her face. She let him. He groomed her all over and then finally laid down next to her. She stayed. She didn’t return the favor, and she was kind of huddled up and nervous-looking still, but she let him lay next to her. And I think she liked it.

They were bonded. Four days. How much do I rock??

I feel kind of like I’m cheating you with my bonding story because it was so easy. I mean, they just happened to be soul mates – who knew? Don’t expect it to go this easily. Read the guide. Comment if you have any questions or tips. And most importantly, be patient.

And don’t be afraid to smudge fruit all over your rabbit’s face. It’ll come off. Eventually. I promise.

Add two rabbits, stir. Garnish with basil. (ch. 1)

Friday, December 5th, 2008

As so many people who have had the pleasure of sharing their home with a rabbit will tell you, it’s almost impossible to just have one.

And not because of the stereotype that rabbits breed like crazy (pet rabbits should always be fixed!), and not just because one rabbit by himself looks kinda bored, and not just because humans love projecting their own loneliness onto their furry friends. You see, rabbits have this strange addictive property. I call it lagophetamine. (I made that up just now.) Once you realize you’ve fallen for a rabbit, it’s already too late. His big, pinkish blue eyes have cast their spell on you, and you’re doomed to have more rabbits – and more – probably until the day you die. Luckily it’s an extremely pleasant addiction with only positive side effects.

But I have to admit – wait, let me do this right -

Hi. I’m Thea. I’m an addict. A lagophetamine addict.

I started with just one rabbit – like we all do, I guess – but then, I couldn’t help myself. One wasn’t enough. I told myself he’s lonely, he’s bored, he needs company – but the truth is, I needed a second rabbit.

I went looking for one. Not very hard, I just put up a posting on Craigslist. I figured one would find me. I said I had a bunny who needed a friend, and if someone had a rabbit they couldn’t take care of, I would take her in and make sure she had a good home. I also went to the websites of the local shelters, and emailed them about fostering. Ideally, I would have gone to SaveABunny, brought my rabbit, Ellis, with me, and done the rabbit speed dating that SaveABunny offers, which is an awesome service. But SaveABunny was 1200 miles away and Ellis hates cars. Sorry, SaveABunny. I feel bad, but… I got to save a bunny out here instead.

After a couple of weeks, I got a response. Not from the animal shelters, unfortunately, (not sure what their deal is), but from Craigslist. A 12-year-old had randomly brought home a rabbit from school one day, and his mom realized there was no way they could keep her. She emailed me this photo:

I couldn’t resist. That little scared bunny – she could end up with some unknowing family, locked in a hutch her whole life, or worse – Albuquerque has a lot of snake owners. (Don’t get me wrong, I love snakes – but I love bunnies more.)

We arranged a meeting in a pre-disclosed location. I was early and waited for several minutes, trying to look like inconspicuous. Then I heard a voice – “Are you Thea?”

It was her – she was carrying a nondescript brown box. That had to be the goods.

Of course she also had three kids with her and we were in front of Whole Foods in broad daylight… but appearances aside, the cold hard truth is that I was getting a fix. A lagophetamine fix.

“Show me the bunny,” I said. (Just kidding, I didn’t actually say that. But I wish I had.)

She opened the box, and inside was the 64 oz. of pure brown and white love from the picture. I was sold. Not that I paid for her – you see, the first dose is always complimentary, that’s how they get you hooked. Or so I hear.

The kid had already named her Linda. It means “pretty.” I couldn’t think of any name that would possibly suit her better.

I took my box of lagophetamine and went home. It was going to be an exciting weekend.

To be continued