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.