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For the Sake of Your Bunny, Make Yours an Indoor Pet!

May 24, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 265

There is a common misconception that pet rabbits belong in an enclosure outdoors, rather than indoors and this often results in neglected, aggressive and ultimately, a rabbit with a much shorter lifespan. If you want to purchase a rabbit for yourself or your child but insist on leaving it outdoors, this is a very good sign that a rabbit may not the best choice for you. There are several reasons for this.

When an animal rescue team receives a call from Animal Control or an individual concerned about rabbit neglect, over 90% of those calls are to save an outdoor bunny. We are expected to remove a rabbit the owner no longer can take care of properly and since it has lived outdoors for the duration of its life, it is usually too aggressive to place in a home or overcrowded shelter. It is wild in the sense it has not had much human interaction simply because it is too easy to ignore or neglect an animal you rarely see (except when you trudge outside to feed it). On the other hand, it is not truly wild because it cannot do anything a wild rabbit could do. It can't run for cover from predators, forage or instinctively protect itself the way a wild rabbit can do.

It is impossible to discuss rabbits in any environment without mentioning child owners* because they are often the ones expected to care for what is not a starter pet. A bite from a rabbit that has been left outdoors with little stimulation or interaction, constantly fearful of nearby prey is often a biting rabbit. If it is a large rabbit (generally more than 6 pounds), a bite on small fingers very often requires stitches or medical attention. This is dangerous for everyone involved and sadly, the only recourse is to euthanize the aggressive rabbit. This is unfortunate because the bunny was often purchased by a parent who did very little research on rabbit ownership, but gave in to a child's pleas for a cute and cuddly bunny. This is very common when the animal was the result of an Easter purchase, as it tends to be an impulse buy as a result of watching too many candy commercials!*

There are simply too many outdoor problems that can crop up that are easily missed because of the location of the cage. If the rabbit is outdoors and the adult or child grows bored with it, this is when we see frozen water dishes in the winter, forgotten feedings and other issues. In cold climates, water freezes within minutes and a rabbit will not get enough liquid from snow that made its way into the enclosure. In fact, if snow does actually make it into the hutch, that is a telltale sign there is not adequate protection from the elements. Any veterinarian can recount a multitude of stories of rabbits dying from renal failure or dehydration/hypothermia due to lack of fresh water.

Never is the saying, "when a parent considers a pet for a young child, they should do so with the understanding it will eventually be mom and dad's responsibility to care for it", more true than when the pet is an outdoor rabbit.

Rabbit owners who choose to leave their rabbit outdoors often know very little about their pet and by the time it is very ill, it is often too late to get proper medical care. Because a rabbit is a prey animal, its instinct is to hunker down and suffer silently so predators can't sense the injured or ill animal. A rabbit is always cognizant of its precarious place on the food chain. When in a physical crisis, buns will seek cover to hide from predators, hunch up in a ball and often grind their teeth in response to the pain (this is often excruciating if it is an intestinal blockage) and wait for the crisis to pass.

If the bunny is indoors, subtle signs of pain can be noted because an indoor rabbit is noticed by its owner more often due to simple logistics.Medical care can be given before it is too late. If you are used to walking by the rabbit cage and seeing your bun excitedly hop over to see you (as mine does), it is going to catch your attention pretty quickly if one day you find the poor fellow hunched over in the corner of the cage. How is this level of rabbit behavior noticeable with a rabbit in the backyard in a hutch?

A rabbit does not need to come into direct contact with a predator to perish. When a cat, dog, hawk or fox is in the area, a bunny in an elevated hutch will often thrash about to get away from the predator, often fatally injuring himself in the process. If the thrashing about does not kill her, unrelenting fear (perceived or real) night after night will often cause shock set in and the rabbit will literally die from fear. Signs of shock in a rabbit are the following: Pale gums, very cool ears, glassy or closed eyes, weak pulse, increased rate of breathing and increased heart rate. Immediate transport to a vet clinic is crucial but almost always too late. An indoor rabbit will rarely encounter these traumas.

Well meaning outdoor rabbit owners are uneducated if they believe an outdoor hutch is mimicking a natural living experience. However, if you simply will not bring your rabbit indoors, please make certain it is not in one of the standard hutches pet stores sell, as these are never large enough. One of our volunteers at the rabbit rescue took 3 abandoned rabbits and could not bring them indoors. She put them in the shed (think plenty of space) and with plenty of hay, ample hiding spaces and the own company of each other, these rabbits had long and happy lives. Her creativity and determination to keep them safe was commendable and she ALWAYS brought them indoors during the New England winter months or during heat waves. It wasn't ideal (they belong indoors all year), but she did not have a choice, as the poor bunnies were abandoned and she was saving them.

That brings me to another crucial point. If you still insist on keeping your rabbit outdoors, be absolutely certain it is not alone without a companion. Rabbits are very smart and social creatures. Leaving it alone outside without interaction is truly a cruel fate. If they sense predators or get cold in cold weather, at least they can huddle together. However, if you do not have a shed-size shelter for your buns to feel safe, why do this to the animal in the first place?Keep the little guy indoors already!

Rabbits are easily litterbox trained and often do well with cats. My very large rabbit sleeps with both of my cats and in the two years I have enjoyed Bonsai, I have yet to see him urinate outside his litterbox. His room is odor free and to be honest, cats and dogs can be often be considerably dirtier. When he was rescued, he was left in a hutch by the owner who moved and left him to die. A neighbor called to report animal abandonment when the individual moved out and the bunny was left. It is important to note that animal cruelty is a felony in many states.

He was aggressive, bit the rescue workers and lunged at everyone (who could blame him?). His water bowl was completely dry. It was understood it would be most likely euthanized due to trauma, severe head tilt and maggots. The animal was in a horrible state and the beginning stages of shock.

I took him home and a vet donated his time and medical care. Within the week he was following me around, nuzzling me or lounging on my living room sofa with a carrot. He has never come close to biting or lunging at me from day one. He chases visitors around until they pet him and can't get enough attention. He absolutely loves people and like clockwork, turns his head down for his nightly kiss on the forehead. Then, Bonsai turns and happily hops away, mission accomplished. In short, he was shown he is noticed. He matters enough to be made to feel safe.

The common assertion, "Rabbits belong outdoors" is simply incorrect if your bunny is meant to be a pet.

*Most animal shelters and pet stores will not sell a rabbit during Easter, for any reason. Too often the same animal is returned in bad shape a few months later because it was an impulse buy.

Source: EzineArticles
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