What a Difference a Rabbit Makes

People who parent domestic rabbits know the joys of cohabitation with a being that is both affectionate and a good judge of character.

While human parents of the conventional dog and cat can make the same claim, the vast majority are probably not aware of a rabbit’s unique needs and temperament.

Like dogs and cats, domestic rabbits were once wild animals. However, rabbits occupy the lower links of the food chain. As such, they are more likely to find themselves pounced upon than doing the pouncing. Because of this, rabbits should be kept indoors, away from prowling jaws and swooping talons.

Rabbits are social animals, though perhaps not as overtly so as most dogs or some cats. When a rabbit is brought into a home with existing pets, introductions should be made slowly with increasing increments of exposure.

Remember, each animal of a different species has its own expressive body “language.” Inter-species misunderstandings can occur, especially in the beginning. A rabbit’s inquisitive sniff or nose nudge may or may not be a welcome entree. Conversely, a rabbit may feel threatened by an over-zealous dog or cat (as a cowering posture and pinned-back ears would indicate). The responsible pet parent should be attuned to signals of stress and intervene accordingly.

Eventually, the family dog and/or cat may indeed snuggle with the rabbit. Still, interactions between rabbits and other pets should be supervised at all times. Sudden movements of smaller creatures can trigger the hunting instincts of certain dogs and cats, though this risk may decrease over time.

Unlike the free-range dog or cat, rabbits enjoy contained areas for prolonged periods of time. When venturing out from the “hutch,” rabbits often leave a trail of turds allowing them to navigate back to home base. As you can see, Hansel and Gretel have nothing over the family rabbit in the GPS department.

A rabbit’s body and nutritional needs are very different from the family dog or cat. Because their fur is so dense and their mouths so small, rabbits are challenged to release body heat. We can help them modulate body temperature by keeping them on cool ceramic floors and having frozen water bottles nearby. Rabbits love to graze - on all pet food! But dog and cat food is not formulated for a rabbit’s sensitive digestive system. Keep a rabbit’s foods separate from other pet food.

Perhaps because rabbits tend to be smaller and appear more vulnerable than other pets, it is natural to want to lavish extra affection on them. Don’t feel put off if a bunny recoils at first when you try to pick him up or squirms when you put her in your lap. Rabbits are low-riders who are most comfortable living life at ground level. Imagine a huge red-tailed hawk abruptly sweeping you off the ground. Not exactly a first-class flight! Get down at floor level and give your rabbit time to approach and investigate you. He or she will let you know how much and what kind of handling they prefer.

Like any other animal companion, bunnies need time - and patience - to warm to their new home. An old friend of mine recounted a story about his younger brother and his pet rabbit, Buddy. My friend’s brother was dismayed because his furry addition of several weeks appeared to be slow to accept his human daddy and his new environment. One afternoon, my friend’s brother was dozing on the floor. He awoke to find Buddy’s head resting in the palm of his hand.

Buddy had no trouble recognizing daddy.

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