He was a beautiful silver-gray lop whose deep brown eyes seemed almost lost in the drape of his ears. Silky soft, he was only too happy to let my fingers gently stroke him for as long as I liked. I’d never had a lop, always wanted one. He was perfect. There was just one hitch.
Years ago, I helped a woman adopt a rabbit after her previous one passed away. She fell in love with a beautiful silvery lop named Sheldon, and delightedly took him home. A few weeks later, she gave me a call. She was concerned because she and Sheldon weren’t “connecting”. In fact, he was avoiding her.
I asked what happened when she got close to Sheldon. She said she’d pick him up and cuddle him, but he would get away as quickly as he could. “Have you tried not picking him up?” I asked. Though I tried my best to work with this well-meaning bunny mom, in the end I failed. She became convinced that Sheldon was somehow defective and he was returned. On the brighter side, Sheldon went on to find a happy home.
“Moraea! That’s *my* drink!,” I exclaimed, snatching the champagne glass away from her inquisitive little tongue.
“It tickles my whiskers. Can I have some more?” she asked, lunging into my lap.
“Nope,” I said, swiftly changing the subject. “It’s almost midnight. We need to make our New Year’s Rabbit Resolutions.”
Here’s what we cooked up.
Mike, my burly general contractor, stopped mid-sentence and looked past me towards the source of that thunderous sound: The oversized back feet of a large, black-and-white splotched rabbit. The bun sat upright and defiant, in the center of the kitchen floor. If it’s possible for a bunny to glare, this one was doing it.
“Is he OK?” Mike asked.
“You’re fiddling with your keys. He doesn’t like it.”
Mike had been absent-mindedly running his fingers through the collection of metal bits in one of his pockets. Despite the “this woman is insane” look on his face, his hand went still. Satisfied, the long-eared protestor turned and hopped away to attend to his waiting pile of greens. Not even a 200-pound adversary could intimidate Elwood.
Your rabbit is peeling the wallpaper off your wall. How do you seek help? Talk to rabbit-lover friends? Call the rescue you adopted from? Google it?
Ever ask your vet?
Bun owners like me often consult a vet about a behavior that we suspect has a medical cause. One example is urination outside the litterbox. It’s sometimes thought to be caused by a bladder infection, so the vet is the obvious person to consult. However, recently I discovered that some veterinarians can also be of help with behavior concerns that aren’t directly linked to an illness or injury.
“Ahem,” said Finnegan.
OK, Finnegan didn’t actually clear his throat. But he did the rabbit equivalent: hopped over to my chair and looked up at me. A bunny never does this unless he has something to say.
“What’s up, Finnegan?”
“Couldn’t help noticing, you’re eating an apple.” he said, licking both sides of his harelip.
“Isn’t it time you took a nap?” Moraea asked, licking her paws and preparing to give her face a good wash.
“It’s only 9:30 am,” I replied. “I’m just getting my day started. Anyway — wait — you speak English???”
“Of course we do,” said Moraea, looking sideways at me as she pulled down one ear to lick it. “How else do you think we manage to edit your blog posts?”
“You edit my —”
“Stop trying to change the subject,” she interrupted, and shook her ears a few times. “It’s almost nap time. When are you going to sleep?”
“Not until about ten o’clock tonight.”
“What?! Why so late?”
Clearly, she needed to learn an important fact about the difference between human daily activity cycles and those of rabbits.
“Moraea, people and rabbits have different sleep patterns. You rabbits are what’s called crepuscular.”
Moraea froze, one half-groomed leg outstretched, a look of disgust on her little koala-nosed face.
“UGH!” she exclaimed. “That sounds like how you’d describe that picture of a festering wound I saw on WebMD!”
“You were looking at — ? Never mind! I know it’s a strange word, Moraea, but it’s not as bad as it sounds! It just means you are active in the mornings, like 5 or 6 am to maybe 9 or 10 am, and then you nap through the afternoon. Then around 4 to 6 pm you start to wake up again, and you stay lively until 9 or 10 at night.”
“Right. Of course.” She put her leg down for a moment and pondered. “But I’ll still get up in the middle of the day sometimes for a snack and a bathroom break.”
“Yes, I sometimes do that in the middle of the night, myself.”
“I see. But you only sleep at night?” she asked, working her tongue between each little toe with care.
“Exactly! You guys are different because you’re prey animals. You evolved to avoid the huge numbers of other species that would love to eat you. In the morning and evening, there’s light but not bright light. So neither the night predators nor the ones adapted for daylight can see very well. Those are the safest times of day for you to come out of hiding and graze.
“Sometimes people think rabbits are boring pets or that you guys aren’t smart or don’t do much. It could be because they try to play with you in the middle of the day when you’re all sleepy. They really need to try it when you are awake and rested. That’s why I always train you and Finnegan in the morning or the evening. Make sense?
My girl had hopped away silently, as rabbits do, and was fast asleep in the corner.
The Fluffy Tail of This Blog Post
While humans are diurnal, sleeping when it’s dark and active during daylight, rabbits take a different approach. Like many prey animals, they avoid being active during full daylight or darkness and opt for the in-between times. This sleep pattern is called crepuscular. So use morning and evening to interact with your bunny. In the middle of the day, let her get her beauty rest!
Rabbits as Pets?
Most people don’t get rabbits. I’d wager, recommending a pet rabbit to them is kind of like suggesting they form a relationship with an old sock. They don’t know how and they don’t see the point.
Thirty some years ago, I was clueless myself. I’d waited until after college to enhance my home with a pet, but which kind would be best? A dog didn’t seem practical, because I’d be leaving it alone all day. I was allergic to cats. In a magical moment that literally changed my life, my friend Rebecca said, “Why not get a rabbit?” The only pet rabbits I’d ever heard of were kept in cages in people’s back yards. “No”, she said, “you can litter train them.”
Those five words sent me on a lifelong journey that has always included rabbits. Back then, there was very little information available about pet rabbits. Today we know a lot more, and the information is literally a click away. In spite of that, most people are still right where I was back then.
Why are rabbits still widely viewed as boring fluff balls that do nothing but sit in cages?