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“Breathe deeply so you don’t strain a muscle squealing at how cute she is!”

“Make sure you have lots of photo storage on your phone, you’re going to need it!”

Or, maybe even, “From now on, take a closer look before assuming someone dropped Cocoa Puffs on the living room rug!

But seriously, if you knew someone who was adopting a rabbit for the first time and you could only give them one piece of advice, what would it be?

My Top Tip

When people mention rabbits in my presence, they get much more than they bargained for.  I try to stop before their eyes roll back in their heads — I don’t always succeed.  I’ve lived with rabbits for over 30 years and have volunteered with a rabbit rescue organization for almost two decades.  I’ve got so much verbal energy to share on this topic I had no choice but to start writing this blog!

For five years, I counseled adopters who were taking rabbits home for the first time.  I always talked about rabbit proofing, toys, diet, safety, a whole list of things.  But I thought a lot about what was the most important thing to tell them.  I decided that if they retained nothing else when they got home, I wanted them to remember this:

Make sure your rabbit is eating every day.

My favorite way to do this is to offer at least one treat each day.  IMHO the day your rabbit won’t take a treat and eat it, you need to get that rabbit to the vet.  Do not wait a few days, do NOT pass GO, go directly to the vet within 24 hours.

NOTE: if you’re giving out something sugary, like fruit or carrots, limit it to a teaspoon per rabbit per day.  Too much sugar can turn a health monitoring tool into a health problem!

I’ll never forget an experience I had during a routine vet visit some years ago. Unfortunately, the walls between exam rooms were very thin.  As I waited, I could hear every word of a conversation with another client.  They’d brought their bunny in after noticing she looked ill. Sadly, it was far too late for the vet to help.  I could hear their anguish and feel it to my own core.   They’d meant well, but they didn’t know how to identify key signs of trouble in time.

Rabbit Illness Can Be Swift and Deadly

When meat-eating animals get sick, we usually get a lot of clues from their behavior.   They meow or whine, barf all over the carpet, act listless.   However, because rabbits are prey animals, they behave differently.  Prey animals don’t want to look vulnerable. They try to blend into the herd so predators don’t target them. They do their best to hide their illnesses – acting as normal as possible until they’re simply overcome.  Plus, did you know that rabbits physically cannot throw up?  True fact!

That is why appetite is so key – it’s often the first indication a prey animal gives us that something isn’t right.    Appetite is the one thing they can’t fake.

The daily treat is a great way to test this key indicator of health.  It’s both comforting and fun to see the gusto with which a pet rabbit will come running and jockey for his or her special treat.  I love my morning ritual of dispensing those treats to super-appreciative little mouths! 

On the other hand, when that enthusiasm isn’t there, I get a chill feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have occasionally even seen a bunny come running for his treat, and then just drop it and leave it on the floor.  To me, this is a clear sign of illness which, in rabbits, can swiftly accelerate to dangerous levels.  I don’t waste any time getting my treasured fur ball to a vet!

Side benefits of the Daily Treat

The daily treat test normally results in the early diagnosis of health problems, with a good outcome and a full recovery.  But it has other benefits.

Bonding

Are people genetically wired to give delectable food to those we love? Or is it cultural?  Whatever it is, I sure get a kick out of presenting a yummy treat to an animal and seeing them enjoy it.  I bet I’m not alone.

As reinforcing as this is to us, it’s clear the rabbit is loving it, too.   Every time you present your bunny with a prized treat, you’re teaching her that good things come from being with you.  Do this often enough and she will be more inclined to spend time near you.  It’s a win-win!

Enrichment

Daily life for an animal has to hold some interest, some things to look forward to.  Just like providing puzzle toys or a tunnel to run through, establishing a daily ritual for your rabbit to anticipate enriches their existence.  What things make your days brighter?   I love taking time for a good stretch and relaxing shower after a tough morning workout, or fixing myself a nice supper when work is over.  In the same way, this ritual adds a highlight to your rabbit’s day that will bring them joy. 

Training

The daily treat can also prepare a rabbit for formal training.  For one thing, she’ll get used to taking treats from you.  When your rabbit becomes more interested in you, she’ll be more attentive to what you do, and thus more trainable.

The Fluffy Tail of This Blog Post

Giving a daily treat to rabbits is a great way to monitor their health and catch problems before they become severe.  In addition, it intensifies the bond between rabbit and human. Finally, it enriches our bunnies’ lives, setting us up to more easily communicate through training.  That’s why it is my top recommendation for all new rabbit owners.  What’s yours? I’d love to know – if you have a favorite, please share it in the comments!

 

 

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