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Body Language
Rabbits are usually silent but that does not mean that they don’t communicate. Body language is their primary
means of communication although they do make some vocalizations. In addition, rabbits have their individual
dynamics of social behavior. Being hard wired to live in groups they establish social hierarchies. Rabbits
communicate their position in that hierarchy by exhibiting dominance behaviors.
As a prey animal, much of rabbit behavior is organized around scanning for and quickly interpreting potential threats
so that they can take action to avoid predators. Rabbits are also very territorial and defend their turf against
intruders. They communicate a variety of messages to other critters about how they will handle these invasions.
Understanding your rabbit's body language and common postures is helpful in building a relationship with him/her.
Look closely at your rabbit’s postures on a regular basis. Some of these can mean several things; for example,
sitting up on the hind legs could mean "I am looking around for danger" or "I want some food" or "open that door for
me". Furthermore, every rabbit is different and may communicate slightly different.
Sitting like a ball with legs tucked in or front toes just showing, ears at rest or half up and eyes half closed the "loaf"-Your rabbit is sleeping or dozing. Rabbits can sleep with their eyes open but some rabbits may twitch
their eyelids and bow their heads when sleeping.
Lying on tummy with legs stretched out behind or to the side, head up or stretched out with chin on the
ground, ears at rest-Your rabbit is relaxing, doing nothing in particular. It may have just filled its tummy with food
and be happily digesting it.
Rolling on back or side with legs in the air and eyes sometimes closed - the "bunny flop"-Your rabbit is
extremely relaxed and happy. It may have just finished a good meal, be enjoying a patch of sunshine or is relaxing
after a good grooming or play session.
Sitting up with weight on bottom, forelegs stretched, ears up and looking alert - the "classic" rabbit poseYour rabbit is looking around to see what's going on, usually thinking about what to do next and is often leads up to
grooming. It may be rocking slightly due to its weight being balanced on its four feet close together (it is awfully
cute to see baby bunnies do this)
Standing with weight on all four feet, nose and ears stretched forward and tail protruding behind-Your rabbit
is curious about something and wants to investigate
Sitting with weight on bottom, washing face with front feet, pulling ears down to lick them, twisting around
to groom back and sides- Your rabbit is grooming itself.
Leaning back with its nose buried in its bottom, then sitting upright again and chewing-Your rabbit is taking
soft cecotropes or cecal droppings from its bottom and eating them - this is perfectly normal (as gross as we may
think it is).
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Standing frozen with weight equally on all four legs in a braced stance, ears straight up and eyes wide
open-Your rabbit has heard something and is waiting to see if it is dangerous. May be followed by a thump of his
hind leg on ground and dashing away to hide.
Thumping back leg hard on ground and dashing away to hide-Your rabbit has identified danger in the vicinity
and is scared or whatever he has seen he wants to be no part of it. Or you may have done something to have upset
his/her highness and now they are displeased with you.
Sitting up on hind legs with ears up and nose pointed up-Wild rabbits do this just to get a better view and have
a look around for possible danger. I see this behavior a lot when I take mine outside to play. However, most
domestic rabbits are more likely to be requesting food that you are holding or trying to get your attention.
Laying head flat on ground-Your rabbit is showing submission to you or another rabbit and may be requesting
petting or grooming.
Shaking ears followed by scratching inside them with a hind foot-Your rabbit may have hair in its ears after a
grooming session and be trying to get rid of it. If frequent, could indicate ear mites.
Shaking ears followed by a little hop or jump-Your rabbit is inviting you to play or is excited about something, for
example if you are about to feed it.
Nudging your hand, leg or foot forcefully-Tricky one - if you are stroking your rabbit, it may be asking you to
stop. But, if you have just stopped stroking it, it may be asking you to continue. If you are just minding your own
business and your rabbit nudges you lightly, it is probably trying to get your attention or is requesting food.
Digging or biting at your feet-Your rabbit may be trying to get your attention or be asking you to move your feet
out of its way.
Turning its back on you or moving away, flicking hind feet out behind it-Your rabbit is annoyed with you for
doing something it disapproves of, such as cleaning out its litter tray or clipping its nails.
Understand what that type of poop is! Rabbits have a large cecum, which is a blind pouch located at the
junction of the small intestine and the large intestine, where the digestible portions of the intestinal contents enter
and are broken down by bacteria. Some nutrients are absorbed through the wall of the cecum, but most nutrients
are locked up in the bacteria. The rabbit then produces bacteria-rich droppings called cecotropes, which are softer,
stickier, and greener and have a stronger odor than the regular waste droppings. These cecotropes are eaten
directly from the anus as soon as they are produced. The cecotropes are then passed through the digestive tract of
the rabbit and nutrients such as vitamins, amino acids and fatty acids are released from the bacteria and absorbed
into the rabbit's body. In this way, rabbits are very efficient at producing their own vitamin, protein and fat supply
from food that for some animals or us would be totally useless. This is why Rabbit manure is the only manure you
can use direct form the animal without composting it first, and it won’t hurt your plants by burning them with too
much nitrogen. Oh, and many dogs and cats love to eat it! Don’t be surprised if yours does.
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Bonding and Destructive Behaviors.
The key to having a good relationship with your rabbit is to understand their behavior. Recognizing their nature as
prey animals and adapting your behavior towards them to allow for this. Most "bad" behavior in rabbits stems
from mistrust of humans or a lack of security in their environment and can therefore be overcome with time
and patience. A rabbit may learn its behavioral pattern at a young age yet still be taught something different at an
older age.
Rabbits that have not been neutered or spayed are far more likely to have behavioral problems, caused by
sexual frustration and/or territoriality. Many "problem" rabbits have been cured simply by de-sexing them.
Aggression is generally caused by the rabbit either trying to defend its territory or itself but it may also be caused
by a lack of trust in humans i.e. the rabbit assumes you are going to do something bad to it so reacts first by
warning you off with a growl or bite.
Lack of trust well this takes a lot of patience. Spend time with your rabbit at ground level, lying or sitting on the
floor and letting it approach you in its own time. Tempt it with bits of food, talk to it in a low, soft voice and avoid
sudden movements. You may want to let your rabbit become comfortable with simply being close to you before
trying to touch or stroke it.
Territory- A rabbit may growl or lunge at you with its front feet when you are trying to clean out its hutch or litter
tray, or if you enter its sleeping area. This can be more common in female rabbits. Avoid entering your rabbit's
territory when it is there - put your rabbit in its exercise run or a different room when you are cleaning out its hutch
or litter tray.
Defense- A rabbit may bite you when you are trying to clip its nails. Wrap your rabbit in an old towel or blanket to
restrict its movements; this also makes the rabbit feel more secure. Look at the entire picture and try to determine
why you got bite. Most “bites” can be avoided if you try to see your surroundings like your bunny does.
Bossiness-Rabbits can be surprisingly bossy, particularly house rabbits. This seems to come from their belief that
the whole house or flat is their territory, many rabbits will nip your feet to move them out of their way which,
although not a proper bite, can be painful. You may be able to train your rabbit out of this by making a high pitched
screech every time they do it. Or take the easy route and simply keep your feet out of its way.
A rabbit may also nip your hands and feet when it wants attention or food. Try not to reinforce this behavior by
giving them what they want - instead, push them gently away and wait half an hour or so before giving them a
cuddle or some food. Keeping to a feeding routine also helps - your rabbit will quickly learn what its mealtimes are
and if you avoid giving treats in between it should stop begging for food between meals.
Nibbling on your furniture or carpets is not a behavioral problem, it is a natural aspect of being a rabbit and it is very
hard, if not impossible, to train rabbits out of this. The best option is to give them more tempting toys to play with
and destroy such as bits of cardboard, newspapers, twigs, pinecones, blankets and towels and always make sure
they have plenty of hay to eat.
Rabbits can make wonderful pets for the right person/family. Just keep in mind what you have read and believe me
when I tell you that you won’t regret it. You are sure to enjoy your rabbit and a wonderful relationship.
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Nutrition for a Happy, Healthy, and Long Life!
Rabbits are herbivore which means their system is designed to eat vegetables (fibers) not meat and dairy products.
Their digestive system is only capable of handling a vegetable-based diet (fiber). However, there are some plants,
fruits and veggies which they can’t eat or can only eat in small quantities.
If you want a healthy happy rabbit you must provide your rabbit the right diet. FIBER is one of the most important
things in your bunny's diet. You may think that the basic diet for rabbits is bunny pellets; however, experts suggest
that hay is the most important and the fundamental ingredient of a healthy rabbit diet. Hay supplies the sensitive
digestive tracts with fiber, which helps prevent a fatal condition called gastrointestinal stasis (GI stasis). Not only
does hay aid in having a healthy digestive system, it also improves the pet’s dental health. It decreases teeth and
molar spur growth. Molar spurs can cause GI and may lead to possible death.
In general there are two different types of hay, grass hays and legume hays. Legumes have rhizobia (nodule
bacteria) that fix nitrogen from the air into a plant-available form. These include alfalfa, clovers, birds-foot, trefoil,
and lespedeza. They are plant species commonly used as forages for horses, other livestock and sometimes
rabbits. They typically have a higher nutrient such as proteins and calories.
Legume hays might be fed to rabbits at times of their lives when they have increased energy needs. These might
include pregnant and nursing mothers, baby and growing rabbits and geriatric or rehabilitating rabbits. But in
general, the hay most of us want to feed our rabbits is grouped under the title of grass hays.
Grass hays include Timothy, Bermuda, Brome and Oat hay. Many people feed oat hay for rabbits, either because
they can’t get hold of timothy hay or as part of a mixture of grass hays.
The 2 most important things to make sure when feeding any type of hay to your bunnies are:
The hay you are feeding is higher in fiber than protein. Fiber is more important than protein to a rabbit.
Feed the best QUALITY you can get hold of. Hay should smell sweet and fragrant, be soft to the touch, a
nice green color and have no dust whatsoever. As long as you stick to that these criteria you know you’ll
be giving your buns the very best hay you can.
You want to feed your rabbit unlimited hay that is the only thing you will feed without limits. Pellets and greens will
make the other 20% of his diet. You want to only feed about one handful of greens a couple of times a week. You
don't have to feed greens every day; however, you will want to offer the pellets every day.
Treats consist of anything that has sugars: apples, bananas (fruit in general) yellow and orange veggies (carrots,
sweet potato etc.). To avoid any intestinal upsets on your younger bunny only feed them hay and pellets until the
age of 6 months.
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Sudden Death in Rabbits
Rabbits dying suddenly can be the result of a multitude of causes, apart from GI stasis, gas, or respiratory
infections that had been left untreated. Unfortunately without a necropsy (an autopsy for animals) you would not
know the exact cause of your bunny's death. However, let me share with you some possible causes of sudden
rabbit death (other than a serious illness). These are known causes for sudden death; please remember that
without having a necropsy you won't know for certain what caused your bunny's death. However, this may help you
find a possible cause.
Sudden temperature changes: Your rabbit can suffer a heat stroke in 80 degree weather. Not having the ability
to keep warm enough can also kill your rabbit.
Fear/Heart attack: Many rabbits have what’s called “night frights” when everything is quiet and they may be dead
asleep and something as simple as you walking by them without them noticing you can literally scare them to death.
Dehydration: A rabbit MUST have water at all times. A rabbit can become dehydrated without you noticing. Keep
an eye on its water bottle especially if it is a baby. If a rabbit is dehydrated the kidneys will shut down causing a very
painful death.
Gas in the stomach: Very painful for a rabbit and can lead to death if not treated in time. Although most rabbits
with gas would show some symptoms such as loud noises from the stomach, lying in an awkward position, refusing
to eat, weird poops or no poops, etc.
GI stasis: Has similar symptoms to gas (if the rabbit allows to show them, of course, this depends on the individual
rabbit). If she ate normally the day before she died, produced poops, etc., it is unlikely that a digestive problem or
diet mistake is the cause.
Chemicals or cleaning products: Did you use any chemicals on the floor where she was running around or to
clean her cage?
Venomous bites: Know what’s in your back yard. If there are venomous insects in your area, be careful. Rabbits
can be very sensitive and due to their small size a little spider bit can mean the difference between life and death.
Using unsafe litter: Using unsafe litter can eventually be fatal to a rabbit too. Clumping litters are unsafe, because
many of these contain 'odor fighting' poisons that can and have been known to kill rabbits. Clumping litters, scented
or clay-based litters or cat litters should not be used for rabbits at all. They are known to be poisonous and can
cause a fatal blockage in the digestive system when ingested.
A toxic plant: If you have a plant in your house which is toxic to rabbits, and the rabbit ate from it, this could also
cause poisoning and a relatively quick death.
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Ingesting sharp object: That would also apply to not just plants. Anything that a rabbit can chew or nibble on that
can be toxic (or some cloth or something) and it expanded inside of her. Ingesting any sharp object or small item
not intended for food consumption can create a blockage in the intestine.
Feeding too much of certain vegetables: Some vegetables are harmless in small quantities, but when fed
routinely or in high quantities can be toxic. See for a list of safe vegetables.
Too many fresh vegetables can also be a cause. They have very sensitive tummies and it can be a good idea when
you first bring them home to keep them on hay and water, with a little pro-biotic, until they've settled in. They're very
sensitive to stress, and being away from mom, traumatic for them and can lead to complications in their digestion.
The Color of Urine – Healthy Urine
Healthy rabbits excrete excess calcium salts via the renal system, and this can give the urine a chalky or opaque
appearance. The urine will often dry to a white, chalky residue. Unless the residue is thick, pasty, and the color of
mustard powder, this is normal, and should not be considered "sludge."
Normal rabbit urine is usually pale yellow in color, but upon exposure to the atmosphere, compounds in the urine
may oxidize to darker yellow, orange, red, or even dark brown. This isn't unusual, and--by itself--is not necessarily a
sign of a health problem. Excess hormones are also expelled in the urine. This may cause the urine to have a
“penny-copper” color. This is may be a little more noticeable in young females. Blood in the urine, unless it is
from a hemorrhaging uterus or very serious problem, is usually not readily visible to the naked eye. Test strips are
available at most pharmacies that will tell you whether there is blood in the urine or not, but your vet is the best
judge of whether your bunny's urine is normal.
Urine that is very dark immediately when it emerges may indicate that the bunny is dehydrated, and should
receive more water, either by mouth or--in more serious cases--via administration of subcutaneous Lactated Ringer
Solution. If you notice your rabbit is this dehydrated the BEST thing to do it get it to a vet as soon as possible .
Litter Box Training
Litter box training is not as hard as many think.
How do you get started? Place the hay feeder, water bottle and food bowl over the litter box. Take a look at the
pictures to get an idea of what you may need or think about using. Remember this is just to give you an idea, you
may find that something else works best for you.
What can you use for litter? Where do you buy it or find it? You have lots of options when it comes to litter. The
main thing you want to remember is that your rabbit may ingest some of it at some point so be sure it is safe!
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Compressed wood pellets – you can get these at a feed store (horse bedding). These come in
different types of wood such as; Pine, cedar, and bamboo.
Recycled paper is another good option you can find them in pellet form or shredded.
Just about snythign that is not clumping clay or dusty can be used. Remember they may nibble on it and
ingest some, so you don’t want to get anythign that can clog their intestinal track.
Once you have selected what you will use for litter, the litter box and all of your other supplies this is a set up that
you may want to consider. I have found this to be the EASIET way to litter box train a baby or an adults that have
never used a litter boxes. This is just an idea of what we use; you may have to tweak it to suit your personal setup.
Remember, rabbits poop while they eat. In one way out the other! They will get it in no time. This set up tends to
work well for me; you can see what works best for you. Spay and neutering will most definitely help you maintain
good potty habits. Remember that rabbits mark by pooping in their area. They “mark” their territory so they have
their own territory to start a family. Have him/her SPAYED/NEUTERED this will make your bunny a much healthier
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and happier rabbit in the long run. Making the relationship and experience you have with them a much more
peasant one.
We know this is a lot of information, however we hope this can help you understand and care for your new family
member. Now you are on your way to having a wonderful, healthy long relationship with your new bunny!
Enjoy your baby!!!
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