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Behavior Problems in Rabbits

By: Margie Wilson

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You've had your sweet, adorable bunny for a few months now, and all of a sudden, he is the antithesis of the cuddly Easter bunny - he is a monster. He now runs from you, no longer uses his litter box, bites, scratches, and doesn't want to be held.

Not to worry; you have entered the terrible teenager stage in your bunny's life. Ask any parent of a teen how things changed. Your bunny is similar in that his hormones are altering his behavior, and maturity is setting in.

There is no quick fix. There is a "fix" of a different kind, however, that will help tremendously: spaying your female and neutering your male rabbit. This will curtail the abominable behaviors (spraying, biting, loss of litter box habits). After 4 months, it is safe to alter your bunny if you find a good rabbit veterinarian. You need to know that it can take up to a month for your bunny to settle down, so don't expect immediate results.

THE BITING RABBIT

First, your rabbit does not need rabies shots or any preventative shots as does your dog or cat. A rabbit's bite is more of a pinch, but nevertheless it can bruise, break the skin, and hurt. How to avoid being bitten by even the sweetest bunny:
        
  • Never reach into your rabbit's cage to remove him if he is facing you. A rabbit's only defense is to bite when cornered. Open his cage, pet your bunny behind the ears, and use your other hand to rotate his entire body to face away from you. Then pull him out, gathering him into your body. Always support the rear legs tightly against your body.

  • For a really aggressive rabbit, try using a carrier with a tasty treat to entice him to go in on his own. A carrier is best to transport rabbits to and from their cages.

  • Never clean his cage without removing him first. More care technicians are bitten in vet hospital and shelters when taking out the litter boxes, newspaper and toys first, all while the angry bunnies watch their homes being destroyed. Remember - bunny out first!

  • Never wake up your bunny when he is on his side sleeping. Children often get bitten this way, trying to play with the family bunny during his sleep time. Rabbits are "crepuscular" meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk, preferring to sleep during the sunny part of the day. Allow him that time, alone.

  • Never reach into his private box or his hiding area, chase him from under a bed or couch, or you are asking for trouble. Wait for him to come out on his own.

    THE CONSISTENT BITER

    Often you will find a biting rabbit was mistreated as a youngster. Many were abused, hit, or kicked. It takes a long time for any animal to regain the trust of a human, even if you are not the person who abused him. It can take up to, or longer than, a year.

    Make sure there is nothing medically wrong with your bunny. Impacted molars, teeth problems and pain can all cause a rabbit to bite. A trip to a good rabbit vet can rule these problems out.

    You need to find a cage, perhaps a top loading one, large enough for you to maneuver your bunny in and out easily. The front cage door cages are too difficult. Better yet, find the collapsible dog fences for inside and enclose your bunny in such a pen, allowing you easy access to him through a large gate. You can also use a spare room with a baby gate. You will need patience, a lot of quiet time, and something to read. Sit on the floor with this monster bunny and read, write, pay your bills...the idea is just to be there. Have a treat ready for him, so should he lunge to bite, your hand shows him a treat instead.

    NEVER ever hit a rabbit or tap him on the nose. He will see this as a challenge, and you will get hurt. They never forget; so be careful to choose the behaviors you want him to remember. You can offer a strong command of, "No" when you are bitten, or spray water in his face, but nothing more than that. Let him see your hands mean only good things: a treat, petting, and so on.

    It will take TIME, but little by little, he will come to trust you, sit by you, and enjoy your company...and you, his.

    LOSS OF LITTER BOX HABITS, CHEWING

    Both of these annoying behaviors will be greatly curtailed after spaying and neutering (it may take up to a month afterwards).

  • In general, rabbits may always leave a few droppings where they eat, much like horses do, as they get so involved in their tasty hay, they forget about the litter box. Solution: Perhaps use a huge litter box and put the hay in the front of the box. If there are other animals in the home, expect your bunny to leave droppings throughout the house as a way of saying to the others, "Hey, I live here too."

  • While your bunny is out and about, make sure there is a litter box every 15 feet. Rabbits seem to forget after that distance, unlike cats who will travel the entire house to find their box.

  • For chewing, always provide plenty of fresh timothy and oat hay daily. You can order online at www.oxbowhay.com. A rabbit should never be without fresh hay as it helps his teeth, gives chewing exercise, and more importantly, provides him roughage to prevent hairblocks.

  • Give plenty of the right things to chew: sea grass mats from Cost Plus stores, hard cardboard boxes, paper towel rolls, and old leather belts. Change the toys daily.

  • Save your house. Never allow your untrained rabbit out unsupervised. Start with a room at a time. Cover all carpeting with mats; block baseboards with hard cardboard; block entrances under the bed and couch. Supervise his outings. Cover all electrical cords with the plastic covers.

    On a final note: Many expect the cuddly Easter bunny to be that way forever. In reality, your bunny will grow up, just as we did, and not want to be held, carried, or hugged like he did as a baby. Allow him to grow up, as we were allowed to. Knowing this will prepare you for a long relationship with the mature rabbit.

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