RABBIT HABITS

One of our volunteers kept notes of her companion rabbits’ and foster bunnies’ behaviour. Rereading them recently has brought back wonderful memories of her foster home and its charming, intelligent residents. The notes were never meant for publication and we’re reproducing a few pages here in the way they were written. We’re hoping they will inspire other caregivers to keep a diary of their rabbits’ delightful habits!

Bunnies November 2003 465   Bunnies November 2003 466

  • Yesterday for the first time Kitty and Esther let me pet them while they were lying down side by side having a nap (after I gave them treats).
  • Benjamin waits for me on the bed in the evenings, sometimes for ½ hour or longer.
  • Carolina pulls my sock when she wants a treat.
  • Chocolate Chip faces a corner when he’s stressed.
  • Carolina’s litter-training has got much worse since I have had less time for her, which is why we had to lift up the last carpet in the flat.
  • You need to give a bunny time to show what he’s capable of. It usually takes a few months for a him to express all the affection and love he is capable of.
  • The foster bunnies are very noisy first thing in the morning, but when they hear me get up they become very quiet and listen intently for food preparation noises.
  • Carolina always follows me to the foster bunnies’ room when I give them breakfast.
  • Kitty and Esther Bunny fought while waiting for me to give them their food and have had fights ever since. They had scuffles before, but they only lasted one or two seconds as Kitty quickly asserted herself and made sure she got to the food dish first.
  • Sweetpea throws his food bowl around when he’s not happy with the food selection I’ve given him.
  • Bunnies don’t bear grudges for long. Beatrix and Peanut lick and lie down next to both Esther and Kitty, even though they’re bossed around by them at mealtimes.
  • Rabbits’ affectionate gestures: playing ball with me, jumping on my back to be taken for a ride around the flat.
  • Kitty tends to scrape the ground before rolling on her back.
  • Snoopy scrapes the ground during his introduction to Jenny in the garden.
  • Carolina, who is not normally very playful, will pick up a rattle and toss it to announce herself.

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  • Sweetpea definitely eats more when Carolina eats too. He likes to eat in certain places (e.g. under the chair, in the dog bed) where he feels secure. He tends not to eat in the middle of the room. If he’s eating and I put more food on his plate he immediately stops.
  • Sweetpea knows when he’s being called but he waits for me to go and get him.
  • Benjamin and Carolina are so sweet and even-tempered, while Sweetpea definitely has his moods, throwing the food dish around and refusing to move when he is annoyed about something.
  • Beatrix spent a lot of time thumping and standing on her back legs looking for her friends after Tiger and Peanut were rehomed.
  • Sweetpea honks on his way to the water or food bowl.
  • You can see the white in Carolina’s big brown eyes when I give her a particularly nice treat she wasn’t expecting.
  • Photo-bombing: Sweetpea always runs in front of Carolina when I’m about to take a picture of her. I don’t think it’s coincidence, it’s probably a mixture of attention-seeking and a little jealousy.

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  • Sweetpea doesn’t understand he can hop around objects (e.g. basket with giant Lego bricks) and after several seconds’ hesitation he will jump on them, making a lot of noise and getting himself in a flap. I also think he may be afraid of jumping down, e.g. from the step in the corridor. He seems very clumsy considering he is such a small, lightweight rabbit. However he’s very fast and agile in the garden, whizzing past and running around the foster bunnies’ pen.
  • Carolina licks me a lot when she wants food.
  • Maybe Sweetpea is moody because of his teeth, because it’s frustrating only to be able to eat what I’ve chopped for him, and because he can’t scratch himself properly (he seems to be very itchy).
  • Copying destructive behaviour, e.g. Daisy copies Kellogg when he starts stripping the wallpaper.
  • Bunnies seem to know when it’s cold outside and don’t even try to go in the garden.
  • Carolina digging in my clothes or the fleece rug when at the vet’s – displacement activity out of fear, etc. When I syringe feed her, which I started today, she picks up whatever’s on the table and tosses it to show she’s not happy.
  • Benjamin will gently push his muzzle under another rabbit’s chin waiting to be licked. In exchange for a few licks he will happily let the other bunnies eat all the food. The others are always more interested in food and find it strange that Benjamin is snuggling up to them without eating. [Later I realised that Benjamin was probably in pain and could not eat.]
  • Sweetpea/Benjamin: I thought their introduction had been pretty uneventful, but things are not as they seem. When I’m watching him, Sweetpea pretends to be nice to Benjamin and starts grooming him, but does it so forcefully that Benjamin is getting stressed.

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  • Rabbits copy one another’s behaviour, e.g. being alert, standing on back legs, being frightened by the cat, etc.
  • Moody/aloof rabbit: Sweetpea moves his head away when I want to kiss him or give him a nose rub. He enjoys cuddles but doesn’t like too much fuss and will hop off when he’s had enough.
  • From time to time Sweetpea comes up to me when we’re on the bed, but it’s usually to pee! He is very cheeky and would rather pee on my side of the duvet.
  • (After bereavement) Kellogg has given up the search for Daisy. But all his confidence seems to have gone. He is very timid about everything.
  • Barney growls, lunges and attacks me after I’ve petted Snowdrop because my hands smell of him.
  • Rabbits can be gentle yet bossy. Snowdrop is getting bossier and bossier now that Spike has gone and he has the flat and garden mapped out. He can open the gate in the kitchen by lifting it and moving it with his teeth, he is sure of my love for him and knows I will give in to him. He is quite spoilt although he wants much more company than I can give him.
  • An outdoor bunny who is frightened by foxes, etc. may become jumpy, aggressive and excessively timid to humans as a result of the stress.
  • Barney shows his affection and trust in me by putting himself within reach (as opposed to staying in the middle of his tunnel) to be petted. That’s the best he can offer right now.

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  • If I brush Sweetpea or give him a back rub, he licks himself or whatever is in front of him.
  • Sweetpea knows to come when I pat the ground or bed.
  • Could it be that the bunnies don’t like going into the bathroom/office because these small rooms remind them of cardboard boxes with just one entrance and are seen as a “trap”?
  • Bunnies who are skittish, like Alex and Peanut, make the others nervous too. And vice versa, the fact that Sweetpea’s so relaxed in my presence has had a calming effect on Peanut.
  • Peanut rubs her teeth when I talk to her and praise her. She loves the attention and she knows I’m going to cuddle her.
  • The first thing I see when I wake up in the morning is Sweetpea at the end of the bed. It’s lovely when I let him out of the bedroom’s French windows and I find him waiting to come back in outside the kitchen’s patio doors. Or when he waits for me to lay down a fleece or towel on the floor before venturing into the kitchen [Sweetpea felt unsure on slippery floors and liked hopping on fleece rugs, etc.].
  • Sweetpea shakes me off after being groomed and having his health check.
  • Snowflake gets very excited and jumps and runs around when I approach her run to let her out into the big garden.

barney   Bunnies June 2003 103

  • Buttercup throws himself against the sides of the run when he’s scared by the neighbours’ noise.
  • Buttercup hides under the table in the daytime when he thinks I might pick him up and carry him outside, but in the evening he knows I won’t do this and he happily lets me stroke him while he sits in the hay box. For a wild bunny, he’s certainly not keen on being outside.
  • I always talk to Peanut, who is partially blind, when I approach her, especially if she is not expecting me. I do the same with Sweetpea, as his long floppy ears prevent him from seeing me coming, especially if he’s a bit sleepy.
  • Benjamin definitely responds to cuddles when it comes to eating. He likes to be coaxed and will start eating again if petted [Benjamin had dental problems].
  • Sweetpea definitely eats more when Carolina eats too. He likes to eat in certain places (e.g. under the chair, in the dog bed) where he feels secure.
  • Peanut digs into cakes and bread, she has worked out that by doing so they crumble and she can have bite size pieces (she has no front teeth).

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  • Whenever the bunnies eat their treats, Buttercup always checks Dandelion’s spot for any raisins or other tidbits, hoping for seconds. He’ll even grab an apple ring from Dandy’s mouth.
  • Snoopy nipped me twice because I was stroking him with both hands and maybe he thought I wanted to pick him up.
  • In a short space of time (about 10 days) Kitty has become very friendly and likes to be stroked. When she escapes from the enclosure in the garden and hides behind the flowerpots, she does not run away when I go and pick her up. She lets me pet her even though she knows I am going to pick her up and return her to the enclosure (from which she tries to escape again within seconds). Esther Bunny is more difficult to catch, just as it is more difficult to get her to hop in the pet carrier [to take her to the enclosure], but she doesn’t withdraw as much when I pet her and recovers more quickly when I handle her. Kitty hops into the pet carrier straight away and always first among bunnies. I feel confident they’ll make loving and responsive bunnies for the right people. It’s the messy litter-training that worries me now.
  • Barney sometimes growls at Alex when she dares grab a green leaf first. He is the smallest bunny but he’s definitely top rabbit.
  • Rabbits bite to test things, but if you squeal they realise they are hurting you and stop.
  • Snowflake can growl and nip when I am about to put the food down so I have to be quick and not keep her waiting, she has a good appetite!

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  • In my experience rabbits respond to love and are capable of becoming more affectionate at any age. This applies to bunnies who have had a bad start in life. It also applies to our own bunnies, for example now that I have more time to devote to Sweetpea, he is more loving and responsive. It is never too late.
  • Increase rabbits’ running area with shelves, wooden tunnel “pyramids”, etc. to create multiple levels.
  • Bunnies play chase, for instance Sweetpea interacts with the foster bunnies by running around their pen in the garden.
  • Buttercup plays the Magic Carpet: he pushes his muzzle under a fleece rug and tunnels underneath, emerging at the other end and looking very pleased with himself.
  • Buttercup plays frisbee with the paper plate, chewing it and tossing it.
  • Bunnies play King of the Castle when they stand on something high up to get a lookout.
  • Widget plays Tug of War with my sleeve, biting it and pulling it, especially if she can smell another bunny.
  • Benjamin plays Follow the Dustbuster/Hoover.
  • (After bereavement) Jack lying in Campion’s spot and licking her body.
  • When Carolina is in the garden and I close the back door she wants to make sure it is opened on command should she decide to hop back in. When I do get up to open it for her she may not come in after all, she’s just testing me!

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  • Carolina likes bunching and rearranging her towel. When I drape a towel over a chair, she loves running through it or having a nap under the chair, which becomes a little den.
  • Carolina uses the big ivy in the garden as an umbrella to keep dry. She knows that the area under the ivy stays dry when it rains.
  • Carolina joins in when I do something at floor level, e.g. cleaning the floor, gardening, etc.
  • Carolina plays with my dress when she wants attention.
  • Carolina puts her front paws on my bed when she wants a cuddle or snack.
  • Carolina nibbles on my jacket when she’s nervous, e.g. at the vet’s.
  • Carolina touches the ground with her chin when I approach and she wants cuddles.
  • When Carolina is fast asleep she tilts her head back.
  • Carolina jumps on my back in order to reach something.
  • She circles my bed when she wants me to get up.
  • Rabbits can solve practical problems, using their teeth to open a door, hopping on a chair to reach a desktop, using a catflap to get in from the garden.
  • Carolina nudges or paws at the door to open it outwards and pulls it with her teeth to open it inwards.
  • Carolina plays Follow the Leader – she follows me and other bunnies around the flat.
  • Carolina greets me in the morning by pawing the mattress, stretching upwards and muttering to get attention.
  • Carolina grabs my biscuit and runs!

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  • Carolina knows I’m only pretending to be angry when she chews my slipper/trouser leg, etc.
  • Carolina is smart enough to realise that if the internal door is closed, she can get in the kitchen through the patio doors.
  • When Carolina feels neglected, she lies down in the middle of the corridor so I have to pay her attention when I walk past.
  • Carolina’s sense of humour: she bites my slipper, I pretend to be shocked, so she licks my slipper instead and gives me a few kisses.
  • Carolina may be napping in her dog bed under the table, but the moment I get up from my chair, she gets up too. Like a dog, she remains vigilant even when she’s sleeping.
  • Carolina played in the snow today and was startled by the crunching noise of my shoes on the iced snow, a sound she hadn’t heard before!
  • Silent chewing motions when Carolina is relaxed on her fleece rug.
  • Affectionate gesture: Carolina doesn’t like to be held but rests the front part of her body on my lap.
  • Carolina circles the bed 1-3 times in excitement before hopping on it to get her treat.
  • Carolina nudges my leg twice in quick succession to say Hello.
  • She invites me to follow her by running up to me, then turning round (e.g. leading me to the willow tree if she wants a twig or hopping away from my bed if she wants me to get up).
  • Carolina shakes her ears in disgust when I offer her a food she doesn’t like.
  • Carolina sits on my book, chews it or licks the my pen or my hand to get attention.
  • Flopsy moves her litter tray where she wants it to be by grabbing it with her teeth.
  • Flopsy repays my affection by rubbing her teeth and grooming herself in front of me (a sign of trust), by nudging me or closing her eyes in appreciation when I pet her. When Flopsy rolls over occasionally it is such a privilege. Other times she lets me kiss her on the forehead. After she’d been here two weeks, she started greeting me at the door.

e19   dandy2

  • The more time and attention I give Flopsy, the more she gives back; the more space I give her, the more inquisitive, active, lively and confident she becomes.
  • Accept a bunny for what she is. I don’t even see it as a problem that Flopsy is a bit aggressive at times – I have come to see that as part of her personality and even find it endearing (because it is not vicious), although I am aware prospective adopters might not see it in quite the same light and may be put off adopting her.
  • Since installing the baby gate, Flopsy has became more noisy in a bid to be let out and get attention. She tries to make eye contact with me whenever she sees me.
  • Juliet bangs against the baby gate and turns her plastic stool upside down when she wants breakfast or attention.
  • Juliet lunges at her banana almost growling first thing in the morning, it’s her favourite food!
  • Johnny stops eating his breakfast to come and greet me.
  • Honey and Charlie, Carolina and Johnny didn’t become less affectionate towards me after they were introduced and became friends.
  • Shy Charlie makes a big circle around the room then comes back to me.
  • Charlie throws a wooden stick against the baby gate repeatedly to get attention.
  • Even if a rabbit doesn’t exactly play with toys, she still interacts with them (by chinning, sniffing them, tossing them out of the way, tearing up cardboard, etc.). Anything that relieves boredom is a good idea provided the toys don’t get in the way of running around, binkies, etc.
  • Flopsy’s game: taking items out of a basket (e.g. paper cups, pine cones, small boxes).

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  • Juliet likes moving things around: small plastic stool, basket, linen basket, litter tray. She also takes pine cones out of the basket like Flopsy.
  • Loopy shows her enthusiasm and affection by rushing up to me and jumping on my back or in my lap, head-butting me and digging furiously in my clothes. When she is in my lap she tucks her head under my arm to be petted.
  • Loopy shows her enthusiasm and love for life by darting around the room, rushing up to potential adopters, etc.
  • Loopy growls and lunges when foster bunny Peter or I approach a little too quickly [we later found out that Loopy was deaf].
  • By scratching or petting a bunny in the right spot, you can make them lick or nudge another bunny – useful during introductions. This worked with Poppy and Thumper, Carolina and Benjamin, etc.
  • Don’t leave a cardboard box lying around during rabbit introductions as they could fight inside it and you won’t be able to separate them.
  • Use oven gloves to separate fighting bunnies.
  • Carolina follows me around and requests a lot of attention while I am getting ready for work.

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  • Foster bunny Fluffy will definitely be remembered for levelling the floorboards and chewing the TV remote control and cordless phone buttons.
  • Spok and Carolina keep their head in the food bowl to prevent other bunnies from eating their share. Sweetpea likes to put both front paws inside the food bowl.
  • Benjamin’s loss of litter-training when he is confined in the kitchen – he saves the biggest puddle for these occasions and he always leaves it by the door so I step on it when I walk in the kitchen.
  • Carolina sulks by running off when I feed the foster bunnies.
  • Sweetpea sulks by hiding away and not eating the food I offer him, turning his back and completely ignoring me.
  • Benjamin and Sweetpea did not become friends and have to be kept apart, Carolina divides her time between them. Sometimes separating two fighting bunnies and providing separate accommodation is the best we can do, especially if one is elderly or unwell.

All I have to do is to look at Sweetpea licking Carolina for half an hour at a time to know I have at least succeeded in providing Carolina with another friend. Sweetpea will enable Carolina to come to terms with Benjamin’s loss when the time comes [Benjamin was elderly and very ill]. She herself is getting on now so it would be stressful to lose Benjamin and find herself without a bunny friend. [After Benjamin passed away, Sweetpea and Carolina continued to be best friends and Sweetpea turned into one of the most lovely and loving bunnies I’ve ever met.]

bunnies-november-2003-423   bunny7

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