We British are a nation of animal lovers and I know we are not alone…. The World over, millions of furry, feathered and scaled companions share our lives…. Some might even secretly admit they love their animals more than they do their nearest and dearest…. The loss of a beloved pet can be devastating….
At the moment I am caring for a very poorly bunny, that is currently residing in the bathroom. This house resembles a barnyard, straw and hay litters the floor, not to mention the odd bit of rabbit poo…. Housework has gone by the wayside this last week, as nursing duties have completely taken over….
After cats and dogs, rabbits are the third most popular pet in Britain, there are an estimated 1.2 million kept in the UK, three of which live right here….
Our bunny keeping days started about nine years ago, with the arrival of a lionhead-lop, brother and sister pair, Daisy and Cookie. They immediately became a much-loved part of the family and when Daisy unexpectedly passed away, we were all heartbroken, as was Cookie. Not being able to bear seeing him lonely, I adopted a pair of French-lop sisters from a local rescue centre, (admittedly without the blessing of he who must not be obeyed – my other half that is)….
Now, Cookie has a fabulous pad – a large, purpose-built, outside run, connected to his deluxe hutch by a twelve-foot tunnel in the form of heavy-duty land drainage pipe…. It’s a brilliant set-up and Cookie loves it…. So much so, he refused to share it with the two new arrivals – obviously he wasn’t as lonely as I first thought…. I was not exactly popular with my significant other, we now had two more bodies to house…..
Luckily for me, John was off to France for a few days…. The morning of his departure my partner in crime (my mum) and I rushed down to the nearest pet store and bought the biggest flat-packed hutch we could find….(a pre-built one wouldn’t fit in the car – and it was needed in a hurry). Mum and I then spent the next few hours, in the pouring rain, exercising the full extent of our limited DIY skills. Actually, we were quite proud of the results; OK, there were a couple of bits we could only get to fit by putting them back to front – but the overall result did resemble a rabbit hutch and it was certainly fit for purpose….
To keep things simple I decided to keep the girls’ existing names, Angel and Cuddles. They certainly looked the part, Angel mainly white and angelic looking, Cuddles a cuddly black bundle of fur; it was just a shame their characters didn’t match! I have never known two such in-aptly named creatures, whoever originally christened them could not have got it more wrong…. Angel is actually a little devil, she is incredibly naughty (but in the most loveable way)….and Cuddles was anything but cuddly; it took months of hard work to even get to the stage of being able to pick her up. During one episode she physically had me by the throat to show her disapproval at being handled…. With patience and perseverance though, I finally gained her trust, five years on and her name now suits her….
There are over sixty recognised breeds of domestic rabbit in Europe and the United States….all descending from the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). They evolved some 4,000 years ago on the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans arrived in Spain around 200BC and began to farm the native rabbits for their meat and fur. It is believed bunnies were first domesticated in the Champagne region of France, by monks who kept them in cages as a regular food source. They were introduced to Britain during the 12th Century, chiefly for their meat, although there are suggestions wealthy women of the gentry may have kept them as pets. The term ‘pet’ came about towards the end of the Mediaeval Era, it comes from the word ‘petty’, as in small….
Up until the 19th Century, rabbits were kept mainly for their fur and meat. It was the Victorians that developed a passion for thoroughbred rabbits; selective breeding across different parts of Europe had begun to give us established breeds. The Flemish Giant can be traced back to the 16th Century – and a tiny French bunny, ‘Lapin du Nicard’, weighing just 1.5kg, from the 18th Century is thought to be the fore-runner of all the dwarf breeds. The English-lop, also from the 18th Century, is believed to be the ancestor of all lops…. Keeping rabbits became particularly popular amongst the middle classes of Victorian society….
During the two World Wars, both the British and American governments encouraged people to keep rabbits as a food source….after the Second World War bunnies continued to be kept but now more as family pets. Bunnies are seen as the ideal ‘starter’ pet for children. There is a kind of sentiment about them, they have long been associated with babies and young children…. The 1970s saw a surge in rabbit ownership thanks to the book and film, Watership Down…. Since then, over the years, attitude towards rabbit welfare has changed….from their health – with regular vaccinations and check-ups….to greater social interaction with their humans….
Rabbits have oodles of personality; each one has its own unique character. If you can get over their tendency to chew everything and the fact that they love to dig, a bunny can be a rewarding companion. They are surprisingly intelligent, not something many of us appreciate until experiencing them. Rabbits can be trained, for example to use a litter tray; some can even be taught to follow commands using reward based training. Most have a playful nature, they love toys, which should be encouraged, especially if they are a lone rabbit – boredom can make them grumpy and destructive….
Rabbits are highly social and territorial. Even a rabbit that has been used to living as one of a pair can be difficult to bond with a new buddy, as we found out with Cookie. Neutering is advisable, apart from the obvious of preventing two bunnies from becoming two dozen, it curbs aggression and helps ease the urge to lunge, box, spray and mount….
As with any pet, rabbits have certain requirements in order to maintain their good health…. A complex digestive system means a healthy diet is essential. The first droppings produced are called Caecotropus and are re-ingested by the rabbit. A diet of good hay, fresh greens and a quality rabbit food are vital to keep the gut moving. If no pellets are passed after a twelve-hour period, medical attention may be necessary…. Rabbits need to gnaw as their front teeth grow at a rate of 3mm per week! Also, their claws need regular clipping; in the wild rabbits keep their nails trimmed by digging but not many of us want our lawns dug up…. Claws that get too long can become ingrowing causing a lot of discomfort and pain and may even require surgery….
Teeth also need regular monitoring, molar spurs and incisor overgrowth can cause problems…. All this is beginning to sound expensive isn’t it? Brits will spend an average of £6.5K on a rabbit in its lifetime, (I do hope John doesn’t read this – times that by 3 and it makes a tidy sum)!! The day-to-day costs are self-explanatory; the initial outlay for a hutch/run, feeding paraphernalia etc. and then ongoing food and bedding…. A rabbit that is unfortunate enough to have health issues can be both a financial commitment and time-consuming. Rabbits are susceptible to certain diseases; Myxomatosis is the one we all immediately think of….and Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease is another – both can be vaccinated against on an annual basis….
Then there is the one I had never heard of until recently….Encephalitozoon cuniculi….and this is the one my little girl, Cuddles is currently suffering from…. It is caused by a parasite that can be contracted from grazing on grass that has been infected by the urine of a rabbit carrying the disease. The parasite infects the nervous system; many rabbits who have it show no symptoms but occasionally it manifests itself in a severe form – as it has with poor Cuddles. Last Friday it was doubtful if she would make it through the weekend – she was completely unable to stay upright, continuously flopping on to her side, her whole body contorted with a twisted, deformed appearance…. Luckily, we have a fabulous vet who decided it was worth throwing everything at her, to give her the best chance. So began the regime of administering medicine twice a day – antibiotics and treatment for the E.cuniculi – which, much to the disgust of an indignant bunny, has to be syringed directly into the mouth. This is not the easiest of tasks, especially with Cuddles – it takes two of us, one to hold her down, the other to administer…. To start with this was a rather stressful procedure for all concerned but I think we’ve got it down to a fine art now….
Very slowly Cuddles has responded to the treatment – she still falls regularly on to her side and is unable to get herself up again – but she is eating and drinking with a hearty appetite. The treatment has to be given continuously and will last for about a month. A visit to the vet yesterday morning advised that we should know in the next week whether she will recover sufficiently to have any quality of life….
So, it looks as if we are going to have a bunny living in the bathroom for a while longer yet…. I had better get used to straw and rabbit droppings littering the place – something tells me this old house has probably seen all that before, only the droppings would have been a little more substantial than that of a rabbit….
Cuddles needs constant monitoring, it has taken life over considerably….but she’s worth it! Only time will tell if she is going to make a recovery…. Fingers crossed X