Bunny 101 – episode 3: Litter training your house bunny

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Bunny 101- episode 3: Litter training your house bunny

The ‘Bunny 101’ blogs are intended to be an educational resource for people who have adopted a rabbit as a companion animal. Rabbits are very sociable animals, yet fragile. With the ‘Bunny 101’ blogs, we will take you through the basics of do’s and dont’s of bunny feeding, care and bonding along with other important aspects of living with a house rabbit.

Many people are amazed when they walk into a house and see a free ranging rabbit hoping around, let alone the jaw dropping exclamation when you tell them a rabbit can be litter trained just like a cat! So if you are one of these curious people who would like to adopt a house rabbit, or just want to compare notes on litter training, then this episode of bunny 101 is for you.

I have come to the following litter ingredients after over 15 years of trial and error. This combination allows me the luxury of  changing the litter every second day, which is practical when running  a sanctuary. The contents are absorbent and not toxic.

A plastic container from the hardware shop is a good alternative to a litter tray from a pet shop which can cost up to ten times.

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I tend to use a plastic garbage bag to line it, which makes disposing of the litter much easier

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Lining the tray with old newspaper is the main absorbent layer. This is usually followed by either a specialized rabbit/ Guinea pig bedding material or recycled paper litter, such as that used for cats. I sometimes use a mixture of both. Some people like to use wood shavings, but be aware that this may cause some respiratory issues if inhaled. If using wood shavings, make sure the shavings are completely covered, either by more paper, or recycled paper litter or a large amount of hay.

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and finally a little bit of oaten/ pasture hay or straw to line it up and make it enjoyable for your rabbit friend. We are now all setup for poop school

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Rabbits also tend to love sleeping in their litter trays if they are clean to cool or warm themselves up as demonstrated by our late Mr Willoughby; so keep it clean and fresh for them.

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So now that you have the litter tray set up, how do you get your bunny to use it?!

Bunnies tend to poo where they eat. Leaving a hay dispenser at one end of the litter tray will invite your bunny to sit in the litter while nibbling on the hay. Of course some bunnies will tend to jump in their hay food dispenser basket to play and test you out :) but just encourage them to step back into their litter and add a cover to their food basket.

IMG_8034Bunnies also tend to like peeing in corners. You can try to restrict your bunny’s space initially to make them use the litter tray.

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Some will let you know where the litter should go, as they will always pee in a specific area, but if you get the litter in on time, and with patience, the training happens pretty quick.

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It is common for bunnies, especially if they are not the only pet around, to leave droppings around the house. This is only to mark their territory. Bunnies can produce more than 300 poos a day, most of those will be in the litter along with the pee.

Be patient and reward with gentle words. Never reprehend your bun and you will be rewarded by a wonderful companion for many years to come.

Remember rabbits can live an average of 8-12 years, so it is worth taking the time to train them properly.

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Bunnies 101- episode 2 -Rabbit proofing your home

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Bunny 101- episode 2: Bunny Proofing your Home

The ‘Bunny 101’ blogs are intended to be an educational resource for people who have adopted a rabbit as a companion animal. Rabbits are very sociable animals, yet fragile. With the ‘Bunny 101’ blogs, we will take you through the basics of do’s and dont’s of bunny feeding, care and bonding along with other important aspects of living with a house rabbit.

So you’ve decided to adopt a bunny – now what?!

Arriving home
Arriving home

Congratulations! you have decided to adopt a bunny – what joy!

At EVER we recommend you keep your new companion indoors and treat him or her as a house rabbit. There are so many benefits to housing your rabbit inside. This includes safety from predators and mosquitos carrying myxoma or calici viruses which kill rabbits. It means that your rabbit has the advantage of human companionship all the time. Rabbits are very fragile and can get several illnesses, which if not detected early, will cause suffering and death.

Once you’ve made the decision to adopt a bunny companion, there are a few basic yet highly important rules to be mindful of:

Firstly, make sure you take your bun to the vet for a health check-up, this includes teeth, ears – mite check, fleas, and even to confirm what sex your bunny is – this may sound silly, but it is worthwhile. We have known people that have adopted two does, and now have a family of 9 kits – a miracle? Or misinformation?

Bunny Proofing your home is one of the essential first steps to undertake. This means:

  1. Preventing electrical cords from being chewed by the bunnies. This is the main hazard, and can cause severe burns or death as a consequence of biting into a cord.

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This can be done by adding a partition, such as a pet cage; inserting the cords in hard cased plastic tubing available at hardware shops; wire concealers that stick on top of wires and follow the shape of the wall; spiral cable wrap, although beware that this is usually thin wrapping and can be easily accessible after a few chews.

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  1. Preventing the destruction of your furniture.

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The easiest way to do this is to provide your bunny with lots of toys and entertainment, such as cat runs and cardboard boxes. We found that plastic protective sleeves around antique tables help as well

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  1. Keeping your new companion safe. This means removing poisonous plants.

For a list, check out the list of poisonous plants for rabbits

Now that your house is danger free (note that you will always be learning and improving), and ready to welcome your companion, you have one more thing to do: prepare the litter! YES! you heard me, bunnies can use the litter tray just as cats do. In the next blog, I will show you how to do that as well as construct a hay feeder – stay tuned or register to our newsletter and see a new “bunny 101 episode” each month


Bunnies 101- The beginning – her name was Butters

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The ‘Bunny 101’ blogs are intended to be an educational resource for people who have adopted a rabbit as a companion animal. Rabbits are very sociable animals, yet fragile. With the ‘Bunny 101’ blogs, we will take you through the basics of do’s and dont’s of bunny feeding, care and bonding along with other important aspects of living with a house rabbit.

As I start writing the ‘Bunny 101’ blogs sharing my experience about house rabbits, it only seems fit to start off with a dedication to that one bunny that started it all. Her name was Butters, she was and always will be such a special soul, and here is her story.

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In 2006, while walking back home to the eastern suburbs from a city job, we spotted a little white rabbit on a nature strip on Anzac Parade in Sydney. The strip was between bus lanes and speeding cars. It was a miracle that this little rabbit was alive. She had been abandoned with no where safe to go. The walk home became a sprint home to get a cat carrier followed by a high speed drive back to try and catch that poor soul. Not knowing much about rabbits, but being a fan of bugs bunny cartoons, all I could think of is to lure her towards me with a carrot.  The rabbit was so hungry, she came out sniffing the carrot. I knew I only had one chance to catch her, so with a full rush of adrenaline, I leapt forwards grabbing what I could of her. That was the start of our journey together.

We tried to find her family, we even phoned around trying to place her, but nobody wanted her. We had two cats at home, and we thought ‘well surely a cat will eat or harm a rabbit!’.  The cats were indeed interested, but not in a harmful manner (we later found out that domesticated cats are indeed known to become good friends with rabbits). Our cats, Benny and Champ, had never seen or encountered another specie with such long ears, so we watched closely as she came out of the cage like a champion, sniffed the cats and made herself right at home.

That night I knew I could never let her go and I knew somewhere inside me that she and I will be bonded at a very deep level. That little rabbit became known as Butters. Little did we know that she would be the building block behind our transformation and animal advocacy in years to follow.

Butters lived with us for 7 years. She took us through a roller coaster of emotions, and taught us so much about rabbits. She became very bonded with one of our cats, Champ, who mothered her.

Its only through this bond that we discovered that rabbits are happiest bonding to another. In this case she bonded to Champ. She became one of the family, she greeted us every evening, when she heard the keys in the door, at the bottom of the stairs alongside the cats.

When we moved from Sydney to Berry, she adopted the guest room, and slept on the bed every night, mostly with Champ.

She knew when treat time was due; she knew the sound of a chopping apple and she knew we were too soft to say no. She made it clear to the cats that the prime spot in the kitchen was hers at treat time.

Waiting in the kitchen for dinner and treats
Waiting in the kitchen for dinner and treats

When we came home with our groceries, she would pick the greens she wanted – (well she attempted to anyway).

Her favourite treat was mango peel, she never shied away from grabbing it from us.

She had so many special traits, I kept wondering how people could keep rabbits in enclosures outside, and how misunderstood those beautiful souls were. If only people realised that rabbits are just like a cat or a dog. They are sociable companion animals. We learnt so much by observing Butters. She adopted us as her family (we were possibly the ugly looking bunnies) and we knew she was happy.

Butters also taught us how fragile rabbits are. In 2012, I took a year’s sabbatical from work. Within a few weeks of my time off, Butters fell sick to an extreme case of head tilt that lasted 9 months. I nursed her 24/7 and we became so bonded. I took her to my chiropractor to help adjust her spine and neck, I massaged her neck everyday, and she leaned on me when we went to the garden for walks. There was no advice I turned my nose at, I tried everything and our exotics vet in Sydney was always supportive of our journey together. Head tilt is so common in rabbits, most rabbits get better, but it wasn’t to be with Butters. Whatever the disease was that caused the head tilt spread to her kidneys after 9 months and within 2 days the kidneys failed and we had to take the worse and most difficult decision for her. The hardest decision in my life.

Her legacy now lives on in a sanctuary, and in particular the 13 house bunnies we adopted and rescued since she passed on, and who share their lives with us. Her legacy also lives on in us becoming vegan from a series of events that her life and death lead us to.

Vale Butters 2006-2012
vale Butters  (2006-2012)

A day in the life

Ahhh, it’s the weekend and after the morning feeding and sorting out of all the sanctuary residents, it was time to take a break and head out for lunch at the local veg café.  It feels right to align our lives with respect for all our fellow animals, but today more than usual this interrupted our plans a little.

We headed off down the road, and a few minutes in to the trip, we both spotted a tiny yellow thornbill sitting on the busy road. What to do?  Hazard lights on and Reem sprints back up the road and flags down the next speeding car before picking up the injured bird. Shortly after, a large convoy of motorbikes screamed past. This was looking like a very lucky bird, maybe!   We found a spot to pull off the road so we could check her out.

She appeared to be in one piece and we were immediately hopeful there was no serious injury.  We put her on the ground in front of us and unfortunately she was looking quite disoriented and a little bent out of shape. So I put my finger in front of her and she climbed on it.

Yellow thorbill recovering

I stood in the brilliant sunshine and she just perched there and checked me out for about five minutes, looking pretty relaxed and alert. I showed her a tree branch but she did not seem to want that.  Then in the blink of eye, she darted off with speed and intent, into the woods. We both felt relief and elation that this had ended so perfectly.

This little morning event was just another reminder to us that all animals have their lives to live, and this deserves our respect and consideration.  We find that when we follow these principles, the rewards to our spirit and self-respect are massive.  The feeling of knowing this bird would certainly be dead now if not for our action, and instead is now doing what birds do, is what life is about.  The moments we had, looking at the bird with a sense she knew we genuinely cared about her wellbeing, will stay with us.  The vegan falafel wrap for lunch tasted even better than usual.

As is the case, these days, my partner in crime, was able to capture some of the memories using the smart phone camera.  Hope you enjoy these.