Tuesday, 23 April 2013

HOW RABBITS RELATE TO OUR INDOOR ENVIRONMENT.

ne little-known fact about rabbits is that they still have many of their wild instincts intact. Though they domesticated for a thousand years in Europe, they were bread for size and fur colour. Consequently, they continue to exhibit behaviours that served their wild ancestors well.

One behaviour that suits us well is how easily rabbits can be litter-trained. Wild bunnies don't foul their warrens but relieve themselves above ground. Like many other animals, they use feces and urine to mark their territory. I've noticed how concerned my bunnies became when I changed their litter boxes. Gideon became especially worried when I put fresh shredded paper in his box. He used to spend at least ten minutes smoothing it down as if a mere human such as I couldn't do it right.

All of the rabbits I've had enjoyed relaxing under chairs and coffee tables. In the wild, their ancestors often loafed beneath spruce trees and in thickets. Chairs and low tables help rabbits feel safe from attack from above while giving them a wide vista. They also can dash to the safety of their hiding places at the first sign of perceived danger.

As wild rabbits dig warrens for safety and to escape the elements, domestic bunnies feel the need for a safe place. I've had rabbits whose constant fixation was to get under my bed. The problem with that was that they would tear the box spring and rip up the carpet. I solved that by putting hardware cloth under the bed and covering it with cardboard. I also placed planks of wood against the wall to prevent any long-eared vandal from decorating the baseboards with teeth marks. I also nailed plywood to the bottom of the box spring to prevent upward tunneling.

Getting back to the topic of litter boxes, I've found that placing hay at one end encourages bunnies to eat while they do their business. Since wild rabbits eat and excrete simultaneously, their domesticated cousins prefer to do the same. Hay is beneficial for rabbits since it wears down their ever-growing teeth and provides roughage for their digestive system.

Another behaviour is digging scrapes. In the wild, rabbits will dig a shallow hole in the ground and then lie in it This provides a measure of safety as well as helps cool their bodies in summer. My recently-departed Mark used to paw at the rug under the coffee table before settling down. This behaviour puzzled me at first. Then I remembered R. M. Lockley's book, The Private Life of the Rabbit. This book explained the behaviours of wild rabbits. Mark's actions under the coffee table were instinctive, not an act of naughtiness.

One behaviour that makes me laugh is the way rabbits shake their forepaws before washing their faces. I believe this is an instinctive way in which they fling dirt from their paws. No matter how clean I kept their rooms or enclosures, every bunny I've had flicked his or her paws before grooming.

I wrote many more observations of my bunnies and their behaviours in When a Man Loves a Rabbit: Learning and Living With Bunnies. Please check it out at the left side of this page.

I also published a memoir called How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity recently. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm Publishers distribute e-book and paperback editions of it.