Book Review: Foraging for Rabbits

June 15th, 2015

I’ve mentioned foraging, picking plants from the ‘wild’, before. It’s a great way to suppliment your rabbit’s diet. So, I was really excited to hear about a new book ‘Foraging for Rabbits‘ by Dr Twigs Way. I immediately ordered two copies (one for Scamp and one for you guys – more on that at the end).

Foraging for Rabbits

It’s the perfect little guide for anyone who is thinking about foraging but is a bit unsure where to start.

Whilst there are a lot of books on identifying plants, this book is written specifically for rabbit owners, in fact Dr Way’s rabbits have helpfully rated all the plants suggested on taste – afterall just because something is safe to eat doesn’t mean it’s tasty. In fact my favourite line from the book is in answer to the question: what if my rabbit doesn’t eat what I have collected?

If a rabbit or group of rabbits does not want a particular plant but is/are otherwise eating then just take the plant away again (and apologise).

Because we know who really is in charge!

The book starts of with an introduction to foraging – why forage, where to forage safely, the law on taking plants, drying and storing forage, toxicity, and understanding plant names. All illustrated by cute photos of bunnies tucking in to tasty plants.

The rest of the book contains just over 60 (if I counted right) common plants that you can forage. Each plant has a colour photo, the common and latin names, a description and some tips – for example when it’s at it’s most tasty, where to find it, if it dries well or if it’s good for something in particular and the taste rating (in stars).

foraging book

Most plants only have the one photo, but the latin plant names mean it’s easy to search online or in plant books for extra photos to help with an ID and the back cover includes a helpful list of plant reference books. The book itself if a nice size (A5/35 pages) to pop in your bag when foraging, unlike a giant tome that some general guides are.

I’ve already tried out two new plants thanks to the book, both of which Scamp approved.

Scamp placing his order.

Scamp placing his order.

You can also hear Dr Way discuss foraging in Episode 4 the All Ears Podcast here. And me discuss rabbit behaviour and enrichment in Episode 8 here.

Foraging for Rabbits is available via the Rabbit Welfare Association here and costs £4.

Win a Copy of Foraging for Rabbits

As I mentioned, I bought two copies, so I’m giving one away to my lovely readers. For a chance to win, please leave a comment below – why not tell me what you think about foraging – is it something you’ve tried or are thinking about tryin? I’ll draw a winner on 22nd June 2015.

Happy Foraging!

DIY Cardboard Shreddable Mat for Rabbits

March 11th, 2015

I was helping my sister put together some scratch pads for her cat when it occurred to me that Scamp would love this too. So here is how to make a cat scratching pad / bunny lounging mat / dig n shred toy.

Step 1: Find a Box

To start you need a box with a base about this size you want your finished pad. This ones about A4. You’ll need to remove any tape/labels so it’s bunny safe.

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Step 2: Chop the Bottom Off the Box

Using a knife or scissors chop around the base of the box so that you end up with a tray about 1-2″ deep. Don’t discard the rest of the box – you’ll need that next.

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Step 3: Make a lot of Strips of card

With the left over cardboard (you may need an extra box) cut strips the same length as the length of the tray and the same width or slightly more than the depth of the tray. So if you tray is 12″ long and 2″ deep, then cut strips 12″ long and 2″ wide. The easiest thing is to cut one, pop it in the tray to check and then use that as a template. Don’t worry about being too perfect – it’s probably going to get shredded anyway! How many you’ll need will depend on the size of your tray and the thickness of your cardboard.

Pro tip: finding it a bit of a flaff with craft knife or scissors – use a bread knife – it whizzes through cardboard!

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Step 4: Slot the strips into the box

Once you’ve got a good handful of strips you can start slotting them into the box. The strips go in on end.

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Pack them in so they are wedged in tight:

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Stop at the point you try to wedge one more in and the whole lot pop out in protest … then put them all back in minus that last one.

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Step 5: Add Rabbit

You should now have a lovely dense cardboard mat perfect for sitting in, digging at and generally shredding.

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You could make it more fun (and encourage shredding) by sprinkling some dried herbs/plant mix on it for your bun to root out.

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Scamp loves a mat to sit on and this one was really quick to make, much faster than the woven mat I tried, and just used free scrap cardboard so cheap too. Let me know if you give it a go and what your bunny thinks!

Rabbit Welfare Statistics – PAW Report 2014

January 8th, 2015

For the last four years the PDSA has published the PDSA Annual Well-being Report (PAW Report for short). It covers cats, dogs and rabbits and looks at welfare issues by asking pet owners and vets questions about care and welfare. You can read my summary of previous reports here: 2011, 2012, 2013.

It’s great to have these stats on things like how many rabbits are neutered and whether they get an appropriate diet because it helps welfare campaigners monitor how successful they are at implementing changes and also where to target change.

So, on to this years report. Here is a handy graphically summary (feel free to share):

rabbit welfare statistics paw report 2014

And now a few details…

Diet

One of the biggest changes is the rapid decline in muesli based dry foods. In the last four years it’s dropped from being eaten by 49% to 25% of rabbits. Interestingly it’s been a sustained change, continuing this year, not just a short term reaction to media coverage.

On the other hand in the last year there hasn’t been much progress on hay eating; the percentage not eating a good portion of hay has gone up very slightly. That might be an area that needs a little more focus. It can be tough to get rabbits not used to eating hay to make the change, it can take quite a bit more effort than picking up a different dry food brand.

One of the focuses in this years report is obesity, whilst they don’t delve into too much details specifically for rabbits, I do think it’s something that needs monitoring. It’s easy for rabbits to put on weight when eating too many pellets.

Health Care

General health care hasn’t done well over the last 12 months; the numbers of rabbits neutered/vaccinated has gone down. I’m slightly surprised about this as I’d have expected it to at least hold steady. It would be good to get vaccination stats up – cats/dogs are managing 70-80%. I think vaccination is good for more than just disease prevention, it means rabbits get an annual health check giving vets the opportunity to give advice on other subjects like neutering and diet.

Reassuringly, 91% of rabbit owners would contact their vet first thing in an emergency situation, apparently rabbit owner’s second step would be to search for help online.

Where Rabbits are Obtained & Why

This year the PDSA asked owners about where they got their rabbits: 39% came from pet shops, 21% from family and friends and 15% were rescues. Whilst 15% of rabbits being adopted from rescue isn’t bad, 24% of cats and 35% of dogs came from rescues, so I think we can do better.

On the reasons behind getting a rabbit, 26% got a rabbit because ‘children wanted a pet’. That’s 1 in 4 rabbit being bought for children and couple that with that fact that ‘children getting bored’ is one of the most common reasons rabbits are given up to rescues – I think that’s a statistic that would benefit from some work to change it.

Vet’s Opinions

When vets were asked their main concerns about rabbits they were:

1. Inappropriate Diet
2. Complete lack of care – rabbits being forgotten about
3. Dental disease

Personally, I think the main problem is getting the information out there. If you research, particularly online, there are plenty of resources on good care. But, it’s very hard to reach the people from that aren’t looking for advice or don’t know they need it.

What do you think the biggest welfare issues facing rabbits are? And do you have any ideas for tackling them?

DIY Bunny Toys – Slotted Cardboard Balls

October 28th, 2014

Boxes are one of the best toys for bunnies because they are so versatile. I decided to see how many toys I could get out of just one box.

Here is the box; it’s a nice sturdy one that the printer sends my Understanding Rabbit’s Habits books in.

bunny box

Ooo, a new box for me!

The first thing I did was cut all the way around about 3″ up from the base (and removed the tape) to make a tray. It makes a nice lounging spot/hay outpost/chewing spot – I tuck these in corners to help prevent unsanctioned chewing/digging.

bunny box

What did you do to my box!

That left quite a bit of cardboard over to make some toys!

Simple Cardboard Ball

Step 1: Make Three Circles

I started by drawing around a bowl to get three circles. They can be whatever size you like, go for plates if you want something bigger.

drawing circles

Watch out for my nose.

Next cut them out with a knife or scissors.

cutting circles out of cardboard

Scamp was banned from this part because he was at risk of losing whiskers.

cardboard circles

But he wasn’t gone for long.

Step 2 Make Slots

Now you need to make slots in your circles. Unless you are using very thin card, e.g. cereal packet, then rather than just cutting a line, cut an actual slot discarding a thin piece of card so the slot width is the same as then thickness as the cardboard. It makes them much easier to put together.

Each circle needs a slightly different slot.

Circle 1. Cut  to the centre of the circle.

Circle 2. Cut to the centre and then continue half way to the other side.

Circle 3. Cut to the centre, then make a second slot from the opposite side half way to the centre.

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The blue x marks the centre of the circle.

Step 3: Assemble Your Ball

Now assemble the ball by slotting the pieces together.

Start by slotting together circle no. 2 and the short slot on circle no. 3. Then take circle no. 1 and, working from the same direction, slot that over the top.

Slot together 2 & 3. Then add no. 1.

Slot together 2 & 3. Then add no. 1.

And you should have this:

slotted cardboard ball

Finished!

If you want to add a bit of extra fun, try making holes in the circles with a pair or scissors or jabbing it with a pen and then put pellets through them.

Cardboard Ball Advanced Level

After successfully completed one ball, I decided to get a bit more adventurous with a ball to stuff with hay.

Step 1: Make Six Circles

Again, cut circles but this time they need to be around 6″ or so across (or bigger) and you’ll need six of them.

cardboard circles

Step 2: Cut Slots

This time all circles need matching slots:

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Step 3: Slot Together

Then you slot them together. It looks complicated but just slot the first three on, and then it will be obvious where the last two go.

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Then stuff the gaps with hay and treats and hand over to your bunny!

hay stuffed rabbt toy

Okay, I forgive you for cutting up my box.

Not a bad evenings entertainment from just one box!

Animal Behaviour & Welfare Course

July 25th, 2014

I signed up for the an Animal Behaviour and Welfare course, run by Edinburgh University through Coursera – they offer short online courses from universities available free to people all around the world. It’s the end of week two, and I thought I’d share some of the interesting things I’ve learnt so far.

What Drives Welfare Changes

The first week looked at what animal welfare is, some history and cultural and political influences. I know a lot of you reading my blog are involved in rabbit rescue and educating people to improve welfare. One of the interesting points was looking at what drives changes – public opinion or science. Public opinion is based on emotion so it can be a big motivator, but sometimes it’s not based on facts (scientific evidence) which risk the wrong information being distributed or bad decisions being made. On the other hand you can have lots of scientific evidence, but it’s there is no pressure to change – nothing happens.

It made me think about the recent muesli v. pellets issue in rabbits diet. Educators have been saying for years that pellets are the best option for rabbit’s diet but the public favoured the more visually appealing muesli mixes. It was only when the scientific study was published showing muesli was linked with health problems that retailers started to remove muesli products from sale. Having independent evidence as back up can help make a stronger case for change and also make sure you are advocating the right changes. It also makes me frustrated that we are still waiting on evidence from studies on housing sizes that will be useful for advocating for change from hutch manufactures.

Assessing Animal Welfare

Week 2 looked at measuring animals physiological and behavioural responses to understand how animals feel about their living conditions.

Physiological Measures

Physiological measures are changes to the body, the idea is you can measure animals emotional response to a situation by how their body reacts. For example, if an animal (or a person!) is frightened by something there is a rise in heart rate and brain floods the body with adrenalin (to help with fight/flight). There are also changes in hormones, which can be measured through blood, saliva and faeces, when animals are subject to ongoing stress, such as poor housing. This is particularly bad for welfare because it also changes the immune system making animals more susceptible to disease.

The difficulty with measuring physiological responses is that it can be tricky to do the measuring without causing stress that would influence the results. When a vet checks your rabbit’s heart beat it’s going to be higher than when relaxing at home because a trip to the vet is stressful, not because your rabbit is generally stressed out.

An example of physiological research in rabbits was a study that measured glucocorticoid metabolites (a hormones that increases when stressed) in rabbit droppings in different housing sizes and with/without enrichment. They found that the levels were higher in rabbits kept in unenriched cages implying they were less happy with their living conditions.

Another is research on ‘trancing’ rabbits (tonic immobility) – encouraging them to lay on their backs immobile, often used for nail clipping or just as part of human-rabbit interaction. It used to be thought by pet owners that rabbits were quit relaxed in this state, but when their physiological responses were measured researchers found breathing and heart rate were elevated and stress hormone levels were similar to those after known stressful events.

Buijs, S. et al.(2011) Glucocorticoid metabolites in rabbit faeces—Influence of environmental enrichment and cage size’, Physiology & Behavior 104 (2011) 469–473

Behavioural Measures

Behavioural measures – are much easier for us pet owners to use as they are easy to observe. The downside is they are open to interpretation  and there is a risk of anthropomorphising (assigning human motivations which might be different to animal ones). The other problem is knowing what a rabbit is doing, doesn’t necessarily mean we know why.

The course introduced a few different measuring techniques:

Ethogram – This involves using a standardised list of behaviours, e.g. hoping, eating,washing, that everyone works from. You can then use this to measure frequency of behaviours in different living conditions. For example researchers have looked at how much time rabbits spend on different activities depending on the size of their housing and found that rabbits housed in small pens spent more time being inactive (sitting or lying down) and that they interacted less with the environment, than when housed in large pens. They used several different breeds of rabbits in the experiment so were also able to show that small rabbits were more active than large ones.

Choice or Preference Tests – This involves giving animals two options and recording which the animal moves towards most frequently – assumes animals will approach/stay with things they want/like. The drawbacks here are the choices are limited by what investigator provides, and we don’t know if they are exactly what  they want or just the best of the options provided, or whether they suffer if they don’t get their preference. The responses could also be influenced by the animals previous experiences, age or sex, and the external environment (e.g. temperature).

Motivational testing – this test was developed from human studies into consumer demand. The animals learns to operate device to make choices, for example pushing through a weighted door or pressing a button a certain number of times. The idea is you can measure the ‘price they are willing pay’ to get resource the want, and that the harder they work the more they desire the resource. Researchers used this to measure rabbit’s desire for social interaction with other rabbits by comparing how hard they would work for food, social contact and access to a platform. They found their motivation for social interaction was almost equal to that of food. They do point out that it doesn’t tell us if they wanted companionship or had another motivation such as territorial issues.

The researchers also noted was whilst they were willing to gain access to the platform area, and spent a lot of time there, they didn’t use the platform much – they suggest this maybe because knowing they have access to a bolt-hole (the space under the platform) was very desirable even if they didn’t use it all the time.

Dixon, L. M (2010) The effects of spatial restriction on the behavior of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2010) 5, 302-308.

Seaman, S. (2008) Animal economics: assessing the motivation of female laboratory rabbits to reach a platform, social contact and food, ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR, 2008, 75, 31e42

Qualitative Behaviour Assessment

The final thing was Qualitative Behaviour Assessment – looking at the whole animal moves around the environment, in other words their body language. I was surprised how new this approach is, I think the scientists might be a bit behind us there! In ethnography, for example there is no distinction between how a rabbit is moving. I’m sure you’ve noticed a rabbit’s posture when hoping can tell you what they are feeling. When they are nervous or being cautious, they move slowly and their body is closer to the ground – it looks very different to a rabbit normally hoping along. Likewise, a change in ear position can sometimes be the only signal that a rabbit has moved from a relaxed state to an alert one.

rabbit ear meaning

If you’d like to learn more about rabbit body language pick up a copy of my book – Understanding Your Rabbit Habits.

There is also still time to sign up for the course if you want to learn more about animal welfare and behaviour, it’s covering animals general including livestock – the rabbit examples here are my own but rabbits are meant to come up in next weeks lectures!