Pet Connection

Pick a Pair

CHECK THE SHELTER FOR PERFECT PETS: TWO INDOOR RABBITS

When Easter draws near, you can be sure of an increase in sales of chocolate and rabbits. And while it won't hurt you much to buy chocolate on a whim, I'd rather you pass on buying a bunny on impulse.

But if you're ready for a surprisingly special pet, wait a few weeks, check the shelters and pick a pair. They do well in multiples -- after they're altered, of course -- and you'll find wonderful rabbits ready for re-homing in the weeks after Easter.

Never thought of a rabbit as an indoor pet for adults? You're missing out! Once liberated from the confinement of a backyard "hutch" and provided with a safe and secure indoor environment, bunnies really shine as pets. They're playful and adorably willful, trainable and even amenable to using a litter box.

Care is surprisingly easy, and very affordable. Here's how to keep your rabbit healthy:

-- Housing. Your rabbit will need a home base of a small pen or large cage with food, water and a litter box. Rabbits do well with a plain cat box filled with a shallow layer of recycled paper pellets, covered with a layer of fresh grass hay. You don't scoop a rabbit box -- you change it completely, every day. (The ingredients you toss are great for your compost pile.)

-- Nutrition. Fresh water needs to be available at all times. For food, skip the store-bought pellet route and feed your rabbit a variety of fresh leafy veggies and an unlimited supply of fresh grass hay. If you do go with pellets, your rabbit should still get as much fresh grass hay as he wants. Treat your rabbit, too: Bunnies love little bits of fruits, roots and leafy greens. (If you have storage space, hay is cheaper by the bale and lasts for many weeks in a cool, dry location.)

-- Health care. Check with your local rabbit rescue group for the names of veterinarians who are known to be good with rabbits. Get your rabbit spayed or neutered. In addition to keeping your rabbit from reproducing, you'll have a better pet. Unaltered rabbits can have behavior problems such as aggression and urine-spraying. Your rabbit will need a wellness check, just as a cat or dog would, and a good rabbit vet will help you catch little health problems before they become big ones.

-- Exercise and play. Make sure your rabbit is allowed time outside the cage or pen every day. If you can't manage letting your rabbit roam at will indoors, block off a single rabbit-proofed room. A secure, supervised area outside is fine as well, but don't leave your rabbit unattended. Rabbits can be scared literally to death by cats, dogs and even jays and crows. Because some rabbits can be chewers, you'll want to make sure that any rabbit-friendly area has electrical cords tucked away, and deny access to the legs of nice furniture and the corners of good carpets.

-- Rabbits love toys. Cat toys, dog toys, hard-plastic baby toys and even the cardboard tubes from inside toilet paper and paper towel rolls are fun for rabbits. Cardboard boxes stuffed with hay and treats are also fun for bunnies.

I had a trio of pet rabbits for a few years -- Turbo, Annie and Velocity. I still miss them, and will be looking to adopt a pair later this spring. I encourage you to join me, and make this spring a good one for former Easter bunnies.

Q&A

'Tough love' works

with finicky dogs

Q: My little dog is so finicky. Plain kibble just isn't good enough. I have to keep doctoring it up, adding leftovers, cheese and more. And then he gets bored with that, so I have to add something else. What's the solution? -- via email

A: Before you do anything, you have to be sure you're not dealing with an underlying health problem. Pets who are suffering from chronic disease or pain will often stop eating. Unless and until you get your pet to the veterinarian, you won't make any progress -- and your pet may well get worse.

It's also worth noting that if a dog who normally eats well won't eat what's in the dish, you need to trust his instincts. Feed something else, even if it's cottage cheese and rice for the night, and call the company (contact information is on the label). You may be offering a food that has been or should be recalled.

But if both your dog and the food check out as fine, you need to teach your dog to eat what's offered. Provide a quiet place to eat with no distractions, and no competition from other pets. A small room with a baby gate across it is fine, or use a pet crate if your dog is comfortable inside one. Put the food down and leave your dog alone for 20 to 30 minutes. Then pick up the food, eaten or not, say nothing and give your pet no food until the next scheduled feeding. Repeat at every meal: a quiet space, a set time for eating and remove the remainder.

Don't worry if he misses a meal, or even a day or two worth of meals. He won't starve. Above all: Do not, do not, do not give treats between meals, nor add those "goodies" to the meals after she turns up her nose. Do make sure fresh water is always available, though. I doubt it will take more than a couple of days for your dog to learn to eat promptly the food that's set down in front of him.

Note: Don't ever try this on a finicky cat. Cutting off a cat's food supply abruptly can trigger a potentially fatal liver disease. If your cat's not eating, don't wait: See your veterinarian. -- Gina Spadafori

Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com.

THE BUZZ

A dog's mouth isn't

truly all that clean

-- The idea that a dog's saliva has healing powers dates all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, whose physicians believed it to be an antidote for poisoning. Modern medicine doesn't look kindly on such theories, especially when the things a dog eats and licks get taken into account. So if you have a wound, try some antiseptic spray and a Band-Aid instead.

Why do dogs seem so interested in sniffing or licking wounds? One reason is that the serum that leaks from an open sore is sweet.

-- Tired of cats on the counter? Keep kitties from going airborne by covering the off-limits areas with double-sided tape, aluminum foil or upside-down carpet runners. Cats don't like it when their paws stick to something. They also dislike the sound and feel of aluminum foil, and find the knobs on the carpet runners uncomfortable.

You can also try cookie pans filled with water, or spraying bath towels with pet repellent and covering the affected areas. The advantage of these approaches is that they work whether you're around or not. Plus they set up the cat to choose to make the proper response -- staying off the counter -- on his own. You should also provide them with safe and approved places to climb, such as a sturdy cat tree. If a cat can't look down on us, he just can't be happy.

-- An ideal weight for most cats is 8 to 12 pounds. Even the larger breeds of cat rarely exceed 15 pounds, with the exception of a few relatively rare breeds. -- Mikkel Becker and Dr. Marty Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.

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