Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Bunny Basics

Chewing and digging are natural bunny behaviors. Here’s how to meet their needs and prevent damage and danger

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

You’re probably familiar with puppy-proofing or kitten-proofing your home to protect new pets from dangers, and your belongings from damage, but it’s equally important if you have a new rabbit.

Bunnies love to chew and dig -- it’s built into their DNA -- so it’s important to be aware of that and take steps to offer safe and acceptable ways for your rabbit to meet his physical and behavioral needs.

Rabbits can have free run of the house -- but not right away. Just as you limit a puppy or kitten’s access to certain areas until you’re sure she’s housetrained, you need to do the same with your rabbit.

“You have to allow that animal to slowly get the hang of what it means to live inside this house with these people,” says house rabbit expert Mary Cvetan, co-founder of the Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club. “That means, ‘What do I get to chew and not chew? Where can I go to the bathroom and not go to the bathroom? When do I make noise and not make noise?’”

Over time, with kind guidance, bunnies learn what’s OK and what’s not. Part of that guidance is ensuring that they have access to appropriate toys and techniques for meeting their natural needs.

For instance, rabbits love digging up carpeting. Pulling up the fibers of carpet feels natural to them, much like pulling up the roots, leaves, plants and bushes that they would encounter in the forests of Europe, which is where domestic rabbits originated.

Rabbits need to burrow, so give yours a place where it’s OK to scratch and dig. That can be a large, deep cardboard box or large litter box filled with shredded paper or hay. A tough sisal mat that hasn’t been treated with any chemicals will also be something your bunny will enjoy. Place the box or mat in a corner (rabbits like perimeters because they feel safe there, Cvetan says) or on top of the area where your bunny has been digging.

Encourage him to use the digging box or mat by rewarding him with praise and a treat when he uses it. If you see him digging where he shouldn’t, get his attention and redirect him to his box or mat, again rewarding him when he uses it.

Chewing is equally natural to rabbits. Baseboards and furniture legs are right at their level. Even better, those items are solidly in place and offer resistance when chewed. Bunnies like that, Cvetan says.

Choose toys that fulfill a rabbit’s need to pull, chew and toss things. Set them up so they stay in one spot as your rabbit chews on them. Place something heavy on them or set them inside a sturdy base, such as a brick, so they don’t move around.

Tree branches are good “homemade” bunny chew toys. Cvetan gets apple branches from a farmer friend. She knows they haven’t been sprayed with any herbicides or pesticides, and she removes any fruit and leaves and cuts them down to a manageable size, no longer than her forearm. Once they’re weighed down, her rabbits enjoy chewing and peeling off the bark. Not all types of wood are safe for rabbits, so check first with your veterinarian.

Rabbits will also chew electrical wires and cords. Treating them with bitter apple or other taste deterrents doesn’t help. Place cords so they’re off the floor entirely or encased in tough plastic covers.

It’s also important to prevent your rabbit from getting inside furniture. Being prey animals, they enjoy hiding, including inside recliners and box springs. The best and simplest way to prevent problems is to block access to those areas.

“Over time, given the type of house you live in, given the type of rabbit you’re living with, many people find that they can live with free-roam rabbits without having the rabbit destroy items like carpeting or baseboards,” Cvetan says.

Q&A

Urinary tract

disease in cats

Q: My cat stopped using her litter box, and the stain on the carpet where she peed looks pinkish. What’s going on?

A: A number of different diseases can affect the bladder or urethra of cats: cystitis (inflammation of the bladder), various types of bladder stones, the occasional bacterial bladder infection, and, rarely, parasites or tumors. Male cats may develop a urinary blockage, which is an emergency situation. The overall term for these conditions is feline lower urinary tract disease, or FLUTD.

All of these conditions have different causes, but often the signs are similar. Cats may strain to urinate, urinate frequently but produce only small amounts of urine, have blood in the urine (that pinkish tinge you noticed on the carpet) or cry out in pain when they urinate. Like your cat, they may stop using the litter box, perhaps associating it with the pain of urination.

Your cat needs to see her veterinarian so he or she can determine the cause of the problem and treat it appropriately. The bad news is that because it has so many possible causes, diagnosing and treating FLUTD can be frustrating. In addition to a physical exam, your veterinarian may suggest other tests, including a urinalysis, urine culture, X-rays or blood work.

Sometimes, stress is a factor. Managing the cat’s environment and interactions with people and other pets may help. Pain relief is another important part of managing the condition and reducing stress.

Depending on the cause, your veterinarian may prescribe a different food or a switch to canned food from dry. Encouraging your cat to drink more water, by providing a fountain or dripping faucet, can help as well. Certain medications are beneficial, although you may be surprised to learn that antibiotics usually are not part of the program. Bacterial bladder infections are extremely rare. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Feline film fest

for indie theaters

-- Everybody knows cats own the internet, but can they save independent theaters? The Quarantine Cat Film Festival bets that they can. Streaming on June 19, the 70-minute compilation of videos submitted by cat slaves (we don’t dare call them owners) showcases “the most purr-fect, a-meow-zing, and totally fur-tastic cat videos anyone has ever seen.” Tickets are $12, and at least half of the proceeds will benefit independent movie theaters. Cash prizes will go to winners in Cutest, Funniest, Bravest and Most Loving categories, plus a Best in Show award.

-- Labrador retrievers are capable of big things, but 8-year-old Moose has topped them all: He received an honorary doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia. Moose, a therapy dog, has participated in more than 7,500 counseling sessions, contributing to the well-being of thousands of students.

-- Scientists have sequenced dog and cat genomes, and now the genome of a feline favorite: catnip. Also known as catmint (Nepeta cataria), the plant with the intoxicating effect on many cats works its magic through a suite of unusual enzymes that generate nepetalactone, the volatile substance that excites cats. “These enzymes are not found in any related plant species and have evolved uniquely in catmint,” says Benjamin Lichman from the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products at the University of York (England), first author of the study. Relatives of catnip -- including basil, oregano, rosemary, lemon balm and mint -- don’t produce these enzymes, called iridoids, which presumably have the purpose of repelling herbivores that might graze on them, not of getting cats high. The research was published last month in Science Advances by a research team led by Sarah O’Connor, director of the Department of Natural Product Biosynthesis at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.