Universal Press Syndicate
Rabbits aren't just for kids anymore.
In recent years the popularity of "house rabbits" -- litter-box trained bunnies with as many house privileges as some cats -- has made these quiet, surprisingly playful pets more popular among adults.
And now's a great time to adopt one, since it's not long after Easter that the thrill wears off for many children given a baby rabbit -- and for the parents who realize that they'll be caring for a pet that their child will no longer care much about.
So whether you're thinking of adopting a rabbit as a pet for yourself -- or are one of the lucky parents whose child is still in love with that real-life Easter bunny -- you'll want to care for your new pet the best way you can. Here are some tips:
-- Housing. Indoor rabbits are more fun! 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.)
Because some rabbits can be chewers, you'll want to make sure any rabbit-friendly area has electrical cords tucked away and to deny access to the legs of nice furniture and the corners of good carpets.
-- Nutrition. Fresh water needs to be available at all times. For food, you can use high-quality commercial rabbit pellets for a base diet (read the label for daily portions and adjust it over time to keep your rabbit from getting fat). You can also skip the commercial pellets. Offer fresh grass hay at will and a wide variety of fresh green leafy vegetables twice daily. Treat your rabbit, too: Bunnies love little bits of fruits and root vegetables.
If you have storage space, hay is cheaper by the bale and lasts for weeks in cool, dry storage if protected from the elements. And stop throwing away veggie trimmings from meal preparation -- give them to your rabbit!
-- Health care. 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.
Check with your local rabbit rescue group for the names of veterinarians who are known to be good with rabbits.
-- 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.
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.
Once you've gotten the hang of rabbit care, think of adding another such pet. Rabbits are social animals and do very well in pairs.
For more information, check out the House Rabbit Society (www.rabbit.org). In addition to volumes of great information online, the HRS also offers a wonderful newsletter with membership and an assortment of books to help you care for your bun.
Cat's weight loss reason for concern
Q: I have a spayed female cat who went from 16 pounds to 10 pounds in a few months. (We're not exactly sure when the weight loss started.) We've continued to feed her the same food in the same amounts, and she seems more energetic, but that could be because she's packing less poundage, right?
Should we be concerned with the drastic weight loss? We've tried to reduce her weight many times with no luck, so this is bit of a bonus. -- U.R., via e-mail
A: You have good reason to be concerned about weight loss as dramatic as hers. Since you've said there was no change in the amount of food she eats, I can't imagine she's taken up triathlon training to take off the weight.
That means something else is going on.
Your cat needs to see a veterinarian right away for a thorough evaluation of her health. My concern would be a problem such a hyperthyroidism, a common illness in older cats where the thyroid gland overproduces this essential hormone. Typically, hyperthyroid cats lose weight and seem to be much more energetic, but the disease has a serious downside, too, and needs to be treated.
The good news is that if it is hyperthyroidism, it can be treated successfully in a couple of different ways.
Radiation treatment is considered the best treatment option for a positive outcome, but many owners successfully maintain their cats on daily medication for life. Ask your veterinarian to outline all treatment options so you can decide what's right for your cat. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Q: How often does a litter box really have to be cleaned? If we're using clumping litter, shouldn't it be OK for a few days? -- P.W., via e-mail
A: Ideally, the box should be scooped every time the cat uses it, or a couple of times a day at least.
Realistically, daily attention is probably fine.
If you're neglecting this chore, you're inviting a behavior problem I know you don't want: a cat who skips the litter box. Cats don't like dirty bathrooms any more than people do, and your pet may start looking for a cleaner place to go if the box isn't to his liking.
So while it may be fine to leave the box unscooped for a couple of days in a pinch, don't let it get to be a habit, or you may end up with a house-soiling problem. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," plus a free monthly newsletter. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Fido, Fluffy just not today's names
-- Forget Fido and Fluffy. The most popular names for pets in 2008, according to a PetFinder.com survey, in decreasing order for dogs, are: Buddy, Max, Daisy, Jack and Lucy. For cats: Lucy, Molly, Oreo, Kittens and Smokey.
-- When a Florida couple's beloved yellow Labrador retriever died, they spent $155,000 with a South Korean biotech research firm to clone a copy one year later. On the "Today" show the couple said they dubbed their doggie double "Lancelot Encore." The puppy was born in late November 2008 and joins Edgar and Nina Otto's large menagerie, which includes nine other dogs. It should be noted the extended Otto family co-founded NASCAR.
-- You've heard of making cheese from goat's milk, but medication? In what would be a scientific first, an anti-clotting drug made from the milk of genetically engineered goats moved closer to government approval recently after experts at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported that the medication works and its safety is acceptable. The drug is intended to help people with a rare hereditary disorder that makes them vulnerable to life-threatening ailments, including hemophilia, according to The Associated Press.
-- As the temperature across the United States has gradually gotten warmer, more than half of 305 bird species in North America -- a hodgepodge that includes robins, gulls, chickadees and owls -- are spending the winter about 35 miles farther north than they did 40 years ago, an Audubon Society study finds. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Split cats up when arranging introductions
Having more than one cat is a popular option for many people, though not always for cats.
But living with more than one cat doesn't have to be contentious. The trick to domestic harmony for co-habiting felines is to introduce -- or reintroduce -- them slowly and carefully.
Since the worst territorial spats are between cats who aren't spayed or neutered, your chances for peaceful co-existence are many times greater if the cats are both altered before any introductions are planned.
Prepare a room for your new cat with food and water bowls, and a litter box and scratching post that needn't be shared. This room will be your new pet's home turf while the two cats get used to each other's existence.
Take your new cat to your veterinarian first, to be checked for parasites such as ear mites and contagious diseases such as feline leukemia. When you're sure your new pet is healthy, the introductions can begin.
Bring the cat home in a carrier and set him in the room you've prepared. Let your resident cat discover the caged animal, and don't be discouraged by initial hisses. When the new cat is alone in the room, close the door and let him out of the carrier. If he doesn't want to leave the carrier at first, let him be. Just leave the carrier door open and the cat alone.
Maintain each cat separately for a week or so -- with lots of love and play for both -- and then on a day when you're around to observe, leave the door to the new cat's room open. Above all: Don't force them together. Territory negotiations between cats can be drawn-out and delicate, and you must let them work it out on their own, ignoring the hisses and glares. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Setting up shop, reptile-style
According to a survey by the American Pet Products Association, the top pet supplies purchased by owners of pet reptiles, by percentage of those who purchased the items, with multiple answers allowed:
Glass habitat 64 percent
Habitat furnishings 58 percent
Books on care 54 percent
Incandescent bulbs 39 percent
Fluorescent bulbs 38 percent
Bedding 30 percent
'Birdify' to get healthy recipes
Looking for a special treat for your parrot? It's easy to adjust everyday recipes to make them more bird-friendly. French toast, for example, can be sprinkled with hulled seeds just after you drench the bread in egg, and then cooked as usual and offered to your bird without the butter and syrup.
You can also make a rice-and-veggie treat by cooking brown rice and then adding fresh vegetables and chopped hard-boiled eggs. Healthy people food is good for birds, too.
Pasta, cottage cheese, fruits and vegetables will all help keep your bird healthy, but remember that avian veterinarians now recommend that the basis of a sound diet should be one of the pelleted diets now available for your bird. If you have any questions regarding proper nutrition for your pet, talk to your veterinarian. -- Gina Spadafori
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.