Looking for a friendly, funny, quiet, clean, inexpensive and even eco-friendly pet? What you're looking for ... is a rabbit.
I have long despaired at the reaction most pet lovers have to that suggestion. In the minds of many, if not most, rabbits are a pet distantly remembered from childhood, a lonely animal kept outside in small and often filthy elevated "hutch." A starter pet for children, and certainly not suited for life outside a cage, most believe.
That impression is wrong. While rabbits remain good pets for respectful older children -- the animals are too fragile for young ones -- they're really better suited to life indoors with a grown-up. So-called "house-rabbits" bloom with proper care and gentle attention, providing endless amounts of quiet companionship punctuated by short periods of delightful silliness.
And while dogs and rabbits aren't always the best combination, cats and rabbits usually get along famously -- albeit with different litter boxes.
Yes, litter boxes. Because while rabbits usually aren't perfect about their use -- a pellet here and there will testify to that, but it's easily cleaned up -- they can and do use a box for most of their messes.
Ready to go rabbit? Shelters and rescue groups always have a great selection and should be the place to shop for a bunny. Better yet, get two: Rabbits love the company and can often be adopted in pairs already bonded.
Visit the site of the House Rabbit Society (rabbit.org) for the best information on caring for these pets. Here's a cheat sheet to get you started:
-- Housing. Your rabbit will need a home base of a small pen or large cage with food, water, toys and a litter box. Use a plain cat box filled with a shallow layer of recycled paper or wood pellets for the box, 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, making rabbits among the greenest of pets.)
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 when it's time for your rabbit to roam.
-- Nutrition. Fresh water needs to be available at all times. While commercial pellets are fine, it's just as easy and often less expensive to feed your rabbit yourself. Grass hay (cheaper by the bale if you have a dry space to store it in) should always be available, complemented by an array of green vegetables, from broccoli to kale to mustard greens to carrots with their tops on. For treats, bunnies love little bits of fruits and root vegetables. Think of your rabbit as a "precycler" -- veggie trimmings from your meals can be fed 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.
-- Exercise and play. Your rabbit needs a lot of time outside the pen or cage, and many do well with an open-door policy that lets them choose when to be in or out of their cages or pens. Protected outdoor space and even walks with a harness and leash are also good, but don't leave your rabbit unattended. Rabbits can be scared literally to death by predators.
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. The limit is not budgetary, but imaginary!
What are you waiting for? A wonderful pet is waiting for you, so hop to it!
Front-clip harness makes walking easy
Q: My New Year's resolution was to walk every day. Since our dog has added a few extra pounds in middle age, too, I wanted to take her along. Problem is, she is incredibly strong and we never really trained her not to pull on the leash. It's the only problem we have, so I don't want to take a training course. A private trainer seems like overkill. Suggestions? -- O.R., via e-mail.
A: Get a front-clip harness. These relatively new walking tools use the dog's own forward motion to correct pulling, and they're very effective at ending the behavior. And many dogs find front-clip harnesses easier to adjust to than the more common head halters (which I personally think look too ugly to use, in any case).
Front-clip harnesses have a ring in the front where the leash attaches, so you get the same turning effect as the head halter. The pressure is on the shoulders, not the nose, so many dogs find it less objectionable. Trainers who use both say the front-clip harness rarely evokes the "you're not putting that thing on me" response that greets the introduction of a head halter. While resistance to head halters can be overcome with patience and praise, the front-clip harness is pretty much useful right out of the box.
A few companies make a version of the front-clip harness. The one I'm using with my retriever puppy now is the Easy Walk by Premier. Go to www.premier.com for information on proper fitting and use.
If you still have problems after you get a front-clip harness, please reconsider having a trainer come to the house. A couple of targeted sessions with a good dog trainer can make a world of difference in the relationship you have with your pet. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers maintains a list of members on its Web site, www.apdt.com. -- 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" and "The Dr. Oz Show" 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 more. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Cropping, docking still commonly done
-- Of the more than 150 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, 13 commonly get ear crops, 48 have docked tails, and 11 have both cropping and docking. Ear crops seem more likely to disappear as a common practice sooner, as fewer pet owners choose to have their puppies' ears sliced into an upright posture, and fewer veterinarians will perform the procedure. The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes ear cropping and tail docking when done solely for cosmetic purposes and has encouraged the elimination of these procedures from breed standards.
-- The average price for hay is $3 to $6 per bale, according a poll on www.thehorse.com. Only 10 percent of respondents were paying less than $3 per bale, while 21 percent paid $6 to $9 per bale, and 8 percent paid more than $11 per bale. A bale of hay commonly lasts about two to four days per horse.
-- Rather than using drugs to sedate a cat for minor veterinary procedures, a new process called "clipnosis" may be used to calm and immobilize the animal. The technique places clips along the back of a cat's neck, mimicking the way a kitten is carried by the scruff by a mother cat. Clipnosis has not yet been widely recognized as a safe and practical method of immobilization, but it may be growing in popularity with a recent study. The trial on 18 cats who were clipped four different times over a period of months found that the animals were not stressed, and some even purred while "clipped." None of the animals displayed signs of pain or stress during the process. The more the animals were clipped, the more tolerant they became of the process. One caveat: The procedure was not effective on cats who were already excited or agitated.
-- Women make up 77 percent of graduating veterinarians. Family friendly hours and the wide availability of part-time or fill-in work are among the reasons why the profession is appealing, according to DVM360.com. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Cheap, effective cure for a skunked dog
Over the years, I have come to believe that spring is close when I get my first frantic request for "that skunk remedy."
As reported in the Chicago Tribune several years ago, a chemist by the name of Paul Krebaum discovered what turns out to be the hands-down best solution for eliminating odor on dogs who've been skunked. And yes, it really works.
Here's the formula: Take 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of liquid soap, such as Ivory. Mix and immediately apply to the stinky pet. Then rinse thoroughly with tap water. For a big dog, such as a Labrador, you might double the recipe to improve coverage. Common sense dictates keeping the mix out of sensitive areas like the eyes and ears.
Obviously, no one wants to take the time to run to the store when you have a stinky dog, so buy the ingredients now and keep them on hand. But remember -- don't mix them until seconds before application.
Hydrogen peroxide is a good thing to have around anyway, since it induces vomiting in a dog or puppy who might have eaten something toxic. Be sure to replace your bottle at least once a year, though, because the stuff seems to lose its kick over time. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
The friendliest cat cities
The CATalyst Council (catalystcouncil.org) has come out with a list of the top 10 cat-friendly cities. The areas were ranked by the popularity of cats in each city, the level of veterinary care, the prevalence of microchipping for ID, and the "cat-friendliness" of local ordinances. The winners:
3. San Francisco
8. San Diego
Another carmaker going to the dogs
Since the PetConnection also owns the DogCars.com Web site, we're well aware of how many people consider their pets when choosing a vehicle. But it's great to see car companies realizing this, too.
Both Honda and Toyota have special-edition models (the Element and the Venza, respectively) with dog-friendly features.
But with a series of new ads, Subaru is aiming to be the new big dog on the block. In a series of ads that debuted Super Bowl weekend, the automaker promoted the Subaru Forester under the tagline: "Dog tested. Dog approved." The clever spots show dogs driving the vehicles, and even parallel parking -- pretty funny stuff.
Subaru's interest in the dog-owning demographic isn't new: In 2008, the company promoted its vehicles in ads that asked, "Without dogs, how would you get rid of that new-car smell?" -- 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.