If you haven't met a rabbit kept in the house as a pet, I guarantee that you have no idea how engaging, entertaining and affectionate these pets can be. I know, because I've long been a fan of house-rabbits and have kept them off and on for several years now.
What do most people not know about rabbits? That these animals who are a popular pet for children are an even better pet for adults. Once liberated from the confinement of a backyard "hutch" and provided with a safe and secure indoor environment, bunnies really shine. They're playful and adorably willful, trainable and even amenable to using a litter box. They're quiet pets that fit perfectly into quiet households.
And, yes, they're very cute.
Even better, there's always a good selection of bunnies available from shelters or rescue groups. If you really want to make a bunny happy, adopt a pair of them, since rabbits love company.
Forget small wire-floored cages and boring diets. 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.)
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.
-- Nutrition. Fresh water needs to be available at all times. For food, you can use high-quality commercial rabbit pellets for a base diet, or you can also skip the store-bought route and feed your rabbit a good variety of fresh leafy veggies and an unlimited supply of fresh grass hay. If you go the pellet route, your rabbit should still get as much fresh grass hay as he wants, and still offer fresh leafy vegetables to complement the pellets. 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 a cool, dry location 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 (rabbit.org).
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Q: I just got married. My husband has a cat, which is great because I have always had a cat, but was cat-less after my sweet Miranda died. I would like to get a kitten because Harry likes my husband best, and I want a cat who likes me best. What's the best way to keep Harry happy when a new baby arrives? -- via e-mail
A: If you take over feeding Harry and also dedicate time to playing with him, you'll probably rise up in his list of priorities. You may even top your husband in Harry's affection. You never know!
But I'm real believer in "the more the merrier," so I think you should still add a cat. 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. You might also ask your veterinarian about a product called Feliway, which mimics the scent of feline pheromones and makes many cats feel more relaxed in stressful circumstances.
Prepare a room for your new kitten 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 Harry gets used to the kitten being around.
Take your new kitten 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 kitten home in a carrier and set him in the room you've prepared. Let your resident cat discover the caged baby, 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 kitten 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.
Since your husband's cat got used to having you around, it's a pretty good bet he'll adjust to a kitten, too. If you decide to adopt an adult cat instead of a kitten, the introductions may be a little more difficult, but with patience going from a one-cat home to a two-cat home will usually work out in the end. – Mikkel Becker
Dogs keep owners
busy with walks
-- Dog owners walk an average of 23,000 miles with their pet during the animal's lifetime. A study commissioned by the U.K. insurance company Esure reports that the average owner walks his or her dog for eight hours and 54 minutes per week, going 36 miles per week, which adds up to more than 1,800 miles per year and nearly equals the circumference of the Earth in the average canine life span of 12.8 years. They don't go far racking up the miles: 41 percent of dog owners walk with their pets around the neighborhood, while 42 percent choose a local park to walk their dogs. And they don't all go willingly, with 15 percent of owners saying walking the dog was the worst part of owning one.
-- Once one of the most notable equine regions in the country -- Pimlico, after all, was the site of the historic Sea Biscuit-War Admiral race -- Maryland's horse population is in decline. The Maryland Horse Industry Board notes that the number of horses in the state has decreased 7 percent from 2002 to 2010.
-- One of the most accomplished veterinarians in U.S. history was Frederick Douglass Patterson, who was graduated from Cornell in 1932 and eventually became the third president of Tuskegee University. He also developed the Tuskegee Airmen program and was instrumental in establishing the United Negro College Fund. In the segregated South, Dr. Patterson made it possible for African-Americans to follow in his footsteps by founding Tuskegee's veterinary college. Before the founding of the veterinary school at Tuskegee, Cornell and Ohio State University led the country with the most African-American veterinary students. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel 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 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.