By Mary Cvetan
Want a happy house rabbit? Make sure your bunny's digs are suitable.
The best indoor spaces for rabbits are both safe and stimulating. They keep your bunny out of trouble when you are away from home, but give him the space to dig, chew, play, stretch, snooze or just sit and think.
The right housing has room for a large litter box, a generous stack of hay, a water crock, toys to chew and toss, and a towel to arrange and rearrange. A surprising must-have: a cardboard digging box, double or triple the size of your bunny.
The right spot will give your rabbit an entertaining view of family members as they cook, clean, talk on the phone, watch TV, use the computer and get ready for -- or come home from -- work.
Some options include:
The entire house, free-roam: Many older rabbits are past their woodwork-chewing "baby stages." These bunnies have earned their owner's trust and roam the house freely. However, all rooms must be rabbit-proofed, to protect your bunny and your valuables. That means electric cords, computer wires, toxic house plants, rubber bands, remote controls and any treasured wooden furniture must be kept out of reach.
One or two rooms, free-roam: Perhaps the kitchen and dining room are open to the bunny, or the family room and the bathroom. Baby gates keep him from entering other rooms when you are not able to supervise. The rabbit will choose favorite spots to snooze, chew a hay cube or daydream.
Part of a room, enclosed in an exercise pen: Exercise pens, also called play yards, are a convenient way to keep rabbits confined to a specific area. Available in different heights, these pens feature hinged panels that can be arranged in varying shapes or stretched across the room to divide it. Some rabbits climb or jump out, so owners clip a sheet to the pen to make a "roof" that keeps bunny safely inside.
A two- or three-story bunny condo: If you can't build wide ... build high! Give your rabbit a multilevel condo and he'll be able to not only enjoy his perch, but also have plenty of space for all of his toys and supplies. Many owners build their own condos, using wire-frame storage cube sets from building supply stores. Easy directions can be found online; search for "bunny condo." Make sure that it's tall enough inside for him to stand up on his hind legs and stretch.
A large dog crate: Paired with an exercise pen, a large dog crate can make a great bunny house. The door on the crate swings wide open, giving you easy access for cleaning. Crates allow space for the litter box, bowls and have ample head room. Cover the top with a blanket or towel. This gives bunny's sensitive eyes some protection from overhead lights and provides a nice "burrow" feeling.
A cage: Standard animal cages are too cramped to accommodate a large litter box, hay, digging box, bowls and toys -- so go bigger! Avoid cages with doors that open on the roof. Bunnies don't like to be pulled up out of their houses. Let your rabbit enter and exit his cage on his own. Choose a cage that rests on the floor (not up on legs), with a large door on the side or front.
Whatever house you choose, your bunny will feel more confident about interacting with you if he can easily get back to home base to use the litter box or take a hay break. After all, every rabbit needs his own space to retreat and relax. Isn't that what home is all about?
(Mary Cvetan is a member of the Pet Connection advisory team and the co-founder of the Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club.)
Cat allergies put
strain on couple
Q: I have allergies, both to my new girlfriend's cat and to spring pollens. I've been able to tolerate the cat -- barely -- but with spring here, things are getting bad. Is it too much to ask her to get rid of the cat? -- via email
A: Ultimatums often don't work out as you plan them. She may choose the cat over you, or she may resent you for forcing her to give up her feline companion. Why not try to make it work with a compromise or two on her (and her cat's) part instead?
If you can get a good night's sleep, you'll be better able to cope with almost anything, even allergies. That's why one of the best pieces of advice to those who are allergic to their pets is this: Declare your bedroom a "no-pets zone," at least during the worst of spring allergy season.
Reduce allergy triggers further by keeping your sleeping area sparsely decorated with furnishings that do not attract dust, and be sure everything is cleaned frequently. Bedding should be washed often to combat dust mites, and pillows should be made of non-allergenic material -- no feathers. Consider running a HEPA air cleaner in the room at all times.
The idea is to keep your total "allergy load" -- pets and everything else that triggers your allergies -- to a level that you can live with or that can be controlled by medication. It's worth it to make an effort. Out-of-control allergies can make lives miserable and, in the case of asthma, can be life-threatening as well.
Here are more tips for those who have both pets and allergies:
-- Work with your doctor. While you'll still find allergists who insist a pet must go, look for one who's willing to work with you and will prescribe medications that allow your allergies and your pets to coexist.
-- Limit exposure to other allergens. Avoid cleaning solutions, cigarette smoke and strong perfumes. Consider using a mask when doing yard work and housework, especially when pollen counts are high or your home is especially dusty.
-- Delegate cleaning. Let someone else do the dusting and vacuuming, if at all possible, and if not, invest in a vacuum that filters the air it releases.
-- Keep pets well-groomed. It's essential for pets to be bathed frequently and to be kept combed and brushed. Ideally, a non-allergic member of the household -- your girlfriend -- should assume this responsibility. Even cats should be bathed, by the way: A weekly rinse of your cat in plain water has been shown to help people who are allergic to them. -- Gina Spadafori
Feline love: It's� not just the food
-- Cats attach to their people out of a social bond, not solely because owners provide food. A study accepted for publication in the journal Behavioural Processes found cat-human relationships closely resemble human relationships. Food is a token of affection, and for humans and their cats, the relationship is similar to a human caretaker and the pre-verbal infant. The study also looked at the difference between bonds of male and female owners and their cats. Cats approached female owners and jumped on their laps more readily than cats with male owners, suggesting that female owners have closer relationships with their cats than do male owners.
-- The "one bite" rule has been around at least since the 1600s. This legal tradition gives a dog owner the benefit of the doubt for the behavior of an animal who has never bitten. After the first bite, however, the owner is presumed to have knowledge of the dog's propensity to bite. While the "one bite" tradition commonly pertains to dogs, it has been used in a court case involving a horse. In 2008, a child was visiting a farm with his family in Connecticut where he was bitten by a horse. The family argued in court that even if the horse did not have a known history of biting, the farm was responsible for the animal's action. Since the horse had not bitten before and had given the owners no reason to believe the animal would bite, the court sided with the owners of the horse.
-- A cat named Smokey is believed to have the loudest purr in the world. While most cats purr at 25 decibels, Smokey can purr at levels that average 80 decibels, which is comparable to the sound of a lawn mower. -- 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.