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Bonding with a rabbit
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Bonding with your bunny chums

It’s no surprise that rabbits who bond with their owners live longer and happier lives. Whether your buns are already part of the family, or you’ve just welcomed some new rabbits into your family, find out how to deepen your connection with your nose-twitching pals.

Just like people, every bunny is different. So, when it comes to understanding them and growing your relationship, it’s important to start by understanding their different personalities and what things they like to do.

As you learn to play games together, providing your buns with new experiences – and providing them with healthy treats to help the bonding process along – it’s also essential to understand the importance of letting them interact with you on their own terms.

Director of Veterinary Medicine, Dr Laurie Hess, says: “People who have never had a rabbit as a pet don’t realize that rabbits actually have very distinct personalities. These animals can be charming, affectionate and very interactive. Just like more traditional pets, some bunnies are rambunctious and playful, while others may be more shy and reserved.”

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BUNNY TALK Learning to speak rabbit means spending lots of time engaging with and observing your bunnies, but the rewards for every rabbit owner are wonderful. Not only will you gain a fantastic insight into your rabbits’ world, you’ll also be better equipped to provide them with a more fulfilling life as you begin to understand what makes them happy, stressed or cross.

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Animal charity Wood Green Wood Green advises: “Often seen as cute and fluffy, rabbits come with big characters and a variety of needs making them a pet not to be taken lightly. Although they do not enjoy being handled, with time and patience, rabbits can bond very close to their owners and often choose to hop up for a tasty treat or a chin rub hello. Rabbits do enjoy the companionship of humans and can become very affectionate and enjoy taking tasty fresh forage from your hands.”

The RSPCA states: “Rabbits that are well handled by people from a young age can learn that humans are friends and companions. Rabbit's living indoors can see humans as important companions. Rabbits are naturally sociable and inquisitive animals. A good relationship with your rabbit can be rewarding for both you and your pet, particularly in easing the process of catching and transporting your animal, taking your rabbit for routine veterinary examinations and carrying out health checks.”

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MAKING HAY-TIME PLAYTIME FOR BUNNIES Chomping on hay does wonders for your bunnies’ emotional wellbeing. In the wild, fibrevores spend around 70% of their time foraging and eating grass and other plants. For pet rabbits, being given the opportunity to forage and chew keeps them physically and emotionally stimulated and enables them to express their natural behaviours.

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Getting closer to your rabbits – here are 4 top bunny tips to try

  1. Start off in neutral territory Because rabbits are a prey species, it’s perfectly natural for them to feel nervous and defensive if you try to interact with them by reaching into their hutch – remember that this is their safe space, and all of their instincts are telling them to protect it from potential predators. A better approach is to set up a play area or run large enough for you to sit inside next to your rabbits so you can start interacting with them on neutral ground.
  2. Set up fun things to do and explore In your shared space, add tubes, tunnels, boxes, a covered area, chew treats and a hay rack, stuffed with delicious feeding hay, and scatter a few tasty nuggets around and some scrummy fresh greens, such as dandelion leaves, fresh basil or parsley. Then, just sit there with your rabbits for around half an hour every day without attempting to touch your pets. This way, your buns will learn to feel comfortable in your company and start to trust you. After a few days of hanging out together in this way, it’s likely that curiosity will get the better of them and your buns will start to approach you.
  3. Keep things interesting Although rabbits, like most animals, are creatures of habit, they still enjoy the experience of having new things introduced into their lives. Try occasionally changing the layout of their accommodation or invest in new, exciting toys for them to play with – you’ll soon discover who likes batting a ball or who prefers foraging for treats scattered in hay in a tunnel. Your buns will begin to associate you with all these new fun experiences, which will deepen your bond.
  4. Getting up close and personal Once your rabbits are comfortable around you – and don’t leg it when you approach with your hand extended – you can try some gentle stroking. Your buns may not seem too keen at first, so let them go at their own pace. The most considerate way to approach your rabbits is to reach with your hand low down, just to the side of their head, so they can see it’s you and not a predator swooping down from above. Take it gently and, eventually, you may find your buns sitting comfortably in your lap, enjoying your attention.

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GAMES TO PLAY WITH YOUR RABBITS Playing games with your rabbit is a great way to prevent boredom, encourage exercise and get to understand rabbit behaviour a whole lot better. Mornings and evenings are the best times as this is when bunnies are most active.

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Teaching your rabbits tricks

Rabbits are smart and curious creatures, and some may enjoy the challenge of learning some simple tricks. You could begin with reinforcing natural behaviour, such as walking through a tunnel, with a treat waiting for them at the far end. The RSPCA says: “Rabbits are intelligent and playful animals and can be taught a variety of tricks, including coming when called and going back to their cage on cue, which is a fun and less stressful method of catching your rabbit. Not only can training provide mental and physical stimulation for your rabbit, it can also enhance your bond with your pet.”

Check out the charity’s top bunny training tips:

  • Only positive reward-based training methods, such as ‘clicker training’, where an animal associates the sound with something good, such as a treat, should be used. Punishment techniques, such as shouting, must never be used, your rabbit is very unlikely to understand and can become more nervous or scared.
  • If you are inexperienced in rabbit training techniques, learn how to teach more basic commands first (such as encouraging a rabbit to come when called and rewarding him/her with a healthy treat) and see whether your rabbit responds to this positively, before attempting more complex activities.

How to teach your rabbit to come when you call their name

  • Start by calling their name as you give your rabbit a treat. At first you just want to call their name (or whatever cue word you want to use) when they are already next to you and while they are taking the treat from your hand. The goal of this first step is to simply help your rabbit associate the sound of their name with the reward of a treat. Essentially, you’re teaching your rabbit to recognise the cue.
  • Call your rabbit’s name and give them a treat after they approach. After a couple weeks of calling your rabbit’s name while you hand them a treat, try calling their name when they are not next to you. If they approach, hand them a treat to reinforce the cue. Continue to call them periodically throughout the day to reinforce the trick. If they don’t approach you, then it means they don’t recognise the cue yet, and you should continue with step one for a little while longer.

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Good news for rabbits! Britain’s bunnies benefited from lockdown

Research published by the organisers of) Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW), the UK’s largest welfare campaign for rabbits – created by Burgess Pet Care 15 years ago to improve the lives of rabbits in the UK – has found that rabbits have been living happier and healthier lives as a result of lockdown. 

The Pets in Lockdown survey heard from hundreds of pet owners across the UK and found that 88% of rabbit owners have been spending more time playing with their rabbits throughout lockdown, while 99% of rabbit owners said they enjoyed the extra time that they’ve been able to spend with their animals. 

Many rabbit owners have also been using their spare time during lockdown to treat their animals and enhance their quality of life. The survey revealed that 26% of rabbit owners have spent more money on improving their rabbits’ accommodation during lockdown and 47% of owners said they’d splashed out more money on toys and boredom breakers to keep their rabbits stimulated. 

Burgess in-house vet, Dr Suzanne Moyes, says: “Veterinary research consistently shows rabbits as being one of the UK’s most neglected pets so it’s amazing to see that so many rabbits are living happier and healthier lives as a result of lockdown. In addition to ensuring their rabbits are kept in pairs and have constant access to high quality feeding hay, it’s a positive sign that rabbit owners are making all of the right moves to address poor quality accommodation and lack of regular interaction – two of the key contributors to unhappy bunnies.”

 

STAY UP TO DATE WITH ALL THE LATEST BUNNY BULLETINS ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND HELP US PROMOTE BETTER HEALTH AND WELLBEING MESSAGES FOR ALL PET RABBITS, EVERYWHERE

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Are your bunnies Burgess bunnies? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

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The entire Burgess Rabbit range is made using only the finest quality ingredients and is designed to prevent selective feeding (a common problem with muesli-based diets where rabbits eat some high starch/sugar components, while rejecting the more fibrous pellets, causing all manner of health issues). Naturally high in Beneficial Fibre and fortified with vitamins and minerals for healthy eyes, skin and coat, it’s really no wonder that 92% of UK vets recommend our Burgess small pets range.

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