Living with a House Bunny
Butter (full name: Butter Buns Sutton) comes from Lollypop Farm animal shelter outside Rochester, New York. Believe it or not, she is my first adulthood pet. My family had two pet store bunnies when I was a kid, and that was kind of a disaster. (For starters, they’d assured us they were both female … whoops. Mayhem ensued.) I always wanted to have a better experience with a pet bunny and I was intrigued to find out that people have house bunnies that live not in outdoor hutches but inside, with the family.
I went to Lollypop Farm on a Sunday afternoon in April, 2010 and found this bunny who had just become available for adoption after one month of rehabilitation. The adoption counselor said that Butter had been found abandoned, in rough shape. The staff regarded Butter fondly, and the vet had written in the comments section of her chart, “Charming.” Butter is also sometimes neurotic, but indeed, she is charming. And hey, I’d be neurotic too.
The House Rabbit Society is THE place to get information about this phenomenon. When I brought Butter home to Highland here in the Hudson Valley, Dale and I had a lot of learnin’ to do. Like new parents of human babies, we felt more than a little inadequate. We were nervous about just keeping her alive! She still had some health issues and required a bunch of vet visits at first. We learned how to properly pick her up and hold her (when necessary–the majority of house bunnies emphatically do not like to be picked up), how to trim her nails, keep her brushed, clean her ears and eyes, proper litter setup, diet, how to design her room so that she could come and go from her cage into the larger sun room as she pleased.
We’ve learned a LOT about her hygienic needs, as she needs help in that department, and there’s a lot of washcloth bathing involved. We didn’t bargain on that — that’s been the big downside. Even though she is litter trained in terms of pee and to a certain degree with the little hard pellets (called “pills”) she produces at astonishingly high rates, pills still end up all over the sun room and not infrequently stuck to her butt. Bunny poop is a big part of our lives. And you should know that bunnies are caecovores–they eat their own poop. That was a harsh reality we came to terms with early on. They produce two kinds of poop — the hard pellets, and a softer one that looks like a raspberry. The latter they need to eat to keep a healthy digestive tract. Ewww.
But just look at cute she is.
Here’s what’s fun about having a house bunny, in our particular experience:
1. Even though, alas, she doesn’t like to be held, she likes to be petted, especially have her head rubbed, and she is very soft. Your blood pressure goes down the more you rub her little head. I also like to kiss her head three times in a row, which she puts up with.
2. Whenever I need a break from working at the computer, I go watch Butter and I am always guaranteed a giggle and an “awww..”
3. She has occasional bursts of sociability and has been trained to hop into the larger house when she wishes to. She runs around the various obstacles in the kitchen and living room and makes us laugh when she climbs up and over our yoga mats and props like a parkour/freerunning athlete.
4. I feel good about giving her a good home, with lots of sunlight, hay, fresh vegetables, exercise, and love.
5. Having a house bunny has made me aware of other enviable house bunnies like the Brooklyn Bunny, who is a total delight to follow on Facebook.
Last summer I was BLESSED to meet Tammy and George in the Agway. They are very much involved in rabbit and guinea pig rescue work and they taught me so much about how to care for Butter. For instance, while Dale and I were away they watched Butter and got her used to eating MUCH more hay, which is something I’d had trouble doing. A house bunny’s diet should be mostly hay, but they will “beg” for tastier treats and I was a sucker for Butter’s sad face. Her health and our happiness has much improved after Tammy and George came into our lives.
Butter is about 3 and 1/4 lbs, so naturally we call her “Little Butter” a lot. She is a Holland lop, the smallest kind of lop. The vet doesn’t know for sure, but she is probably around 3 years old. We debate about getting her a buddy; we humans think, “a buddy must be better!” But it doesn’t always go over well. Butter is sufficiently independent that we question whether she would like a companion. We suspect she was never socialized with other bunnies; she doesn’t seem to know how to play per se. We’ve tried to engage her with endless toys, but no dice. However, she does like physical obstacles, like mountains of yoga mats.
I would never say this within ear shot of Butter, but I don’t think I’d have a house bunny again. I love her, but I think in life P.B. (Post-Butter), I’ll volunteer with bunnies at a shelter rather than have my own again. She has proven to be more maintenance and expense than we anticipated. But it is also an adventure that gives us a lot of laughs and stories, and she surely has taught us to be more compassionate.