It’s warming up here in Minnesota, and the weather has been pretty close to perfect, with the sunshine, warmer temperatures, and the goldfinches and house sparrows filling the air with their chorus. This is the time of year when many species become highly active, resulting in more interactions with other animals. It’s like how you chat with your neighbors over the fence – you have many more conversations in June than you do in February! So as life opens up, we need to ensure that our pet rabbits are kept from harm, whether or not they actually go outside.
Potential hazards for rabbits include:
- Thermal (fire pits)
- Sharp, inanimate (nails)
- Sharp, animate (predators or insects)
- Ballistic (BBs and bullets)
- Vehicular (cars & bikes)
- Blunt/compressive (rocking chairs, human feet, that small space under the couch)
- Electrical (power cords)
- Infectious agents (often transmitted by wild animals)
Please note that this is not a definitive list. I’m sure a fair number of folks reading this are thinking, “But what about [some other hazard I didn’t think of]? How come that’s not on there?” Probably just because it didn’t occur to me at the time! I could write a whole book on preventive measures for pet rabbits, and that’s clearly beyond the parameters of a blog entry. So rather than tell you exactly what to avoid, I’d like to suggest a way to think about rabbit risk management.
The Hierarchy of Controls
The field of public health can provide some useful guidance here. These are the folks who spend all day trying to figure out how to keep people safe from harm while causing the least hindrance (i.e. they don’t want to be a pain in the rear). The Hierarchy of Controls is a public health framework used to guide interventions from the most effective to the least effective, generally speaking. Here’s an illustration, with obvious modifications by yours truly:
After the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Hierarchy of Controls is probably familiar to all of us, whether you know it or not (Zoom meetings all day = administrative control – “change the way people work”). But you can use this basic framework to address any hazard.
Hazard: You’re a rabbit owner who’s agreed to cat sit for a friend. It would be most convenient if the cat could stay at your house, and your friend says that the cat would probably get along great with your rabbit, since it’s never been aggressive to anything or anyone. You bring the cat over to your house only to discover that the cat’s prey drive is highly activated by the rabbit. What do you do?
- Elimination (physically remove the hazard)
- Keep the cat at your friend’s home and go over there a couple of times a day to feed/water, change litter, and give snuggles.
- Substitution (replace the hazard)
- Treat the cat with sedatives the entire time it stays at your home, effectively blunting the prey drive.
- Engineering controls (isolate bunny from the hazard)
- The cat stays at your home but is kept in the basement, while the rabbit gets the rest of the home.
- Administrative controls (change the way bunnies play/work)
- The rabbit and the cat are kept in separate living areas with a screen door to separate them – they can see each other and touch a little bit, but the screen openings are too small for claws/teeth to be a factor.
- RPE (rabbit protective equipment)
- The cat and rabbit are allowed in the same areas, but the rabbit can access a safe area through a door too small for the cat to fit through.
This is, in general, how I think through problems of how to reduce risk to patients.
Indoor & Outdoor Considerations
Now, let’s say you came here looking for more direct instructions, and you want to know what you need to do right now. Here are a few thoughts along those lines:
- Make sure your windows, baseboards, and doors seal well. Small gaps in these areas are how many different pests gain access to the house. Use a situation-appropriate sealant to close any gaps.
- Consider having a pest control professional assess your home for evidence of pest incursions.
- Keep the home clean and tidy. Put away all human food promptly. Do not leave rabbit food (beyond hay and pellets) out for long periods of time.
- Block access to power cords, small areas where the bun could get stuck, fireplaces, and any other potentially hazardous areas
- Fence off a section to prevent wildlife (especially wild rabbits) from hanging out in the area when your rabbit isn’t there.
- Do not use pesticides in your yard. If you must, take all appropriate measures to ensure treated vegetation doesn’t get into the rabbit’s area.
- Provide a sheltered area in your rabbit’s pen, so it can hide if needed.
- Always directly supervise your rabbit.
- Keep your pet’s annual rabbit hemorrhagic disease vaccine up to date.
- Consult your rabbit’s veterinarian for recommendations on a topical ectoparasite preventative. Do not administer over-the-counter products unless specifically advised to do so by your rabbit’s veterinarian.
These are general recommendations. Ultimately, the best preventive measures are tailored to the individual rabbit. I hope this summary provides you with both ideas and tools for your own bunny. Work with your rabbit’s veterinarian to devise the ideal protocol.
Seeking veterinary care for your avian or exotic pet? All our local veterinary partners who see small mammals are listed on our website: https://aercmn.com/about-us/locally-owned/
Need referral care for your avian or exotic pet? You can set up an appointment with our Avian & Exotic Medicine Service. Learn more here: https://aercmn.com/veterinary-services/avian-exotic-medicine