This time around, I'll talk a little bit about how rabbits behave and how you can read some of their body language. Part 1 of "Keeping Rabbits" is here.
This is going to sound obvious, but rabbits are not cats and dogs. Cats are natural predators and dogs are natural scavengers, but rabbits are natural prey. Rabbits react completely differently to the world than the two animals that we're most familiar with because almost everything else in the world considers it food.
When a rabbit appears sick, it's a certainty that it's vet time, because rabbits will instinctively hide physical problems as long as possible. They know that the weakest ones get preyed on first.
Reaching down to pet a bunny can really stress the little beastie because to him, your hand is swooping down from above like an owl or hawk. This is especially true before your rabbit gets used to you.
Building trust with your house rabbit can be a long process, and trust is what it's all about. Get down on the floor and let him (or her, I'll just be using "him" from now on) run around and check things out. They like to feel protected, so don't be surprised if they find a spot behind something or under a piece of furniture and make it their home base. Eventually your rabbit will come around to see what you're doing. Do this regularly and over time he'll get to where he will climb up on you, or snuggle in for petting.
This goes for dogs and cats too! Our rabbits and dogs get along wonderfully. Monitor their interactions carefully until they get used to each other, and realize that sometimes animals just won't get along because personalities clash. Here's what I wrote when we first got Ozzie:
He wasn't too sure about the dogs at first, which was driving Trix crazy. Trix loves the rabbits even though they don't act like dogs, I believe that he thinks they're retarded puppies. Because Ozzie was so skittish, tonight was the first night that they've been in close contact. We expanded the pen so there was some running -around room, then Trix and I went in and lay down and waited quietly. Before long Ozzie came up to us to check things out, and he and Trix sniffed each other a bit. Trix mostly stayed on his belly, dragging himself around by his front legs so that he was on the same level as Ozzie. I've never seen anything like it. Within an hour Trix and Ozzie were laying side by side on the floor, just chillin'.
Watch your rabbit while he's exploring! Rabbits, especially younger ones, will chew things! Bunny-proof your room by wrapping cords in conduit or putting them up out of reach. In my wife's sewing room (where the bunnies live), we put cardboard in front of the walls to hide the cords. If a piece gets chewed on, we replace it. Keep a squirt bottle of water handy and don't be afraid to give the bunny a spritz to let him know that he's not to be chewing on something. A rabbit will almost immediately stop to groom and wash their face after you spray them. "No!" in a firm voice helps too, they'll learn. So will a thump.
Rabbits "thump" when they're unhappy with a situation. They'll stamp on the ground with a back leg to let you know that they disapprove of what just happened. Thump at them and they'll know that what they were doing is a no-no.
Give your bunny things to do and play with so he won't get bored and gnaw on your furniture or electrical cords. They'll chew on and throw around tubes from toilet paper and paper towels. Wicker is a favorite chew toy, just make sure that it's unfinished so they're not chewing paint or chemical stains. Put small boxes around and your rabbit will jump up on top of them or push them around from place to place. If one end is open, he'll crawl inside and explore. Those heavy-cardboard concrete form tubes you can get at the hardware store are loved! Cut it down to a two-foot section and watch your bunny spend a long happy time just running back and forth through it.
You may see your rabbit "chinning" things. Bunnies have a scent gland under their chin that they rub on stuff to mark it as theirs. Toys, furniture, you, eventually they'll chin most everything in sight. It's hilarious to watch ours run around and re-chin everything that the others did while they were out last. You can almost see the little thought balloons over their heads, "*this* is mine... so is *this*... *this* is too... and *this*..."
Rabbits, especially young males, will sometimes pee to mark territory. Get 'em fixed to solve that problem.
It's easy to tell when a rabbit feels happy and content. When a rabbit is tense, he'll be hunched up like a volkswagon and his eyes will be wide. If he's sprawled out on his belly or side, he feels safe enough to let his guard down a bit. You may see your rabbit do a little side-kick with his back legs as he hops around. This means he's feeling really good and having fun!
Got questions? Ask in the comments, and I'll get to them. Coming up soon is how to put together a simple and inexpensive cage and what to feed your rabbit. And if you're looking for a rabbit of your own, check out your local rabbit rescue organization. Bunny Lu Adoptions is the one we use here in Northern Virginia. You can follow that link, then click on the "Petfinder" link in the middle of their page, then scroll down and on the left you'll see a rescue organization finder to help you locate pet people in your area.