It's not me, it's you - rabbit edition
November 24, 2012 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Should we get rid of the rabbit? And what about this cat?

Several months ago, my husband and I had a pet rabbit who was getting sick and on the way out. A friend texted me to say someone had left a rabbit in a cage on her front lawn and would we like to adopt the rabbit. It seemed very much like fate - one pet getting sick, another healthy pet shows up, hooray! Naturally, it has not been that easy.

The sickly rabbit we had had since she was a baby and she was about as sweet as a rabbit could be. The new rabbit has been a handful. We thought that maybe she just needed time and love. It's made a little bit of a difference but not a lot.

She chews on everything, which I understand - rabbit #1 chewed too but it seemed like she chewed less or slowed down at one point. And this rabbit chews on *everything* - the floor, books, clothes, the molding, the window sill, cords, the cord protectors we put down, her cage. She has chewed through bars on her cage! I think part of the problem is that she shouldn't be in her cage all day and we let her out when we can supervise but it's not fun.

Also, she is really aggressive. She grunts at us, charges, fights, bites. I'll let her hop around a small space for a bit and she'll sit with me and let me pet her for a while, then decide that it's time to fight. We went away for the holiday and a friend went to feed her and naturally she bit the hand that was feeding her.

I've tried to make it work but I feel like it's not working. She's very cute and soft but she's just not nice. The moments where I think, this could work, she's being nice and cute now, are outweighed by the moments where I think, dear god, when is she going to stop doing that?! Even the vet (though a non-rabbit specialist) could barely handle her. I feel badly because we've been trying to make it work. I hate giving up on anything. And I think my husband has warmed to her more than I have. But I feel like owning her has created more stress than not.

I think part of the problem is that I really want a pet. I would like a dog but I don't think we can do a dog right now. Even if we could, our landlord is not dog friendly. I've been looking for a dog friendly place and have had no luck.

Meanwhile, my father has a cat who I love. He has said many times that I could have her. My siblings have heard him say many times that I can have her. But my mother's dead so I feel like the cat is all he has - I know that's not true but she's home when he comes home and loves him so I don't want to take that away from him. So maybe I could find a similar cat. But I reallllly love my dad's kitty. And after having a jerk rabbit, I worry that we would find a worse cat.

If we were going to get rid of the rabbit, I would contact the House Rabbit Society and tell them what happened because hopefully they could find someone who would love her. But who knows. I feel like she's probably miserable with us so anything else would be an improvement. But I would still feel badly if I found out she had to be euthanized.

TL; DR - Our pet rabbit provides far fewer moments of joy than annoyance and frustration. Should we get rid of her somehow? If so, should we consider a cat in her replacement or take this one step at a time?
posted by kat518 to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It seems to me that you've really thought through the rabbit part of the conundrum and even have a great plan: call HRS and get their help. Because that's really the very best thing you can do. Within the limitations you have, you've done the best you can for this bunny, I think.

Once the bunny situation has a resolution, I think you should take your dad's word about being okay with you taking the cat. Maybe let him know you don't want to take a buddy away and want to be sure he'll be fine, but then go with whatever answer he gives.

All that being said, I do think that waiting until each piece is resolved before taking a next step is the best course of action.
posted by batmonkey at 7:43 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I know you have sentimental feelings about the rabbit, but it is aggressive and bites, and it sounds like you have gone above and beyond in your efforts to tame her further. Would you really want her placed in another home where she would go and attack others? There are few adults who keep pet rabbits, so she would most likely end up with children. There are so many unwanted rabbits in the world for those children - I really think you should reconsider your feelings on having her euthanized. It's true that rabbit bites are not as destructive as dog or cat bites, but they can still result in serious infection in some cases, I just don't see this being worth the risk. I wouldn't consider it giving up, I would consider it facing reality. You can talk to the folks at the rabbit society but make sure they really know what she is like.

The cat feels safe because the cat is a known quantity. However, you think that your dad might be lonely without her. Again, there are so many unwanted adult cats who are friendly and looking for a human to love on. My shelter adopted adult cat is warming up my lap right now. You can easily go to a shelter and spend just a little time getting to know the adult cats there and they will reveal their personalities to you. We spent about 1 hour at the shelter to find our cats and could easily tell they were inquisitive, friendly and affectionate. They have only improved with a loving home.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:45 AM on November 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Dogs can be far more destructive than rabbits. They also require a lot more exercise and engagement, even the very laziest of dogs.

I would contact the House Rabbit Society and see if they can help. Admittedly, I know absolutely nothing about rabbits, but with dogs destructiveness is usually traceable to boredom and lack of exercise.
posted by winna at 8:03 AM on November 24, 2012

To reduce your fears about the "unknown entity" component of a new pet.

I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that the previous rabbit you had was handled frequently, right? If you raise a rabbit like that by hand and hold it frequently, it is an entirely different animal than what you have in front of you

Did you handle the rabbit that you have now before you brought it home? My guess would be no, because you were expecting the other rabbit. But I would guess that rabbit would not have let you hold it and/or demonstrate the aggressiveness you see now.

For a new kitty, the advantage that you have is that you can apply what you learned now.

Go to a shelter, sit in the middle of (kittens, adult cat, whatever you pick) and call them. Who gets their first? Is affectionate? I've had friends pick out cats this way and they get friendly, friendly cats.

Obligatory picking a cat story, I've put this here in the green before. I had a friend who was not happy with the behavior of her door-stop, grar grar beautiful breed cat with papers that they had bought. She kept that cat, but wanted another cat and was afraid the new one would be the same -indifferent to people and aggressive.

She went to a shelter, sat in a group of kittens and called them.An adult cat in the neighboring pen leapt out of his pen, ran over all the kittens, and got their first. They put the adult cat back in his pen, did the entire test again, and the same thing happened a few more times (adult cat ran over all the kittens to be in the front). She brought the adult cat home; most affectionate cat EVAR.

Test them this time.

posted by Wolfster at 8:04 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

As far as the cat goes, don't take your father's. Even if he's said you could, he hasn't yet really experienced a house where he's the only living creature in it, has he? That can be really difficult, and (admittedly, not knowing your father) I doubt he'd ask you to give the cat back, even if he wanted to.

Like treehorn+bunny said, there are so many adult cats who need a loving home - and adult animals can be a known quantity as far as personality goes. Find a good shelter that works to get to know each of its animals - or better yet, find one who uses foster 'parents' who have lived with the pet and can tell you more about what it's like - and you can surely find one that meets your needs. Your dad would get to keep his cat, and you would be giving another deserving animal a loving home - it's a win-win situation!
posted by DingoMutt at 8:12 AM on November 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

I left something out: it's possible that your father doesn't want the responsibility of a pet at this time and just wants to know the cat will be in a place where it will be happy, especially since you already love it.

Because of that, I'd go with sorting the thing with the existing cat before deciding on getting a different one, even if doing otherwise would get another cat out of the rescue system.
posted by batmonkey at 8:14 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

How old is the rabbit? Rabbits generally mellow with age, although you may not be able to wait. Our male rabbit chewed everything it could get its teeth on and bit my wife occasionally but after reaching about 4 years old he very rarely chews on anything and hasn't been biting. I think he originally came from a pet store where little kids pcik them up constantly; not a great foprmative experience.
posted by coldhotel at 8:15 AM on November 24, 2012

The rabbit needs a companion, preferably a male rabbit. Some rabbits aren't meant to be solo bunnies. Bunny pairs are (neutered) opposite sex and with the odd exception, bunnies bond quite easily when done properly. The House Rabbit Society has good info on this.

The cat could also be a good buddy for the rabbit. Rabbits like to huddle together, groom each other and occasionally run around. This is usually compatible with the feline lifestyle. My cats, dogs and rabbits have never had any problems getting along, and the dogs/cats are always respectful of the bunny boundaries as rabbits can be very intimidating.
posted by grounded at 8:38 AM on November 24, 2012

Is she spayed? According to the HRS,

"The risk of reproductive cancers (ovarian, uterine, mammarian) for an unspayed female rabbit is virtually eliminated by spaying your female rabbit."

"They are calmer, more loving, and dependable once the undeniable urge to mate has been removed. In addition, rabbits are less prone to destructive (chewing, digging) and aggressive (biting, lunging, circling, growling) behavior after surgery."

We recently adopted two rabbits and learned a lot in the process. Spaying/neutering rabbits is not cheap, but we neutered them and the vet told us the same thing as in this link, that

"Up to 85% of female rabbits develop uterine cancer by the age of four if they have not been spayed."
posted by DeltaForce at 8:44 AM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I can't address the rabbit question (though we had a rabbit who was an inexplicable jerk when we were kids, so I sympathize), but I can address this:

And after having a jerk rabbit, I worry that we would find a worse cat.

Don't take your dad's. That would be kinda mean. Go to the shelter and hang out with adult cats or slightly older kittens. Pick the friendliest cat you can, the one who approaches you. Ask the people at the shelter about their disposition. This has worked for us for cats and several dogs. We've only ever had really friendly animals. With our current cat, we picked the six month old male with a slighty drippy eye who kept rubbing his whole body against the cage as we approached. Turned out he had ocular herpes (really common) and no one wanted him, but he was "a total lovebug who loves belly rubs" according to the woman who fostered her. And he is! Six years later, he still sleeps between us in bed every night.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:45 AM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Be careful that you're not making decisions in what I describe as "pet frenzy." I say this as one who has been in it many times. Must adopt/care for/warm fuzzy thing. Yeah, I saved a cat, but at a cost to my two other cats. Because I was in love. I almost adopted a kitten with rabies, because I was in love.

Not saying that you are in this place, only that I have been there often, and sometimes pet disorder (my cat being destructive and unfriendly for a time, e.g.) brings it out in me.
posted by angrycat at 9:00 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've had a couple rabbits over the years and they're like cats or dogs or any other pet - personalities vary greatly from one rabbit to another. Some people love that their bunny is constantly running all over the place, some want a lap bunny for cuddles. Mine have spanned the range.

You rescued a bunny with an unknown personality, and it appears she wasn't well-handled when young. With lots of patience and persistent rewarded socializing and time, your bunny may become friendlier, and its energy level will calm down somewhat as it gets older. It takes a lot of time, a few years even. But if you're not up for that time input, then call the HRS and see about finding someone willing to take on a challenging bunny. No need to feel guilty, you're just not a match - you didn't pick this one up at a pet store, she was given to you to rescue. I'm sure she's been better off with you than going to the SPCA. So long as you take care to re-home her well, it's ok.
posted by ergo at 9:48 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would disagree with grounded. If your rabbit is used to being alone, she may well fight another rabbit and this would compound the original problem, as it sounds like your rabbit is very aggressive. Finding someone who specializes in rescue rabbits to care for him is probably the best option.
posted by coldhotel at 9:59 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The world isn't running out of rabbits, get rid of the bunny and get a cat of your own. If your Dad really wants you to have his cat, then you can have two.

And frankly, how well do you know the person who gave you new-bunny? That story has the air of rescue-foisting in response to you talking about your sick guy.
posted by rhizome at 10:00 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to the bunny but I agree with the folks who say don't take dad's cat. Did he offer the cat with no prompting - or did he offer the cat when you were there loving on the cat and saying how great the cat is - and he offered because he thought you would like it. Because he's your dad and wants you to have things you like. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have a nice relationship with the cat and would not be just a little sadder or lonelier without it.
posted by Glinn at 10:06 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would disagree with grounded. If your rabbit is used to being alone, she may well fight another rabbit and this would compound the original problem....

Please understand where I'm coming from. I have over 15 years of experience with rabbits and rabbit bonding.

There is a process for bonding rabbits. That's why my post said 'when done properly'. It is not difficult and there are 'bunny ladies' in most communities who you can send your rabbits out to for bonding. The House Rabbit Society has loads of info on this and is a very good resource. (Both rabbits would have to be spayed/neutered, BTW.)

The behaviours described by the OP are all things that, IME, go away when the rabbit has an animal buddy. There are some rabbits that are fine as solo pets, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Most rabbit households have other pets, so rabbits will also make friends with cats/dogs/chickens and even horses.

My current pair bonded without my help. My new male was in a pen adjacent to my female (step 1 of bonding) and jumped into her pen on his own. They couldn't be more different in temperament -- he's a big, boisterous, physical type and she's a simpleton who likes to sit on her fluffy pink bed -- but they're very happy together.
posted by grounded at 12:44 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have an aggressive rabbit. I adore her. She's been with me for seven years now and is a crotchety old lady. She's wonderful.

But I put a lot of effort into meeting her on her terms. So when it was time for her to have free play time, I'd sit on the floor with a book. She wouldn't attack me unless I approached her, so I didn't approach her. Eventually --- after about three weeks ---- she started approaching me. But would attack if I lifted my hand. It took a lot of work and a lot of patience and a lot of understanding that things had to be on her terms, not mine.

Rabbits are not naturally cuddly. Even many rabbits owned from young ages don't necessarily like being picked up or held or cuddled. That you had a rabbit before who was this way, I think, has given you some particular expectations about rabbits that are, well, not accurate to rabbits in general.

Should you get rid of this rabbit? Well. You don't seem like you want it or to put the work into socializing this rabbit. That's fine. But really research rabbit specific shelters in your area to be sure the rabbit gets the best fresh start possible.

And, yeah. My aggressive rabbit became far less aggressive once she had a buddy ---- who is the scardiest rabbit that has ever existed. He too was improperly socialized as a young one, but trended in the opposite direction of his leading lady. The two are inseparable, except when she explores outside the pen and he hides under something inside it.
posted by zizzle at 6:59 PM on November 24, 2012

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