The Sudden Loss of a Pet Baby Rabbit

New Nest in the Hay Feed Bowl
Sibling bunnies snuggled in happier times in Mama’s dry feed bowl incidentally adorned with a garden art rabbit.

Little Kit

24 October 2017 ~ 21 November 2017

28 days

Mini-lop baby rabbit of Oreo and Paws

Once there were 5 kits. Now there is 1.

Much loved family pet rabbit

 

It has been a distressing and emotional day. Sudden death of any animal is hard to take. But we live in a rural environment and as the saying goes, ‘where there’s livestock, there’s dead stock’. It is never easy. Over time, we have dealt with the deaths of cats, a calf and poultry. They are never just animals to us. They each had pet names. Grandsons came home from school this afternoon to the tearful reality of the loss of their beloved baby rabbit. The boys had questions. We had questions. How could this happen so suddenly?  

This little bright-eyed bundle of white fur hip-hopped into our hearts. Little Kit suckled Mum and grew fast. From Day 12, Little Kit nibbled at greens and hay and rabbit pellets, just like Mum. Becoming more curious after its eyes opened, the big hop from the confines of the hutch became a regular activity. The sibling kits would snuggle and curl up together after a feed and clean from Mum, on their bedding pine shavings inside the hutch. Life was good for the siblings.

Yesterday, it was life as usual in the rabbit world. Early that evening, Little Kit had a gunky left eye that closed up. It was not interested in nibbling or moving. I wiped the eye with clean cotton pad moistened with a saline solution. That seemed to help a bit. Later the mother rabbit was seen licking her baby. We decided to take the Kit to the vet in the morning thinking it was an eye infection.

Early this morning, Little Kit was a very distressed bunny. It had managed to move from the hutch into the run. I reached to pick it up to check its condition and it screamed. A sound I never wish to hear again. It moved clumsily, was shivering and the eye was clean and half open. Its sibling was snuggling up as if it was trying to be a blanket to warm up its sibling. The mother was licking its baby. The sibling also licked its body. Both healthy rabbits seemed to be comforting and caring the sick baby rabbit. Oreo, the mother, stopped to eat she yet remained close and watchful. This sight was so touching. Heart wrenching.

As I prepared the carry cage for our trip to the vet, I noticed Oreo and the sibling had distanced themselves from the sick kit. It had become floppy and and cold to touch. I picked the kit up and wrapped it in a warm soft rug. The vet said the probable cause of death in the surgery at 11 a.m. was ‘encephalo zoon cuniculi’. It is a nasty condition, common in domestic rabbits, that can be passed in-utero and symptoms can manifest weeks later after birth as has happened today.

The grandsons absorbed the terrible facts and a google search gave more information. Our concern is now for the remaining pet rabbits. We must especially watch the sibling kit.

We mourn a little creature who put life into living and enriched our lives by being. 

 

Bunnies and Bridge Aren’t a Fit

My brain has turned to rabbit mush. It has been 22 days since they were born. Newborns in any household bring on that ‘brain mush’ effect. My senses are tuned to responding to the demands and needs of these small creatures.  

It is now routine at 6 a.m. for me to forage under the totara trees along the stream bank for fresh dewy puha, dandelions and thistles. By 7.30 a.m. the rabbit hutch has been cleaned, the kits have a frolic while Oreo, their mother, has her breakfast. Rabbit housekeeping  is repeated for Paws’, the father rabbit, cage. He is let out for a thirty-minute run in the orchard before he too is fed back in his cage.

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Foraging for puha, dandelions and grass along the stream bank

There was the initial burst of enthusiasm for the novelty of rabbit care before school Agricultural Day in October. Paws showed off his moves and earned Grandson an Agricultural Day Certificate. Grandson considers job done. And apparently, 6 a.m. is not a civilised hour to be up and getting wet by the morning dew on the long grass in the paddock. The boys are not impressed that Nana at their age had to herd the cows, no quad bike, from their night paddock to the shed and help her Dad with milking and feed the calves. So last century.  Grandsons of the  household are getting ready for school – so they say with a device in one hand. But they are out the door at 8 a.m.

Hen care is next, the Brown Shavers indignant they have been usurped and made to wait because of these furry intruders. Squawking loudly, they stand and poo in their water dish, peck at and clamber over each other and crowd the opening of the chicken cage run.  I remember to smell the Sweet Peas that scramble over the bean frame in the vegetable garden. The flowers are just glorious at this time of the year. I do a few household chores and get myself ready to rush out the door.

One morning a week, I attend formal lessons for beginning players at the Bridge Club , a fifteen-minute drive into town. It is more like a mad dash through the door just after the lesson has started. We were learning about Responder’s Rebids and having a choice of bidding No Trumps if my hand had no fit with my partner’s suit. So what do I do? Bid like it was a game of 500. I called 6 No Trumps. As the complexity of these lessons increases, I am convinced I will never get the hang of Bridge. Two other players are in a similar situation grandparenting two young dogs and empathise with the challenge to get a fit between small young animal care and learning bridge. Breathe, we tell ourselves. We laugh. Our Bridge instructor is wonderfully patient. 

Bunnies’ first nibble of vegetables

Each day has a new happening in the rabbit hutch. Day 21 and two little bunnies hopped towards the cage door, reared on their hind paws, reached and sniffed the fresh grass and leaf matter in my hand I was about to feed to their mother. This evening, the kits took baby nibbles of their first vegetable, the silverbeet leaf and stalk, organically grown in my garden, was intended for their mother. Meanwhile. Mama Oreo was absorbed eating freshly picked puha and young thistles. Nothing but the best freshly picked home grown produce for these small creatures.

Kit tastes silverbeet for the first time.
Kits sniffing and tasting vegetables. Very curious and friendly.
Bunnies are Groomed by Mum
After tasting the vegetable feed, mini-lop bunnies are groomed by Mum.

Paws the Rabbit has Exercise Time

 

Late afternoon has been pleasant as the spring weather warms and the garden plants grow and blossom. Paws the rabbit is being encouraged to exercise. Once he has explored the boundaries, visited Oreo’s cage and sniffed the smells, he will hip-hop and dart in and out of the borage, rhubarb, comfrey, curry plant and  wormwood herbs that grow under the fruit trees. Tonight he dug a shallow burrow in the hens’ dirt-dust bath area. The hens accept Paws now and there is beak-to-nose communication.

Playmates
Friends Brown Shaver hen and Paws explore the comfrey plant under the apple tree.
Burrowing under the Rhubarb
Paws hip-hops and digs as he explores the orchard during his timeout from the caged run.

 

Mini-lop Baby Rabbits’ Eyes Open Day 14

Oreo and her Kits
Both surviving 14-day old kits had hopped out of their nest in the plastic tray.

It is Day 14 since the birth and we have seen rapid change. From hairless newborns enveloped by a thick quilt of soft rabbit fur, the white-furred kits have emerged from their downy cocoon, moving in tiny hops as they explore the boundaries of their nest before joining Mum on the floor of the hutch. One tiny hop for a rabbit. One giant hop for baby bunnies.

For the first time, we saw Oreo cleaning her babies as they lay on their backs while they suckled. They are beguiling, such cute characters. After school this afternoon, it was with absolute wonder as they cuddled the kits that grandsons learned the baby rabbits had newly opened their eyes.

I stood back and looked on gobsmacked. Were these the same boys who absolutely must be in front of a gaming device in their spare time? Rabbits = 1, devices = 0.

 

Oreo is calm about me cleaning the nest, handling the kits and watching her with the kits. I have been careful to build trust and a routine with her. I like to talk to her with a quiet voice and let her come up and sniff my hand. It helps to offer Oreo a piece of apple. Everything stops for that treat.

Learning Rabbit Care on the Hop

If we thought rabbit care would become routine pet care, think again. I have been on a steep learning curve, learning on the hop so to speak, moment by moment.

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Oreo’s hutch is predator proof. Leo hunts wild rabbits and would attack the pet rabbits.

Leo, the family cat, frequently and successfully hunts wild rabbits. Though the hutch and run are predator proofed, it has not stopped him scoping the possibility of getting easy prey. It means we must spend time daily with Paws so he can have a run and forage in the orchard. For now, Oreo does not leave her cage and is never far from her kits.   

After the birth of the kits, it was the behaviour of our normally amiable free-ranging hens that astounded me. I was giving Oreo fresh water and feed. Two of the hens tried to push by me into the cage run.  I pushed them away. They flew back and pecked me as they tried again to get into the run. They stayed near the cage for some time glaring at the enclosure that had been their chicken coop one year ago.

The local pet-shop owner suggested I remove the placenta stained fur to clear the hutch of smell that would attract predators and might be agitating the hens. Later that afternoon while doing as I was advised, I sadly counted four kits. The fifth was nowhere to be found. Oreo for reasons of her own had eaten this newborn. I had been told to expect this could happen.     

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Paws the pet rabbit and Grandson have quality bonding time.

Grandson, 9-years old, was an interested onlooker at this time. He wanted to know about about birth and the placenta and asked lots of questions. Sitting quietly in the orchard with this boy while we watched his pet rabbit, it was a special moment to be part of a learning conversation about Oreo’s experience and be able to relate it to facts of human life. Wow! Oreo is more than a pet. Oreo the mother. Oreo the teacher.    

Oreo the mini-lop rabbit gives birth

Tuesday, 24th October is a date when I would like to have been proven wrong about the saying, breeding like rabbits.

Oreo Mini-lop Rabbit
Oreo feeding on dandelions and fresh grass

In my previous blog about Paws, mentioned how excited Grandson at the arrival of an unexpected second pet rabbit and how his Mum said she had got Oreo ‘not long ago’ from the S.P.C.A. and that because she was so young,‘things should be alright’.

Paws and Oreo are parents
Kits cocooned in Mum’s downy fur

Oreo, a mini-lop rabbit, gave birth to her first litter of five kits about midday. She showed strong basic instincts in her preparation for the birth and mothering.

She had tried digging a burrow from the cage. She had plucked fur from her lower abdomen to make a soft downy cocoon for her babies in the straw nest created some days earlier. In this way, Oreo exposed her nipples ready to suckle her kits.

There was a time lag of about three hours between the birth and when we were able to separate the new mother and her kits from Paws, the father. Too late, I think. Oreo is probably pregnant again. 

Mother and babies are doing well.