Sunday, 10 May 2015

Cages and Puppy Pens

A cage is a common item purchased by almost all pet owners, while puppy pens are used to set up a play area.

Firstly: cages.

The common misconception
As bunnies are generally considered to be small-sized animals, many people tend to have the idea that they should be housed in cages when kept as pets. This, I must emphasize, is incorrect.

Consequences of caging a bunny:
  • The bunny becomes unable to carry out some of his/her natural activities.
    • Example of natural activity: binky, which obviously requires space.

      Billy, The Real "Energizer Bunny", binkying on a bed. Look at him go!
  • The bunny becomes isolated.
    • Imagine being cooped up in a small, transparent room, watching everyone else walking freely around you, but you can't be a part of them due to your restrainment.

      This is what a bunny feels like when he/she is constantly caged.
  • Over time, the bunny is likely to become more territorial.
    • As a result of restricted living spaces and the lack of natural, daily interactions with humans, the cage is the only place the bunny feels belong to him/her. The bunny becomes extremely protective of it. Sticking your hand into the cage is perceived by the bunny as intruding his/her territory, and hence he/she may lunge at you or bite your hand, while making an angry grunting noise.
    • This is one of the reasons many bunnies are dumped. The act of lunging and showing irritation is seen as 'aggressive'. It is crucial to understand that this so-called 'aggressive' behaviour is caused by the inadequate living conditions the bunny was housed - NOT an inborn personality. These unique individuals are terribly misunderstood!

Caging could, indeed, cause a number of adverse physical and mental effects on a bunny. However, it is also essential to realize that cages are often needed when you have a bunny (or any other pet). Housing a bunny in a cage only becomes a problem when the bunny is kept in it too long

The proper uses of cages:
  • To house the bunny during the first few days of his/her arrival in your home.
    • As the bunny is not yet familiar with the new surroundings, it can be a little intimidating for him/her if you give a large, open space straightaway.
  • To place the bunny in it for his/her own safety.
    • For example, when you're not at home or when you're sleeping during the night.

Which cage to choose?
There are several factors to consider when purchasing a cage:

1. The size of the cage
  • There must also be sufficient space left to put in your bunny's other items, eg: food bowl.

2. The structure of the cage
  • The door of the cage should be on the side, NOT on the top, so that whenever the door is opened, the bunny can hop into and out of the cage at his/her own will.
  • Personally, I'd recommend wire cages. These have a tray underneath it. Besides being more hygienic (as the bunny won't be resting directly on top of used litter), it makes your job of clearing out litter and poop easier.

    A wire cage (Please excuse the stained tray!)

3. The bunny's age
  • If your bunny is young (6 months old and below), he/she will definitely grow in size as time goes by. You'll need to take this into account. Don't buy cages that are too small!

Preventing sore hocks
Sore hocks - a condition in which the sole of a bunny's feet becomes raw and inflamed.

Sore hocks

One of the causes of sore hocks is improper flooring. If you press your palm with a certain amount of force onto the flooring of a wire cage, you'll immediately feel the uncomfortable (and possibly, painful) pressure of the thin, rigid metal bars on your hands. 

Bunnies experience the same discomfort when they stand on it.

Personally, I place a rubber matting in the wire cage to allow my bunnies' weight to be distributed evenly over the flooring. I've been using this for years and it has worked perfectly - their feet stays furry and comfy!

What to put inside a cage?
Ask yourself this question: What does your bunny need when he/she is in the cage?

The items in a bunny's cage varies, but here's a list of the things you'll definitely need to place in it:
  • a food bowl
  • a water bowl OR water bottle
  • a hay feeder OR hay rack
  • optional: toy.
The simple layout of Jippie's cage
The cloth is a toy, which Jippie likes to dig, rearrange and lounge

Now, moving on to the closely-related subject of puppy pens.

Play areas
As discussed above, a cage is not enough and hence cannot be a bunny's main, daily living quarters.

The purpose of a play area is simple: to give the bunny more space and freedom.

Setting up a play area is relatively easy:
  1. The most important thing you'll need to have are several puppy pens.

    Puppy pens

  2. Link them up by their hooks and arrange them to create a space that is at least 2m x 2m. (#Tip: make use of walls.)
  3. The play area should consist of: the cage, a litter box, and various toys.
    This is Jippie's play area; the cardboard box is his hideout.

Where to locate?
The entire play area, including the cage, should be placed:
  • indoors
    • Why?
      Bunnies living outdoors are exposed to many dangers, eg: predators, hot weather conditions.
  • most preferably where most human activities are carried out, eg: near the living room.
    • Why?
      This allows the bunny to observe what your daily activities are - one of the keys to a good bunny-human relationship. 
  • away from direct sunlight
    • Why?
      The bright light would be uncomfortable for the bunny's eyes and the location may be rather uncomfortably hot!

  • The cage, along with the tray, should be washed every 2 - 3 months. You'd be surprised how much wispy fur will be sticking in-between the bars.
  • The floor of the play area should be mopped (or steamed, depending on the type of flooring you have in your home) at least once a week to keep the bunny's space fresh and hygienic.
  • Litter boxes should be cleared and washed everyday to prevent unpleasant odour.

A good housing environment is one that suits your bunny's needs and fits your home. There are no exact instructions on how to set up a play area. This is simply a guideline. Improve the setup whenever necessary along the way - this is what I did, and what I'm still doing as well!

Note: If the owner of the 'sore hocks' image reads this, can you kindly provide me a link to your website for crediting purposes? I found this image quite a while back and have forgotten to note down its source. My apologies in advance!

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