Going Organic

Today we welcome a guest post from Marlene Larkin, an HRS Educator in North Georgia. Marlene talks us through how making a small change in feeding organic produce to your rabbit can make a significant difference in their health (and yours!). Be sure to write down the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables that contain the highest amounts of pesticides, and make certain you get the organic versions when shopping for your rabbit’s veggies.

You Want Me to Buy Organic Food for a Rabbit?!

By Marlene Larkin, HRS Educator

A recent five day illness, culminating in an eventual trip to the hospital for what my physician diagnosed as pesticide poisoning from an unwashed mango skin, taught me a very valuable lesson. Although you can’t see them, smell them or taste them, the overuse of pesticides and failure to properly clean fruit and vegetables to rid them, including discarded skins, can have serious and in some cases lasting consequences to humans and animals alike.

Pesticides are active poisons which are purposefully added to our environment because of their toxicity and ability to kill undesired types of plants, insects or fungus. In 1939 only 32 pesticide products were registered for use in the U.S. By 1993 there were over 22,0

Go Organic!

00! Today more than one billion pounds of pesticides are used annually in the U.S. alone.

Misuse or accidental exposure to higher-than-safe amounts of pesticides may produce poisoning effects which range from slight to severe. Pesticides which are labeled with the word “danger” are considered to be highly toxic, capable of killing a 150 lb human with an oral lethal dose from only a few drops up to one teaspoon. Moderately toxic pesticides carrying the word “warning” need only one teaspoon to one tablespoon for the same lethal effects. If so little is required to kill a 150 lb human, imagine how little is required to be lethal to your small five pound bunny.

Although different toxins can produce different effects, in general animals respond similar to many toxins and have higher absorption rates than humans; thus they can be more easily poisoned by conditions which are considered safe to people.

Some of the effects of pesticide poisoning, from either chronic exposure or a single toxic dose, may not appear until years after the exposure. These are called delayed systemic effects, meaning it takes more than 24 hours for the effects to occur, and may manifest in the form of cancers, skin disorders, liver or kidney disease, respiratory illness, and negative effects on the brain and nervous systems in both humans and animals.

Although symptoms also vary by toxin, the most common symptoms of rabbits with acute pesticide poisoning may include loss of appetite, abdominal pain and distress, excessive salivation, coughing, difficulty breathing, fur loss, skin sores, lethargy, weakness, paralysis, or restlessness, hyperactivity, seizures and coma. Because individual symptoms can mimic many other illnesses in rabbits, if the real culprit is either chronic or acute pesticide poisoning the true cause may never be detected.

What can you do to reduce pesticide consumption?

According to a list compiled by U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, there are twelve fruits and vegetables which were the most highly contaminated with pesticides, occasionally referred to as the “dirty dozen” list. Of that list nine of the twelve are items which you may commonly feed to your rabbit either as part of their normal diet or in treat form. The “dirty dozen” list, in the order of their contamination criteria* include:

  • Peaches 97% contaminated w/ pesticides (made worse by the fact that their soft skins allow pesticides to penetrate into the pulp)
  • Apples 92%
  • Celery 94%
  • Sweet Bell Peppers 86%
  • Strawberries 92%
  • Pears 87%
  • Grapes (imported) 85%
  • Spinach 70%
  • Lettuce 59%
  • For those of you interested in the remaining list for human consumption nectarines, cherries and potatoes also made the list.

It is estimated that switching to organics in these fruits and vegetables alone could decrease pesticide consumption up to 90%, improving the health of both you and your bunny.

The regulations to label food as organic vary by country, but generally require the avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs including fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, or irradiation, as well as other storage, packaging and processing requirements. Because pesticides can also build up in soil over time, organic farms are generally required to also be free of synthetic chemicals for a number of years (three or more.)

Hay, which is the staple of the rabbit’s diet, is grown by most commercial farmers using pesticides. Since you cannot wash hay prior to feeding it to your bunny without some very funny looks, consider feeding one of the organic hay varieties grown specifically for pet consumption. Oxbow Animal Health is one producer which makes organic hay, pellets and treats.

Finding a local organic provider in your area is another economic alternative. Although in 2005 only 0.5 percent of total U.S. farmland was certified as organic, the demand for pesticide and chemical-free feed to produce organic milk and other products has resulted in increasing alternatives in many local communities.

What can you do if your budget can’t accommodate the cost of organic foods?

Many pesticides are intentionally designed to remain on during wet conditions, therefore rinsing with water alone may not remove them. Worse yet, waxes or other sealants may also be applied to make the produce appear more attractive to consumers while sealing in the pesticide residue and making it even harder to remove. One effective means to remove both waxes and pesticide residue is to use one of the many commercially available liquid produce cleaners sold in many grocery stores specifically designed for this purpose. A less costly alternative is to mix equal parts of vinegar and water in a bowl and to soak the produce for a few minutes, followed by a good rinsing with water. You can also mix two tablespoons of baking soda and two tablespoons of lemon juice per 2 cups of the vinegar and water solution to make your own produce spray.

Making even small changes in your purchasing and food preparation can have lasting benefits in the long term health of both you and your bun.

*Contamination criteria includes % of samples w/ pesticides, % w/ 2 or more pesticid es, average # of pesticides, average concentration of pesticides, maximum # of pesticides on a single sample, total # of pesticides found.

Marlene is a HRS Educator and HRS member since 1991. She shares her home withher husband and four beautiful bunnies adopted from the North Georgia House Rabbit Society.

Wildfire Season: Tips for Being Prepared

Every year, from late summer into fall, many San Diego HRS volunteers and supporters are affected by wildfires. Some may have to evacuate with their own rabbits or foster rabbits, and some have to remove rabbits from shelters or pet store adoption programs.

The key to getting through wildfire season unscathed is being prepared. Follow these tips to help maximize your safety:

  • Make plans ahead of time with friends or family to evacuate to their home, with a back up plan if you can’t get through to the first location. Discuss in advance how the rabbits will be housed. If you don’t have a place you can go, check out evacuation centers schools, sports stadiums, fair grounds, etc. that will commonly house evacuees and their pets.
  • Purchase and have close at hand, not buried somewhere in the garage, a carrier for every rabbit or bunny pair. The best type is the hard-sided plastic carrier that will be sturdy enough to contain them for some time if needed. If you must evacuate on short notice, use these alternatives: laundry basket with a towel in the bottom, empty box, a gym bag or backpack, plastic storage tote, or as a last resort, a pillow case from your bed.
  • Keep frozen water bottles in the freezer so you can tuck one into your bunny’s carrier to keep him cool. Extras can go into a cooler with a small supply of veggies if you have them.
  • During fire season keep extra pelleted food and drinking water on hand. Keep a box stored in your car loaded with bunny’s usual pelleted food and some bottled water in case you have to leave quickly.
  • Once evacuated, set up impromptu housing:
  • Place a large towel on the floor of the tub, then bunny’s litter box and a plastic bowl for water. Pull the curtain closed or slide the glass door closed. To keep air flowing, if needed, turn on the overhead vent. Or, put bunny and her litter box in the floor of the stall shower (this works when traveling; it keeps litter box mess contained).
  • Take bunny’s x-pen if you have room and can fit in your car. Set up in kitchen or other area with a spot just out of traffic. You can double over pen walls to make it smaller and take up less room.
  • Set up bun in the laundry room, taking care to block off the entrance to the back of the washer & dryer (unplug them while bun is in the room).
  • Move some clothes out of a closet and set up bun on the floor, putting a bathroom rug or other washable item down to protect the floor. A coat closet or linen closet might also work well. Block off the front with a baby gate or an x-pen folded over onto itself.

Nobunny Does It Better

The Spy Who Loved Me A Bunny?
Ok, admittedly this is only tangentially about bunnies. I thought it was worth mentioning because I enjoy spy novels, but have never read one that features a main character and her rabbit companion.

Susan Hasler, a 21-year old veteran of the CIA, penned her first novel, Intelligence, this year. The heroine of the novel is the fictional Maddie James an ex-ballerina with a bad back who now works as a counterterrorism analyst who lives with her mother and pet rabbit named Abu Bunny.

Click here to listen to last week’s seven minute conversation between NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly and Susan Hasler.

Click here for more information about the book (which has excellent reviews so far).

Getting Around

How does your rabbit like to travel outside of the house? Are they comfortable in a harness or on a leash? Do they tolerate the plastic carrier? Strollers are getting more and more popular. Does your rabbit have one?

We’ve created a poll:

You can vote for your rabbit’s favorite mode of transport and tell us what you think are the pros and cons of your rabbit’s chosen mode of transportation.

Dine at Daphne’s and Help Bunnies

Big Fat Fundraiser Benefits Bunnies

On Saturday, July 24, Daphne’s Greek Café will donate 20% of each customer’s total bill back to San Diego HRS. The promotion runs from 11am-close, and you MUST present a special flyer in order for SDHRS to get the donation.

Pick up an official flyer at the Bunny Store, or download it from our website: http://www.sandiegorabbits.org

Daphne’s hosts regular fundraisers to help community organizations, but normally they limit the promotion to just one location. However, after hearing some of our special needs rabbit stories, Daphne’s agreed to let us choose FIVE locations on one day:

·         4S Ranch

·         Mira Mesa

·         Del Mar

·         Encinitas

·         Temecula

Visit Daphne’s web site to check out their menus and choose your location:


Then grab your official flyer, enjoy some fabulous food, and raise needed funds for all of San Diego’s rescued rabbits.

Making the Medicine Go Down

Let’s hope you never have to do it, but many bunnies will need to receive medication orally at some point in their lives. The time to prepare is now, when you’re not in a panic or emergency situation.  Many of our fosterers and volunteers have tried and true tricks for getting medicine in your bunny safely and smoothly.

  • Gather all your supplies and be ready before putting bunny on the counter. Never leave him there unattended.
  • Wrap them in a “Bunny Burrito”, which is like swaddling a baby. Lay a bath towel on a counter and place your rabbit in the center, facing away from you. Fold the bottom of the towel up over the rabbit’s bottom. Then, gently but firmly wrap one side of the towel around the rabbit, and repeat on the other side. Make sure his head is not completely covered up and that he can breathe easily.
  • If you hold your rabbit, keep them upright, and give medicines slowly so they don’t choke.
  • Rabbits have a space without teeth on the side of their mouth,called the diastema, just behind their prominent front teeth. Place the syringe in this area from the side.
  • If your rabbit objects to the taste of medicine, you can pre-load the syringe with the medicine, then draw up a little banana baby food at the end, so he tastes that first.
  • When you are done feeding or medicating, see if you can syringe a little plain water into him to help wash the food or medication down and out of their mouth. Bun would also appreciate a quick wiping with a damp cloth, please…

Finally, always give medicines under a vet’s supervision and instruction.

Dogs: The other white meat

Sunset magazine, July 2010


 Opinion: Sunset Magazine 

Imagine how people would react to an article in a popular magazine or newspaper that sang the virtues of dog meat.  Or horse meat. With recipes, no less.    

Most people – including me – would be outraged.  Dogs will always be treasured in most Western cultures as “man’s best friend,” and horses are a beloved and intrinsic part of American culture.    

Rabbits are beloved companions for people around the world, but they are still considered livestock and a key ingredient in a new cooking trend.  

Recent media reports describe how some “localvores” embrace rabbit meat, and relish the prospect of raising rabbits in their own backyards as part of their commitment to sustainability.  

While I will always support locally grown, organic, healthy produce, I prefer the advice given to Alice by the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland when Alice tries to offer the two Queens a slice of mutton: “it isn’t etiquette to cut anyone you’ve been introduced to.”    

July’s issue of Sunset magazine is the latest offender with a feature that promotes rabbits as “the other white meat” served by trendy restaurants in Seattle and San Francisco.     

In March the New York Times published, “Don’t Tell the Kids,” a feature article that described a weekend rabbit butchering workshop at a Brooklyn restaurant.  The article included were recipes and graphic, disturbing photos of butchered rabbits hanging on racks.      

In my experience, trends described as “artisan” and “sustainable” often shift from something that appeals to the epicurean élite to the mainstream. Costo.com started selling rabbit meat last year.   

Let’s hope we don’t see TV commercials with Bugs Bunny hawking Bunny Burgers as an item on Burger King’s “Value Menu” anytime soon.      

Make a difference. Please use your voice to help voiceless: our gentle, sweet, beloved rabbit friends.       

Help rabbits that are less fortunate by contacting Sunset magazine with polite letters and/or emails.    

Educate the magazine and its readers about why rabbits are our beloved companions and should no more be considered “white meat” than dogs, cats, horses, and other animals considered delicacies by people outside of the U.S.      

Email Sunset magazine or send a written letter to:       

Sunset Reader Letters
80 Willow Road
Menlo Park, CA 94025  

Please include your full name and street address.      

By Phone

By Fax

Also visit Sunset magazine’s Facebook page. Indicate that you “like” their page (“thumbs up” icon at the top of the page) and you will be able to make comments. People who applaud the magazine’s decision to promote rabbit meat have already left comments.

Nail Trimming: Do I Have To?

Wait—is that you or your bunny saying that? We all loathe bunny nail trims. Every four to six weeks, you’ve got to track the bunny down, and then catch them, which usually involves climbing over, under, and around furniture. That’s stressful for everyone. Then you’ve got to try and maneuver them into a position where you can restrain them, hold their foot firmly, and operate the clippers (you need more than two hands, it seems). Then try to avoid cutting the nail so as to avoid the quick, while your rabbit squirms and pulls their paw away just as you squeeze the clippers closed. It’s a major operation, and if you have more than one bun, nail trims can take all afternoon and leave you covered in fur.

But did you know that help is at hand? If you would rather just outsource the whole nail trimming operation than do it yourself, or have to schedule an appointment with your vet, San Diego HRS volunteers are available to help.

Every  Saturday when the Bunny Store is open, a volunteer is on hand to trim your rabbit’s nails for a small donation. You get to go shopping for bunny treats and supplies, clothing, and cute cards, and chat with other bunny people while we take care of your bun. A few minutes and a few dollars later, and you and your bun are on your way, manicure complete, without stress.

Having an expert trim your rabbit’s nails is great if you’re not confident about doing it yourself, or if your rabbit has dark nails, which can make it difficult to avoid the quick (tip: use a flashlight to shine through dark nails and highlight the quick). If you’re just short on time, your bun can have a nail trim in the time it takes to stop by and grab some supplies from the store.

So don’t stress. Leave the clipping to us.

The Bunny Store is open the first four Saturdays of each month:

Noon to 3 p.m.
4805 Mercury Street, Suite J (on the Ronson Road side of the complex)
Corner of Mercury & Ronson Road
See a map to our location

Signs of Rabbit Happiness

Anyone who lives with a house rabbit knows that they are only silent on first glance. Rabbits actually have a wide range of expressions and methods of communicating. It’s easy and rewarding to learn the language of lagomorphs. Just sit back and let them teach you!

Today we look at that most wonderful of bunny states: pure joy. How do you know when you’re rabbit is happy?

Happy Feet

A happy, relaxed rabbit will often lay on its stomach with the forepaws and hind legs stretched out. From above they look like they are flying like Superman, or they are flat as can be. Sometimes rabbits lay with their legs extended out but more to the side, as opposed to the loaf position where all limbs are tucked under the body. These extended feet indicate a happy rabbit. For a prey animal that must be constantly on guard against danger, happy feet are a great indication that the rabbit feels comfortable and safe in their environment.

The Binky

Witnessing a binky is one of the greatest joys of living with a rabbit. It looks like dancing or leaping in the air, often with body gyrations and kicks and flips. Sometimes rabbits get a running start before a binky; some just leap into the air from a sitting position (the latter, I believe, is called a ‘boink’). Other rabbits begin and end a binky with an impressive run of zig-zags and switchbacks, or repeated laps, called the Bunny 500. The binky indicates pure happiness and joy, and it’s contagious. Other bunnies may join in, and you’ll surely be moved to smile or laugh.

The Flop

The flop is another way of expressing contentment and happiness. The rabbit goes quickly from a sitting or standing position to lying on its side, like a tree falling in the forest. The eyes roll back and the rabbit looks lifeless. This is different from a rabbit gradually lying down to nap. The motion is quick. New bunny people are often alarmed when they see this because the rabbit indeed looks ill or dead. As long as they continue to breathe, never fear. This is actually a sign of bunny bliss. It usually doesn’t last long, so Do Not Disturb!


In addition to the binky and the flop, rabbits enjoy a variety of ways to play. They push or toss objects around, bunch up towels, or shred and tear cardboard or paper. Some play hide and seek or chase games. They may race madly around the house or jump on and off of the couch. All this is very important to the wellness of the bunny psyche. It provides exercise, mental stimulation, and fun. Get down on the floor and get in the game! Get happy!

These are just some of the signs of happiness that we have observed. How does your rabbit show their joy? Have you captured a binky in a photograph? Send in your evidence, please!

Have a Safe Independence Day

Fireworks are a spectacular way to celebrate our nation’s birthday, but they aren’t much fun for our pets. They hear sudden loud noises and see flashes of light in the sky that don’t occur every other night. It must look like the end of the world to them!

Thousands of animals are injured every year as a result of fireworks. Rabbits especially are susceptible to fright and can easily harm themselves by thrashing around and trying to escape an enclosure. Some even have heart failure caused by terror.

It’s well worth taking a few precautions to ensure you and your pets both have a safe and happy Fourth of July.

  • Get inside: San Diego HRS advocates keeping rabbits indoors, year round, and especially during the July holidays when the heat and noise outside can be overwhelming for a rabbit. Make sure rabbits have a “bolt hole” or a safe place where they can retreat, inside their enclosure or somewhere in the house if they are free roaming. They need to feel secure in a dark, enclosed and quiet place, such as a carrier or cardboard box, during the worst of the noise.
  • White noise: If your pets are particularly nervous, try playing a radio at a level that will cover the noise of the fireworks so that the sound is constant, rather than a loud bang here and there. You can also accustom them to the noise by playing a radio a few days before the event, gradually increasing the volume until the culmination of the fireworks.
  • Block out the lights: Draw the curtains to block out the visual display of the fireworks going off, and turn on the TV or radio to provide distraction. Be sure to check on your pets regularly and reassure them that everything is okay. If fireworks are going off close by, stay with your pet and reassure them until it passes. If you are going out for a party, try to get someone to stay at home with your pets to reassure them and make sure everything stays safe.
  • Fireworks safety: It’s not just noise that’s the threat. Practice fire safety. Don’t let pets out into the garden at any time. Fireworks can be thrown over walls or hedges into a yard, so keep a close eye out for stray sparks or fireworks that could cause a fire. Keep all pets away from matches and fireworks, especially ones that are lit on the ground. Curious pets may try to sniff or eat fireworks, and pet hair can easily catch fire if they get too close. Be sure to have the phone number of an emergency vet at hand in case there is an injury.
  • Take a chill pill: If your pet is so nervous as to become ill at the mere thought of fireworks, herbal remedies, such as Bach’s Rescue Remedy, help calm pets.