Monday, July 22, 2013

A "Mean" Rabbit is an Illusion

In the last week several newspapers carried a story about a magician who had to pull a USDA mandated disaster plan for his rabbit out of his hat.  But, this isn’t what got my attention in the article.

What struck me was a quote by the magician about troubles he has had in the past including "A rabbit so mean it growled."  This comment tells me he doesn't understand rabbit behavior.  I have heard it before. Occasionally, I get an email asking “what do I do with my ‘mean’ rabbit?”  The short version of my reply is: "Is your rabbit already neutered or spayed? If not, make a vet appointment. If already altered, it may be as simple as changing your behavior and the rabbit will change his/hers. What precedes the aggressive behavior? Sometimes it is territorial, new surroundings, loud noises or other animals in the home.  It will take patience." 
All domesticated rabbits can growl when frightened or threatened.  They will also box with their front paws and bite. When a rabbit starts growling the human should modify their behavior. Rabbits are prey animals and they feel threatened or frightened very easily.  Some rabbits more acclimated to being handled may not react the same way.  They are like any other companion animal - they react differently depending on their socialization and previous treatment. It also makes a difference whether or not the bunny is neutered or spayed.  Also, I have taken in rabbits who will attempt to bite consistently for the first year because of abuse they suffered in the past. It takes a lot of patience for those rabbits to trust people again. Seriously aggressive behavior does not diminish or disappear magically. 

I am not in favor of “magic show rabbits” since they seem to be just show props.  Most are shown being picked up out of top hats by their ears and this is very painful for the rabbit.  However, I have never seen this magician’s act so I don’t know how he handles them during a show or how he cares for his rabbit at home.  I'd like to think all is well.  However, I disagree with the idea that any rabbit is a "mean" rabbit. That is an illusion.