Archive for the ‘communication’ Category

I’ve long suspected that Frank has social smarts. By social smarts I mean communication skills… I mean, I think he is more receptive to my intentions – to my attempts to communicate with him – than, say, cats I’ve known.

Now, I have known many cats, but Frank is my first rabbit, and I’ve never been intimate (emotionally!) with a dog. While taking into consideration individual variation, I assume Frank is your everyday rabbit. I’m not trying to claim Frank is smarter than anybun else.

Maybe it’s evolutionary: rabbits must live in communities to survive, whereas cats are not so dependent on their peers, therefore rabbits have developped stronger communication skills than cats?

I’m not suggesting Frank always knows what I’m on about. I’m thinking little things – like, he will take comfort from me when he’s feeling unwell or stressed out (as when he’s in his carrier), something no cat has ever done (at least, not to the degree Frank does).

But this takes the cake. Maybe I’m making something of nothing, I don’t know. What do you think? (Like, no no, you’re just a crazy bun lady; or, yes, I think so as well, really!)

So: I was sitting in the livingroom and spotted a wasp crawling on the floor. At first I thought little of it: trapped it, brought it outside, done. Then I started to fixate. Maybe there are other wasps crawling on the floor!? Maybe there’s been a wasp crawling on the bedroom floor (where Frank was napping, under the bed)!? Maybe Frank’s been stung!! Maybe Frank’s allergic, going into anaphylaxis right now!!?! Under the bed I go. Frank is practically non-responsive. I try to tell myself – it’s 2pm, that’s what he’s like at 2pm. Frank? Frankie? He’s thoroughly flopped out, and I pet him for awhile. No response, not even a nose wiggle. I pull out and ruminate. Back under the bed. Frankoo? You alright? I’m teetering now between panic and self-mockery. I pet him awhile longer before pulling out and pacing the apartment. Back on my knees, looking under the bed, Frank is sitting up looking dazed. Okay, alright, Frank is fine, just fine, give it up. I force myself back to the livingroom and sit down on the sofa. Worry nibbles at the corners of my soul. Suddenly, Frank comes bounding into the room and hops into his litter box on the other side of the sofa. He periscopes and looks straight at me. He does this a few times. Then backs into a corner, pees a little, hops out of his box and runs straight back to the bedroom and under the bed, where he collapses into sleep.

This is far from usual behaviour. First, there’s a litter box in the bedroom. Second, Frank generally doesn’t step paw into the livingroom until well past 4pm, sometimes not until 7. And running, running at 2pm, that’s very rare indeed.

Can I really but take this as “Look, see? I’m fine. Now stop worrying!”??

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Without a doubt, the worst part of animal companionship is the battle of wills. Unlike humans, with whom I can reason when conflicts arise, pets just don’t listen.

Okay, pets sometimes do listen. Sometimes Frank is a darling, really: obedient and sensitive.

Just not this morning. This morning was about domination.


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A few months ago, we draped a sheet beneath the slats on our bed so that Frank couldn’t nibble on them when he came to visit. Yesterday he caught us in the middle of a bedroom rearrange when one end of the sheet was loose. Remember the game with the parachute, Cat and Mouse? I think this is Frank’s version. Did you catch his impertinent flip of the ears near the beginning? What a naughty bun.

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The other day, Frank ripped a piece of vinyl off a trunk and began to eat it. I responded in my usual way, which is to gently hold his mouth open with the tips of my fingers at the sides of his mouth, because when I do this he immediately starts working his tongue, I guess to get my fingers out of his mouth, but with the actual effect of producing the piece of non-food (which does then get my fingers out of his mouth, so it’s successful for the both of us). It worked this time as usual, but just before I got the vinyl he lifted his paws to swipe at my hand, which was covering his nose, and I got the distinct impression that he couldn’t breathe so I moved my hand even though I thought it couldn’t be true since his mouth was wide open.

He’s fine by the way, this all happened over the course of maybe 1 or 2 seconds, and I didn’t think of it again until I was scanning a page of rabbit anatomy just now and came across this:

“rabbits must normally breathe through their nose. It is therefore a grave sign if a rabbit must resort to mouth-breathing” (http://www.exoticpetvet.net/smanimal/rabanatomy.html).

So, he probably couldn’t breathe! It was good of me to act on my impulses even when I thought, logically, I knew better. And I’m happy to know this new sign and symptom of rabbit ill-health.

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Previously I wrote of my suspicions that Frank knows when he is being taped or photographed (I suppose both of these words are anachronistic now … how about, “visually recorded”?). Now I know this is true, because the other week, when some friends were over and one began taking pictures, it was obvious to everyone that he was posing. I can’t quite understand this … but then, one needn’t understand, to accept.

Also seemingly impossible is that Frank is beginning another moult. One is just finishing on his rump, and now a third begins again on his forehead. Before, there were always breaks of a few months between moults. Is this normal? Healthy?

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I’ve had many questions since Frank’s last vet appointment, so finally I arranged a phone appointment. They charged me somewhere between $35-40 per 15 minutes. I faxed my questions to the vet ahead of time so he could prepare his answers, and thankfully we got through them all within 15 minutes, although afterwards I realized some minor points were glossed over. Gah, a rabbit-companion’s work is never done!

I thought I might share some parts of our conversation, as they may prove useful or at least illuminating to others.

We spoke about rabbit baths. The vet said that the biggest concern is the rabbit struggling and injuring his back. Frank is a moderately tame bunny, and we have a very intimate and trusting relationship, so this aspect of things is pretty much under control: I take many precautions to relax him — through vocal tenor and body language, by familiarizing him with the washroom and tub ahead of time, by holding him firmly and safely, by choosing a time of day when he is relaxed — and when he does start to struggle, I take that as a signal from him that the bath is over. The vet said I needn’t concern myself too much with ensuring he is thoroughly dry or with avoiding drafts — although, were it winter, or a different climate, or were he an outdoor rabbit, I would have to take this issue very seriously. He didn’t recommend a particular brand of shampoo, but he stressed the uber-sensitivity of rabbit skin — more sensitive than babies, more sensitive than dogs — and he suggested looking for an oatmeal shampoo for cats (failing an oatmeal shampoo for rabbits).

Although the vet didn’t mention it, I know it’s important the shampoo be thoroughly rinsed out of his fur. I plan on having buckets of fresh water on-hand to facilitate easy rinsing — I don’t want to turn the tap while he’s in the tub, in case it alarms him. And I also know the water level must be low so there’s no chance it enters his ears. I also plan on using a luke-warm water — I don’t want the water temperature to upset him. We gave him a water bath the other week, to familiarize him with the process and to see what water alone could accomplish. (Turns out, not much…if he did end up any cleaner, I think it was more likely due to his somewhat-obsessive grooming after the bath than the bath itself. I have higher expectations from the shampoo.)

We also spoke about bitter apple spray as a guard against furniture destruction: safe, but not necessarily effective.

We also spoke about first aid. Although I’ve seen these items recommended on other web pages, Frank’s vet advised against using mineral oil as a hairball remedy; and he also advised against administering aspirin because it can complicate later veterinary care, and becuase it can damage the kidneys (especially on an old bun like Frankie). Rather than canned pumpkin, he recommended vegetable baby food — and, of course, only in case the rabbit’s gone off food and veterinary care won’t be accessible for 12 hours or more. More important than food is water, so he said if the rabbit’s gone off water for 6 hours or more (and veterinary care isn’t immediately accessible), an oral electrolyte, like Pedialyte, can be very helpful. I asked him about acidophilus, which Frank was prescribed once when he had a slow GI tract (under the name Can-Addase), and he said that it can be very helpful, but that if the GI is completely static, it won’t do a thing. Other good things to have in a first aid kit are:
antiseptic soap (for our hands, not the bun)
saline solution (for flushing open wounds)
iodine (to dilute with water; for disinfecting open wounds)
non-stick gauze squares/telfa pad
2″ gauze roll
2″ self-adhesive stretch bandage
blunt-ended scissors
simethicone oral liquid suspension for pediatric use (for gas)
styptic powder (for clotting blood, as in the event of a broken nail)
feeding syringes (for administration of medicines, and collection of urine samples)

Two items we didn’t get around to discussing: hot/cold pads, and 4-way acid packs. Does anyone know what these items are, what they are used for and how they are used, and where they may be obtained?

At the vet’s suggestion, I have also cut treats out entirely from Frank’s diet. He still gets his papaya enzyme tablet to encourage a healthy GI tract, and apple-water (at most 1 juice : 6 water) to encourage hydration, but no banana, no grape, no more apple, no more berries, no more carrot. Not even the smallest amount. On websites like HRS, a limited amount of fresh-fruit treats are recommended — I think they say 1tsp/day at most — so this is what I had been doing, but not anymore. And no crackers, bread, or other grain products, either, both for their sugar-content and carbohydrates. However, I have noticed these items are popular with other rabbit owners, so I am very curious what people have to say about this.

Finally, I received confirmation about the normalcy of Frank’s urine, which is frequently bright orangey-red. I had read it was normal, but then a vet I don’t normally see was alarmed by it. She likely was not very familiar with rabbits. Our normal vet told us the bottom line: rabbits are known for bright orangey-red urine, which is due to vegetable proteins and the production of porphyrins, and is not a sign of blood or infection.

Unfortunately, one of the questions we glossed over is rather important, and has to do with the vet’s recommendation of an x-ray to determine whether there is sediment build-up in Frank’s bladder. This recommendation came after the results of Frank’s urine analysis, which showed a slightly-above-normal level of crystals. Money is a major factor for us … we can’t go ahead with this procedure without understanding more about it. I will be speaking with the vet again, but perhaps in the mean time someone online knows something about this. Has anyone had this x-ray done to their rabbit? Was sediment found? –and if it was, what was the proposed solution?

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Today I’ll write a little about Frank’s manners of communication. I’ve already written about tooth-grinding; now I’ll write about grunting. Frank grunts when he is excited, stimulated, happy, etc. This is a quiet noise: you might not hear it if you’re not very close by, on his level; and it’s a very low noise: sometimes I feel it more than I hear it. This is generally not a noise Frank makes when he’s stationary or still: he makes it when he’s running toward you, or circling your legs, or jumping around on his blankets with his stuffed friend Benjamin. It’s a repeated noise: “grunt-grunt-grunt-grunt-grunt.” I think this might be sexual behaviour, although I’ve heard that fixed rabbits grunt as well. Sometimes he grunts singularly, too, but I think this is kind of like a question: “Grunt? Will we be playing around? Shall I get excited?”–etc.

There is another kind of grunt, more like a growl, that I’ve read about and that Frank has made once. It’s an angry sound, louder than the other kind, and singular: “GRUNT!” When Frank made this noise, I’d been holding him down for some forced grooming. This was in our last apartment: we hadn’t known each other long. I’ve read it described as a sign of great annoyance, frustration, anger, etc.

In addition to tooth-grinding and grunting, there is another vocalization that Frank makes, but I’m not sure if it’s a form of communication or something more like a sneeze. It is a squeak/snort/grunt that he sometimes makes when he’s grooming himself.

Perhaps the most well-known form of rabbit communication is the foot thump. Frank has only made this noise a handful of times (maybe two handfuls). Once or twice we’ve been able to identify the source of his anxiety–a raccoon outside the window–but mostly it’s been a mystery to us. When Frank thumps his hind foot, he doesn’t look like Thumper. Rather, his entire body is alert–tense, head up, etc.–and he thumps once at a time. He will hop a few steps, look around, lift his hind quarters (particularly on one side), and bring one foot down hard on the floor. I think it is kind of him to warn us of the danger. I try to comfort him by petting him gently and speaking to him in soothing tones, and usually he accepts my comfort, but a few times he has been pretty adamant about the danger he perceives.

Opposite of the thump is the binky: a funny twisting/turning running jump that is generally interpreted as an expression of great joy. Frank used to binky all the time in the basement of our last apartment, which was carpeted and so afforded him unparallelled grip and control. The first few times I saw it, I thought there was something wrong: his movements were so twitchy, I imagined he had fleas or something. Frank’s only full-out binkied once in our new apartment, which is unfortunate. A lesser form of the binky–a form these days more commonly observed–is the shiver, which is generally accomplished by lifting the front legs and quickly twisting so as to shiver the ears, and fur and skin on the chest.

So far as I know, the rest of rabbit communication is about body language, particularly ear positions and body positions. The Language of Lagomorphs has more to say on this topic than I do. I might come back to this subject when I have more to say.

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Rabbits don’t vocalize much, so their body language is particularly significant. “The Language of Lagomorphs” has proven a valuable resource, as have other webpages, such as “Fuzzy Bunny,” but due to individual variation, it doesn’t perfectly represent Frank. I’ll write more on this subject later; for now I’ll just write about tooth grinding.

Frank grinds his teeth gently when he is satisfied and blissful – generally, when he’s being petted and cuddled, but also sometimes when he’s laying down in the evening, facing us as we watch TV. (Apparently, rabbits often engage in this kind of “gazing” behaviour, both with each other and with their human companions, as a way to establish and develop intimacy.) People often compare tooth grinding in rabbits to purring in cats.

Frank grinds his teeth at two speeds. At the slower speed, each grind of his teeth is distinct, and he grinds them in groups of 3 or 4: “grind-grind-grind,” and then a few moments later, “grind-grind-grind-grind,” etc. At the faster speed, I can’t count how many grinds he makes, but it lasts one to three seconds or so.

(Apparently, loud and violent tooth grinding is a response to pain and is one of the few signs to look for in a medical emergency. I may have noticed this the evening Frank suffered from GI Stasis, but much more telling was his general sluggishness and unresponsiveness.)

Edit 27 April 2010: At this point, I have heard Frank’s pain-tooth-grinding. It is indeed louder, also “crunchier,” but most telling of all: it is not rhythmically regular, as his purring-tooth-grinding is. More like “crunch-crunch,” and 20 seconds later, “crunch”; 1 minute later, “crunch… crunch-crunch.” You see what I’m getting at?

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