The Place Where Animal Lovers Come Together - Summer 2009

Featured Story | Phyllis the Rabbit Transformed by Love and Purina

From the moment Jennifer Anderson spotted Phyllis at the Norfolk, Virginia SPCA, “I knew I had to bring her home. She looked too skinny and helpless in that cage.”

Phyllis, a Giant Angora, had been surrendered by a family that could no longer care for her. She had come to the SPCA so severely matted that she could neither move her legs nor eat.

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Getting the Jump on Summer with Rabbit Care Tips from a Pro
Gene Gillispie of Vienna, Missouri has been raising and showing rabbits since his 4-H days back in 1966, and he and his wife Sue have been ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association) judges for 32 years and 25 years, respectively. Currently maintaining 400 rabbits representing 11 breeds, Gene and Sue have learned a thing or two about caring for rabbits during the hot summer months. He recently shared a few of their most tried and true tips.
  • Water, water, water. It’s essential to provide plenty of fresh, clean, cool water at all times, but it’s especially vital in summer. If you don’t have an automatic watering system, change your rabbits’ water at least two times a day—preferably three. (TIP: We have a circulating watering system at home, so we freeze gallon milk jugs of water and place them in the reservoir to keep drinking water cool.)

  • Made in the shade. Always provide plenty of shade or a cooling area in summer. Rabbits cannot tolerate intense heat and high humidity. (TIP: Some fairs and shows are held in parks. You may think you’ve placed your rabbits safely in the shade, but you need to monitor them regularly. If the sun is moving, so are the shady spots.)

  • Move it, move it, move it. You must provide air movement. Even if your barn is air conditioned, you must provide air exchange or the air will become stagnant. If you’re going to a 4-H judging, don’t pack your carriers too tightly. Replace litter with one of those absorbent pet pads (sawdust and wood chips can block airflow). Battery-operated clip-on fans are a good to circulate air conditioning in your vehicle. Once you arrive at the show, electrical outlets are usually available, so the pros know to bring along a fan to stir the air in their cooling area. (IMPORTANT TIP: Always stir the air below or above cages, as any direct current can cause respiratory problems.)

  • Ice is nice. To help keep your rabbits cool at home, freeze water in two-liter soda bottles, then lay one in the cage. Most rabbits will enjoy resting against the bottle to keep cool. (TIP: If you’re traveling to a show, fill and freeze several 20-ounce bottles of water. These smaller bottles will fit easily into your soft drink cooler, and you can distribute them throughout your carrier as needed.)

  • No sweat. Rabbits don’t sweat. Instead, they radiate heat out of their bodies through their ears. When traveling, we carry a spray bottle of water in our cooler. We like to mist their ears with cool water to help them stay cool. (TIP: If you see that a rabbit is getting too warm, putting a cool, wet cloth on its ears is the quickest way to cool it down in a hurry.)

  • Dining after dark. If your rabbits seem to be eating less during a heat wave, don’t be alarmed. It’s only natural. Digestion generates additional heat. Since rabbits like to feed at night naturally, try feeding after sundown, even at 9 or 10 p.m., when the air is cooler. (TIP: Feed that is put out in the morning will likely go stale and be less palatable.)

  • Eat the right stuff. Since rabbits will consume less food when they are hot, reduce or eliminate the feeding of “treats.” This will help to ensure that they consume as much of a balanced complete pelleted diet as possible. And if you use a top dressing, don’t use too much as that will generate more body heat.

  • Rules of the road. When traveling to a show in warm weather, be very cautious and conscious of your rabbits’ welfare. For instance, don’t leave your rabbits unattended while you pull in for a quick bite. Rabbits can overheat very, very quickly. Even with the air conditioning running, you may need to cover windows with solar film to block out direct sunlight.

  • The friendly skies. If you’re planning on shipping your rabbits, check with the airline well in advance. There are a lot of restrictions and they often vary between the different airlines and airports. (TIP: Some airlines may refuse to ship animals during the hottest months.)

  • Summer babies. If you’re raising babies during the summer, be aware that they can overheat very easily in nest boxes. Solid bottom nest boxes are too hot, so use boxes with perforated bottoms or make a nest box with a light, airy bottom that will allow the air to circulate through. (TIP: If we notice the doe pulling extra fur to line the nest, we remove part of it after a while to keep the babies from overheating in extreme temperatures.)

Have a great summer!

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Get to Know Rabbit Chow® Gourmet Rabbit Feed

If you’re ready to offer your rabbit something different, Rabbit Chow® Gourmet is a fun-to-eat, wholesome diet with nutritious vegetables, fruits and seeds. It contains the same great nutrition as Purina Mills® Rabbit Chow® Complete Plus along with added “treats” like dehydrated papaya, carrots and black oil sunflower seeds. All these treats help provide your rabbit the enrichment it needs in a healthy, natural way.

  • Contains sunflower seed (for shiny coat), dehydrated papaya (for hairballs), dehydrated carrots and oats (for enrichment)

  • All-natural diet—no extruded particles and no artificial coloring

  • Contains Yucca Shidigera to help reduce ammonia odor from urine

  • Contains Lactobacillus Acidophilus to help intestinal upsets

  • Extra screening reduces fines which helps minimize waste

  • Convenient and flexible—one product meets the nutritional needs of growing bunnies and more mature rabbits

  • A complete, highly palatable premium feed designed for all life phases

  • As always, when changing your rabbits from one feeding program to another, make the change gradually, over a five- to seven-day period. Mix the new feed with the old, gradually increasing the amount of the new feed (it’s always important to allow time for the rabbits' intestinal flora to adjust to any new feed). Continue to feed at the same time each day—evening is best. Clean the feeding dish daily so uneaten food does not become stale and moldy. And always provide plenty of clean, fresh, cool water to rabbits at all times.

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Feature Store Continued

“The workers at the SPCA shaved an unbelievable pelt off her that actually weighed more than she did,” Jennifer recalls. “She should have been over six-and-a-half pounds, but she was only three-and-a-half pounds when I got her.”

Remarkable Transformation

Jennifer immediately put Phyllis on Purina® Rabbit Chow®, eventually transitioning her to Show Formula.  “Today, she is a healthy, eight-and-a-half-pound, happy, bouncing bunny. She goes out on bunny walks all the time and people notice her. Her coat is shiny and beautiful and my furry friend is as active as ever,” says Jennifer. “Thanks, Purina.”

But Phyllis isn’t the only rabbit to be rescued by Jennifer. She also owns Sesame, a Flemish Giant put up for sale by a breeder who was decreasing his breeding stock, and Jammer, a 12-week-old Flemish Giant whose family didn’t realize how big he was going to get.

Childhood Affection for Rabbits

Jennifer’s affection for rabbits started when she was a child, “I had two. I grew up in a military family. My father was a Navy pilot and would be gone for six to nine months at a time. So pets helped fill that void.”

Jennifer’s interest in rabbits was reignited a couple of years ago when she saw Jack Hanna on TV with a Flemish Giant. “Just two weeks later I saw an ad in the paper. That’s how I got Sesame.”

Jennifer says she caught her first glimpse of Phyllis on the Noon News. “She was the featured Pet of the Week because no one would adopt her. By 3 o’clock, I had already picked her up at the SPCA.” Jennifer notes that Angoras are notoriously hard to care for. “I didn’t think my fiancé would still want to marry me after that,” she laughs.

A Shared Interest in Animal Welfare

Fortunately, her fiancé Rory is also a fierce animal lover. He’s a firefighter, but in his off-hours he also works with an animal education program called ZooPro Adventures. Together, they do presentations at schools, scout meetings and birthday parties to educate children about all the  responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with owning animals.  “We try to discourage people from adopting exotic or difficult-to-care-for animals. Phyllis or one of the other rabbits goes with us sometimes, and we let the kids love all over her.”

Thriving on Professional Formula

Jennifer, a registered nurse, is a clinical educator in the emergency department at a hospital and working on her master’s degree. Nowadays she’s feeding Professional formula to Phyllis, Sesame and Jammer. “It helps Sesame with shedding. Plus Phyllis’ hair is very hard to manage. The wool doesn’t grow right, so she has to be shaved all the time.” Because she couldn’t eat for so long, Jennifer says Phyllis ate like crazy at first. “Now she eats more normally, she grazes. Feeding Purina has helped to even her out.” “She’s a sweet, loving rabbit, and that makes me feel good,” says Jennifer. “Phyllis is also much easier to shave and brush now. She’s much shinier, more like an Angora instead of a frizzy mess. It’s nice to take her back to the SPCA and show her to them.”


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