Tag Archives: rabbits


The great bedding debate

Spike's World

The small animal market is laden with all different kinds of bedding to choose from. For the new or novice small animal keeper the choice can be mind blowing. However, the suitability and the effectiveness of the different types of bedding are questionable.

For a start, many claim to have odour neutralising properties. To be frank, this is totally unnecessary and just encourages pet owners to have a poor cleaning routine. Animal noses are far more sensitive to smells than our own, just because the latest, wonder bedding claims to neutralise smells, does not mean your pet is not suffering from the build up of waste and ammonia.

Scented beddings too should also be avoided like the plague. Small animals, as a rule, have poor eyesight and live in a world of scent. Many have scent glands located in various areas which not only serve to mark out territorial boundaries but also help to comfort them and make things smell homely. If your pet is forced to live in a lemon or lavender scented world, you are forcing them to live a stressful existence; not to mention the fact that if they smell strongly to our noses who knows how pungent they must be to their sensitive nostrils.

Wood shavings have long been a topic of hot debate among pet owners, breeders, veterinarians and pet shop owners alike as some people like them and others think they are terrible. I personally believe that no pet should be housed on them for many reasons. Cedar shavings are dangerous to the health of your pet, fact. These shavings emit aromatic hydrocarbons or phenols; these are the chemicals that make them smell ‘woody’. These chemicals have proven in laboratory tests to damage the lungs, causing respiratory problems. More worryingly they have also been shown to damage the liver. Due to the short life of our small pets, the damage to the liver may not show any noticeable effects but due the liver’s use in metabolising anaesthetics, any damage it may have can increase the potential risks of any operation your pet may need. Pine shavings emit similar compounds but not a great deal of research has been made as to their side effects. The similarity to cedar, in my mind would be reason enough to avoid this also.

Aspen shavings are safer but still not recommended as the dust levels may be detrimental to your pets breathing. Ask any horse owner and they will tell you that some horses can not be stabled in the vicinity of aspen shavings as it causes sneezing and coughing. Our small pets are the same, although some pets appear to live happily on these shavings the negative implications are too many to ignore. Aside from breathing difficulties, many pets will suffer from sore eyes, noses and feet when housed on aspen shavings due to its abrasive nature. Guinea pigs are especially prone to dry and sore feet when they are made to live on wood shavings.

Of the many kinds of bedding on the market, the safest, and most effective must be chopped cardboard, often used as a stable bedding for horses. Marketed under several brand names, this is readily available online by mail order. It is dust and parasite free, safe, absorbent and perfect for our small animals. It’s also great fun to chew!Although it may appear costly, many companies supply this as a large bale, which will last a very long time and actually works out very cost effective. It can also be composted afterward so is great for the environment as well as being a recycled product in itself.

Rabbits and guinea pigs must be provided with a thick layer of hay on top of the bedding, especially if living outdoors. Ideally line the cage with a thick layer of newspaper as this will make things much easier when it comes to cleaning out.

At the end of the day, the choice of bedding is a personal one but in my view, if there is even a small risk of health problems from the use of a certain bedding, then the choice is a clear one, especially when safe alternatives are so readily available.


Clicker Training for rabbits

Spike's World

Many people are familiar with the concept of clicker training for our canine friends but not many people are aware that rabbits and other small animals can benefit as well.

Clicker training was developed in the early 1970’s as a training method for marine mammals. The trainers realised that they would not be able to train whales and dolphins through force as they would simply swim away. They soon realised that if they ignored the wrong behaviours and gave appropriate praise and reward for the behaviours they wanted, the animals would quickly learn to do exactly what they wanted. The most exciting discovery was the fact that the whales and dolphins enjoyed the training sessions immensely and developed a love of learning.

Clicker training is a simple concept for both you and your pet to learn and is one that is sure to have many rewards in the future. Even if your pet has no behavioural issues and lives a fulfi lled and stimulated life, clicker training is a useful concept to teach your pet as you never know when it may be needed in the future. As an example, a good friend of mine owned an older rabbit that needed regular urine tests due to medical problems. Fortunately she had spent lots of time using clicker training with him and he was very familiar with the concept. Within a week she had taught her pet to urinate on command, making things so much easier for them both. It also prevented the extra stress that can be caused by the vet having to express his bladder instead.

 Clicker training rabbits

As rabbits increase in popularity, so does the understanding of their behavioural needs. It has come to light that rabbits are intelligent animals and as such need lots of stimulation. For those who keep their rabbits indoors, boredom can present itself in the form of destructive and antisocial behaviour.

Although teaching your rabbit to urinate on command would make an amusing party trick, there are many more savoury behaviours you can teach your pet to perform. As long as it is physically possible for your pet and does not risk injury then you can try pretty much anything. The most common behaviours to teach are, sitting, standing, running into an enclosure or carrier, jumping over a pole or through a hoop and nudging a ball.

Where do I start?


Clicker training a rabbit - Adam the vet - Vetschooldiary - vet school diary - student - Adam Rogers

Rabbits are highly intelligent creatures that crave mental stimulation. Clicker training can fulfill this need as well as helping to develop a bond between rabbit and owner.


To start clicker training, you need some tasty treats, in small enough pieces to be just one mouthful,

and a clicker (you can even use the clicker part of a pen!) The clicking noise made by the clicker or pen is a method of marking the behaviour that you want. In your pet’s mind, the click grows to mean “Yes! That’s exactly what I want you to do! Well done!”

Your pet does not instinctively know what the clicker means, and therefore before anything else, you must teach it what it represents. This is known by some as ‘charging the clicker’.

To begin with, prepare twenty bite sized treats. Click the clicker and feed your pet a treat. Once your pet has finished the treat, give another click and feed it another. Repeat this exercise until all the treats are gone. Whilst teaching your rabbit the meaning of the clicker, it’s important to watch out for signs of recognition that they understand that a click means food. This can be as simple as looking at you expectantly, a change in the ear set or with some greedy rabbits, jumping at you like a wild beast in order to get the treat as quickly as they can. If you feel your pet has not learned the meaning of the clicker during the first session then continue with this training until you are sure your pet has got the idea.

At your next session, start as you did previously by giving a treat and a click at the same time. After a few treats, give a click and pause for two seconds and give the treat. Hopefully, your pet will by now associate the click with the treat and upon hearing the click, will look at you expectantly. Don’t be tempted to wait too long before giving the treat. Rabbits are not dogs and can become incredibly offended if they feel they are being teased. An offended rabbit will stamp its feet at you or worst still, hop away whilst kicking out its hind feet as if kicking dust in your face.

Once your rabbit has reached this stage and you are confident it knows what the clicker means, you can then move on to putting this into practice.

The next step I call ‘teaching your rabbit to love to learn’. Up to now, your rabbit has learned that a click means a tasty treat is on the way, but he simply sees you as a treat dispenser. We now need to teach your rabbit that he needs to do something to get a treat and to persuade him this can be just as fun as eating!

We can all remember how stressful hard exams were and equally how much fun pre school was! Rabbits are just the same. If they are to develop a love of learning, clicker training must be kept fun, and to start with, the behaviours must be very easily achievable.

The first behaviour to teach is known as target training. Take a piece of dowel, some tissue, a square of brightly coloured cloth and an elastic band. Wrap the tissue around the end of the dowel so it forms a small round ball, cover with the brightly coloured cloth and secure with the elastic band. , cover with the brightly coloured cloth and secure with the elastic band. You now have a target stick.

Your aim is to teach your rabbit to touch the cloth end of the target stick with his nose. Start by holding the target stick just in front and slightly to the side of your rabbit’s face. The reason you should start to the side is that rabbits have very poor eyesight to the front and behind them. When your rabbit looks at the stick, click and then treat. Repeat this twenty times, moving the target stick to the other side and to the front of your rabbit’s face. Every time your pet looks at the clicker, click and treat. In no time at all, your rabbit is likely to touch the stick with its nose. At this point, give your rabbit a treat and from that moment, begin to reward your rabbit only for touching the target stick.


When your rabbit is making an effort to touch the target stick at least 85% of the time, start to move the target stick a little further away. Continue to click and treat until you can move the target stick even further away. If your rabbit starts to appear to forget the behaviour then you have moved too far too quickly. Take a step back and start again. In no time at all, your rabbit will learn to follow the target stick. This is great for moving your pet from one place to another!

Once your rabbit has learned to follow and touch the target stick at least 90% of the time, you can begin to use it to teach other behaviours.

Teaching your rabbit to sit is a fun and rewarding behaviour that can give you both a sense of achievement.  Start by raising the target stick upwards, click and treat your rabbit for stretching up to follow the stick. Due to their physical build your rabbit will naturally fall into a sitting position once the target is lifted high enough. Ensure each step is given a click and treat.

Repeat this exercise with the stick until your rabbit is moving into a sitting position with no hesitation on almost every occasion. Then, start to introduce the clue word ‘sit’. Each time your rabbit follows the stick into the sitting position, say the word sit in a clear and calm voice as he moves into position.

Ensure you still click and treat. In no time at all your rabbit will learn what ‘sit’ means so you will no longer need to use the target stick.

Target stick - Clicker training a rabbit - Adam the vet - Vetschooldiary - vet school diary - student - Adam Rogers

Many rabbits learn to touch the target stick in a very short space of time. Don’t be disheartened if your rabbit takes a while to learn, remember clicker training is supposed to be fun for both you and your pet


Many people, especially those that have clicker trained dogs, will fi nd it awful that a treat is used throughout the process and that the treat has not been phased out and replaced with a stroke or affection. Rabbits are not dogs and as such, most have very different motivational factors than our canine friends. As much as they love to learn, they need a reason to. How many people choose to go to work for free? Rabbits are more like people that dogs. They love a challenge but most will not work hard if the reward at the end is not worth their while.

The principles of clicker training can be used for any situation your rabbit is physically capable of. These can be both practical and just for fun but all help to develop a deep bond and rapport between you and your pet. I encourage all rabbit owners to teach their pet to run to its hutch on command as a safety measure and to be rewarded for eating from hand also. Rabbits are prone to digestive problems and can stop eating. A well trained rabbit will often be tempted to eat even when not hungry. This can be a lifesaver! Clicker training can prove an invaluable way of teaching your rabbit to accept medical examinations and routine nail trimming and grooming.

There are also lots of fun uses for clicker training, from teaching your rabbit to play fetch, to jumping an obstacle in a rabbit agility course. The possibilities are endless, just remember to make sure you both stay safe and that everything is kept as much fun as possible.