The Good Life: Protecting the Babbits

Rabbits have long since been considered a pest in Australia. I mean, the longest unbroken fence in the world was built in the country to keep the rabbits out of precious farming territory.

bilby

The Greater Bilby, endangered in Queensland.  Photo courtesy of DHP

Besides, there’s well documented evidence that the introduction of rabbits can vastly alter the ecosystem. Heck, the adorable little rabbit is believed to be responsible for the decline of several Australian native species such as the Greater Bilby through habitat destruction.

It is no surprise that the Australian government works to control the feral rabbit population through regular releases of biological agents like the Calicivirus[1] (aka Rabbit Haemorrhagic Diseases). In fact, a planned release of the virus is happening across 1,000 sites across Australia as we speak!

For those of you not in the know, the Calicivirus is a very nasty killer. It basically makes your rabbit bleed out internally, until it finally dies from the stress. BUT! A vaccination for this horrible disease does exist and is available at most local vet clinics! Both Bonnie and Clyde are regularly vaccinated against Calicivirus, so they’re covered in the event of a planned release.

img_3739

Bonnie and Clyde after being vaccinated.  They’re very upset about the whole situation, but it’s for their own good!

That being said, it doesn’t hurt to take extra precautions to protect the rabbits from the dangers of horrible diseases. Both Calicivirus and Myxamatosis are spread by flies and mosquitoes, so you should take steps to insect-proof any rabbit play areas.

To protect our precious bunnies, The Boobook and I lined Bonnie and Clyde’s outdoor hutch with UV protected mosquito netting. It’s a little bit expensive, but at least it’ll keep them safe.  Plus, we’ve lined the bottom with thick gauge chicken wire so that they can’t dig their way to freedom and get themselves hurt.

IMG_3428.JPG

Mosquito-proofed babbit home!

So, now our babbits are free to dance and play in the sun and are safe from the virus come rain or shine!  If you’d like more information on how to protect your rabbits during this viral release, RSPCA Australia has some very useful information and advice available.


[1]Calicivirus is pronounced Khaleesi-virus, but doesn’t have anything to do with dragons, unless you count the fact that it kills kinda messily.

More Animals for the Family

Since the new house that The Boobook and I moved into is much larger than my little apartment and has a spacious garden, we decided to add a little to our family by getting a pair of rabbits!

It’s best to get rabbits in a pair so that they can keep each other company.  As prey animals, rabbits tend towards having a little bit of a protective warren mentality.  A single rabbit on its own might get a little lonely.

12115590_10153238423282337_417323767397965535_n

Our new rabbits, Bonnie and Clyde!

It just so happened that a friend of mine happened to have some spare baby rabbits.  See, she’d gotten a pair of rabbits from a neighbour who swore up and down that they were desexed.

Well, they weren’t.  So within a week of her getting the little animals, they did what rabbits did and she was inundated with lots of little mini-lop rabbits.

Bonnie and Clyde (or Bonbon and Clydie, as we call them) were the last pair left of the first litter and she’d kept them aside for me just so that I could have them.  They’re sweet rabbits, both female and extremely well bonded!

12509316_10153406154207337_783951429571021435_n

Chillin’ after a good grooming.

Bonnie, the blue rabbit, is more human-friendly.  She loves her cuddles, pats and scritches, especially behind the ears!  She’s always looking out for Clyde and loves to lick and groom her friends (even her human friends!)

Clyde, the brown rabbit, is more temperamental.  She’s got an opinion and she’s not afraid to show it!  She’ll tolerate patting, but absolutely hates to be picked up.  She’s much more adventurous than Bonnie is, and absolutely loves her food!  She’s often face-first in the hay loft as soon as it’s filled.

Either way, I’m happy to have them.  They’re a happy addition to our family.  If they’re well cared for, rabbits can live up to 12 years, so J, Little E and Thumper will have plenty of chances to meet them when you come up to visit!

Now, all this writing has tuckered me out.  I think I’ll have a nap.

12342586_10206949195781072_7266275623945071137_n

Fish are Betta Pets

Now that J and Little E are both in preschool, we figured that it was a good time to let them help to take care of a small animal. They are still a little bit young to be responsible for caring for a small furry creature, so we decided to choose a relatively low maintenance, hardy pet – a fish.

The Husband and I used to keep tropical fish in a small tank when we were still living in the UK, and they are actually quite finicky creatures to look after in a cold country – we were forever measuring the temperature, pH levels and nitrate levels in the water, and making sure that our little underwater community got along well. This is why we did not think that fish would be a suitable pet for a young child.

However, in Little E’s classroom this year, there is a tiny little plastic tank containing a single fish and a marimo ball. Little E’s teacher told me that the fish has already survived one year of living in a nursery-level classroom, constantly surrounded by little children…and it seems to be happy and healthy.

This fish is Betta splendens – better known as the Siamese Fighting Fish. Little E’s teacher explained to me that the Betta is one that thrives in small amount of stagnant water in a warm environment, which makes it the perfect little aquariam fish for small children living in small apartments, who will only need to feed it once daily and change the water weekly (grownups can help clean the tank).

Inspired by this revelation, we took J and Little E on a surprise trip to the local aquarium store and allowed them to each choose a Betta fish to keep! Here they are:

siamese-fighting-fish-tropical-pet

GingerBomb

This is J’s Betta. GingerBomb is a Steel blue Piebald Deltatail. Ginger is a quiet fish who likes to hang out behind his marimo ball, but he comes out to play whenever J comes near the tank (which is why J liked him to begin with).

tropica-fish-siamese-fighting-pet

TataBob

E’s betta is a Red Dragon Deltatail and is called TataBob. He is very flashy and is a little bit of a show off. You can see him posing for the camera in the picture – he held that pose very still for nearly a minute and only wandered off once I’d put the camera away!

I’ll keep you all updated as to their progress!

How to Choose a Rat

Like you said, fancy rats do make great first pets! As a domestic species, fancy rats are comfortable around humans and bond well with their owners. They don’t take up a lot of space and are intelligent enough to learn their names and some basic tricks. As a plus, they’re also fairly easy to litter train, which means that you won’t end up working as hard to keep their cage clean.

The Yin and Yang of Rats

Two rats are better than one. They keep each other company.

If you are planning to keep rats, I highly recommend that you keep at least two of the same gender in the same cage. Rats are colony animals and having more than one means that they don’t need as much human attention, so they’ll adapt easily to your kid’s moods and interests in them. Two rats can easily occupy the same space as a single rat and they’ll share toys, so they don’t require much extra resources to be cared for.

Well, with Turnwise and Widdershins out of the way, Alarum is still very lonely. She’s been demanding my attention for petting and cuddles 24/7 and she’s also taken to squalling and fussing when I won’t let her cuddle up in bed with me at night to sleep. While I like how affectionate she’s become, I do also have to go to work and school, so I went to Newcastle to choose some new cage mates for her. It’ll be hard to find roomies the same age as Alarum is, given her advanced age, so I’ve decided to get two really young ones to keep her company. That way, she can treat them as her own children and they’ll also keep each other busy when Alarum is too tired to deal with them.

With the horror that Turnwise and Widdershins have wrought on Alarum, I’ve learned a valuable lesson:  Never ever buy pet shop rats ever again.  Ever.  I’ve also learned from keeping Nimhe that there are a lot of rat breeders out there with little or no quality control when it comes to health.  Thus, I present to you my handy guide on how to choose a rat for your family.

Firstly, when going to the breeder, or the pet shop, ask about the rat’s age and gender, then ask to be able to handle them.  A breeder should definitely be able to tell you the exact date the rat was born, at least down to the month.  A pet shop owner should at least know the rat’s gender, if nothing else.  If they don’t know the answer to these questions, or won’t allow you to handle the animal at all, they probably have something to hide.

Secondly, check for signs of temperament.  It’s normal for rats to be skittish, but if they’re clawing at you to get away, or if they’re baring their teeth at you, then there’s something wrong with that rat – it’s not human-friendly and might turn feral later.  I learned this the hard way with Turnwise and Widdershins.  They were both somewhat aggressive towards me.  A baby rat should be interested in you and active.  Breeder rats should be especially human-friendly, since a breeder is expected to handle them daily and remove any feral ones.

Thirdly, check for health.  Do you hear wheezing or snuffling?  A little bit of snuffling is all right, but wheezing is definitely NOT okay.  Pay particular attention to the rat’s lungs.  If you put your ear against the rat and hear wheezing, then this may be a sign of a rat that will grow up to have major mycoplasmosis issues.

Finally, check the rat’s weight.  A healthy baby rat should have some meat on dem bones!  The ribcage should definitely not be visible.  You might be able to feel it when holding them, but you should also be able to feel some roundness in the tummy area.  Nimhe was a skinny rat and she later turned out to be very unhealthy.  Some types of rat do end up skinnier than others, though.  Powderpuff rats, for example, can look and feel quite fat even if they’re average sized.

Cessnock engaging in her favourite activity: Napping

Cessnock engaging in her favourite activity: Napping

Fassifern posing nicely for a photo (She was bribed with cookies)

Fassifern posing nicely for a photo (She was bribed with cookies)

Anyway, the two animals that I went to see passed the test on all accounts, so I put them in with Alarum.  She seems pretty happy with them and they’re both extremely sweet and human-friendly.  The new girls are called Cessnock and Fassifern, after some train stations on the Newcastle line.  Cessnock (Cessie), a mink berkshire, is a big crybaby who complains all the time about her life, but she’s also not as excitable and active as her sister.  Fassifern (Fassie) is a boisterous champagne hooded who loves climbing, jumping and running.

Overall, I’m pretty happy to have these girls as new additions to my miniature family.

Introducing Pets to Kids (or the other way round)

rodent-lagomorph-tame-domesticated

J getting to grips with rodents and lagomorphs

Meimei, I gotta say that I am really intrigued by the political situation in your rat cage! I can’t believe that Turnwise and Widdershins tried to stage a coup. I hope poor Alarum is recovering well from this recent assassination attempt.

Now, I have been told that fancy rats like Alarum actually make great first pets, as they are gentle, friendly and much easier to handle and care for than smaller rodents such as hamsters or mice. Rats also bond with their owners in the same way that a dog will so that they can be trained to do simple tricks and will even approach their owners to be cuddled.

J and Little E are still too young to be responsible for the care of a small ratty critter. In any case, I don’t think we have a suitable place for pets in our home anyway. However, this does not stop us from finding opportunities to allow the kids to interact with animals.

I think that it is important for the children to learn how to handle and care for little creatures, as it gives them confidence and a sense of responsibility at a young age. It is also great way for to encourage gentleness and kindness.

We have been very fortunate to be in contact with people who own kid-friendly pets. J has played with mice (at your house), rabbits and guinea pigs (at my in-laws place), and both he and Little E have been in contact with friendly dogs living in our neighbourhood.

At the moment, both J and Little E express a great love for cats – probably because cats are quieter than dogs and appear less intimidating.

J’s current ambition in life is to own a marmalade kitten. He has already decided that he will adopt a kitten from a rescue organisation like the SPCA, instead of direct from a breeder.

My in-laws have a cat, a timid, nervous little black puss named Poppy. They learned to step quietly and talk softly to Poppy, who long-sufferingly allows them to gently stroke and pet her (she normally shies away from children). It was amazing watching my normally loud and active little girl, quietly whispering to a purring cat.

house-cat-black-children-playing

Little E gets up close and personal with Poppy the Cat

The kids also help to feed the fish at their grandparents’ house (you know our dad just loves goldfish and koi). They even assist Ah Kong in changing the tank water, which is nice and messy fun for them.

At school, J helps to feed the rabbits and his classroom even keeps a vivarium with stick insects in it.

When we visit the zoo, I try to encourage them to hold and touch reptiles under the supervision of the keepers. I have no idea what I will do if either of them decide that they want to keep a terrarium of snakes or lizards. Or frogs. Probably smile and nod but scream internally.

I am really looking forward to the day when we can pick out a pet together as a family – but until then, we shall live vicariously through your rat-keeping!

My Miniature Family

As far as I’m concerned, people aren’t meant to live alone in boxes and if you’re single like I am, having a pet is a nice way to have some companionship in your house. Pets are great at listening to your woes and super awesome for cuddling.

I share my bachelor burrow with a pair of super adorable fancy rats, Alarum and Nimhe, so I thought I’d introduce them.

Ooogieboogie cutie poo...

Alarum when she was a baby

Alarum, the cinnamon hooded single rex rat, is the big girl of the cage and is so named because the pattern of her hood forms an exclamation point when she’s stretched out. She was born and bred at Iced Mice Rodentry and comes with her very own pedigree – her parents being champion rats in their own right. Alarum is a fat, fluffy little rat with a cuddly personality reminiscent of a friendly dog. She loves giving kisses and licks, and can sit in my hand for hours “grooming” my fingers.

Alarum is trained to sit on my shoulder and ride when I go out to town. She loves sitting inside the front pocket of my hoodie and getting stroked while she watches the world go by. She’s also a one-time mother, having had a litter of 16 babies.

Nomnomnom yummy!

Nimhe eating her favourite minestrone soup

Nimhe, on the other hand, is a sleek, black silk varigated berkshire rat with pretty, glossy fur. She’s more skittish and energetic than Alarum, so she loves playtime much more. She especially loves leaping onto and off things. Nimhe isn’t shoulder trained like Alarum is and tends to be more shy with strangers. I play with her at home and keep her in the cage most of the time. She’s learned more tricks than Alarum has and spends hours running in the wodent wheel that I bought her.

Sleepytimes is for the tired

Nimhe having a doze

Despite being smaller in size, Nimhe is older and more sickly than Alarum.  She’s also always sneezing and snuffling, something which I need to keep an eye on as most Australian fancy rats have mycoplasmosis, a disease that targets the rat’s lungs.

The relatively small gene pool for rats in Australia means that mycoplasmosis can’t be bred out of the rats, as it’s passed on from mother to baby. While most breeders have managed to at least breed rats that are at least semi-resistant to myco, Nimhe was purchased from a breeder of some ill repute. She’s also the first rat I have ever purchased.  Nimhe’s been very ill lately, so I’m not very sure how much longer she has to live.

So there you have it, my miniature family in Sydney.


Becky’s Addendum:

Since time of writing, Nimhe’s condition worsened to the point where she was no longer interested in food or play. She has since been taken to a vet to be put to sleep. The vet assures me that it was the right time to go. T_T