This is a very difficult post to write - that's why I've put it off for a while.
Our little French Angora bunny, Mr. Hodge, died a couple of weeks ago.
The night before I'd caught him and put him in the chicken house (like usual). He seemed to be just fine. I kissed his head and set him down in the hay, and after evening chores, came in and told Marmy that "it was like a storybook putting the animals away... all of the young hens were already in the house bedding down for the night and peeping sweetly; I put Mr. Hodge down, and he just snuggled down and went to sleep."
|Me and Mr. Hodge|
I didn't realize just how attached I was to the little bunny until that point. I even cried. I haven't cried about an animal dying since my younger sister's dog died several years ago -- and that was more out of pity for my sister.
I immediately went on a hunt for the reason. He had enough water. He wasn't hen pecked or anything awful. He wasn't bloated and he didn't look diseased (though, I admit, at the time I knew next to nothing about rabbit disease). He had plenty of pellets and water available to him. It was warm, but not that warm... our rabbits hadn't ever struggled with the heat in the past - especially as low as the 90s!
Could it possibly be his breed? We'd never had an "Angora" rabbit before. His fur did seem a little long to do well in South East Texas heat and humidity. But my brother had purchased him from a local feed store and they never said anything about him needing special care.
I was assured by my dear mother that it wasn't my fault. But I had a sneaking suspicion that there was something, something wrong. I felt sick to my stomach - he was currently my responsibility and I knew that somehow I neglected his care.
So, then, I began to research... and I discovered:
5 Things NOT to Do with Your Pet Angora Rabbit
#1 - Don't think "it's just another rabbit".
We like to buy a rabbit or two in the Spring. We've lost every one of our rabbits to one extraordinary thing or another. Our first two were released when we had to evacuate during a hurricane. Another one got loose and ran away and his brother stopped eating or allowing us to hold him shortly thereafter - we think he died of loneliness. The rabbit right before Mr. Hodge was chased and killed by a visiting dog who went into instinct mode before his owner could stop him.
But our rabbits have never died mysteriously (except for the one whose brother ran away) and have always seemed to do well on a diet of rabbit pellets from the local feed store and a regular hutch under the shade of a tree.
All of our previous rabbits were meat breeds. We didn't raise them for that purpose - we just enjoyed having them as pets and using their compost in the garden. But these short-haired, big-eared, easy-to-find-hares seemed to do just peachy in our little yard on the coast of south east Texas.
Angora rabbits have been bred for a specific purpose: to produce Angora Wool.
Softer than cashmere, seven times warmer than sheep wool and arguably able to retain dye colors longer than any other fiber known, Angora Wool is a fiber sought after by spinners and yarn artists for it's significantly high quality and notable halo. I was researching Etsy, and I found that 1 oz. of this fluffy white shedding can cost a pretty penny. A skein of hand spun white Angora yarn was listed for $57!
The Angora rabbits that produce thick and unbelievably fluffy coats of this beautiful wool require a lot of special care.
#2 - Don't expose him to Texas heat.
We don't typically worry about our rabbits in the heat until we start bumping the 100s. Then we take measures like providing frozen water bottles and making sure the hutch is in full shade and positioned carefully to take the most advantage of coastal winds. When blustering temperatures begin threatening to reach 110°, we bring them into laundry room or bathroom.
However, Angora rabbits are particularly susceptible to heat. Angoras, as internal heat producers, are happiest when kept in temperatures around 65°. I was researching and read that they can be negatively affected by "extreme heat". I clicked the link and learned that Angora rabbits can easily die if the temperatures reach a mere 92°. If I wasn't so horrified, I would have laughed. 92° is nothing for our area -- considered "cooler temperatures" in the dead of Summer. I checked archived weather reports for the week Mr. Hodge died -- 93°, both the morning I found him and the day before.
I felt awful. My poor bunny probably died of heat exhaustion. With a coat seven times warmer than sheep wool, he was probably miserable.
#3 - Don't be ignorant of potentially fatal diseases.
Another possible cause of Mr. Hodge's death was Wool Block, the No. 1 Killer in Angora Rabbits. Bunnies groom themselves like a cat - they lick their coats. Naturally, they end up ingesting the loose fur. Unlike cats, however, rabbits do not have the ability to regurgitate hairballs. Therefore, they can develop a condition known as Wool Block.
It's highly possible that Mr. Hodge died from Wool Block. I remember noticing, without too much concern, that the level of water in his bottle never seemed to go down and his pellets were often half-eaten. I even tried to feed him some treats from the garden a couple of times and he didn't gobble them up like I was expecting. I don't know why that didn't alarm me - I'd supposed he was getting enough nutrition from grazing, I guess.
Another important way to monitor your Angora's health and stay alert for symptoms of Wool Block is to begin "Marble Watching". Betty Chu says --
"Droppings tell you the condition of the rabbit's health. Watching these marbles is another task for a conscientious breeder. If the droppings are round, moist, dark-brown and evenly large, the rabbit is in good health. If the droppings start to look like a "necklace", droppings being connected by strings of wool, you should pay more attention to the rabbit. If he is still eating the normal amount of feed and drinking normal amount of water, he probably is still healthy. If not, he may be blocked. If the droppings start to be of uneven size, some big and some small, irregularly shaped, with light color and a dry look, this is a sign of wool in the system. If the rabbit is not eating well, that provides further evidence he is blocked. If the rabbit stops eating, excretes few droppings, and these droppings look oily and gluey or totally dry, he may be near the end of the rope."I wasn't monitoring Mr. Hodge's droppings at all. While he did seem to lose his appetite toward the end of his short life, I cannot be sure that he was suffering from Wool Block. But it's possible. It also may have been a compounded problem: if wasn't drinking water because of the Wool Block, then he would have been even more susceptible to our heat.
Other important diseases to research before purchasing your own Angora include:
- Ear Mites
- Myxomatosis (carried by mosquitoes & rabbit fleas)
- Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (calicivirus - a viral infection)
- Snuffles (pasteurella multocida - a respiratory infection)
- Coccidiosis (a parasite in the liver or intestine)
- Enteritis (a potentially fatal condition caused by extreme diet changes)
- Fly Strike (dirty tail-areas attract flies, which lay eggs, which hatch maggots, which burrow into the rabbit's tissues - awful, I know)
We had Mr. Hodge for several weeks and didn't groom him once. We didn't know that it was important - even recommended! Isn't that terrible?
Proper grooming is crucial to preventing Wool Block in Angoras, especially when they're molting. Mr. Hodge was probably molting - or getting close. Every time I'd hold him, he always left hairy evidence behind. When I'd run my fingers through his coat, I could easily pull out largish patches of fur.
Breeders and raisers recommend grooming your pet Angora regularly - even daily - to prevent loose wool from staying caught in their coat. When rabbits bathe themselves, they end up ingesting what they've shed; just imagine what that means for a fluffy, long-haired Angora! It is for this reason that Angora rabbits are particularly susceptible to Wool Block.
This is quite a commitment - but one that an Angora owner must take seriously. (sad sigh)
|a soft slicker brush (hard slicker brushes pull out more hair than necessary)|
|a flea comb|
|an apron (to keep your clothes from getting hairy!)|
|sharp round-tip scissors (to avoid nicking bunny's very thin skin!)|
|optional: a hair dryer (some who show their's invest in expensive pet blowers!)|
- Don your apron and catch your bunny.
- Some people begin grooming by blowing the loose hairs from their bunny's fur. There are fancy-smancy expensive "pet blowers" out there - but often people substitute such a gizmo with a hair dryer set to LOW. You don't want to dry out the bunny's skin and cause dander! Those who show their rabbits choose to blow the loose fur out before grooming so their rabbit will lose less fur during the grooming process. Angoras with denser fur usually receive a higher grade.
- It's time to brush! Speak calmly and sweetly to him as you cradle him like a baby, exposing his belly.
- Groom his belly and hind legs with the soft slicker brush.
- If the fur is matted:
- Hold the clump at the base of the skin. Rabbit skin is very thin and surprisingly easy to damage.
- Snip into the mat very carefully with your, holding the scissors pointed away from your bunny to avoid injury.
- Try to gently pull apart the tangled mess with your hands.
- Hold the clump at the base of the skin again, and comb out what you can with the flea comb.
- As long hairs are being combed out at the base, you can carefully clip them.
- Continue to repeat the above steps until the mat is thin enough to be cut out completely.
- If the mat is too close to the skin to make a safe cut - WAIT for it to grow out some. Remember, if you nick the rabbit's thin, elastic skin, it will expand and create a larger wound.
- Lay him down on your lap, belly up, and tuck his ears gently between your knees.
- Groom his chest, front legs, neck and face with the soft slicker brush.
- Use the flea comb to groom his cheeks.
- Finish by setting him belly-down on your lap and grooming his sides and back.
Has your rabbit begun to loose large amounts of wool in the brush? This is an indication of molting. An Angora Rabbit will molt (shed his coat) three times a year -- that's every four months. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For instance, German Angoras do not molt.
So, what do you do with a molting Angora? Depends:
- Do you want to harvest the wool either for personal use or to sell to fiber artists? Or,
- Do you just want to make your pet Angora comfortable... and dispose of all of the loose wool before it disposes of itself -- all over the house?!
Some people keep Angora rabbits as house pets because of their sweet docile nature, and they don't care to commit to the intensive grooming one must do in order to keep the coat clean and mat free for harvesting.
In an effort to reduce shedding and the risk of Wool Block, many times they will keep their pet Angora rabbit's coat clipped short.
This also keeps the rabbit cool, clean and comfortable while keeping grooming time minimal.
Click here to learn helpful tips on how to simply shear your Angora rabbit when you're not interested in preserving wool quality for harvesting.
However, unless I suspect any of my future Angoras are struggling with Wool Block, I don't think I'll ever employ the shearing method.
If I ever adopt another Angora, I will do so in hopes of harvesting his wool. Premium Grade Angora Fiber has very specific attributes that make it... well... Premium. One is that the hairs are of similar length. If you shear your Angora rabbit, the wool will be composed of hairs of odd lengths.
Properly Harvesting Premium Grade Angora Fiber:
- Premium Grade Angora Fiber is harvested from the back and sides of the rabbit where the fur is consistently 4 - 8" long.
- During regular grooming sessions, I'm pretty sure you can harvest the fur on the brush from these areas and store them neatly.
- During the molt, some will brush and gently pluck the fur from the rabbit. It doesn't hurt the rabbit at all -- it just helps the rabbit shed faster. CAUTION: Only some breeds of Angora rabbits can be plucked. For instance, German Angoras have been bred not to molt. Therefore, to try to pluck your German Angora's wool could be very painful for him. Before you attempt to pluck, make sure to research your breed -- and make sure your bunny is actually molting!
- It's important to note that Premium Grade Angora Fiber is mat free.
There are more factors to insuring a harvest of Premium Grade wool, but these are the basics of proper grooming.
#5 - Don't just feed him pellets.
The routine has always been to run down to the local feed store and grab the first sack that had a picture of a rabbit on it. Feeding the rabbits was just a matter of making sure that the metal feeder didn't go empty and the little crock didn't go dry. Every once in a while we'd toss in some green stuff, replenish the hay with a bale of who-knows-what from the feed store and let the bunny take a little run around the yard.
Turns out, Angora's have special needs in this area too. In fact, I've read numerous times that diet is the most crucial factor of maintaining good health in your Angora rabbit.
Of course, I was immediately concerned upon reading this. Another way I failed in my care for Mr. Hodge. So, I went on a hunt for "THE Recommended French Angora Diet".
Turns out, it's not that simple. Breeders, owners and vets all have different ideas of what regimen is best for Angora Bunny health. But they all seem to have a united opinion on this point: pellets alone are not enough to support good digestive health.
Which means this -- feeding your Angora Rabbit only pellets increases his chances for developing Wool Block.
Strike one hundred and three.
Here's how it works. Commercial pellets do not have enough of the fiber roughage needed to help push any wool through the digestive system. The wool collects over a period of time and just forms a big ball. When water is ingested, the pellets swell and trap the wool in the stomach -- Wool Block. A diet of pellets MUST be supplemented with a significant amount of fiber roughage to keep things moving.
Breeders, raisers and vets unanimously recommend that your Angora rabbit must be fed quality hay -- and lots of it! So, what is "quality hay"?
I've done a lot of reading, and I've consistently come across these names:
- Timothy Hay - Many people recommend this hay and use it exclusively. It is high in fiber and of superior quality. It also seems to be a bit pricey as well. I've read that the 2nd cutting is sweeter, more tender and definitely preferred by the pickier bunnies, but that it is also lower in fiber. Many people chose to feed it to their picky rabbits with the idea that "a little fiber is better than no fiber".
- Alfalfa Hay - While this hay doesn't provide all the fiber Angoras need, it is very high in protein, a benefit that some owners claim promotes long and lustrous fur growth. However, I've seen the use of this hay disputed. Some use alfalfa hay exclusively. Some only feed alfalfa hay to young or pregnant bunnies who benefit from the extra calcium and calories. Others use only sparingly (or not at all) for various reasons.
- Oat hay & Grass hay - These hays provide the roughage needed to help prevent Wool Block.
An Angora's access to hay should be unlimited. But this can pose a problem for fiber artists - one qualification of Premium Grade Angora Fiber is that it doesn't contain any "Vegetable Matter" (VM). Some fiber sellers claim that traces of "VM" is inevitable -- the wool is sourced from an animal.
Solutions to this problem include daily grooming to insure any VM is promptly removed, as well as keeping the hay off the floor of the hutch. Budget Bunny has a very frugal DIY tutorial for making your own hay keeper.
|There are plenty of products designed to keep the hay nice and tidy...|
What about rabbit pellets?
I've read a wide variety of opinions. Pellets are included in most preferred diets for Angoras because it is a source of trace nutrients, vitamins and minerals that may not be provided with just a diet of hay and greens. Some owners are adamant about not buying commercial pellets. Some warn you to make sure that it's Timothy Hay based and not Alfalfa based. Others just recommend going to the local feed store and purchasing a feed sack with 18% protein rabbit pellets.
Then there's the question of how much? It depends on the breed and age. Most people recommend 3/4 - 1 cup of pellets daily for French Angoras older than 6 months. Younger bunnies can be given unlimited pellets to support their formative growth. However, feeding an adult Angora unlimited pellets can cause problems such as obesity, as well as a loss of appetite for the hay that is so crucial to preventing Wool Block.
Dana Krempels, PhD., who seemed to lean more toward doing things as naturally as possible, recommended a unique diet for rabbits. While not specifically focused on Angoras, she argues that rabbits only need 1/8 cup of pellets for every 5lbs. of bunny. In addition to this, she recommends feeding adult rabbits at least four heaping cups of fresh veggies every day. She says:
You may have heard it from a breeder, pet store owner, or even a veterinarian who is not as familiar with recent rabbit health information as one might hope: Fresh vegetables will give your rabbit "diarrhea." Nothing could be further from the truth than this old myth. In fact, fresh greens help keep intestinal contents hydrated, which makes them easier for the bunny to pass. Trace nutrients, fiber, and just plain old tastiness are other benefits of fresh greens. After all, what do you suppose wild rabbits eat?
Fresh, moist greens are about as important as hay in maintaining a healthy intestine. Try broccoli, dark leaf lettuces, kale, parsley, carrots (with tops!), endive, escarole, dill, basil, mint, cilantro, culantro, spinach, tomato, celery (cut up into 1" pieces, to avoid problems with the tough strings getting stuck on the molars!). Almost any green, leafy vegetable that's good for you (including fresh-grown garden herbs such as tarragon and various mints, with the exception of Pennyroyal) are good for a rabbit.As confident as she seems, I would still balance this recommendation with multiple sites I've read which testify that some rabbits react adversely to too many greens in their diet. Research and introduce this regimen gradually. I will probably do something similar for my future rabbits.
Betty Chu has her own nutritious feed recipe designed to help prevent Wool Block:
~ 4 parts of l7% - l8% protein rabbit pellets,
~ l part of Calf-Manna + barley + milo + wheat + sunflower seed with shell,
~ l part of whole oats,
~ l part of 14% textured horse feed or sweet feed if your can find good fresh supply, otherwise skip.
I feed each rabbit l/3 cup of the above mixture in the morning and l/3 cup in the evening.Betty Chu also treats her bunnies to wild bird seed (yep - the stuff you can buy in Walmart!) occasionally to help their digestive health.
One owner recommends implementing a "Nuts & Berries Day" into your weekly feeding routine in order to help cleanse the digestive tract. The idea is to take the bunny off of pellets one day a week and only feed him hay and foraged food such as herbs, oak leaves, apple twigs, seeds and weeds. You may want to visit The House Rabbit Society's list of common plants that are toxic to rabbits before foraging.
Another common myth is that rabbits should primarily eat carrots.
But this isn't the case. Carrots should be given as a treat, just like other fruits and roots that have a high sugar content.
As you can see, diet can be crucial to preventing Wool Block. It is unanimously recommended that owners feed on a routine so they can watch to see whether their rabbit is eating. Loss of appetite is a sign and symptom of the dreaded Wool Block, and catching it early can mean life or death for your bunny.
Three more ways to prevent Wool Block with a good diet:
- As before mentioned, hay is crucial to preventing Wool Block. If your rabbit is not eating enough hay, owners recommend going the "tough love" route -- take away all other sources of food until he starts eating enough hay.
- Make sure your rabbit has unlimited access to water. Some people use traditional water bottles - others use automatic watering systems or crocks. Proper hydration is another key to Wool Block prevention. Purchasing a salt lick will encourage your bunny to drink more water. Also, consider serving greens wet for added water consumption.
- I've repeatedly read that dandelions are excellent for preventing Wool Block. Go out to a field and harvest some for your rabbit. One owner has a "Fresh Feed Pasture"; she dries and stores plenty of dandelion for off-season feeding.
A diligent homesteader will understand that we have been given stewardship of God's creation - not to expend merely for short term gain, slothful neglect or selfish luxury.
We are warned:
"He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster."
We are commanded:
"Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds."
We must understand:
"A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."
We must respect:
"Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn"
I do not worship the creation... While I definitely regret his necessarily premature death, I do not grieve Mr. Hodge like I would the passing of one created in the image of God. But I do take seriously my responsibility to be a good steward of God's creation. We must use our backyard barnyard animals to further God's Kingdom -- and sometimes that means serving them to a hungry family for dinner.
Even so, we should have a Biblical Worldview of our animals and be sure to diligently understand, monitor, regard, and reward the creatures in our care -- because God commands it.
So, it is with these thoughts, that I consider purchasing another French Angora bunny. With my parents' permission, I would like to raise him (or her) indoors, groom him frequently, watch him carefully and provide him an extra special diet. I would harvest his wool and either invest in a spinner or sell the fiber online to help support his expenses.
I enjoy the idea of specifically having an indoor Angora rabbit because they do not usually cause allergies like other pets - which is great because I have issues with that. They're also sweet, docile, and supposedly easy to house train. I could toss his litter box refuse in the compost. The more I consider it, the more I desire to bring home another fluffy friend.
I'd name him (or her) Mahiyr. It's a Biblical Hebrew word that means "diligent". It also sounds alot like a Hebrew name which means "enlightened".
Pretty neat, huh?
I'll miss Mr. Hodge a bunch - and I know I've learned a good many lessons from this. I hope one day I'll have a chance to raise a French Angora into his twelfth year - providing him a happy and comfortable life.
So, what do you think?
What kind of rabbit do you have, and how do you care for him?
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