The Variable Cost of Rabbit Supplies

Sometimes I feel like a chump when people are shocked by how much money I spend on the rabbit. When it’s a non-rabbit person, I brush it off: they just don’t understand. But when it’s a rabbit person, I start to squirm.

There was a poster making the Facebook rounds a few weeks ago, quoting the ASPCA as saying rabbits are the most expensive pet to keep at $730 a year. Although many people shared a similar reaction (shock), half believed $730 to be shockingly low, while the other half believed the opposite.

I’m in the latter camp. Awhile ago, I made a calculator for people to figure their rabbit costs (the default prices are just examples, and can be replaced with your own figures). Based on the actual prices I pay, my annual costs (including a physical exam from the vet and urine testing), are $1,400 — almost twice as much as the ASPCA’s $730. That assumes a healthy, young, indoors rabbit (because older rabbits may need blood testing and more frequent vet visits; and an outdoors rabbit needs feces testing for parasites).

So, where are people cutting their costs?

I think it’s largely a rural/urban issue. If you can buy your hay and pellets at the local feed store in bulk, grow your own greens, and your vet isn’t passing along the cost of a city-priced rent/mortgage to you, surely you can save-save-save! (But, here’s a question: do the folks who live in these situations count the cost of gas and car insurance in with their bunny costs? Eh?)

Well, there’s not much I can do about those things. I don’t have a car to pick up hay direct from the farm; and even if I did (or if I wanted to use an AutoShare car), I have no place to store the stuff. My junior one bedroom flat is stuffed to the brim as it is. I have no land to grow anything, and I don’t think a window box would save me much in the long run (if anything).

But there’s also the question of litter. This is something I could do something about. I use Carefresh, but I could use something less expensive, like wood stove pellets, newspaper, or aspen shavings.

Call me finicky, but I don’t want to sacrifice absorption. I’ve seen what a litter box of wood stove pellets looks like: wet. And I can imagine a box of newspaper or aspen shavings is no different. If this doesn’t bother you, more power to you: but it just doesn’t work for me.

So, my plan is to try mixing. Carefresh with aspen shavings is the first experiment. Annoyingly (or amusingly), the bag of aspen shavings I got at one of my local pet supply stores works out to very minimal savings in comparison to Carefresh. But, whatever: maybe I can find a cheaper bag elsewhere — I decide to try it out anyway.

The results? A wet litter box. Always the bottom of the box is wet now, so in addition to scooping I have to get out the paper towel and spot clean. (Leaving urine in the box is neither healthy for humans nor for buns, because of the ammonia.) I’m not impressed.

Next I’ll try mixing with Boxo and, after that, mixing with wood stove pellets. To be honest, my expectations aren’t high.

So, are bunnies expensive? When you get down to the nitty-gritty, you can see it varies widely.

The question is, when we’re talking advocacy and promotion, who do we cater to? Is it best to assume low costs for the sake of maximising appeal, yet risking a nasty surprise for city folk and possible returned/abandoned bunnies as a result? Or is it better to assume high costs so that any surprise down the road will be a happy one, yet risking the possibility that some people will be turned off by the high sticker price (even though it may not apply to them), with the result of fewer adoptions.

Personally, I’d rather opt for fewer adoptions and fewer returns, but I may feel differently if I worked in a shelter or ran a rescue operation. As with all things rabbit, it would be nice to see some numbers…

How to Eat Hay

Yesterday my first order of Bourne Free hay arrived. Here’s some of pictures of Chance digging in:

two pictures of a black and white rabbit eating hay in a big litter box

I’m so excited about this hay! Not only is it local, but it’s a grass mix — in addition to the usual suspects (timothy and orchard grass), it includes some pretty wild stuff, like fescue, ryegrass, bluegrass, brome, and reed canary. Hooray for diversity! Fun for me and, as you can see, fun for buns.

The problem with Bourne Free is it’s not widely available. Some Bulk Barns sell it, but none near me. (And, sadly, I heard that some Bulk Barns store theirs in the window, which lowers quality and invites mould growth.) I got mine from the Rabbit Rescue store. This batch is a touch on the yellow side, but very low dust and the smell is sweet and fresh. And it’s so soft! My guess is it’s a second cutting. I also have a very woody batch of timothy from Oxbow, and some orchard grass from American Pet Diner (also featured in the picture above — it’s the greener stuff on the left), so I’m providing a wide variety right now.

Chance wasn’t a huge hay eater when he arrived with us, and I used to find a cecotrope or two almost every day (not a great sign of digestive health). So I made a few small changes, and now he eats more hay, drinks more water, and no more cecotropes! Hay is a great way to encourage health and well-being in your bunny, and to avoid many common health problems. If your bunny doesn’t eat much hay, try the following:

  • I offer more than one pile of hay: his condo always has at least two, one on each floor; and, when he’s out, there’s another pile out in the room somewhere. His old cage had only enough room for one pile.
  • I offer more than one variety of hay: after all, who wants to eat the same thing day in, day out? Even the same type of grass can taste different when it comes from different brands/farms, and this can be enough to entice your bunny to graze.
  • I stuff hay inside some cardboard rolls and make a toy out of it. My latest creation is a hanging feeder: I strung a few rolls together using timothy twists (a product I found at the pet store; you could also use willow twigs) and hung them from the condo ceiling. Now Chance can graze and play at the same time!
  • Over a month’s time, I changed Chance’s pellets from a seed-grain-veg mix, to a plain (extruded) variety (Oxbow BBT). I also reduced his portion size by a teaspoon or so (now he eats slightly less than a quarter cup), and I reduced his treat portion (including carrots) to no more than a bite or two per day. Because his belly is less full of carbs (sugars, starches), he’s more hungry for hay!
  • And, of course, put some hay in the litter box (or in a feeder right above). As gross as it sounds, rabbits love to graze and defecate. Luckily, Chance came with hay in his litter box, so he was already benefitting from this tactic!