This article was first published in Rabbiting On, Spring 2017
Author: Emma Boyd
We will all find ourselves having to transport our rabbits at some point or another, be it bringing them home from the rescue on day one, taking them to the vet for health checks or to their holiday boarding. These journeys are usually relatively short and straightforward, however some journeys can be far more nerve wracking, such as travelling further afield for a vet referral appointment or even moving home or relocating. It’s these journeys that can be extremely stressful for all involved. Hopefully we can minimise anxiety levels for both ourselves and our rabbits by being prepared and planning ahead.
Every rabbit is an individual
It is not easy to know how a rabbit will cope when travelling; some can be fine and others can become very upset and worried, even with the shortest of journeys.
A good way to minimise disruption is to use a suitable pet carrier. Large cat carriers with a top opening are the best; ones with plastic sides are better as they are darker and can stop the rabbits feeling exposed. If a full wire type carrier is being used, then covering half of it with a large towel is recommended. The carrier must be large enough to house both rabbits comfortably enough that they can lie down side by side together. Rabbits must never travel alone. Line the carrier with newspaper first then a towel or vet bed and place some soft hay on top (do not over fill as this may impede air flow).
This should stop the rabbits sliding around and potentially they can have a munch if the notion takes them! Some owners prefer to use cages, especially when travelling a longer distance, but these should be avoided as rabbits can be thrown whilst driving. Smaller confined spaces should make them feel safer and provide more protection.
Use the car seatbelt to secure the carrier in place, placing the carrier lengthways if possible, so that rabbits are not thrown forward into the carrier door if the brakes are suddenly applied. If the car has front passenger airbags then it may be safer to strap the carrier in the back seat; this also keeps them away from the blowing air fans on the dashboard.
In summer months avoid travelling in the heat of the day if at all possible. If the car is hotter than normal then placing cool/damp pieces of veg in the carrier along with the rabbits is a good idea. Long pulled grass in the summer is also nice and keeps them hydrated if eaten. In very hot weather a small bottle of frozen water or ice pod/freezer blocks can be placed under the towel/vet bed for the rabbits to lay alongside or on top of, and in the winter a Snugglesafe or heat sack could be used in the same way. It would be especially important to keep a poorly rabbit warm, or ones who live indoors. Care must be taken to ensure the rabbits aren’t in direct contact with and can move away from the heat or cold source.
It is unlikely a rabbit would drink while the vehicle was in motion but a bottle could also be fixed to the carrier if needs be. However, care should be taken to ensure that it does not leak and flood the carrier. If the journey is long then stopping every few hours to allow the rabbit to drink and eat is important. They will usually only do this when the vehicle stops moving and the engine is turned off, so regular comfort breaks should be anticipated.
[purplebox]Top tips for minimising stress and safe travelling
1 Always keep bonded pairs together
2 A cclimatise the rabbits to the carrier before travelling, so they are familiar with it
3 In the summer months, if possible, travel in the cooler times of the day
4 Ensure that the pet carrier is well secured in the car
5 If the carrier is fully open, cover part of the carrier to help the rabbits feel more secure
6 Provide something to eat inside the carrier such as hay or vegetables, and always give the rabbits something to sit on to prevent sliding
7 Keep noise (such as radios) and disruption in the car to an absolute minimum for the length of the journey
8 Plan ahead, know where to stop off if needed [/purplebox]
If you are very concerned about a long journey or relocation, then one thing which would be imperative would be to get the rabbits acclimatised to their carrier, especially important if it’s an airline carrier or similar and something which they have never been in before.
Leave the carrier in the rabbits’ enclosure for as long as possible. Feed them in the carrier, especially special treats, fill it with hay and make it inviting. Hopefully by the time they have to use it, it will be far less scary and getting them into the carrier will be as stress-free as it can be. There are products on the market such as Rescue Remedy (the non alcohol version is safe for pets) and Pet Remedy. Pet Remedy is a natural de-stress and calming treatment which can help with travelling. Apart from being a natural option, a great advantage of spraying Pet Remedy on the rabbits’ towel or vet bed in the pet carrier is that it starts to help within minutes. This is because the low concentration valerian based
formulation works with the rabbit’s own natural calming mechanisms by mimicking GABA (a natural calming agent present in all mammals). So when a pet becomes stressed or anxious the Pet Remedy helps trick the fired-up nerve cells into thinking they are getting a message from the brain to calm. Pet Remedy is available from the RWAF and also online at: www.petremedy.co.uk.