Interview with Ashleigh (Vet Student and Bunny Mom)

Tell us about yourself, when did you start your love for animals and decided you want to be a vet?

I’m the stereotypical vet student in that I have always dreamed of working with animals, since before I can remember. That was cemented by a love of medicine and science, and confirmed when I started job-shadowing about 5 years ago.


What is the name of your bunnies and tell us about their personalities?

I currently have 4 bunnies: Benjy, Sirius, Dobby and Luna.

I handreared Benjy and Sirius after they were both found on the street in 2019; Benjy from about 2 weeks of age and Sirius from about 4 weeks old. Benjy is very affectionate towards me, but is typically quite highly strung and temperamental. Sirius is very laid back, and can flop just about anywhere (but is known to spontaneously burst into thumping fits).

Dobby and Luna were both confiscated from horrible conditions by the NSPCA. When they arrived in July 2020, they were emaciated and covered in mites. They have subsequently gained over 500g each, been spayed and neutered, and were successfully bonded with my original bunnies. Dobby is very friendly and affectionate, especially towards the other bunnies, and usually leads their grooming sessions. Luna is friendly and curious towards humans, but has a dominant personality and took a while to accept Benjy and Sirius.

What is the best advice you would give for bunny owners?

Spay and neuter your bunnies! It may sound like a cliché but it soimportant, for their health and well-being, and for your own sake. Sterilised bunnies are more placid, better behaved, less destructive, less aggressive and easier to litter train. What’s more, unspayed does have up to an 80% chance of getting uterine cancer before the age of 3 years, which is fatal if left untreated. Depending on their size and breed bunnies can start breeding at 4-6 months old, so it is essential to spay, neuter, or at least separate bunnies of the opposite sex before this to avoid unwanted litters.


You work at JHB wildlife vet, what is the thing about wild animals most people don’t realise?

Most people don’t realise just how many wild species naturally occur in urban areas – from genets, porcupines, dassies and monkeys to monitor lizards and raptors. Unless they are obviously injured, most of these just need to be left alone. We get hundreds of calls about “abandoned” young wildlife which are not true orphans; for example, birds will naturally leave the nest at a certain age (when they “fledge”), but the parents will continue to support feed them every now and then throughout the day. The best thing to do for these cases is to leave the parents to do their job, and keep any cats and dogs inside for a couple of days until the bird can fly well enough to escape danger.

Another question we often get asked is what to feed wildlife that people have picked up. However, most of the time, this does more harm than good. Compromised animals are usually very dehydrated, and not in the correct physiological state to receive food; feeding during this time can result in electrolyte imbalances, gut stasis, and many other problems. Additionally, handfeeding animals without special training often leads to aspiration (where the food or fluids enter the animals lungs), usually resulting in death. Overhandling of certain species can also lead to extreme stress which can be fatal. Rather keep the animal in a warm, dark, quiet space until it can be assessed by either a vet or a wildlife rehabilitator.

If you come across a wild animal in need of help, you can contact the Johannesburg Wildlife Vet on 071 248 1514.


How does wild rabbit vs domestic bunny differ in your opinion?

The main difference is related to stress. Although domestic bunnies are still prey animals and are easily spooked, over 200 years of domestication has selected for much tamer bunnies which are much easier to handle than their wild counterparts. Wild rabbits and hares will never become truly tame, even if hand-reared, and often die of stress from overhandling (or simply from being kept captive).


You hand raise baby bunnies when they have no mother to give them milk, what is the most important thing people must know when they come across a baby bunny in need?

It is essential to first determine whether the baby is truly in need of being handreared. Does will only feed their kits once or twice a day, usually in the early hours of the morning, for less than a minute at a time. It is almost impossible to determine by observation alone if the mother is feeding her kits; rather check the kits for signs of hunger and dehydration. Kits which have not been fed will often vocalise loudly, and their skin will appear very wrinkled. Removal of the kits to be handreared should always be done as a last resort, under the guidance of someone with experience handraising baby bunnies.


What is your favourite thing about bunnies?

That’s a tricky one, as there are so many things I love about them! I think I would have to choose their quirky, individual personalities. No two bunnies are the same, and no two days with bunnies are the same!

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