HEMLOCK, N.Y. — She may be only a 10-year-old going into fifth grade, but Raelyn Guldenschuh of Nunda, New York, is pretty much a rabbit-raising pro. She received an “Excellent” ribbon at the recent Hemlock “Little World’s” Fair, held July 16-20 in Hemlock, N.Y., along with recognition as grand champion showman in the rabbit show. Guldenschuh proudly displayed the ribbons on the cage that housed her prize-winning bunny at the event.
The youngster said that her grandfather, Brian Wood, also from Nunda, purchased her first rabbit for her a few years ago because, she said, “I want to be a vet and I wanted to practice handling animals like rabbits to get used to them.”
Guldenschuh had much to learn about rabbit care at first. Her membership in 4-H helped her out a lot. Many people in the pet industry don’t consider rabbits as starter pets. But, rabbits require much more handling and human interaction than cats to become tame and resist biting.
“You have to hold them and pet them every day,” Guldenschuh said.
She has learned a lot about rabbit behavior and care.
Though they don’t scratch as a defense mechanism like felines, rabbits can inadvertently scratch with their toenails while squirming, if frightened. They instinctively dig when startled, even if it’s on a handler’s lap.
Guldenschuh recommends that about once a month, most rabbits need their toenails trimmed. So, she said, they need to become acclimated to handling so their owners can snip their toenails short enough without cutting the quick of the nail. That can cause pain and bleeding.
They also need their ears wiped out, fur brushed, and eyes, nose, tails and ears checked for parasites or other problems. Owners should also check the pads of their rabbits’ feet and their teeth periodically for any issues.
Rabbits don’t easily housetrain like dogs, she said, and usually live in hutches to contain their waste and limit what they can chew. Since their teeth continually grow, they must constantly chew, whether it’s a safe rabbit toy or the cord to the lamp.
As playful creatures, rabbits like to tip over their feeding dishes. That’s why Guldenschuh suggests using a heavy-bottomed dish that’s tip-resistant. Rabbits also need a water bottle, bedding such as straw or wood chips, and grooming tools.
Guldenschuh recommends feeding hay, rabbit pellets and, for treats, apples or bananas.
Like most animals, rabbits need fresh water daily and their cages cleaned. They’re not concerned about burying their waste, like cats with a litter pan or in loose soil.
After a cage cleaning, Guldenschuh recommends a bunny treat as a reward.
She said that “if taken care of properly, rabbits can live up to 15 years.”
It took more than learning about rabbit care and handling to win at the Hemlock Fair. Guldenschuh also had to learn rabbit facts and remember them under pressure. She said the judge asked what she knew about rabbits during the showmanship portion of the show.
“I told (the judge) about things like, ‘You have to check for mites in their ears and eyes,’” Guldenschuh said. “’You also have to check for blindness if they’re really old or going through an illness.’”
She said that approaching the animal from the side with a finger near its eye will cause it to blink, indicating its vision is fine. Rabbits can easily resist blinking and moving their eyes for a long time if nervous.
She said that taking precautions such as these with her rabbit has helped keep him healthy. He is a mixed-breed bunny named Sven, named for the reindeer in Disney’s “Frozen” movie, since the animal shares a similar brown coat color.
Guldenschuh also had to learn how to show her rabbit. In the show ring, the judge typically flips over each rabbit to expose the belly. Like many animals, rabbits instinctively dislike this vulnerable position, since it exposes their tender belly and vital organs.
“You want to practice a lot so he’s not fighting the judge,” Guldenschuh said. “If you can flip it, the rabbit can get comfortable with it. The rabbit needs to know you won’t hurt it or the judge won’t hurt it.”
She recommends that beginning rabbit handlers use leather gloves when they start training their rabbits for flipping. The maneuver involves folding back the ears into their natural lowered position against the head, grasping the scruff of its neck and ears in one hand and then quickly turning the animal belly up. The handler should support the rabbit’s back and hindquarters and not let the animal dangle in midair.
The handler can then stroke the rabbit with one finger just above and between the eyes in a small circle as a calming mechanism. Once the rabbit is still and no longer squirming, return it to the normal position and offer a small treat formulated for rabbits.
Guldenschuh said it’s a mistake to flip the rabbit to its regular tummy-down position while it’s still panicking and trying to bite. Giving in to that instinct “trains” it to fight to get what it wants, she said. That is definitely not good behavior to exhibit in the show ring.
Guldenschuh said that she enjoys spending time caring for and training Sven, as well as singing in the chorus at Keshequa Central School. She also keeps busy “working on vehicles and fixing stuff” with her father, Edward Guldenschuh, or camping and going to fairs with her mother, Rochelle Guldenschuh.