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Homemade Rabbit Leash & Harness

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Most bunnies are too small, and too prone to dig, to securely inhabit a typical fenced backyard. To bond with your bunny in the great outdoors, you could use a leash and harness -- but never a collar. Even with a harness and leash, you'll need to be knowledgeable and careful.

Do Not Use a Collar

Never use a collar on your rabbit. A collar can easily slip off, strangle your bunny or damage her delicate neck in various ways. But a harness -- used properly and with appropriate training -- will serve you and your rabbit on walks inside or outside, without risking damage to your pet's neck. Consider a figure-eight harness, a figure-H harness or a vest. Many such harnesses are available at retail, but if you're handy, you can make your own.

The Figure-Eight Harness

A figure-eight harness has two loops, one that fits behind the front legs and one that fits around the neck. A retail figure-eight harness will have adjuster buckles on each loop that adjusts to suit the rabbit's chest and neck; the leash clasp is situated where the two loops come together at the withers. You can make a simple figure-eight harness using a long, lightweight rope. Fold the rope in half and loop the center under the bunny's neck. Cross the two sides of the rope over the back, between the shoulders, and loop one side all the way around the chest just behind the front legs. Secure the two ends over the back with a catch bead or a clasp that will allow fit adjustment. You may tie the rope instead of using a clasp, but you'll have to redo it before each walk. You can offset a longer rope and braid the excess to form a leash, or tie a shorter rope into a loop that fastens to a separate leash.

The Figure-H Harness

A figure-H harness is like a figure-eight harness except the two loops are not directly connected; they're linked by a separate length of material, typically nylon strap. You can make your own figure-H harness with re-purposed nylon cat collars. Choose one collar that fits your bunny's neck and another that fits just behind her front legs, using the buckles for adjustment. You'll remove the clasp from a third collar, but you'll leave the leash loop intact. When you determine the appropriate length of the center portion of the figure-H harness, cut extra so you can sew the ends into loops through which the intact collars will fit. If you want to make your harness from scratch, you can use a strong, lightweight fabric or leather to make up the individual parts and sew in your own buckles.

The Vest Harness

A vest or body harness is a fabric vest or coat with a ring at the back to fasten a leash. The vest may fasten around the neck and belly with velcro, snaps, buttons, or zippers. You can modify a pattern for rabbit clothes or an existing clothing item into a harness by securely sewing a metal loop, such as those found on dog collars, to the back of the vest. If you are starting from scratch, use a pattern to tailor the vest to the size of your bunny, and choose a strong but breathable fabric for your material. Be sure to check any fasteners frequently to make sure they do not become loose over time. Keep in mind that this type of harness is not typically adjustable, so be prepared to make another should your bunny's size change.

Introducing the Harness

It is crucial to let your rabbit become accustomed to whatever harness you choose before taking her outside with it. Start by offering your bunny her favorite treats and slowly fastening the harness. If she becomes especially anxious, wait for a few hours and try again. Adjust it when it's on the bunny. You should be able to fit one finger between your bunny's skin and the harness when it's right, or two fingers if the bunny is particularly large. Allow her to hop around the house with the harness on, but supervise her in case the harness becomes snagged. When she is comfortable, add the leash and allow her to lead you around. When she becomes used to the leash, encourage her to walk with you, using treats and lots of encouragement. Take her outside only when she is completely comfortable with the harness and leash.

Safely Walking Your Rabbit

Be aware of potential dangers when walking your bunny. Extreme heat or cold, toxic plants, predators including dogs and cats, and the chance of escape can be dangerous to your furry friend. Rabbits are especially prone to heat exhaustion -- if you see symptoms such as red ears, panting, weakness, confusion or salivating, bring your bunny inside, mist her ears with cool water and offer her plenty to drink. If you are concerned, contact your veterinarian.