TECHNIQUE

Accommodation of House Rabbits (Mammal Husbandry and Management)

Rabbits in living room. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbits on covered sofa. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbits in basket. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit sitting on mat. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit lying on floor. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit with cage in background. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit in box. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit in "igloo" eating greens. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit on cushion. Click here for full page view with caption. Litter tray. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit on grass. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit in snow. Click here for full page view with caption.

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / Mammal Husbandry and Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords  
Description This page should be used alongside:

Cage/hutch

A hutch, cage or kennel should be available as a den.

  • An indoor dog kennel/puppy pen or travel cage of appropriate size can be used.
  • A rabbit hutch designed for house rabbits can be used. (B606.1.w1)
  • A collapsible dog pen can be used. (B601.1.w1)
  • A cage with a plastic base and walls of wire mesh can be used; this provides good ventilation. (B339.8.w8, B601.1.w1, B602.13.w13, J213.7.w3)
  • The hutch should be covered or include a covered dark area in which the rabbit can hide.
  • If the rabbit has free-range of a room or the house, provide a cage large enough for the rabbit to lie down in stretched out. (B602.13.w13)
    • If keeping more than one house rabbit, provide one bed-cage for each rabbit. (B602.13.w13)

(B339.8.w8, B601.1.w1, B602.13.w13, B606.1.w1, B624, J213.7.w3)

Cage placement

  • The hutch or cage should be in a quiet place.
  • This should not be directly by a radiator or window.
    • It is important that the rabbit not be exposed to direct sunlight in hot weather. 

(B606.6.w6, N34.Winter07.w)

Bedding

  • Carpet, linoleum and newspaper are all suitable substrates. (B606.6.w6)
  • A towel, carpet offcut or piece of vet-bed or similar in the base over the plastic improves grip and comfort. (B624, N34.Winter07.w3)
  • Hay or straw can be used for bedding and for food; this should be replenished every day. (B606.6.w6); changed daily (N34.Spring2006.w1)

Rabbit-proof base room

  • If possible, have a room where the rabbit can be based, which is fully rabbit proof so the rabbit (with its hutch/cage, litter tray, toys etc.) can be left loose in that room at all times. (J213.7.w3, N34.Summer07.w2)
    • If this is not possible, ensure the inside cage/enclosure is large. (N34.Summer07.w2)

Rabbit visiting rooms

  • Rooms which the rabbit will visit should be reasonably rabbit-proof. (N34.Summer07.w2)
  • Lift books, telephone directories, remote controls etc. out of reach. (N34.Winter07.w3)
  • Make sure there are no electrical wires where the rabbit can chew them; all wires must be protected in conduits or plastic tubing. (B606.6.w6, B624, N34.Winter07.w3)
  • Use e.g. a baby gate, with added wire mesh, to keep a house rabbit from entering rooms where it isn't wanted, or from going upstairs. (B624)
  • Placing a large cardboard roll (the sort which carpets are stored on) or a roll of old carpet (pile side in) behind the sofa gives the rabbit a tunnel and reduces damage to the back of the sofa. (B624, , N34.Winter07.w3)

Litter tray / toilet training

  • A litter tray should be provided. Rabbits naturally tend to use a latrine area and will learn to use a litter tray if repeatedly placed in it initially. (B339.8.w8, B600.2.w2, B601.1.w1, B602.13.w13, B606.1.w1, B606.6.w6, B624, D349, J34.24.w3)
    • Initially place some droppings in the tray. (B339.8.w8)
    • Providing a hay net or hay rack above the tray or a trough of hay beside it may encourage its use, since rabbit tend to defecate while eating. (B606.1.w1, N34.Winter07.w3)
    • Another method of training the rabbit to use the tray is to initially leave the rabbit in its home cage, with the tray, for at least two to three full days. (D349)
      • If the rabbit urinates or defecates outside the tray, move the droppings/urine-soaked newspaper into the tray. (D349)
      • Only start letting the rabbit out once it is using the tray reliably, and then initially for short periods, well supervised. (D349)
    • Place the litter tray in a location where the rabbit feels safe. (B624, J15.27.w2)
  • Choose a safe litter. Note: Rabbits may eat material placed in the litter tray. (B615.6.w6)
    • Paper-based litter is recommended; it is safe if ingested. (B601.1.w1, B606.1.w1, B615.6.w6)
    • Straw-based litter can be used; it is safe if ingested. (B615.6.w6, B606.1.w1)
    • Litter based on corn-cobs can be used. (B615.6.w6); this may cause gastro-intestinal problems if ingested. (J213.7.w3)
    • Fuller's earth or clay litter should not be used; it can cause impaction if ingested. (B339.8.w8, B601.1.w1, B606.1.w1)
    • Wood-based products can be used. (B601.1.w1)
      • However, some woods are toxic if eaten (pine and cedar contain aromatic hydrocarbons; ingestion of these can result in liver damage, indicated by raised liver enzymes). (B606.1.w1, B615.6.w6)
  • If the rabbit starts sleeping in its litter tray, provide a second tray with straw or fleece bedding in. (B606.1.w1)

Water

  • A water bowl or drinking bottle of water should be available at all times and the water changed daily. (N34.Winter07.w3)

Flooring

  • It is important to ensure that flooring is safe and comfortable, allowing the rabbit to hop, jump, run and stand on their hind legs.
    • Non-slip flooring is particularly important for older rabbits.
  • Preferably more than one surface type should be available.
  • Provide a soft surface for sleeping.

(N34.Spring2006.w1)

Environmental enrichment and toys

  • The rabbit's environment should be kept interesting:
    • Boxes to hide in.
    • Large cardboard tubes (from carpets) to run up and down in, e.g. behind the sofa.
    • A "treat" ball with bits of concentrate food or other treat foods in; the food drops out and becomes accessible when the rabbit moves the ball.
    • A large cardboard box full of straw for the rabbit to burrow into - cut two holes in the box on the sides near the base for the rabbit to get in and out.
    • An old telephone directory or similar to chew up.
    • A rolled up offcut of carpet to run through/dig in.
  • Two house rabbits will provide company and interest for each other.
  • See: Mammal Behavioural Requirements (Mammal Husbandry and Management)

(N34.Winter07.w3)

Outside access

  • House rabbits should preferably be given regular time outside, either loose in the garden under supervision, or in a secure run, as appropriate. (J213.7.w3)
    • Exercise is possible in the house; outside time also gives a chance for the rabbit to graze.
  • A rabbit can use a lightweight cat flap to reach the outdoors; if this leads directly into the garden then the garden needs to be both rabbit-proof and predator-proof. (B624)
Appropriate Use (?)
  • For rabbits kept as pets in the home.
Notes Try to ensure that rooms where you are likely to spend long periods of the day, whether these include your living room, study or whatever, are rabbit-proofed so your house rabbit can be with you. (N34.Summer07.w2)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Rabbits chew. They may ruin furniture and rugs, ingest toxic materials or substances which will block the gastrointestinal tract, and may bite through electrical cables, resulting in electrical burns or electrocution. (B606.1.w1, J29.16.w8, J34.24.w3)
  • Areas of the house which the rabbit has access to should be rabbit-proofed: electric cables protected from chewing, boxes of detergent and poisonous ornamental plants removed or placed out of reach (remembering that rabbits can hop up onto furniture). (B601.1.w1, B615.6.w6, B624, J34.24.w3)
  • Rabbits are easily stressed by excessive heat, and can suffer from heat stroke.
    • The cage or kennel should not be placed by a radiator or where direct sunlight will fall on it through a window. (B606.6.w6)
  • Expect some objects/furnishings in rooms used by rabbits to get damaged. (N34.Winter07.w3)
  • Take care if the house is also occupied by a cat or dog; it may not be sensible to leave them together unsupervised, even after they have been introduced to each other. (B624, N34.Summer07.w2)
  • A glass terrarium/aquarium is not suitable as a rabbit cage; it is poorly ventilated and ammonia fumes can quickly build up. (B602.13.w13, J34.24.w3, J213.7.w3)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Appropriate indoor cage/hutch and bedding.

  • Litter tray and litter.

  • Food and water bowls.

  • Electrical conduit or plastic (N34.Winter07.w3)

Expertise level / Ease of Use Requires some effort to ensure the house is rabbit-proof where the rabbit has access.
Cost/ Availability Costs are not excessive, but it is important to be aware that some effort and costs are involved in "bunny proofing" rooms, and not all rooms are easy or suitable to make rabbit-proof.
Legal and Ethical Considerations The accommodation provided should be appropriate for the physical and behavioural requirements of rabbits. In the UK, The Animal Welfare Act 2006 should be considered, in particular (Section 9):
Duty of person responsible for animal to ensure welfare
(1) A person commits an offence if he does not take such steps as are reasonable in all the circumstances to ensure that the needs of an animal for which he is responsible are met to the extent required by good practice.
(2) For the purposes of this Act, an animal’s needs shall be taken to include—
(a) its need for a suitable environment,
(b) its need for a suitable diet,
(c) its need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns,
(d) any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals, and
(e) its need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
Author Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee  
References B601.1.w1, B606.1.w1, B606.6.w6, B615.6.w6, B624, J15.27.w2, J29.16.w8, J34.24.w3, N34.Spring2006.w1,  N34.Summer07.w2, N34.Winter07.w3, 

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