TECHNIQUE

Accommodation of Hutch Rabbits (Mammal Husbandry and Management)

Rabbit hutch. Click here for full page view with caption Straw in hutch sleeping compartment. Rabbit hutch. Click here for full page view with caption Large rabbit shed and run. Click here for full page view with caption. Large rabbit shed and run. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit hutch with attached run. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit run with shelter. 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:

Hutch

  • The hutch should be long enough for the rabbit to stretch out fully and to stand upright on its hindlegs. (B339.8.w8)
    • If the rabbit is kept in the hutch for long periods, the hutch should be large enough to allow three hops from one end to the other. (B339.8.w8, B601.1.w1)
    • For an average-sized rabbit, a hutch at least five feet long, two feet high and two feet wide is needed. (D350)
    • Current RSPCA recommendations are a minimum of 180 x 90 wide x 75 cm high (6 x 3 x 2 ft) for two medium or small (not large or giant) rabbits "and with enough space for each rabbit to have its own sleeping area." [recommendations updated 01 February 2007] (D375)
  • There should be a solid-fronted nesting/sleeping area and a living area fronted with strong mesh. (B339.8.w8, D350)
    • The mesh front provides essential ventilation.
    • There should be a removable louvered panel for covering the front mesh in bad weather, to provide protection without stopping a reasonable air flow. (B339.8.w8, B601.1.w1)
    • Weldmesh aviary netting, preferably of 16 gauge wire, is much stronger than standard chicken wire and should keep foxes out as well as keeping the rabbit in. (D350, W720.Dec08.w1)
  • The hutch should have newspaper on the floor and be bedded with wood shavings and hay, straw or shredded paper. (B339.8.w8, D375)
    • Extra bedding is needed in winter and it is important to ensure this is always clean and dry. (D350, N34.Winter07.w2)
    • In cold winter weather, microwavable heat pads can be heated then placed under bedding to provide warmth. (N34.Winter2007.w1)
  • Paint the outside of the hutch with a pet-safe wood preservative. (B624)
  • The roof should be waterproof. (B339.8.w8)
    • The roof should have an overhang (i.e. be larger than the hutch it covers), be covered with roofing felt, and should be sloping to allow water to run off. 
    • The roof should slope backwards; a lip at the back helps to take rain away. (B622.5.w5)
  • As an alternative, a rabbit can be kept in e.g. a modified garden shed - preferably with an attached outside run, accessed through a cat flap. (D350)
    • Provide raised shelves/platforms for the rabbit to hop onto. (B339.8.w8, , B601.1.w1)
  • The hutch should be well-made of good solid wood or plywood, with good, secure fastenings. Check there are no joins or edges accessible to the rabbit which it could injure itself on or chew. (B622.5.w5)
  • The wire mesh should be thick and strong, without gaps, and attached well to the wood with staples close enough together that the rabbit cannot push a foot (or head) through (the same is true for any run). (B622.5.w5)

Hutch placement

  • The hutch should be off the ground; this protects it from damp, dogs and rats. (B339.8.w8, B601.1.w1, D350, D375)
    • Cleaning is easier also - dirty litter can be scraped into a bucket easily. (D375)
  • The hutch should be protected from direct sunlight, draughts, and extremes of weather such as driving rain and snow. (B339.8.w8, B601.1.w1, B624D350)
  • Remember that it can get hot inside wooden buildings in summer; if the hutch is in a shed, or the rabbit is kept in a shed, it is important to provide enough ventilation. (D350)
  • Keep the hutch at least 12 inches off the ground, and at least 10 inches from any wall, to allow good ventilation and let the hutch dry properly if it gets wet. (B622.5.w5)
  • Place the hutch near the house, not at the bottom of the garden where the rabbit will be rarely visited. (B624)

Exercise/grazing area

Hutch rabbits need to be given space for exercise and grazing. Either the hutch can be placed in a larger enclosure, or they should have a separate run. A shed can also be used as an exercise area. (B339.8.w8)
  • Rabbits can be allowed to run free in the garden. (D350)
    • This is best done under supervision, to protect both the rabbit and the plants. (D350)
    • The garden should be made escape-proof. (D350)
    • There should be a shelter which the rabbit can hide in. (D350)
    • Poisonous plants must be removed or made inaccessible. (D350)
    • If fenced to allow the rabbit to run free, fencing must also keep local predators out. (B624)
  •  An exercise run provides a safe area for the rabbit. (D350)
    • This should be large enough to allow the rabbit to exercise properly. (B622)
      • This should be at least 8 x 4 ft, and 2 ft high. (B624, D350)
    • The run should be escape-proof and predator-proof. (D375)
    • A portable run can be moved around the lawn to keep allowing fresh grazing. (D350)
      • The run should have a floor of wire mesh so the rabbits cannot dig out, but with large enough mesh size so that the rabbits can graze. (D350)
    • A permanent run provides psychological security. (B600.2.w2)
      • Placing this on e.g. concrete slabs means it is easy to clean. (D350)
      • If on grass, the ground can quickly turn to mud. (D350)
    • Unless the run is attached to the hutch or rabbit shed, it should contain a covered area for shelter/hiding. (B622.5.w5, D350, B624)
      • A sun shade with a weighted base can be used over the run to provide shade. (B622.5.w5)
    • The door or opening should be places such that it is easy for the owner to reach in to the rabbit. (B622.5.w5)
  • A mesh top to a run or exercise pen prevents the rabbit from jumping out and also protects against predators. (B339.8.w8)
  • "Bolt holes" such as drain-pipes and cardboard boxes should always be available for the rabbit to hide in. (B339.8.w8, , B601.1.w1, B624)

Hutch cleaning

  • The hutch should be cleaned regularly and frequently, particularly in summer. 
    • Outside rabbits are at increased risk of flystrike (Myiasis) if the hutch is not cleaned often enough. (D350)
    • Daily cleaning is needed, with a change of bedding once a week. (D375)

Stimulation

Feeding/watering

  • Provide a hay rack for hay, even if hay is used as bedding as well. (B624)
  • A bowl should be available for concentrate food - at least one per rabbit. (B624)
  • A water bowl or drinking bottle full of water is needed at all times. (B601.1.w1, B602.16.w16, B554.22.w22, B622.4.w4, B624, D353)
    • Preferably have two bottles so the fresh bottle can be provided while the first bottle is being cleaned or, in winter, unfrozen. (B554.22.w22, N34.Winter07.w2)
    • Wrapping the water bottle in insulating material such as bubblewrap may help stop it freezing. (B624)
    • Waters must be checked daily. (B615.6.w6)
Appropriate Use (?) For pet rabbits kept outside.
Notes
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Rabbits need protection from weather extremes, particularly heat and direct sunlight. (B339.8.w8)
  • Outside rabbits are at risk from predators.
    • If the construction of the hutch or pen is not sufficiently sturdy there is a risk of a predator (e.g. fox or badger) getting in and taking the rabbit.
    • Rabbits should not be left outside in any area which foxes, badgers, cats, dogs or birds of prey can access. (D350, W720.Dec08.w1)
  • Good ventilation is essential to reduce the risk of respiratory disease. (B339.8.w8)
  • Many hutches sold in pet stores are too small for an average-size rabbit, not sufficiently weatherproof, and are too flimsy, with insecure fastenings which will not provide good protection against predators. (D350)
  • Outside rabbits are at increased risk of flystrike (Myiasis) if:
    • The hutch is not cleaned often enough. (D350)
    • The rabbit has a condition such as arthritis, obesity, diarrhoea, dental disease or a skin wound. (D350)
  • Contact with wild rabbits should be prevented, to reduce the risk of transmission of diseases. (B339.8.w8, B601.1.w1)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • A hutch of adequate size, or a shed, garage (not used for cars) or similar shelter.

    • For an average-sized rabbit, a hutch at least five feet long, two feet high and two feet wide is needed. (D350)
    • Current RSPCA recommendations are a minimum of 150 x 50 x 105 cm (60 x 24 x 42 inches). [2006](B601.1.w1)
    • Current RSPCA recommendations are a minimum of 180 x 90 wide x 75 cm high for two rabbits "and with enough space for each rabbit to have its own sleeping area." [updated 01 February 2007] (D375)
  • An area for exercise and grazing.

Expertise level / Ease of Use No special expertise is required. However, a child should not be expected to look after animals such as hutch rabbits without adult supervision.
Cost/ Availability
  • Costs are not excessive but must be considered if a hutch, exercise pen etc. are to be bought and/or modified.
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 B339.8.w8, B600.2.w2, B601.1.w1, B604.2.w2, B622.5.w5, B624, D350, D375, N34.Winter2007.w1, N34.Winter07.w2, P113.2005.w6, W720.Dec08.w1

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