All rabbits should live in a suitable environment. A rabbit’s home affects how the rabbit feels, thinks and behaves. Providing your rabbits with shelter and a comfortable resting area is one way you can make sure that your rabbit stays healthy and happy.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act says that your animal has five groups of welfare needs. These are five groups of things that animals need to be healthy and happy. These five welfare groups are called the Five Freedoms.
Under the Animal Welfare Act all animal guardians (owners) need to provide all these things for their animals. One of these Freedoms is: Freedom from Discomfort. In this section you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your rabbits have the environment and shelter they need to be free from discomfort.
Rabbits in the wild cover an area the size of 30 tennis courts every day, running, playing and foraging for food! Domesticated rabbits need this same amount of exercise to keep them fit and healthy, as well as keeping them entertained and their minds active.
By keeping rabbits in an enclosure or in your home, you are taking away some of their natural instincts and pleasures. To make up for this, you need to ensure their living area is as large as possible, spend time with your rabbits as often as possible and create safe exercise spaces where they can munch on grass, run around, and dig to their heart’s content!
The minimum hutch size should be 1.6m (length) x 0.8m (width) x 0.75m (height).
This hutch should connect to an exercise run that is as big as possible – at least 3m (length) x 1.5m (width) x 0.75m (height).
Your rabbits need to be able to hop, run, jump and stand fully upright on their back legs.
Remember: These are the minimum measurements for a rabbit enclosure - of course the bigger the better!
Your rabbits’ home must be strong, draught-proof, damp-proof, escape-proof and predator-proof. It must contain shady areas and be well ventilated (allow a free flow of air). The materials it is made from must be chew resistant and they must be non-toxic to rabbits.
Rabbits prefer to have separate areas for eating, resting and toileting. Therefore, you should provide separate areas within their home for these things.
A hutch and run isn’t the only enclosure option for your outdoor rabbits – some of the alternatives can often work out cheaper and better! For a similar price or less, your family could buy a garden shed or child's playhouse and attach a secure rabbit proof run. This type of enclosure has the added bonus of you being able to sit inside and spend even more time with your rabbits.
If you still prefer a hutch, ask an adult to help you search online, post an advert online, or in your local newspaper for a hutch and state the measurements you are after. You could also contact your veterinarian, local SPCA or rabbit rescue who may be able to give you some good contacts. They might even give you design tips that you could then take to a carpenter!
If you have not already bought a hutch and run, wait until you have spoken to the SPCA or the rabbit rescue you'll be getting your rabbits from. They can advise you what would suit your situation best.
You must make sure that whatever type of enclosure you have is predator proof, as dogs, cats, ferrets, stoats, weasels and various birds of prey can kill your rabbits.
If your rabbits are to live outside, their housing should be in a shaded area out of direct sunlight, sheltering and protecting them from extremes of weather (wind, rain, hail, snow and sun) and temperature (hot and cold).
Housing should be made of good quality, non-toxic wood – nothing thin as this could be chewed through!
There should be a large sized hutch or private indoor bedroom area for the rabbits to hide and rest in. This needs lots of fresh hay to eat, act as bedding, keep them warm and to bury themselves in if they are scared.
The hutch or private indoor bedroom area must be warm and dry, free from leaks or gaps which the wind or rain could blow through. The doors and lids also need to have strong bolts on. Many shop-bought hutches have catches on which a dog could easily open by scratching at them, so your parent or caregiver will need to replace these with something dog-proof!
You must make sure that whatever type of enclosure you have, is predator proof, as dogs, cats, ferrets, stoats, weasels and birds of prey such as hawks, harriers, falcons and owls can all kill rabbits.
Rabbits need lots of exercise.
A hutch and exercise run alone is not enough - your rabbits will need time outside of this every day.
Provide supervised exercise time in the backyard where they are free to hop around for at least one hour daily (this area needs to be secure and rabbit-proof) or you can use a large exercise pen.
Your rabbits will also need access to a suitable place where they can go to the toilet. This area should be separate to where they sleep.
If you provide litter trays, provide a tray for each of your rabbits and ideally, one extra tray as well.
Line your trays with thick newspaper and then fill with absorbent materials such as shredded paper, straw and/or natural non-clumping, non-expanding litter.
Placing a hay rack or basket above your rabbits’ litter tray may encourage them to use their litter tray and eat more hay.
Your rabbits’ toilet area(s) should be cleaned every day.
More and more rabbits are being kept as house pets, and why not - cats and dogs live indoors too!
Having your pet rabbits in the house makes it easier to interact with them and it can encourage them to be more sociable. As well as this, it is easier for you to keep an eye on your rabbits for any changes in their health or behaviour if they live indoors. It also gives you peace of mind that they are safe from predators at night or when you are out.
House rabbits are fun to watch and play with. The more confident they get, you will see them exploring or jumping up onto your lap or lying stretched out on the floor, sleeping or grooming each other.
Rabbits can be litter trained and once spayed or neutered, they usually have less 'accidents' in the house. If your rabbits are not spayed or neutered, then they are likely to wee or spray to mark their territory.
As house rabbits run around, they will sometimes do a few droppings here and there, but these are dry and easily swept up. If they do occasionally have an accident, you must NEVER shout or hit them as they won't understand that this means they've done something wrong; it will just scare or hurt them.
House rabbits will learn to use a litter tray and if spayed or neutered, they will be even better at doing so!
Line a litter tray with thick newspaper and then fill with absorbent materials such as shredded paper, straw and/or natural non-clumping, non-expanding litter. You can also put a bit of hay at one end of the tray - rabbits like to nibble on hay while they're on the toilet!
Put the tray in the spot your rabbit has chosen as a toilet and they will learn to use the tray instead. If you have to mop up some wee or poo, put the tissue into the tray so they make the connection that that's where their poo and wee belongs!
Just as cats may scratch the couch and dogs may chew the TV remote, rabbits will by nature chew and dig! It’s important that your family rabbit-proofs your home and removes any potential hazards.
To your rabbit:
It's all asking to be eaten or dug up! To avoid this, cover electric cables, keep house plants out of reach and collect up any dropped leaves or petals. Provide your rabbits with safe and suitable materials to gnaw on and dig in. Don’t forget toys and hay to keep them busy.
If your rabbit will be kept indoors, then you don't need to buy a hutch; there are other options available.
Your rabbits will still need somewhere secure to call their own; this can be a fenced off area of the room, a large pen or even their own room!
They will still need lots of space (if not the whole house!) to roam, as well as their own private area.
Think of their indoor housing as a base for them to return to for security, if they are scared, and for bedtime.
Rabbits like company so if they live with you indoors, it's easier for them to avoid getting bored as they are able to constantly interact with your family. They will also love the freedom and hiding places - such as under the couch!
In your rabbits' own area, you should provide a litter tray, toys and materials they can chew, as well as access to plenty of hay and water.
House rabbits should also have regular access to an outside area where they can graze, if possible.
Rabbits are prey animals and most do not like to be picked up. When you do pick up your rabbit:
If your family are going away, try to find someone to care for and meet all your rabbits’ welfare needs within their familiar home.
If boarding your rabbits, try to ease the move by keeping paired/grouped rabbits together and leave them with familiar-smelling items, such as their toys and some used bedding.
When your family transports your rabbits, make sure they are comfortable and safe at all times.
Putting familiar smelling items in the carrier and the new environment can help make your rabbits feel a bit more at ease.
Rabbits that live together and are friends should be transported together to give reassurance, and ensure the same scents are transferred to all rabbits. This also helps to avoid the potential problems associated with reintroducing rabbits after a period apart.