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Inside Or Out - Rabbit Wlefare Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund

One of the first choices you will need to make is where your rabbits will live. Rabbits can live equally happily outdoors in the garden, or indoors as "houserabbits", as long as the accommodation allows them to behave naturally. The two options are discussed in the following two sections. Please read both and consider the choice carefully.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Rabbits are traditionally thought of as being outdoor pets, and are perfectly happy living in the garden , so long as their physical and behavioural requirements are catered for... which means a lot more than just a hutch!

A Quick tip:

It's so much easier to provide pet rabbits with the necessary exercise if their exercise run is attached to their hutch/cage, so they can come and go as they please. If the run is separate, this makes it much more difficult to provide the necessary exercise. Putting your rabbits in their run for 2 hours actually means that for 22 hours a day they get no exercise at all.

Rabbits are active animals, and can develop painful skeletal problems if kept permanently caged. Hence, daily exercise outside the hutch is vital. A hutch should only ever be a shelter, never the sole/main accommodation for your rabbits. For this reason we suggest a large hutch or shed with an exercise run permanently attached, so that the rabbits can decide when they want to shelter, and when to play. Rabbits are most active at dawn and dusk - they're "crepuscular" - so lifting them from hutch to run for a few hours in the daytime just doesn't suit their body clocks and instincts. Having the hutch and run permanently attached also means you can have a Sunday morning lie-in without feeling guilty!

Outdoor rabbit

If you choose a traditional hutch as a bedroom for your rabbits, it needs to be big enough for a rabbit to take 3 hops and to stretch fully upright. For most breeds this will mean a hutch of 6ft long x 2ft tall, so we recommend a hutch no smaller than 6ft x 2ft x2ft, with an attached exercise run of 8ft long, 4ft wide and 2ft tall. An 8ft run sounds very large, but in reality this is only going to allow your rabbits 4 hops on average.

Rabbits whose exercise run is on a lawn will enjoy access to grass every day, which is great for their teeth and digestive systems and will keep them busy. But be aware that unless you take appropriate precautions, they are likely to dig their way out, which could put them at risk from predators. So, if you have your run on grass, either make sure you move it regularly, fit a wire-mesh 'houdini-kit' skirt, or set paving slabs around the perimeter to make it more difficult for your rabbits to tunnel out! Anti-dig kits are becoming more widely available – they comprise sections of mesh skirting tucked under the perimeter of the enclosure.

The exercise run should enable your rabbits to display all of their key natural behaviours: Running, Digging/Burrowing, Jumping, Hiding, Foraging/Grazing

You need to make sure that all parts of your rabbit habitat is secure...

Rabbits with enclosures on concrete, slabs or decking (or in grass runs with a wire mesh skirt around the perimeter) will not be able to dig out, making them more secure. But because digging is a natural behaviour, you will need to provide them with an alternative: a digging pit, which could be a large litter tray or planter filled with earth. This will need to be changed regularly. They will also need a hayrack to give them access to hay that hasn't got wet from the ground – and also to encourage them to stretch up.

Providing the correct environment can be fun, and doesn't need to take up the whole garden

Tunnels are important: they will encourage your rabbits to be much more active, and provide a substitute burrow. These can be bought from pet shops or can be as cheap and easy as a cardboard box with a hole cut at each end. Toys such as willow balls will finish the exercise run off nicely. Don't forget the water bottle, and preferably a water bowl too - rabbits can drink more efficiently from a water bowl than a bottle (many rabbits will choose to use a bowl over a bottle), and it's a good back up in case the bottle spout jams. Finally, don't forget to protect part of the run from extremes of weather with a cover of some sort (it need only be a tarpaulin), not only to protect from rain and snow, but also from hot sun.

You need to make sure that all parts of your rabbit habitat is secure, so choose something with strong wire mesh and bolt-operated locks – don't rely on turnpin fastenings. Avoid anything that a fox or dog would be able to access.

Rabbit feeder

Hanging baskets (the type sold at garden centres) make great hay racks because they are cheap and hold lots more hay than purpose-built rabbit hay racks.
A run covered by a tarpaulin and attached to the hutch, means that the rabbits can play whatever the weather.

Exercise

Make sure that there is room for running and jumping! They also need this space to stretch up fully in their exercise run and climb onto their toys.

Supervision

In the garden, they must be supervised in case of predators (including next door's cat!) and the risk of them getting out of the garden and harming themselves.,
Make sure your exercise run has some cover and is safe with strong mesh and bolts.

Hutch

These rabbits have a hay-rack, toys, water bottle and bowl, and can dig in the earth, but are prevented from escape by the anti-dig kit on the perimeter.
The tarpaulin cover can be used to cover all or part of the run depending on the weather.
Make sure you have room for toys and a hay-rack

Rabbit run Rabbit run

Using a large hutch or shed as a base, you can create a fun area for your rabbits to play. Run, rabbit run!
Providing the correct environment can be fun, and doesn't need to take up the whole garden. Be inventive!

Shed conversion to hutch

Sheds are lovely spacious homes for rabbits, but they can become very hot inside. Here, one door is open and the bunnies are safely behind a secondary wire screen door which provides extra ventilation.
Windows can be covered with curtains to provide some shade, and it's easy to insulate the roof of a garden shed. Try to site your shed or hutch in a shaded area, but if none is available, think about planting rabbit-safe shrubs or climbers to provide shade once they grow.

Checklist:
Essentials for keeping bunnies
Rabbit OUTDOORS

  • Large hutch or shed with exercise run attached – providing sufficient space for them to run, jump and climb
  • Cover or tarpaulin to protect from extremes of weather
  • Digging box
  • Hay rack
  • Tunnels to play in
  • Toys
  • Water bottle or bowl(or both)
  • Litter tray and litter
  • Hay

HOME, SWEET HOME - HOUSERABBITS
If you decide that you'd like to share your home with your rabbits, you'll be in the happy position of having the most wonderful, amusing, fascinating companions imaginable. You'll also be able to observe their behaviour closely and it should be easy for you to spot if they are off-colour or behaving abnormally, so that you can ensure they get any treatments they should need as soon as possible.

But, before getting too carried away, remember that you will require some modifications to your home, or your houserabbits will modify it for you! Rabbit-proofing your home is essential and there will be nibbles, spills, possibly an occasional toilet accident and a lot of hair to vacuum up in the moulting season. Don't take on houserabbits unless you can live with the results. Read on to see what's involved and then consider carefully!

Pair of rabbitsAs with outdoor rabbits, your houserabbit needs company, and you most likely aren't at home 24/7, so you will need to plan on keeping at least one other rabbit. Companionship is very important to them. They will learn to love you, they may well love their toys… but they also need a companion of their own species to share their home and their lives.

Sharing your home with rabbits needs some preparation. Firstly, where will they live? Remember that houserabbits need at least as much space as we recommend for outdoor rabbits.

Litter training

Free range
This is where the rabbits are given the run of most, if not all of, the house. Obviously this is a big commitment and so the points listed below should be considered even more carefully.

If you choose to go down the free range route, we strongly recommend you start with a limited area where they will have their toilet and carry out their litter-training, especially with young rabbits. Make sure they feel secure and comfortable there (and are toilet trained in the smaller area) before opening up other areas of the house. See the 'litter training' advice below.

A particular room
This tends to be a utility room, kitchen or conservatory, often with solid flooring that is easy to clean, unlike carpet. Note that rabbits often slip on smooth floors, so newspapers, carpet tiles or runners are useful. Be aware that conservatories can get very hot in summer so unless you can manage the temperature adequately, choose another room.

Have a look around your home. How many cables are exposed? These attract rabbits like magnets!

Part of a room
This is an area in a room given over to the rabbits, utilising a large run or enclosure. It has to be at least as large as the recommended minimum for an outdoor set-up.

Wherever you decide is most suitable for your own and your rabbits' comfort and happiness, there are things you should bear in mind

They need to be safe from other pets, houseplants that may be poisonous, electric wires, being trodden on (this is a real concern!) and 'escaping' into a dangerous outside environment.

Your home needs to be protected from chewing (for the whole of your rabbits' lives) and toileting (until the are neutered and house-trained).

While these preparations take some effort, they are vital. So, let's think about protecting all areas they will access before deciding where in the home they might live.

Litter training
Rabbits are generally quite easy to litter train, although occasional accidents may occur. The quickest way to house-train your rabbits is to start off with a litter tray in a smaller area (put some hay in it – rabbits like to poo and chew at the same time!), usually where they have chosen to "go", and gradually increase the time and space they are allowed to access only once they are reliably using their tray. It is also vital to have your rabbits neutered as soon as they are old enough… male rabbits can spray like tom cats unless they are neutered, and will leave scent-marking poops scattered around too!

House plants
There are so many different houseplants around that it's impossible to list them all.

A surprising number are poisonous to rabbits and so the only safe thing to do is to assume that they all are. Keep them out of reach and remember that some rabbits like to climb onto furniture, so keep that in mind when reckoning what is actually out of reach!

Electric wires
Have a look around your home: how many cables are exposed? These attract rabbits like magnets! In the wild, while burrowing, rabbits chew through roots and they will treat wires in the same way. You need to protect those wires and keep them away from rabbits both for your own convenience and for the rabbits' safety.

Safety
Rabbit proofing includes lifting cables out of reach, plastering into the wall, encasing them in protective trunking from a DIY or aquatic store, or even having electrical sockets raised up the wall and turned upside down so cables project up and not down. Remember, rabbits can get into spaces humans don't think they can reach, so protect every possible space.

Pretty much anything is at risk, especially when your rabbits are young.

If you're ironing, go somewhere your rabbts can't - it's just not worth the risk. To our knowledge nobody has yet worked out how to effectively bunny-proof a conventional electric iron whilst it is in use!

Chewing
Wires aren't the only things your rabbits will chew. Furniture, door-frames, carpets, clothes and anything else can be attractive propositions too. Pretty much anything is at risk, especially when your rabbits are young. Make sure you supervise your rabbits at all times whilst they are running free in your house.

Give your rabbits lots of toys and things that you don't mind them getting their teeth into and protect anything you don't want chewed. But please be realistic, they will chew where they shouldn't, so you'll either need to accept this, set up your living arrangements so that your rabbits can't access forbidden items unsupervised (just like most people do with pet dogs) or think again about having houserabbits!

For more detailed information on houserabbits we recommend the book 'Living With a Houserabbit' by Linda Dykes and Helen Flack.

Rabbits quite literally get under your feet!
Unlike dogs and cats, rabbits will often put themselves exactly where your foot is about to land. You'll have to develop a sixth sense and learn how to tread very carefully. If you have mobility problems, you need to be particularly careful, as it is very easy to trip over a rabbit!

The great escape
Rabbits can get through surprisingly small gaps and don't forget how high they can jump, so take whatever precautions you need to stop them putting themselves in danger, be that from a kamikaze launch from the back of the sofa or leaping out of an open window from a table! Remember to take care when you open your front door too, in case they make a run for it.

Even though they're indoors.....
Although a few houserabbits live free-range in the house, most are kept to one room, or part of a room, especially when unsupervised. Remember they still need at least as much space as we recommend for outdoor rabbits, which is a living area of 6ft x 2ft x 2ft and an exercise space of 8ft x 4ft. Some people use dog crates and/or adaptable puppy pens for an indoor enclosure.

Whatever you choose, it is likely that you'll want some areas that are rabbit free. Baby and dog gates are handy but again, rabbits can squeeze through surprisingly narrow gaps and can jump very high – so take care!

Just as for outdoor rabbits, houserabbits will need places to hide out so they feel safe and secure, particularly if startled. Cardboard boxes are great for this, with a hole cut at each end.

Again, just like outdoor rabbits, they need to display their natural behaviours: digging, running, hiding and jumping. Fill boxes or tubs with shredded paper and hay to allow digging and provide tunnels that they can run through. A large cardboard or plastic tunnel (sewage piping!) behind the sofa works particularly well as sofas against walls are very difficult to bunny-proof otherwise!

House rabbit

Home alone
Ensure that wherever your rabbits live, they are safe when you go out. Close any doors you need to, put ironing boards away, make sure they can't set off the burglar alarm. Generally think about any harm that could come to them and remedy it before leaving

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