Housing & Enrichment for Rabbits
It’s been known for years now that a hutch is not enough for our bunnies. How would we like being shut in a single storey box (or two storey’s if we were luckier) and don’t go anywhere else for 6-8 years? We’d be so bored and end up with multiple problems such as obesity, lack of muscle mass leading to mobility problems and aggression lead from frustration.
A hutch is good for sleeping in, eating and sheltering from the rain and sun (if a suitable design) but really that’s it. Rabbits need space to be rabbits. They need to be able to run around, hop, stretch upwards, be given tunnels to explore, food hidden to forage and toys to play with.
A rabbit should have a minimum space of 10ft x 6ft x 3ft (high). Many people attach runs to their hutches with the use of tunnels. Others convert a shed into a rabbit house with large enclosures attached for run space. Did you know a general pet shop single storey hutch is about 4ft x 1.5ft!
If you choose a traditional hutch 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. The RWAF recommend a hutch no smaller than 6ft x 2ft x2ft, with an attached exercise run of 8ft long, 6ft wide and 3ft tall. An 8ft run may sound very big, but in reality this is only going to allow your rabbits 4 hops on average.
If you attach an enclosure to a shed this must be secure. If it’s outside then it has to keep out foxes and other predators so the mesh and bolts must be of a good quality. Welded mesh of a heavy gauge, not chicken wire, should be considered as it less likely to be bitten through. Use a bolt you can padlock. Ensure that the wire is properly fixed to the wood. If it’s a single layer of wire it is safer to be attached on the inside of the run rather than the outside.
The enclosure should be out of direct sunlight and at least partially covered to protect your rabbits from the elements. Run covers are available commercially and tarpaulin can be bought quite cheaply from garden centres.
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 make sure you take appropriate precautions, as they are likely to dig their way out! So if you have your run on grass, either make sure you fill the holes regularly, fit a wire-mesh skirt, or place paving slabs around the perimeter to make it more difficult for your rabbits to tunnel out. Check regularly to see if they have any escape tunnels on the go and take appropriate action.
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. Digging is a natural behaviour, so consider providing 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 hay rack (hanging baskets works great!) to give them access to hay that hasn’t got wet from the ground.
They need a safe sleeping area. Choose a part of their hutch that will be warm, dry and draft free. Straw is often warmer than hay for the winter months. If you use hay make sure to keep it well topped up as they may well eat it despite it being lower quality than feeding hay.
Rabbits can be easily trained to use a litter tray for toileting in, keeping their hutch much cleaner and less trouble for you to clean every day.
Once you have a lovely area for you rabbits that is safe and secure you need to continue filling the run with things for them to do and encourage normal behaviour.
- Rabbits love toys they can throw around
- Use a treat ball to feed them, they will nose it around to get the pellets out
- Rabbits in the wild would burrow in tunnels so providing them with plenty of tunnels and hidey holes is key. Willow tunnels stuffed with hay and fresh herbs mixed in is great fun for them to forage through.
- Stuff paper bags or cardboard boxes with hay and herbs
- Everyone has toilet roll so once you’ve used the roll keep the cardboard tube and stuff hay inside. They will loves chucking it around the run and eating the hay.
- Rabbits can also learn to use slow down feeders for cats and dogs which encourage them to work to get their food. Also a great brain game.
- Platforms can be put in their run/enclosure. Although you will have made a secure place for them they are prey animals so are used to keeping a close eye out for predators, they will still exhibit this behaviour so allow them too by giving them higher places to check out the surrounding area.
Clare Treacher RVN CertSAN ISFM CertFN
Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN)
Certificate in Small Animal Nutrition (CertSAN)
ISFM Cert Feline Friendly Nursing (ISFM CertFN)