Housing Your Rabbit
All commercially made rabbit hutches and cages are unsuitable for pet rabbits – they are too small, impractical for a rabbit’s needs, are difficult to clean, and are not secure. They can, however, be used as bedrooms when a run or pen is attached. A chicken coop, though small for chickens, will offer a rabbit a bit more space. A rabbit needs enough space to sit fully upright and fully stretch out, as well as hop around. The standard minimum measurements for a hutch are 6ft x 2ft x 2ft with an additional 8ft x 4ft x 4ft run. It should NOT have a wire floor.
The bunny zone needs to include toys for enrichment, litter trays, access to unlimited hay, fresh water, bedding, waterproof floor covering, and a hiding place. There are a number of commercial small pet accessories available, but there are also many items you can modify yourself that will be perfectly adequate. Even free roam rabbits need a space they know is their own. The bigger the space and the more enrichment in it the better!
Due to predators and bad weather, it is best that rabbits are housed indoors. My rabbits free roam both inside and outside because there is a distinct lack of ground and airborne predators where I live, and the climate is not sub-zero nor too hot. But they are inside every night and when there is nobody home. They have an inside hutch that is always open – it contains unlimited hay, water, litter trays, bedding and enrichment. Outside, they have access to multiple open hutches that contain the same, and the section is fully fenced.
Providing your Rabbit With Enrichment
Rabbits like toys they can chew, fully eat, hide in, or toss around. The majority of commercially made toys for rabbits are not safe – they contain pins, glue, coir, dye, or loofah. Ideally, toys for rabbits should be made from natural, untreated, rabbit safe woods. The best toys are those you can make yourself that incorporates their food (make food fun). Some examples of DIY toys are:
- A food clothesline (as pictured below)
- A selection of cardboard boxes of various sizes with doors and windows cut in them, made like a maze or a castle
- Plastic stacking cups or cat treat dispensers filled with pellets they can toss around
- Weeping willow twisted in to wreathes or weaved through the pen bars
- Chew toys made from hay, seagrass twine and toilet rolls (that do not contain glue)
- Rabbit safe twigs and branches tied in bunches
- Digging pits of natural garden dirt, hay, bunny safe twigs/branches/dried leaves
- Tunnels & ramps
- Wooden dog treat dispenser puzzles
Some rabbits do have no interest in toys, preferring interactive play instead or petting/massage.
Building a Relationship With Your Rabbit
Many people are under the impression rabbits are instantly trusting and cuddly. Not so. Some are, but it usually takes time, commitment and patience to earn a rabbit’s trust. This is one of the main reasons why rabbits get abandoned – it gets put in the too hard basket. The caregiver relationship is crucial to the rabbit’s life quality. The best way to bond with your rabbit is to get down to their level and don’t keep trying to pick them up. Initially, just lay on the floor and let them explore you. Don’t touch! Speak with a soft and gentle voice.
The object is to not allow them to feel threatened. It also helps to provide treats, as rabbits like to eat in company. This can include some diluted fresh pineapple juice in a syringe (which can make having to syringe feed easier when required). Interactive toy play helps build trust as well. When you are at the point where your rabbit comes to you and stays, try stroking the head and nose – most bunnies love nose rubs – it simulates grooming by another rabbit. Still don’t attempt to pick them up. In time, you will be able to pet and massage other areas (the Tellington TTouch massage technique works well on bunnies).
In general, it is better to only pick your rabbit up only when absolutely necessary, rather than just for the sake of it, and let them come to you when they are ready.