HOUSING YOUR BUNNY
DOES A RABBIT HAVE TO HAVE A CAGE?
I think they do. The House Rabbit Society members will disagree but I hear too many horror stories of unsupervised rabbits to change my opinion.
Indoors, it is a must! There are too many exciting places and things to explore for a rabbit to be left out unattended. Keep your bunny safe in his or her cage when not being supervised. He will enjoy his romp with you even more and you will be able to monitor his behavior.
Outdoors it is certainly necessary at first and generally a good idea all the time. In the beginning your bunny needs to learn where home is and where he will be safe in the yard. Later, when he is accustomed to your yard, he will stick close to home if it feels safe to him.
A cage of his own (even if he can come and go on his own) is a good idea. Should you move or go away on vacation, and take the bunny to someone else's home for a while, he will feel at home in his own cage. Likewise if a trip to the vet is necessary, he will feel less threatened in his own space.
WHAT KIND OF CAGE DO WE NEED?
Select a sturdy cage made of heavy gauge wire. The floor should be 1/2" x 1" with the sides and top of 1" x 1" or 1" x 2" wire. Inexpensive cages made from lightweight wire will sag under the weight of even a small rabbit and can cause the development of sore hocks and can leave the bunny sitting in the tray instead of above it.
A large door that opens out from the front of the cage makes taking the bunny out and putting it back in much easier.
A feeder mounted to the door is easier to fill and clean than a bowl inside or a side mounted feeder.
A water bottle mounted on the outside of the cage will allow more floor space for the bunny to move around. Be sure to check the flow of the bottle regularly to be sure it is working properly. If hung crooked, it will not work properly.
For indoor bunnies you will want a cage with a deep tray and urine guards on three sides of the cage to prevent over-spray. Some of the less expensive cages have shallow trays which, when filled with shavings or cat litter, don't leave enough space between the cage floor and the tray for the droppings to fall through.
Some cages are two story types or have a resting shelf mounted half way up the side which the bunnies seem to enjoy but if they urinate from the shelf, you will find your walls and carpet soiled.
HOW BIG A CAGE DO WE NEED?
The bigger the better but especially for bunnies that will spend a lot of time in the cage allow plenty of room for exercise. Don't buy or build a cage that is too deep from front to back or you may have to crawl into the cage to get the bunny out! Twenty-four inches deep is easy for most children and thirty inches for most adults to reach comfortably and it may be as wide as you can get.
Generally speaking, the minimum cage size should be long enough for the rabbit at adult size to stretch out fully in any direction and high enough (usually 18") for him to comfortably sit on his haunches for face cleaning and general self grooming. Dwarf cages are frequently only 16" high which is sufficient.
Depending on your space available, you may choose a medium sized cage for indoors and a large play pen that can be moved to the yard or family room for the bunny to get some exercise.
If you plan to keep the bunny outside you will want a larger cage to accommodate a box so they can get in out of the weather if they choose.
WILL A BIRD CAGE WORK?
Bird cages seldom have a wire floor which means the rabbit will be sitting in his excrement. If your cage has a wire floor with 1/2" by 1" mesh it should work, providing it's surface area is large enough for the bunny to be comfortable.
CAN WE USE A CHICKEN COOP?
Chicken wire mesh is too large for flooring and isn't strong enough to support the weight of most rabbits. If the floor is 1/2" by 1" with chicken wire sides it would be alright for a while but it deteriorates very quickly from the urine.
SHOULD THEY BE INDOORS OR OUT?
Either way is fine with these precautions.
Indoors: Rabbits are wonderful house pets that are readily litter box trained. (See Discipline selection regarding chewing, scratching, etc.)
Their cage should be protected from drafts. Don't place the cage on the floor under a window or air conditioning vent.
Remember that they wear a fur coat all year and a comfortable temperature for people may be too warm for a rabbit.
They can be destructive if allow to roam unsupervised. They should have a cage and should only be let out to play when someone can keep an eye on them.
Watch the refrigerator! They learn quickly that's where the goodies are and more than one rabbit has gotten his head banged by the refrigerator door being closed with bunny in the way!
Pick up the POT POURI ! It's smells like a snack but it's sure to be the last thing your bunny tastes! IT IS DEADLY!
PLEASE DON'T PUT THEM IN THE GARAGE!!!
Garages are the worst place for a bunny unless the door is wide open at all times. A closed garage is stuffy most of the time and gets frequent drafts under and around the doors which can cause respiratory illness.
Rabbits do perfectly well outdoors providing they are protected from rain and direct wind (while still allowing air flow under the cage to avoid ammonia buildup) and most importantly, protected from the direct HEAT OF THE SUN.
More rabbits die from heat stroke than old age!
Offer shaded protection on the west and south sides at all times and a wind break on the north in the winter. The sun on the east side on mornings not exceeding 70 degrees is generally enjoyed by the bunny.
Make sure the roof of the hutch is sloped to allow the hot air to escape. A flat roof can trap deadly heat.
BEFORE YOU SET UP A PERMANENT CAGE OUTSIDE:
Before bringing your bunny home or putting him outside, set up the cage in the most likely spot and then go look at the cage every couple of hours to see if the sun is shining directly into the cage at any part of the day. Remember the sun moves from east to west. (Don't laugh, most people don't think about it or even know whether their yard is on the east or west side of the house!) Just because it's shaded in the morning doesn't mean the bunny will be safe at 3 p.m.
CAN'T THEY JUST RUN AROUND THE YARD?
Yard bunnies can be a lot of fun and also a lot of heartbreak. They must have a safe place to run and many safe places to hide if threatened.
And trust me, FEMALES DIG! They don't just dig little scratches in search of tender little roots like the males! They feel compelled to dig great cavernous tunnels from here to forever.
When people call and tell me they want to get rid of their bunny because "he is digging tunnels", my first response is "Are you sure it's a he?" Guaranteed, the dirt mover is a doe!
If you aren't fussy about landscaping and have several hiding places around, a yard bunny can be a great delight!
An owl or hawk or even a crow and carry off a bunny in a heartbeat. Light colored rabbits are the easiest target. Some cats find a rabbit natural prey although I have seen an adult rabbit kick one of my playful tom cats twenty feet in the air!
Dogs instinctively want to chase a rabbit which can kill the rabbit from the stress even if it escapes the jaws.
Normally, rabbits will stick pretty close to safe territory but more than one has dug it's way to freedom only to meet a dreadful fate on the street or as dinner for some "wanna be" wild animal.