As part of House Rabbit Society, we believe that rabbits do not belong in outside hutches separated from the rest of the family. They belong inside just like cats and dogs. Rabbits are highly socialized creatures and crave attention from their people. Rabbits can be house-trained to use a litter box just like cats do.
Rabbits are intelligent pets and will show you as much affection as you give them. Housing them outside shuts down their personality development and opens them up to a wide array of potential dangers. Rabbits have a normal temperature of 100-102 degrees. Extreme cold leaves them vulnerable to frostbite and death, while temperatures as low as 80 can leave them panting for some cool relief. A rabbit who is breathing with an open mouth is in extreme danger of heatstroke. Frozen water bottles are not going to provide them with the relief they can get by simply housing them inside where it's cooler.
Bunnies kept in hutches are vulnerable to attacks from predatory animals. Their feet can be bitten through their wire bottom cages. Raccoons and other predators have been known to attack this way. Flies can also bite them nonstop outside and lay eggs in their open wounds (flystrike) and botfly larvae can burrow into their skin. Fleas, ticks, mites and mosquitoes can cause even more problems for outdoor rabbits. Being housed inside reduces or eliminates these risks.
An example of bad housing. Hutches keep in odors from urine and keep the rabbit separate from their family. The grids tear up their feet leading to sore hocks and there is no protection from flies or animals.
Smidgeon's ears were irreparably damaged by frostbite from living outside in a hutch as a baby. It was only November.
We recommend that rabbits reside in cages or pens inside your house. Ideally, they will be in an area that is frequented by their family, so they can be included in activities and properly socialized. Housing them in your bedroom isn't necessarily ideal as they can make quite a bit of noise at night, even thought they are NOT nocturnal. The following items are some great ideas for rabbit housing, accessories and bunny-proofing.
Metal dog crates or kennels are excellent for rabbit cages. We recommend crates no smaller than 42 inches for a single small rabbit and either 48 or 54 inch crates for pairs or larger rabbits. We sell 42 and 48 inch crates at our shelter. They can also be found on Amazon here. We also find that the 2 door option is the best for ease of use and cleaning. We also sell cotton rugs and custom cage liners at our shelter to help make your rabbit's cage their home.
You can add ramps and shelves fairly easily to these crates to provide more room to run and added enrichment for your rabbit.
Make sure to outfit your cage with a food bowl and a water bowl for your rabbit. Water bottles are not recommended as rabbits do not lick single drops of water, but slurp large quantities at a time. Water is crucial to a rabbit's health and dehydration affects their digestion and can lead to GI stasis. Find a large ceramic crock or a plastic crock that can hook onto the side of their cage because some rabbits love tipping their bowls. We sell bowls at our member store as well. A litter box, hay rack and some rabbit toys to toss and chew will complete your rabbit's new home.
Here is an example of a 42inch crate modified with a ramp and shelf used by a dwarf rabbit.
"Did you know that I'm a Holland Lop? We're a dwarf breed with a compact body and large head. We are supposed to be no larger than 4lbs."
Cubes and Coroplast Cages
A cube pen! The cable ties are great for added support and making doors.
C and C cages are also known as cubes and coroplast or Neat Idea Cube cages. These are the metal and plastic homemade cages which can work well for rabbits and guinea pigs. Here is a guinea pig website with information on how to create a cage. Just remember that rabbits can hop and need at least two rows high plus a top if they can climb. Also, remember to place the coroplast bottom outside the wire cubes so that the rabbits cannot chew the edges. Give a two inch buffer around the outside of the cubes. You can get a pack of cubes (you may need two) for around $20 (Try Bed, Bath and Beyond for discounts). A sheet of coroplast can be found at local sign companies in many colors. They only run $10-$12 for a 4ft by 8ft sheet. Many places will cut them for you. You can usually find the cubes at Target or Walmart in the storage section and they are often seen during back to school time in the summer. Search for wire storage cubes on Amazon here. You can use cable ties to reinforce the connectors that come with the cubes. They are also great for creating doors. You want the cubes with openings closer to 1 inch wide, not three. The cubes are about 14 inches wide each. 2 grids high by 3 wide and 2 deep is a good size--about the same as a 42 inch dog crate.
Exercise Pens or X-pens are another dog item that can be used to house rabbits. We sell pens at our member store. Pens are ideal for larger rabbits or groups of bonded rabbits that need the space to run. You want pens that are high enough to keep your rabbits from jumping out. Some rabbits are fine with only 30 inches tall, while others need 36 inches. Bigger bunnies and climbers may even need pens with tops. Search Amazon for wire dog exercise pens. Here is an option from Midwest Crate and another option that has it's own door.
You can fill your pen with toys and line them with cotton rugs and blankets. You do not want to use carpet or anything with nylon as rabbits will chew it and it can get stuck in their digestive track. To protect your floors, you can place tile board or panel board underneath the pen.
A large 36 inch tall pen with removable panels and a door is great for large breed rabbits.
Corrugated tubing like this can be found at hardware stores and Ikea.
Grids can be used to block areas off from your rabbits.
Rabbits need to have some time out of their cages daily. Some rabbits can even be free roam. In order for your rabbits to live life to the fullest, your house will need to be bunny-proofed. Yes, it's a lot like baby-proofing your house. Think of your rabbit as a forever toddler: they will chew, taste and dig on everything they can reach.
Cover your wires! Rabbits are attracted to wires. They will bite right through them. If they are plugged into an outlet, this can mean a potentially deadly shock for your rabbit. If they are free-roam, they should be in a wire free room. You can buy wire covers(also called cord protectors or cord organizers) at most home improvement stores. Here is one on Amazon. Ikea also sells them here. Some rabbits can chew right through the thinner, corrugated covers. However, you can also make your own cover by buying plastic tubing from a home improvement store and slicing it lengthwise. Place it around the cord and you're finished.
Block access to unsafe areas. If you want to keep them out from behind or under the couch or bed, you'll have to block it off. A length of wood can work under a couch, so can a larger PVC pipe. The Neat Idea Cubes listed on this page above can also be used to block access.
Protect your wood. Some bunnies will chew the baseboards, you can use Ivory soap to help with this problem. Simply rub the bar of soap along the wood, the smell will make most bunnies turn away. You may have to reapply it every so often. Note that bitter apple doesn't work with rabbits. They like it. Pepper is also not recommended.
Have a litter box out. They will need a place to use the facilities when out of their cages. Most spayed and neutered rabbits will have no trouble using a litter box while out. Make sure they know where it is. Place some hay in it for food and to encourage it's use. Make sure to leave a water bowl out for them as well.
Now that you have a place for your rabbit to play or live, you'll need to fill it with some things they need.
Water bowl. As noted above, your rabbit will need a sturdy water crock instead of a bottle. Bottles do not provide them with adequate water. Get a bowl from our member store at the rescue.
Food bowl. It can be smaller than the water bowl, they just need to get to their pellets.
Litter box. We sell a few types at our shelter. The small corner ones at pet stores are much too small for bunnies. They need a cat litter box. Bus tubs sold at Sams or Costco work very well for extra large bunnies. Senior rabbits will need one with a smaller side for ease of hopping into it.
Litter. Rabbits DO NOT use kitty litter. It can make them very sick by inhaling the dust. We use wood stove pellets at the rescue. We sell them as well. You need to find hardwood stove pellets. There are no harmful oils in them that you would find in wood shavings. You can also use paper bedding like Carefresh for litter. Stay away from anything clay based or kitty litter in general. No shavings(even aspen), corn or coconut husks.
Cage pads. We sell cage pads and cotton rugs at the shelter. Do not use carpet.
Toys. Fun stuff! Cardboard boxes to shred and play in are a low cost, much loved toy. Willow balls are also great. Phone books with the cover torn off are fun to destroy. You don't want shiny paper like in magazines, it doesn't digest well and could contain toxins. We sell a variety of toss toys at the shelter. Baby stacking cups are fun for them too. Rattles and any very hard baby toys are generally safe for rabbits. No small parts, if it can go in their mouth, it will.
Nice, heavy crocks are great for rabbits--they're harder to tip over and easy to clean.
Carefresh is a good litter to use for your rabbits, it's made from paper.
Toys to chew on keep your rabbit from eating the wrong items.