Selecting the right rabbit hutch will help ensure your pet rabbit is happy and healthy. Rabbits are active, intelligent, social animals; they have complex welfare needs that must be met if they are to be happy and healthy. Providing housing that meets rabbits’ complex environmental and behavioural needs is an important part of responsible ownership. Your rabbit will spend a lot of time in their hutch so it must be comfortable and spacious. You have a legal obligation too. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, rabbit owners are required by law to meet their rabbits’ welfare needs; these include providing a suitable environment.
First principles in rabbit housing
As an absolute minimum, each of your rabbits should be able to perform the following behaviours within the enclosure and shelter at any time they choose:
1. Stand up on their hind legs without their ears touching the roof [For a medium sized rabbit this behaviour requires a height of at least 75cm].
2. Lie fully outstretched in any direction.
3. Take an unhindered sequence of consecutive hops
4. Turn around unimpeded.
Check that your rabbits, when fully grown, will be able to perform these four behaviours within each section of their housing (both the main shelter and the living enclosure) as an absolute minimum. The RSPCA does not recommend that owners of baby rabbits buy ‘starter homes’ for their pets, but would encourage owners to buy or build a home that will be large enough to house all their rabbits for the whole of their lives.
How big is big enough?
Most rabbits live in hutches that are too small for them and most of these smaller hutches were bought in pet shops. The result is that some pet rabbits are in worse conditions than laboratory rabbits (Mullan & Main 2006).
In small hutches, rabbits suffer from loneliness, lack of exercise, and sometimes chronic arthritis pain if they spent long hours immobile for lack of space. They may also start developing bad habits such as repetitive hair chewing, head swaying and pawing because they have nothing else to do (Gunn & Morton 1995).
Think BIG when buying your rabbit’s home. Buy the biggest in stock or better still order an even bigger one. Don’t be tempted to buy a cheap rabbit hutch, they probably won’t be the right size or quality!
Your rabbit or rabbits should have plenty of room in their hutch. A hutch for one or two medium or small rabbits should be no less that 180cm wide x 60cm high and 60cm deep. Larger rabbits will need a bigger sized hutch. One or two large-sized rabbits will need a bigger hutch about 180cm wide by 90cm high by 90cm deep.
A rabbit needs a sleeping compartment, and an eating area. As well as this, there should be an exercise run. The bigger the breed, the bigger the house and run. Giant breeds need giant houses. Wendy houses, garden sheds, aviaries, summer houses, dog kennels with runs, or even chicken houses with runs offer more room than the traditional hutch. A walk-in rabbit house will make cleaning easy.
A shameful 18% of UK rabbits don’t have anywhere to exercise (PDSA 2013). So in addition to a hutch your rabbit will need a run. Too many rabbits are given runs that are just too tiny for good welfare (Mullan & Main 2006). Many of these have wire mesh floors which are known to create foot problems for rabbits kept on them for extended periods of time (De Jong et al.,2008). Ideally the run should be attached to the hutch if the rabbit is living outside. If not, then the rabbit should be put in the run for several hours every single day and there should be an area within the run sheltered from sun, or rain, or wind.
What should it be made of?
We would recommend choosing a rabbit hutch that is made of a timber frame with boarding in between. To stop your rabbits nibbling and gnawing at the timber, the interior can be lined which is also great for insulation. The outside of the hutch should be protected with paint or safe varnish. The inside should not be painted in case it’s unsafe for the rabbits.
Easy access is important
Easy access to the inside of the rabbit hutch is important. You should always choose a rabbit hutch with doors to both the ‘day’ compartment and ‘sleeping’ compartment. Always double check that the hinges and/or catches are good quality and fitted well!
You should also consider the height when choosing a rabbit hutch. Your rabbit hutch should be raised on legs ideally to about the height of a normal table. This will make accessing the hutch easier and make rising damp less likely.
Multi-level rabbit hutches
Choosing a rabbit hutch with more than one level can be a good idea as they offer more space. This is especially handy if you are keeping more than one rabbit in the same hutch. Rabbits are social animals and normally prefer to be with another friendly rabbit. The RSPCA recommends that rabbits are kept with at least one other friendly rabbit in compatible pairs or groups. Whilst there are exceptions where an individual rabbit must be housed alone this should only be for a good welfare reason, as advised by an expert, such as a vet or qualified animal behaviourist. When choosing housing for your rabbits, bear in mind the number of rabbits it is intended for. The more rabbits kept, the larger their housing will need to be as they will need space both to interact with one another, and be alone for a while if they choose.
Many multi-level rabbit hutches will have a ramp allowing your little bunnies to flop up and downstairs at their leisure. These ramps can also be used in front of the hutch door to let them stroll down into their own enclosure when they choose.
Providing safe hiding places
Rabbits are prey animals and therefore need safe hiding places within the living enclosure to allow them to hide, rest and withdraw from their companions when they want to. These hiding places should be in addition to the main shelter. Suitable hiding places can include cardboard boxes and tunnels.
Protection from predators
Outside shelters should be raised above the ground to help deter predators and to prevent the shelter from becoming damp. Any wire mesh on the shelter or the outside living enclosure should be of a heavy gauge to prevent potential predation and deter rodents, and any fastenings should be strong.
What should you put on the floor of the hutch?
A deep layer of soft barley straw is the warmest most comfortable bedding for an outside hutch. Rabbits prefer straw or paper bedding to wood shavings or sawdust on the floor (Turner et al.,1992,cited in Boers et al., 2012). However you could put wooden shavings (not bark chippings) below the straw, particularly in the latrine area (if you are not going to litter train your rabbit) or special rabbit litter. Indoor house rabbits don’t need such a large amount of straw and some people just put a fleece in their sleeping area.
Does a house rabbit need a hutch?
An indoor house rabbit needs a secure den where he can retreat for privacy and sleep. This must be lockable, so that the rabbit can be locked in at times for his own safety. Depending on the size of your rabbit, a crate sold for dogs might be the ideal. This must be big enough to contain a sleeping box, food bowl, hay rack, water bowl and litter tray. Crates are useful for taking in the car or on visits. Plastic dog beds turned upside down make nice bunny retreats in rooms away from the bunny’s den.
Choosing the right rabbit hutch is important for your rabbit’s health, happiness and wellbeing. By following this simple guide you should end up with a great rabbit home for your rabbit!
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