Rabbits are popular pets, as they are generally affectionate, playful, and bond quickly with their owners. They are active in the mornings and early evenings, and are therefore appropriate pets for people who work during the day. They are intelligent animals and need attention and mental stimulation. Environmental enrichment for rabbits is a must and is easy to provide with a little imagination. Ideally they should be housed as bonded pairs or trios, rather than as single pets, as rabbits are social animals and would not live alone in the wild.
Rabbits are quiet animals and do not require a lot of space, but do require exercise. Rabbits can be kept in a hutch, which ideally should have an indoor, warm enclosed area for sleeping, and two different levels, one for eating, grooming and relaxing, and one for defecating. Ventilation is important, so part of the hutch should be made of wire. Ventilation also prevents the build-up of ammonia levels. The floor of the open hutch should be made of wire with narrow spacing to prevent them from digging their way out of captivity. However, wire floors should be covered with hay to protect rabbits’ feet from constant wire pressure and injuries.
Floor space should be a minimum of three times the stretched out length of the rabbit’s adult size. Rabbits should be allowed out of their hutches daily, if possible, and allowed to run around a garden or home. Electric cords and other hazards should be removed, and rabbits should be supervised to ensure they are not gnawing on anything dangerous, or trying to escape.
Bedding: shredded paper towels or newspapers, straw or hay can be provided. Beware of pine and cedar chips, as these have a pungent odour and may cause respiratory and dermatological problems, and may cause elevated liver enzymes.
Environmental enrichment is a must in order to encourage natural behaviour and to prevent boredom. Rabbit toys are available at vet and pet shops. When purchasing toys, consider the material they are made from and ensure there are no sharp edges or small attachments that could be swallowed. Sturdy hard toys made for large birds or dogs can be used. Children’s wooden building blocks (unpainted) can be used to provide something to gnaw on. Ensure that the wood is untreated and not toxic (one would hope that children’s toys would be non-toxic!)
Cheap and safe toys can be provided for next to nothing, for example paper towel or toilet paper cardboard rolls, and untreated cardboard boxes (ensure that all staples and boxing tape are removed from the latter!)
Plastic plumbing pipes can be purchased from a hardware store to provide simulated burrows or tunnels. Ensure that the edges of the pipes are filed down and not sharp. The pipes should be large enough for the rabbit to fit through in a standing position, and to turn around in.
Vegetables and treats can be hidden in pipes and cardboard boxes or rolls to encourage foraging and to provide mental stimulation. Remember that rabbits in the wild spend much of their time foraging for food, and boredom can quickly result when food is merely presented in a bowl every day.
I hope this article has left you more informed on how to provide the correct care and housing for your pet rabbit/s. Click here for Caring for your pet rabbit – Part Two, for information on the health, nutrition and veterinary care for your pet rabbit.
Sr Vanessa Anderson, BA, DVN
Veterinary Nurse, Orange Grove Veterinary Hospital
Credit – Teresa A. Bradley, DVM; Peter Fisher, DVM; Rabbit Pet Care