Environment


Cage

House rabbits should never be kept completely confined to a cage. Exercise is vital for the health of the rabbit.

All too often we hear well meaning, but poorly informed, people describe rabbits as easy to keep because “they

can be caged and don’t take up much space!” This idea has led to many rabbits being caged most of their lives

with the distinct possibility of developing both physical and behavioral disorders. They are designed to run and

jump and move about a large area.


To confine a rabbit to a cage exclusively to a cage can cause several problems:

• Obesity – caused most often by a diet too high in calories coupled with a lack of exercise

• Pododermatitis – Inflammation of the feet caused by sitting in a damp or dirty environment

• Poor bone density - Rabbits that are continually confined to a small cage can exhibit marked thinning of the

bones which may lead to more easily broken bones when handling

• Poor muscle tone - If the rabbit can’t exercise, the muscles, including the heart, will be underdeveloped and weak

• Gastrointestinal and urinary function - A rabbit that sits all day in the cage with little exercise can develop abnormal elimination habits

• Behavioral problems - Continually caged rabbits can exhibit a wide range of abnormal behaviors including lethargy, aggression, continual chewing of the cage bars, chewing fur (obsessive grooming), and destruction of the entire contents of the cage.


A cage can be used as a “home base” for part of the day or it can be open all the time within an exercise area.

The cage should allow the rabbit to stand up on its hind legs without hitting the top of the cage, provide a resting area and space for a litter box. It should be easy to clean and indestructible, therefore metal is probably the best choice. The floor can be solid or wire. Keep the cage in a well-ventilated, cool area. Basements are often too damp, which can promote respiratory disease. If you must house your pet in a basement, use a dehumidifier and a fan to improve the air quality. The optimum temperature range for a rabbit is 60-70 degrees F. When the temperature rises into the mid 70's, you may drooling, and a clear nasal discharge. If temperatures reach the upper 80's and beyond, especially if the humidity level is high, there exists a potential for a fatal heat stroke. On hot days, when air conditioning is not available, leave a plastic milk jug filled with frozen water in the cage, for use as a portable "air conditioner".


Rabbits can be caged outdoors if they are provided with a shelter to protect them from rain, heat and cold.

In addition, make sure the cage is secure from predators such as dogs, coyotes and raccoons and is kept clean

to keep from attracting parasitic insects. In the winter use straw bedding in the sheltered area for insulation and make sure that the water bowl is changed daily. Your pet can dehydrate rapidly if the water is frozen for more than a day.


Exercise Area

As mentioned, it is vital to the health of your pet to provide an exercise area where your pet can roam for a

few hours every day. The easiest way to accomplish this is to use exercise fencing panels sold for dogs. These

can be found at most pet stores. Buy fencing that is at least three feet high for small and medium rabbits and

four feet high for giant breeds. These panels are easily put together with metal pins and can be configured to any size or shape needed. The pen keeps your bunny away from furniture, electrical cords and toxic materials. The pen can also be used outside as a moveable enclosure to allow your pet access to grassy areas. Never leave a rabbit outside in a pen unsupervised, because dogs, cats and raccoons may be able to knock down the fencing or climb over it and harm your pet. If you need to protect the floor under the pen you can use a sheet of no-wax flooring which is available at most hardware stores. It can be easily cleaned and rolled up when not in use.


If you are going to allow your pet free access to your house you need to “bunny-proof” it. Block all escape routes, cover or block access to electrical, phone and computer cords, cover furniture to protect it from the rabbit’s teeth and claws and remove access to toxic plants, rodenticides, insecticides and other toxic materials.


Litter Box

Rabbits can be litter box trained relatively easily. When beginning training, confine your pet in a small area, either

in a cage or a blocked off section of the room and place a litter box in the corner (try to pick the corner your pet has already used for its toilet). Make sure the sides of the box are low enough so your pet can get in and out

easily. It is helpful to put some of the droppings in the box. Some people have also found it helpful to put some

hay in the box to encourage defecation in the box (they usually pass stool while they are eating). In exercise

areas, provide one more litter box then the number of rabbits you have and put newspaper or plastic under the

litter box to protect your floors from accidents. Never punish your pet while in the litter box.


Pelleted litter makes the best bedding and is preferred over wood shavings, corncob and kitty litter. Pelleted

litters are non-toxic and digestible if eaten, draw moisture away from the surface keeping it drier, control odor

well and are can be composted. Do not use clay or clumping kitty litter. We have had cases where rabbit ate

these products and died from an intestinal impaction. There are a wide variety of pelleted beddings available

through pet stores, veterinarians and rabbit clubs.


Rest/Hide Area

The ancestors of our pet rabbits would have spent a good portion of their day in protected burrows underground. Our pet rabbits retain the same need to have a protected area in which they feel safe and secure. Some rabbits

are content to sit in a box full of hay, others like a completely enclosed box in which to hide. Try providing

untreated wicker or straw baskets, litter pans or other shallow boxes filled with hay, cardboard boxes with an entrance hole and the bottom removed or large cardboard tubes as places to hide.


Use your imagination! If the cage has a wire floor, provide a solid area on which the pet can rest. Use material that is washable or disposable and absorbent. Some examples might be fake fleece (not long fur) found in sewing stores or absorbent baby blankets (not terry cloth towels). Do not use carpet squares because they are not absorbent, they are abrasive to the feet and they cannot be thoroughly cleaned.


Toys

Rabbits get a fair amount of mental exercise from their diet of grass hay and green foods, but additional toys are appreciated. Rabbits like to chew, so give them branches from untreated trees (please dry the wood for at least

a month to prevent any adverse reactions to the sap), wooden chew toys designed for birds, or unfinished, unpainted wicker or straw baskets. They like things that make noise such as keys on an unbreakable key holder, empty plastic or metal cans, hard plastic baby toys and jar lids. They like things that both move and can be

chewed such as toilet paper or paper towel rolls, empty small cardboard cartons and small piles of shredded paper.


Handling

There are a number of ways to pick up your pet depending on how calm he/she is and his/her size. The main thing

to remember is to always support the hindquarters to prevent serious spinal injuries. Rabbit backbones are fragile and can fracture if the hind legs are allowed to dangle and the animal then gives one strong kick. Unfortunately these injuries are usually permanent and frequently result in the euthanasia of the pet, so the best policy is prevention. Never pick up a bunny by his/her sensitive ears because it's very painful and totally unnecessary!

It is better to grasp the loose skin over the shoulders or scoop up under the chest and then place your other

hand under the back legs to lift your bunny from the floor. Work near the floor when first learning to handle your

pet so that if he/she jumps out of your arms there isn’t a chance for a fall. Ask your veterinarian or an experienced rabbit handler about other methods used to handle rabbits. Some restraint methods are particularly useful when

your rabbit needs to be medicated. Wrapping your pet securely in a towel is one easy method and your veterinarian can instruct you on the proper procedure.