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 -
bones which may lead to more easily broken bones when handling
• Poor muscle tone -
• Gastrointestinal and urinary function -
• Behavioral problems -
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-
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.
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-
If you are going to allow your pet free access to your house you need to “bunny-
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-
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.
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.
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.
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.