Image via Matagonca/Shutterstock
By Dr. Sandra Mitchell
Many people don’t stop to think about the details of their rabbit’s home, but it’s a very important part of proper pet rabbit care. Getting the wrong rabbit cage can lead to severe, and even fatal, health consequences, as well as a badly behaved and maladjusted bunny. This guide will help you get your rabbit off on the right foot!
Picking Out a Rabbit Cage or Pen
First of all, rabbit cages should be LARGE. The more time you anticipate the rabbit being in it, the bigger it needs to be. The absolute smallest size (for example, for a rabbit caged only at night when the family is in bed) should allow three full bunny hops in each direction, as well as being tall enough for the rabbit to stand on its hind legs to look around.
Most rabbits will spend a significant amount of unsupervised time in their “areas,” in which case a cage is likely no longer appropriate. These rabbits will benefit from the use of dog pens, such as the MidWest exercise pen. These pens are large enough to allow the rabbit to move about freely while being in a safe environment.
Even better, two pens can often be hooked together, allowing even larger spaces to be created (although models do vary). In all cases, however, err on the side of “larger is better.” Think about being confined to your home 24/7. Would you prefer to have the bathroom or the entire house? Bigger is better when it comes to a rabbit cage or a rabbit playpen.
Placement of the Rabbit Cage
The placement of the cage is also very important. Pet rabbits are HOUSE PETS, and their cage should be placed in your home, not in the yard, garage or shed.
Yes, rabbits are messy animals, and their areas require frequent cleaning, but they are also social animals and whither when kept isolated from their family. Additionally, they are intolerant to the heat as well as subject to a variety of outdoor parasites such as fleas and ticks.
Please plan on keeping your bunny in a heavily trafficked area of the house where they can be part of the daily activities of the family. Most people would never isolate their dogs permanently to the yard or a garage space—bunnies certainly deserve your undivided attention, too!
Rabbit Cage Accessories
When it comes to accessorizing your rabbit cage, your imagination is the only limit. Rabbit toys need not be expensive, but they do need to be rotated on a regular basis to keep bunny interested and engaged. Simple things like toilet paper rolls stuffed with hay make wonderful toys, as do cardboard boxes with holes cut in them, and pesticide-free branches cut off of backyard apple trees.
Experiment and see what your rabbit likes, but don’t put anything in the cage that shouldn’t be eaten, as many rabbits will love to shred and consume any toy within reach!
What to Feed Pet Rabbits
Rabbits were designed to be eating machines. Watch a wild rabbit in your garden, and pretty much all they do all day long is munch, munch, munch. This should also be the case with your pet rabbit!
Eating helps to grind the teeth into proper alignment and provides mental stimulation as well as environmental enrichment.
So what should you have in the enclosure for bunny to snack on? Contrary to popular belief, rabbit pellets are not necessary for a pet rabbit, and many veterinarians feel that they are not healthy. I do not feed my own rabbits pellets, other than as the occasional treat (meaning less than a few tablespoons a week).
However, they should have unlimited amounts of hay available to them at all times—and the higher-quality hay, the better. My favorite hay to feed is that made by the Oxbow company, which comes in several flavors: Oxbow Western Timothy and orchard hay, Oxbow orchard grass hay, Oxbow oat hay, Oxbow botanical hay and Oxbow Western Timothy hay.
Adult animals can be fed any flavor of hay, except alfalfa, which is too high in calcium for the mature bunny. I tend to rotate between flavors and buy several bags at once so that I can feed different varieties on different days.
Kept cool and dry, hay lasts a very long time, so you don’t need to worry about it spoiling. The other very important thing to allow a bunny to munch on is unlimited amounts of green leafy vegetables, such as romaine, kale, dandelion, parsley or cilantro—again, the choices are only limited by your imagination.
If your bunny isn’t used to greens, work them in slowly over a few weeks to prevent an upset tummy—but think about what wild rabbits are eating in your yard—GREENS! This is natural food for the rabbit.
Fresh water is also critical for a healthy bunny. I will usually provide them a choice of how to drink by giving them both a chew-proof water bottle, like the Lixit chew proof glass small animal water bottle, as well as a tip-proof crock, like the Ethical Pet stoneware crock pet dish.
Rabbits are pretty flexible, and if you watch your bunny closely, you will see what they prefer in their sleeping area. Some like boxes filled with hay, while others like to curl up with old towels or sheets for a nap. Remember to watch to be sure that your bunny isn’t eating anything they shouldn’t—especially if you are providing cloth for the sleeping areas.
Rabbit Litter Box
Some rabbits will readily train to use a litter pan, but others are a little more stubborn. See which corner of the enclosure your rabbit choses to eliminate in. They are quicker to use a corner of their own choosing than the one you prefer. Low-sided pans such as the Puppy Pan for dogs, cat and small animals are often preferred, but you may need to try a few different styles to see what your rabbit prefers.
I fill mine with something as simple as hay so the rabbit can snack while on the “throne,” but some people prefer a true litter like the Next Gen Pet Products green tea fresh cat litter. Just be sure your bunny does not eat it!
Overall Rabbit Cage Setup
For my rabbit cage setup, I generally will place my feed and water areas at one end of the cage and the bathroom area at the opposite end. I reserve the middle for the play and sleeping areas.
And remember, you still want to maintain enough room for several good hops between the areas—your bunny does need exercise even while inside his cage or pen.
Bunnies make wonderful pets, but remember that they are smart, social and active animals. To stay healthy both physically and mentally, we need to take these characteristics into mind when we design their cages for them.
With a little planning, it is possible to design a rabbit cage that your pet bunny will find wonderfully stimulating. Don’t forget, however, that any cage is indeed a temporary setup—your bunny will need lots of supervised time to roam, play in the house, and romp time in the yard as well (if you can safely do so—consult your veterinarian first for parasite prevention).
Happy, healthy bunnies are wonderfully fun companions who can provide you with endless enjoyment and companionship!