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Tips For Choosing Your Rabbit’s Habitat

Rabbit owners can choose from a variety of options to provide the best habitat for their pet rabbit.

Laura Doering
Posted: July 15, 2013, 4 a.m. EDT

Mini Rex rabbit eating in playpen
Most pet rabbits need to be in some type of enclosure, the larger the better, for safety. 

Rabbits USA

Rabbit housing runs a gamut of styles. There are X-pens (exercise pens), rabbit condos, cages, hutches and a rabbit-proofed room. There are also variations of each, such as condos within X-pens. Here are considerations to help you zero-in on the best habitat for your bunny.

Living Large In The Great Indoors 
Rabbits can make great indoor pets. They can be litter trained, conditioned to come when called, and some will hop up on your lap to be petted. Another big plus is that rabbits are considerably quieter pets, so you won’t have to deal with barking every time the doorbell rings or be awakened by persistent meowing.

What’s more, companion rabbits that reside inside the home seem to especially thrive and are protected from weather extremes and predators. An indoor rabbit is also more likely to receive consistent social interaction from his owners.

The ideal indoor housing setup for a companion rabbit is simple in concept: the bigger the area, the better. Some rabbit owners have been able to do away with a cage or X-pen altogether, and instead allow their rabbits the run of a designated room or, in some cases, the entire house. However, don’t even think about plopping your new rabbit down in a room of your home and leaving for the day. Many steps must be taken before allowing a rabbit free-range in the home. And the reality is that the majority of companion rabbits need an enclosure of some sort for safety’s sake.

The first order of business is to rabbit-proof any area your bunny will have access to, no matter if it is for five minutes at a time or a full day. It doesn’t take long for a rabbit to chew through an electrical cord or speaker wires, scratch a hole in carpet, dig through flowerpots or nibble on houseplants. Some rabbits have a penchant for crawling in tight spaces, such as behind the fridge or couch, which can make it difficult to entice them to come out. There is also the concern of a door being left open and your rabbit hopping outside.

Bundle all electrical cords with protective tubing (sold at most home-improvement stores), keep houseplants and rugs out of rabbit’s reach, block off areas a rabbit can crawl into and hide (unless you have the time and patience to wait for your rabbit to come back out), and keep a close eye on your rabbit to make sure he doesn’t take a liking to digging into your carpet or chewing up wood furniture or your wall molding. Plenty of chew-appropriate toys will go a long way in helping deter your rabbit from helping himself to your home furnishings! Basic rabbit-proofing also includes taking measures to ensure that your rabbit is not left alone with the household cat or dog, as this can create a prey-versus-predator scenario.

You’ll also want your rabbit to be fully litter-trained. The golden rule to litter training is to start small and go bigger. Limit your rabbit’s range at first so that he is more easily directed to use the litter box. House your rabbit in a cage or enclosure until he consistently uses the litter box, and then you can increase your rabbit’s range by placing the litter box in a designated area of a room.

X Marks The Spot
Many rabbit owners find an X-pen setup ideal for keeping their rabbit safely in a designated area while they are away — an important consideration because a pet rabbit’s curiosity can get him into a hazardous situation when left to roam in a home. An X-pen offers a good amount of space for a rabbit to hop about, and a rabbit is likely to be content to be in this large setup while his owners are busy around the home or when other pets are out and about.

A large X-pen can be outfitted with a box, tunnel, small travel carrier with the door removed or a bunny condo to accommodate a rabbit’s preference to sleep/lounge in an enclosed space (his den). Most X-pens can be configured to be rectangular, square or circular in shape, which allows you to make the most of available space. While your rabbit should still be offered daily opportunities for supervised exploration outside the pen, an X-pen is a good housing option for those who are away from home for most of the day. 

Small Houses Lifestyle
At the bare minimum, your rabbit’s habitat should allow him room to fully stretch out, stand up and move around without bumping into the sides or top. It should also have enough space to accommodate a litter box and allow the rabbit to hop in and out of the litter box. The House Rabbit Society, an international nonprofit organization that educates the public on rabbit care, recommends that a cage be at least four times the size of the rabbit.

While you might not be able to offer your rabbit a wing of his own in your home, you can schedule in daily out-of-cage time and/or allow your rabbit the run of a room whenever you are home. If your rabbit’s habitat is at the small end of the size spectrum, think of it more as your bunny’s sleeping space and temporary housing while you are away. Your rabbit should not be housed in a small cage the entire day, day in and day out, just like a dog should not be expected to stay in a kennel for the majority of his day. 

Create a routine similar to dog owners who keep their pooches indoors full-time, such as those who live in apartments, where walk time needs to be incorporated into the daily schedule. Allow your rabbit out-of-cage time while you get ready for work or school and again when you arrive home. If you work long hours or are otherwise away from home until late evening, a small cage might not be a good housing option for your rabbit.

Add To Your Rabbit’s Real Estate
If space is a concern, a two-level cage can add extra room for your rabbit. This type of enclosure has a ramp for your rabbit to hop up to a second-floor loft. There are other ways to add to a rabbit’s real estate, such as placing a cardboard bunny condo within an X-pen or securing shelving grids together to add a "yard” around your rabbit’s cage. If you do find a creative way to increase your rabbit’s territory, make sure that it is safe. This means that it has no gaps where your rabbit can get his paws pinched or his head stuck, and that the materials are nontoxic, because it is a rabbit’s instinct to chew. 

One setup to avoid is an enclosure that doesn’t allow air to circulate, such as a glass aquarium. Rabbit urine has a high concentration of ammonia. Containers that block off airflow on all four sides can cause a buildup of ammonia, which can severely affect your rabbit’s respiratory system.

Make The Outdoors Great
Just as you must take precautions to rabbit-proof and keep your rabbit safe in an indoor housing setup, it is vital that you set up your rabbit for success if you choose an outdoor habitat. This includes protecting your rabbit from the weather extremes and predators, which can include neighborhood cats and dogs, birds of prey, raccoons and possums, and ensuring that your rabbit receives daily social interaction.

Most pet rabbits that are housed outdoors are housed in a hutch. A rabbit hutch is typically a raised, fully enclosed structure constructed for outdoor use. When outfitted correctly, a hutch can offer protection from predators, as well as shelter from the sun and rain. Many hutches have a wire-grate floor to allow feces and urine to fall through to a metal catch-pan below. While this design makes cleaning up easier and keeps your rabbit from having direct contact with his bodily waste, the wire can irritate a rabbit’s feet to the point of open sores if the rabbit has nothing solid to stand on or rest against. A mat, rug, wide flat piece of wood or other surface that allows your rabbit to step off of wire flooring is a necessity. What’s more, many rabbits like to snuggle up against something soft like a blanket or rug, which should be laundered regularly, especially if it is exposed to the elements.

If your rabbit is housed in a hutch outdoors, he should have an enclosed space within the hutch to retreat to. This allows the rabbit additional shelter from the weather, as well as a place to hide if he feels threatened by a predator or other stressful situation. Some hutches have a box-type enclosure worked into the design; if not, you can add one by placing a plastic igloo, a small travel carrier with the door removed, or a sturdy box in a corner of the hutch. 

Setups typically used for indoor housing might not be the best option for a rabbit housed outdoors. A cage placed on the ground might make your rabbit more prone to predation, because it gives cats, raccoons and possums easier access to all four sides, and this placement also allows dogs to run up to it, which can cause undue stress. An open top enclosure, such as an X-pen, generally does not make a good choice for outdoor housing, because it can leave your rabbit vulnerable to aerial assaults by birds of prey or predators like cats and raccoons that can jump or climb into the pen.

An X-pen, however, can make a good outdoor playground for your rabbit whenever you can sit there to offer adequate supervision. If you place the X-pen on grass, make sure the grass hasn’t been treated with weed killers or insecticides, as your rabbit could become ill if he nibbles on the grass. Place the X-pen on a flat area; if it slopes on one side or has an area of depression near one of the sides, your rabbit might be able to squeeze beneath and out of the pen. Also keep an eye out to make sure your rabbit isn’t digging under the X-pen; depending on how soft the ground is, your rabbit could dig under it and be out of the pen in a matter of minutes.

Like this article? Check out:
Rabbit Housing Do's And Don'ts, click here>>
Rabbit Handling FAQ, click here>>
Rabbit health questions and answers, click here>> 

Posted: July 15, 2013, 4 a.m. EDT


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Reader Comments
would the small netherland lopeared rabbits, or any of the smaller type rabbits, be ok outside in the winter with an adequate pen and hutch?
nancy, evansville, IN
Posted: 7/18/2013 1:25:31 AM
That's a beautiful rabbit.
Galadriel, Lothlorien, ME
Posted: 7/15/2013 11:40:23 PM
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