Rabbits are commonly kept as pets in the garden or, increasingly, as house pets. Both can work well if the following golden rules are kept in mind:
1. The minimum recommended hutch size for a pair of rabbits is 6ft x 2ft x 2ft, with an attached 8ft run, so they can shelter or exercise as they please. Rabbits need at least 4 hours exercise a day – think how much free exercise they get in the wild. Without this exercise they will be prone to obesity and their bones may become weak through lack of exposure to sunlight and underuse.
Lack of physical and mental stimulation commonly leads to behavioural problems in pet rabbits. Housing/runs height should allow rabbits to rear up fully on their hind legs, stretch out to their full length and to hop from one end of the hutch and run to the other. It takes an average sized rabbit approximately 6ft to take three proper, unrestricted hops.
2. An inability to carry out natural behaviours will lead to behavioural problems. Ideally, rabbit housing needs to incorporate tunnels and hiding places, shade and shelter, somewhere to dig, log piles and platforms to enable the rabbit to scan the immediate area. Remember, rabbits usually spend most of their time below ground. They are prey animals (attacked from both above and below ground), therefore not providing the above could result in an extremely stressed animal.
Rabbits in the wild spend all their time above ground foraging (eating grasses and plants). Bearing in mind how much of their day is spent engaged in this activity, we really should try to mimic this environment to ensure a happy pet bunny. Vary the types of fresh food your rabbit is offered and present them in balls, stuffed into cardboard tubes and boxes, buried beneath hay or hung from the ceiling or sides of the run. Hay racks for rabbits are also widely available. All these methods of feeding mean your rabbit will spend more time grazing and occupied in natural behaviours.
Runs should be moved to new areas of grass before the area becomes over-grazed. If you don’t have a large garden, try adding pots of grass, herbs and dandelions to your rabbits’ run. If a grass run is not available, a run on concrete can provide scope for exercise. This can also help to prevent toe nails from overgrowing, but hard surfaces can lead to foot sores, so check for signs of redness.
Rabbits can be very sociable house pets and can normally be trained to use a litter tray without too much trouble. You do have to be wary however of their desire to dig and chew (electrical cables and carpets are common casualties). There is no reason a healthy adult rabbit cannot live outside all year round provided a weatherproof, well insulated and bedded hutch is provided.