Imagine you lived in a box. It was clean, you were regularly fed, but only let out every now and again to stretch and run for a couple of hours. You’d live, you’d survive, but would you be happy?
Basically, this is how we’ve been treating domestic rabbits for a long, long time. The accepted norm is rabbits live in a hutch and are let out to play in their run. But when you think about it, this idea of a separate hutch and run is an outdated concept. Domestic rabbits should be housed in accommodation where they can live comfortably and as naturally as possible.
Things to consider when buying a rabbit accommodation
They need both a sheltered bolthole to relax and an area they can safely run about in. Yes, it’s great if you have the space to let them run around your bunny proofed garden, but just like young children, rabbits shouldn’t really be left out unattended. I wouldn’t risk it, it only takes ONE attack to find out it was a mistake.
However, you might not have as much time as you’d like to stay out with them keeping guard for any foxes, birds of prey, or local cats that might be lurking nearby. And you certainly wouldn’t leave them out overnight, you’d tuck them away safely in their hutch.
But rabbits live on a different body clock to us humans, they’re crepuscular creatures, which means they’re most active at dawn and dusk. That’s why they need adequate accommodation that not only offers them a secure sheltered area, but also the freedom to exercise or rest as they please. Sadly, hutches on the market are inadequate and don’t offer this standard of living.
So what do you need to consider when buying or designing your rabbit accommodation?
1. Size and Height
Bear in mind that minimum sizes given by rabbit organisations or rescues are just that, minimums, so when it comes to rabbit housing, bigger is always better. Remember, no matter how nice, it’s still, in effect, a prison, so build the biggest ‘cell’ you can. You won’t regret it when you see their happy fuzzy faces! Don’t forget, you’ll need to be able to access all areas for cleaning or so you can get to your bunny if they’re ill.
2. Quality Mesh
Good strong mesh is a must. Yes, it’s much more expensive than lower grade netting or chicken wire, but completely essential to protect against predators. To prevent paws getting stuck or being exposed, holes should be no bigger than 25mm x 25mm. Weldmesh is considered stronger than the woven type and galvanised after welding will protect against rust. Don’t forget the roof too, as you’ll need to protect against birds of prey and predators that can easily scale the walls and climb over, this includes foxes.
3. Pressure Treated Timber
There’s always a concern treatments could be harmful to rabbits as they chew on the wood, but untreated timber will quickly deteriorate. The best thing to use is a special type of pressure treated timber known as Tanalith ‘E’. This has the treatment penetrated into it so can last up to 10 years, and is what we use to make climbing frames (if it’s safe for kids, it’s safe for animals too).
A slow grown timber will also last a lot longer as it’s harder to shred than a cheaper quick grown wood that many hutches are traditionally made from that bunnies will soon gnaw through and destroy. The correct timber can make all the difference between accommodation that will last for years and the need for constant fixes or replacements.
4. Fox Guarding
Rabbits can, literally, die of fright, it’s not a myth, so it’s a good idea to add some kind of fox guarding around the bottom of the enclosure. A strip of timber about 350mm to 450mm high will do the job. The point is to create a barrier so your bunnies feel safely hidden out of sight of terrifying predators but not so high they can’t see over it if they stretch.
5. Insulated Shelter
No housing would be complete without a sheltered bolthole to feel cosy and safe. An insulated area will help keep rabbits warm in the winter and cooler in the summer. I’d recommend Polyurethane as it’s the best insulator available (twice as efficient as loft insulation). A lot of hutch designs have many flaws though. The access hole is at the sides, which means heat can easily escape. A better idea is to have access from underneath so any heat generated in the sleeping area is better retained.
Ideally, the best surface to place rabbit housing on is grass, as this is what they boing about on in the wild, and rabbits need a surface with a bit of give so they don’t get sore hocks (the soles of their feet). Rabbits don’t have pads on the bottom of their paws, so aren’t suited to living permanently on hard surfaces. To prevent bunnies digging out and predators digging in, add mesh flooring underneath the turf.
7. Toys and Home Comforts
Remember to allow room for plenty of toys to keep your bunnies stimulated and free from boredom. Provide as many toys and distractions as you can to keep your furry friends happy. Also fill their shelter with lots of snugly bedding straw.
Save money and make your life easier by buying an off the shelf option. Rabbitopia, designed by one of the Company’s owners, Alex, an obsessive bunny lover (with 10 rabbits), to cater for the very specific needs of rabbits.