When thinking of rabbit accommodation, you need to think about how rabbits behave in the wild.
They need 24/7 access to a safe environment that allows them to do all of the following:-
Running Digging/Burrowing Jumping Hiding Foraging/Grazing Stretching up on their hind legs Lying fully stretched out Binkying
The recommended minimum size already mentioned above is intended for small to medium sized rabbits; large and giant rabbits will need bigger accommodation. As a rule, a rabbit should be able to take at least three hops in a row from one end to the other.
It can be difficult to buy purpose-built accommodation measuring these dimensions but there’s no reason why you can’t build your own!
Rabbits are a prey species and need to be able to hide from things that scare them. They need to hide in secure places, away from sights and smells of predators (e.g. foxes/cats/dogs/ferrets/birds of prey). Making sure that your accommodation is escape-proof as well as fox-proof is essential!
Many people are now looking at alternative accommodation to hutches as they can be difficult to build and most of the time you will not be able to find one suitable that meets the minimum size to ensure that animal welfare standards are met. Not only is size an issue but also weatherproofing. Most hutches found online or in pet shops are made out of thin and weak materials that do not stand the test of time or our cold, wet British weather.
'Hutch' and run :-
A hutch is NEVER enough! A run should always be permanently attached to the sleeping quarters/internal shelter with 24/7 access. Rabbits are most active in the early morning, evening and overnight. This is when they like to graze, forage for food and be sociable so every effort should be made to ensure that rabbits have access to a large exercise area at all times - lifting them from their accommodation to a run for a few hours in the daytime just doesn’t suit their body clocks and instincts.
The minimum size for rabbit accommodation is 3 metres x 2 metres x 1 metre high. A 'hutch' or internal shelter should be a minimum of 1.8m x 0.9m x 0.9m high (or 6ft x 3ft x 3ft) and permanently attached to a larger area. Sadly most hutches and runs that are available online are just not big enough - be savvy; just because it is for sale doesn’t mean it is suitable! The minimum for internal shelters is the size of the enclosed area where weather cannot get in, most hutches found online unfortunately have most of the shelter exposed to the UK weather and therefore not suitable.
Converted shed and run :-
Converting a shed, Wendy house or summerhouse into a bunny paradise is getting more and more popular, especially now that more people are realising that our rabbits need access to bigger spaces to be able to carry out the simplest of behaviours like running and jumping. Not only do sheds offer more room for your furry friends but they are also easy to insulate for the colder weather and last much longer than a hutch; as well as giving the owners the option to go inside making it easier to clean and interact with the bunnies. Runs can be easily attached to the side of a shed with access via a hole, tunnel or cat-flap.
Below are some examples of ideal outdoor rabbit housing.
As the name suggests, this is where the rabbits are given the run of most, if not all, of the house. If you choose this option, we recommended starting off in one room or part of a room to begin with while your rabbits settle in and get used to both you and their new environment. Once they have settled into their new home and they are fully litter trained you can start letting them out to explore the rest of your (and their!) home.
See the ‘litter training’ and 'tips for rabbit proofing your home' below for more information and advice.
A particular room :-
This tends to be a room that has a hard surface where it is easier for you to clean up any toilet accidents or old food. Rabbits have fur on their feet and can't grip hard surfaces very well without slipping and sliding so it is essential to put something in place for them to hop onto. This can be anything from blankets, towels, rugs, carpet squares or cut-offs. Soft playmats are often used but please monitor your rabbits very closely in the first few weeks of using mats to make sure they do not chew and ingest any pieces. To prevent this make sure to give them plenty of room and chewable enrichment for them to nibble instead.
Part of a room :-
If you want your rabbits inside but can't give them an entire room, you can use large runs, flexi pens or CMC caging to cordon off part of a room. As long as you follow our minimum standard on size, you can have this as a permanent option for your rabbits or if you want to keep them a bit more secure when you are not at home and monitoring them.
Rabbits love to snuffle around and forage for food. Rather than using a bowl for their nuggets or fresh food, try hiding the food around the enclosure, in tunnels and in/on hides to get their noses working. This will encourage them to forage for their food and prevent boredom and obesity. You can also try;
Rabbits are prey animals so to ensure they feel safe in their home, make sure you provide enough hiding places for them to nip in and out of. You can provide hiding places by using tunnels, stools and cardboard boxes. Tunnels are very important as this provides a substitute burrow and encourages your rabbit to be more active! You don't necessarily need to buy tunnels; using cardboard boxes from your last online shopping spree is all you need! Simply get one cardboard box and cut an entrance and exit or gather multiple boxes of different sizes and DIY them together to make an interesting tunnel network or maze for your rabbits to explore and have fun.
Rabbits are highly social animals and need to have the companionship in the form of another rabbit (rabbits can live in pairs or groups). No matter how much time we spend with our bunnies, nothing matches the company of another rabbit. We lead busy lives and even if we make sure to spend four hours a day with our rabbits, the other twenty hours is them being alone.. but if they live with another rabbit, they will never be lonely. Not only does it prevent them from being lonely, it always makes them feel safer. In the wild rabbits will live in groups called warrens, where they can snuggle up and keep each other warm and, most importantly, this helps keep them safe from predators. If a single rabbit is alone it can make them anxious, stressed and overwhelmed however, if they have company, that's another set of eyes to watch out for any potential danger, so that a single bunny doesn't have to be alert 24/7.
Good quality hay should be dry, sweet smelling and free from dust. Hay can be found online, in pet shops and in local farm and livestock shops. You can put hay in their 'bedroom', in litter trays and feeding stations like hay racks.
Nuggets should make up only 5% of your rabbit's diet. Each nugget or pellet contains the same nutrients and helps provide a balanced diet. In the past, people used to feed their rabbits something call 'museli' or 'rabbit mix'. These are brightly coloured rabbit foods which can look very tasty, however they can encourage selective feeding where rabbits will only pick out their favourite bits and leave the rest. This means they don't get the balanced diet that is needed for maintaining their health.
Wild rabbits spend most of their day foraging for food; domestic rabbits should have the ability to do the same. You can use the nuggets to get your rabbit's nose working to forage around. Hiding their nuggets and scatter feeding is a good enrichment tool.
When feeding your rabbits any new foods, please check the list or research online to see if it is safe to feed your furry friends. All plants and vegetables should be washed before being given and, if feeding plants from your garden, it is important to make sure that your rabbits' vaccinations are up to date.
Rabbits must have access to plenty of fresh water at all times. You can provide water either from a water bottle or a water bowl. Water bowls are a more natural way for your rabbits to drink water but they can get spilled easily so providing both is recommended. Please ensure you refresh your rabbit's water daily and, if using water bottles, you give them a good clean at least once a week with a bottle brush to ensure algae doesn't grow.
Rabbits are sociable animals and we always advise that they need to be homed with other rabbits.
As a first-time rabbit owner, we would always recommend that you should adopt two already bonded bunnies. Contrary to this advice however, many pet shops and breeders do still sell rabbits as lone pets and then of course there are frequent instances where one of a bonded pair sadly passes away and the remaining bunny suddenly finds themselves as an only rabbit.
These situations will result in a sad and lonely bunny and this is when you may start thinking about getting a companion for them. Whilst this is absolutely the right thing to do, choosing a new rabbit to befriend your existing pet can be a rather tricky process. Therefore we are here to give you lots of helpful tips on successfully bonding bunnies...
Preparation is key!
First you should find the right friend for your bunny. A male / female pairing (both neutered of course) tends to work best and you should look for a rabbit of a similar age and size to your existing bunny.
You must ensure that both rabbits are vaccinated, neutered and in good health. Not only can unneutered male and female rabbits mate, but neutered bunnies are less likely to fight. You should also get your existing rabbit and the rabbit you are planning to introduce checked by a vet as any illnesses or pain will make introductions more difficult if either rabbit is feeling uncomfortable.
Give your rabbits lots of space! Remember you are suddenly asking your rabbit to share their space with a stranger so they need plenty of personal space and places to hide. Make sure you provide extra toys and tunnels as you don’t want your rabbits feeling that they have to fight for resources.
Recommended bonding techniques:-
Remember you must always keep a close eye on both rabbits during the bonding process in case any fights break out or ill health occurs.
Good signs to look out for when bonding rabbits are:-
Once they are showing signs of being friends you can move on to putting them together in the home they will share. Again, you must keep a close watch over them and although you may see more chasing and mounting behaviour, this should not escalate into fighting-if it does, separate them immediately and go back a step in the process. Like with the mutual space, take it slowly, and only have them in their home together for a brief time to begin with, slowly increasing it as you go.
If you want your rabbits to have free run of a house or garden it is best to introduce them to a smaller part of that area to begin with, though always with enough space for them to run and hide if they wish.
Once they are happily lying together and grooming one another you can consider your bunnies successfully bonded. Once they are bonded, they MUST stay together at all times; even if one has to go the vet then their pal should go with them.
The above process can take a long time but don’t be tempted by suggested techniques to bond rabbits quickly or using fear or stress to bond rabbits. You may have read online about “bunny speed dating” which is made to sound cute and fun but introducing rabbits without a period of prior familiarisation can be extremely problematic.
Rabbits are sensitive animals, prone to stress which can quickly make them ill. Being transported to a strange place, being placed into an alien environment and being given no time to adjust is extremely stressful for rabbits. This can lead to aggression, risking injury and, even if rabbits do appear to be getting along, you aren’t getting a true picture of whether they are compatible -what you are seeing is tolerance as a means of trying to handle their stress.
There are also techniques which use fear to force rabbits into bonding as self-preservation. This is known as “stress bonding” and it involves putting rabbits into a small confined space where they cannot escape one another and exposing them to a frightening experience such a taking them on a rough car journey, running a vacuum cleaner next to them or placing the carrier on top of a spinning washing machine.
These techniques are incredibly harmful and do not encourage true friendship between bunnies, rather it creates a learned helplessness where they become shut-down through fear. Also rabbits that have been put through stressful bonding techniques in the past are far more likely to struggle to bond with other animals in the future.
Avoid anyone who claims they can wave a magic wand and guarantee your rabbits can be bonded within a specific and short timescale (often people will say ‘within two weeks’). Rabbit bonding done properly can take a great deal of time and patience, but the rewards at the end are happy, healthy pets who enjoy the company of their friends.