Keeping indoor rabbits
Rabbits can be a great addition to many homes. With more people choosing to keep their bunnies indoors, we've put together our vets' tips to make sure yours can have safe and active lives.
Making your home rabbits safe
There are a few things to think about before you settle on rabbits as a pet. For example:
- Do you have enough room?
- Where are you going to keep their living area?
- Will they still have access to outdoor space?
- Can you provide the right diet?
Firstly, you'll need to look at where you rabbits will live a lot of the time. This should be a secure space where they can eat, sleep or hide if they are scared. Their home base area needs to be at least 10 ft x 6 ft x 3ft (3m x 2m x 1m) for a pair of bunnies, though this is a minimum so the bigger the better. Non-slip flooring is best so your rabbits don’t injure themselves while dashing about.
While some people give their rabbits free run of the house or a whole room, you could also fence off an area within a large room or use a large pen. Within this, you should place a shelter for your rabbits as well as hay, food and water bowls, a litter tray and a digging tray. Don’t forget plenty of toys and places to hide! You can even make your own rabbit toys.
You’ll need to think about protecting any cables or wires your bunnies might come across as they’re known for their chewing and this could cause electrocution or even start a fire. You can try using special boards or tubing to protect your rabbits from access to wires.
You’ll also need to keep any house plants out of reach of your bunnies as they like to nibble – plus, make sure none of your house plants are poisonous to rabbits just in case. Ensure house cleaners and sprays and any medicines are kept out of the way, too. Remember rabbits can jump very high and squeeze through quite narrow spaces. Some of them also like to climb up on furniture. Take this into account when putting things “out of reach”.
You should also provide plenty of rabbit friendly toys around the house that they can chew. However be aware that it is very natural for a rabbit to chew and they are still likely chew furniture, skirting boards and door frames that they have access to. If this is a problem then the best way to avoid it is by keeping your rabbits to areas where they can’t get at these things unsupervised and use plastic guards to protect the area. If that’s not possible while still giving them enough space, then rabbits may not be the best pet for you.
Access to the outdoors
Rabbits should have regular access to a secure outside area. This includes indoor rabbits, who will benefit from time out in the sunshine and fresh air. You can put a secure run in your garden for your rabbits to roam around and graze in safely. In an ideal world, they’d have free access to this and be able to come and go as they please – this could be through a cat flap attached to a tunnel into the run, for example. If this isn’t possible, you’ll need to take them out to it regularly.
Their outdoor run should be placed somewhere shady and protected from wind and changes in the weather. Indoor rabbits are less used to the weather than rabbits kept outdoors so keep a close eye on them in case they get distressed over changes. In extreme weather conditions, keep your bunnies safe inside.
Rabbits are very sociable and if they are kept alone they will miss the company of other rabbits. It’s best to keep them in pairs or even small groups. This way they can entertain each other and they’ll be much happier. You should also remember to provide lots of toys for them to chew and play with.
You should spend time with your bunnies too. Try not to pick them up to cuddle them too much as they usually don’t like being lifted. Instead you can sit with them and let them come to you. If you do have to lift your rabbit, make sure you do this properly to avoid injury.
Rabbits are very clean animals and it's easier than you might think to litter train them. we recommend you get your bunny neutered, as even litter trained entire males can spray around the house and it's more difficult to train them out of this behaviour once they have started. Check out more information on neutering your bunnies.
Our top tips for litter training are:
- Provide a litter box. This can be a large cat litter box with low sides, or a shallow plastic storage box. Remember to get something without a lid and make sure it is at least twice as long as your bunny. Put it in your rabbits' main home area, ideally in the location they already toilet in.
- Use the right litter. Some types of litter can be harmful to bunnies so avoid ones that are scented, clay-based or clumping. You should also try to avoid wood shavings or pine pellets. Paper pellets are a good option, as is shredded paper or straw. You'll only need a thin layer of litter at the bottom. funnily enough, rabbits like to "poo and chew" so make sure there's also some hay within easy reach!
- Plan for accidents. Limit the area your rabbits have access to ( though keep the minimum space recommended above) until they've got the hang of litter training. You might want to consider putting a lot of newspaper down for them in the first few weeks. If your bunny has an accident make sure you clean it up straight away. This will help stop your rabbit from going in the same place again.
- Pay attention to your bunnies. This will mean you can better understand where they like going to the toilet and put litter trays there until they start using them regularly. Watch your bunnies to see where they are toileting most and move litter trays to these places.
- Leave a few poo pellets in the tray. To get your bunnies used to using the tray, instead of binning their poo pellets done elsewhere, pop them in the tray where you want them to go. This will make it easier for them to understand that this is where they should go to poop. You can also do this with their urine- if they've weed on some newspaper, pop that in the bottom of the tray.
- Don't punish your rabbit. You should never punish your rabbit, even if you think they're not really getting the hang of it. They won't understand why they're being told off and they can become afraid of you. They will come around with consistency and perseverance. Older rabbits may be more challenging to train than younger ones but if you stick at it they'll learn.
Feeding your rabbits
Food plays an essential role in your rabbit’s’ health and wellbeing. The wrong diet, including ‘muesli’ based diets, can cause all sorts of health problems, such as dental issues and obesity. These issues can even be fatal if left unaddressed.
An indoor rabbit’s diet should be mostly high quality feeding hay – they need to eat at least their body size in hay every day! On top of this, an adult handful of fresh greens and a tablespoon (or two for a rabbit over 1 kg) of grass pellets each day will make sure they get the nutrients they need.
Make sure you’re getting the right kind of hay for your rabbits. Feeding hay is different to bedding hay. It is fresher, smells much more strongly and is usually greener in colour. Bedding hay can be dustier dusty and is much lower in nutrients – plus, it isn’t as tasty.
If having hay in your home could cause problems for you or your family, such as triggering allergies, then keeping rabbits indoors may not be the best option for you.
Their hay can be supplemented with fresh pulled grass, or you can also grow some grass or herb plants indoors for your rabbits to nibble on. You should never feed your rabbit mowed or cut grass, as this starts to degrade very quickly and can cause your rabbits to have severe tummy problems.
Boredom in bunnies can be stressful, and stress can lead to illness or unwanted behaviours. Luckily, there are plenty of low-cost toys you can make to battle bunny boredom.
Pet rabbits rely on us to keep them fit and healthy. As an owner, there are some simple things you can do to keep your rabbits fit, healthy and happy.