Housing & Exercise Guide

Do you have what you need for your rabbits?

When considering getting new rabbits, or when reviewing the care of any existing rabbits you may have, it is essential to ensure that your rabbits are getting enough space for living and exercise.

With such a wide range of products in the marketplace, it is often surprising to discover that many of these products are actually far from suitable!

Current research, backed by various welfare organisations including RSPCA, PDSA, Rabbit Welfare Association and various rescue services such as ourselves, has carefully monitored rabbit health and behaviour to assess the space rabbits need.

As of 6th April 2018, The Scottish Government have also now published their "Pet Rabbit Welfare Guidance", which you can view by clicking here.

The Don't Dos!

There are things that are relatively common place that we simply say “Do Not Do It!”, and we would not be able to consider adoption applications where any of the following apply:

  • Indoor “Rabbit” Cages.  None of those currently available commercially meet our requirements, and so we operate a “No More Indoor Cages” policy.  The plastic bases do make excellent litter trays though, if a somewhat expensive one.
  • We don’t support the use of hutches smaller than 6ft in length, unless they form part of an overall environment that ensures the rabbits are never confined to their living space.  Generally, we recommend you stick to our 6ft guideline to be on the safe side.
  • We don’t support the use of chicken-coop style hutches at all, regardless of the dimensions.  This is because these environments generally utilise mainly mesh sides and offer only a very small sheltered area for the rabbits.
  • Single Rabbits.  Rabbits are sociable and need company of their own species.  Other than for rare scenarios where it is in the individual interests of the rabbit, we insist that all rabbits are kept in pairs or small groups.

Need Suggestions & Ideas?

View our recommended suppliers list for living & exercise equipment and accessories too.

The 3 Hop Rule

Whether its a single rabbit (although you should always try to keep rabbits in pairs or small groups) or a pair of rabbits, the recommendations are the same in terms of space.

These recommendations are based on a rabbits need to be able to complete 3 consecutive hops at all times, even when/if they are shut in a hutch or cage only for short spells whilst you are at work or sleeping.

What Do We Look For?

The most basic rule of rabbit ownership has to be that you should always aim to give your rabbits as much space as you possibly can.  So with that in mind, the following should be considered a rough guide of what is expected as a minimum recommendation.

Space

The RWAF’s latest recommendation is to aim to provide an overall environment for your rabbits of 10ft x 6ft, or equivalent.  This should incorporate a combination of living space (traditionally a hutch) and exercise space (traditionally an exercise run).

Rabbits must have constant access to their full environment, choosing for themselves when to relax in their living space or binky around their exercise space.

Living Space

Living space should be a minimum of 6ft (183cm) x 2ft (61cm) x 2ft(61cm).  These requirements are true whether it is an outdoor environment like a hutch or a shed, or whether its an indoor setup that rabbits are sometimes (even if its occasionally) locked into.

Most commercially available hutches and indoor cages are therefore considered to be too small and you may need to think "outside the box" in terms of suitable accommodation.

Outdoors, garden sheds and children's playhouses can easily and cheaply be adapted to make excellent living accommodation for your rabbit.

Indoors, we insist on avoiding the use of indoor cages such as those sold in many pet shops.  One solution is to use a puppy plan pen setup to create a safe secure area within your home that rabbits can be safely locked away in when you are not around, whilst still ensuring they get adequate space.

Within their living area there should be facilities for sleeping (lots of warm bedding such as straw, blankets, paper, etc), an area for toileting (ideally with a litterpan in place), and an area for eating with plenty of hay, fresh veg & herbs and a small amount of dried rabbit pellets (only about an egg cup size per day) and of course fresh water supplied either via a suitable bottle and/or bowl.

Exercise Space

Just as important is ensuring that your rabbits are getting plenty of exercise.  Our minimum requirement would be for the living area to have a permanently attached exercise area that allows the rabbits themselves to choose when they want to be in their living space or in their exercise space. Runaround systems are an excellent way to connect living space to exercise space.

Owners may wish to consider closing access to exercise areas overnight, on the basis of safety and protection from predators.  We would encourage owners to consider all other safety precautions to prevent predator attacks and only use this technique as a last resort, ensuring that if you are locking rabbits away it is only done so at the latest possible opportunity at night, and access is re-opened as early as possible the next day.  This is because rabbits are most active at dawn and dusk and we should not prevent them the opportunity to demonstrate their natural behaviours during these times.

Our minimum requirement for exercise space is  an area 8ft (244cm) x 6ft (183cm).  

But remember the rule: always aim to give your rabbits as much space as you possibly can.

Within the run space there should be things to keep the rabbits entertained and stimulated.  Toys could include tunnels, boxes, stools, chew toys, etc.  It is also really important to have somewhere the rabbit can hide within the run if they get scared or simply want some alone time.

 

Protection From Weather & Predators

Your rabbits environment needs to consider protection from weather & predators.  Rabbits can cope with reasonable dips in temperature, but are often harmed by harsh winds and rains rather than low temperatures.  And the mere sight of a fox can be enough to startle your rabbit to death.

This means that there should be a well sheltered area, offering ample space for movement within a closed-off area that is guarded from wind and rain, and allows your rabbits to hide from the outside world when they wish to do so.

We suggest then that outdoor living spaces should meet the space requirements above with at least three of the walls using solid materials.  Many cheap hutches and chicken-coop style homes utilise a large amount of wire mesh finishing which leaves the living area open to the dangers of weather and predators.

Many forget about the temperatures of summer too, and protection from extreme temperatures is also important.

For both hot and cold temperatures, insulation measures can make a big difference.  These can be inbuilt on the equipment, or you may use insulated covers and liners.

Rabbits also like to be able to hide quickly if they feel they may be under threat of attack, and so hiding spaces are crucial within the environment.  As well as a sheltered living area, we recommend additional hiding spaces within the exercise area such as hide boxes (these can be cardboard, timber or plastic), tunnels and more.

Safety & Security From Predators & Others

We live in a complex and often confusing world, and the reality is that our pet rabbits aren’t as secure as we would like them to be in our homes and in our gardens.  Many people consider safety from foxes, but often forget about other predators such as birds of prey.

Sadly, they are also not safe from other humans.  There are many stories of rabbits being deliberately stolen, let free from their environment or abused and tortured.

Your rabbits’ environment therefore needs to consider additional security measures.

Chicken Wire and some weaker wire mesh netting is actually not fox proof!  A fox will be able to break through many of these systems.  So ensure that any mesh used on your run is of a high standard and securely attached to the framework of the environment.

We do not recommend open-topped runs and environments as foxes can scale over tall fences and walls, and birds of prey can also swoop down very quickly.  We recommend that all environments are fully enclosed, and if possible we suggest doing this at “walk-in” height so that it is easier for you to access your rabbits and spend time with them in their own environment.

Many rabbit owners like to offer their rabbits free-reign of their garden.  From a space perspective this is fantastic, and whilst we are not against doing this we do urge some careful thought an planning to ensure you are comfortable that the threat of predators is a low risk to your rabbits.

We also recommend that for outdoor rabbits all environments are locked with high-security padlocks or equivalent to prevent unwanted access by strangers.  Consider also additional security on any main access garden and property gates to further protect your rabbits.

Safety is important for indoor rabbits, where you should consider the following factors:

  • Ensure there are no small spaces a rabbit can squeeze into and become inaccessible or stuck.
  • Ensure all electrical cables are completely out of the way.  Rabbits will chew cables if given the opportunity which will result in damage to your electrical goods but may also result in electric shock for your pet.
  • Stairs should be considered carefully.  Most rabbits learn to go up and down stairs happily and safely, but thought should also be given to any extreme drops from banister landings or similar.
  • Consider restricting access to areas leading to doorways where they may accidentally become trapped in closing doorways, or escape into areas not suitable for them and/or areas outside (unless they are also to gain garden access).

Boredom Breakers

Rabbits are highly intelligent, social, interactive animals who get bored very easily.

We look for adopters to consider ways to make sure their rabbits are stimulated and entertained within their environments.

This should include items such as:

  • Hide boxes
  • Tunnels
  • Dig Boxes
  • Toys
  • Beds & Resting places
  • Multiple levels

Bigger is Always Better

The sizes quoted here are recommendations and minimums.  You cannot do your rabbits any harm by offering more space, as long as you are confident that the space is secure and safe.

Got Space And Ready To Adopt?

Check out our rabbits all waiting for adoption right now!

Need Suggestions & Ideas?

View our recommended suppliers list for living & exercise equipment and accessories too.