Housing and their environment
Hutches are seen as the traditional housing for rabbits. However, they were only introduced as a short-term measure for rabbits that were being raised for consumption, not living in it for potentially ten years.
Modern rabbit keeping looks at the hutch as more of a shelter within a wider area accessible to the rabbit, whether this be a permanently attached run, secure garden or similar setup (see our Rabbit Accommodation page for examples).
Being confined continuously to a hutch does not allow a rabbit to exhibit natural behaviours such as running, hopping, jumping and digging and is actually cruel confinement. Where used, hutches must be as large as possible, bigger really is better (a minimum space/area of 10ft x 6ft x 3ft is required). It is best to buy the biggest, best quality hutch you can afford even if your rabbit/s are only babies.
There are tiered hutches on the market with 2 or 3 floors. It’s worth bearing in mind the internal ‘ladder’ does use up floor space, effectively making the hutch smaller. Also rabbits sometimes slip on the ladder causing injury. So, a 6-foot hutch would probably be better than a 5-foot tiered hutch as it gives the rabbit more room on one level.
However, a hutch isn’t the only type of accommodation available to your rabbit. There are many other options such as a converted shed, child’s playhouse or even a free roaming house rabbit, which can give your rabbit/s a fantastic quality of life.
Your rabbit/s will require access to a run for exercise and the stimulation of a new area to explore. Many people find it difficult to put their rabbits out each day or find that their rabbits try to dig out of the run. The easy answer to this is to buy a hutch with a run permanently attached and site on concrete or install an anti-dig kit on the perimeter. This way the rabbit can’t get out, predators can’t get in and the rabbit does not have to rely on you for its daily exercise. Some simple corrugated plastic or tarpaulin can be draped over the top of the run to provide shelter but also remember to ensure the hutch is located in a relatively shady location anyway as rabbits can die from overheating in summer if not properly sheltered. It is wonderful for your rabbit/s to free range in the garden and the time when you are most likely to see them binky with joy, but you must ensure that the garden is secure (from the rabbits getting out and predators getting in) so it’s probably best reserved for days where you can keep an eye on them.
Many people do not realise that rabbits are highly intelligent and inquisitive animals in need of stimulation who quickly become bored of a barren environment. It is relatively easy to enrich their environment within the hutch and run. Like their wild counterparts, rabbits love tunnels and there are plenty of options both at the pet shop or at home (such as cardboard tubes or clean drain pipes). They also love a lookout and many things can be adapted for them to climb on. Chewing is also very important to wear their teeth down as well as to relieve boredom and things like cardboard boxes can satisfy both these needs. Some rabbits may also be interested in balls and this may be worth trying as they can be bought from the pet shop for little expense. Hay racks, hanging baskets full of hay or fresh food holders can also be useful. Most rabbits absolutely LOVE willow-based play toys, we find amazon is the best place to purchase these. You can also make your own toys at home out of use toilet roll tubes, cardboard boxes… add hay and forage to make it more interesting!
Large flowerpots can also be of benefit. When overturned they can provide a lookout or food can be placed inside for forage opportunities. It can also be placed in the run filled with mud to provide digging opportunities or even grass seed sown in it to provide access to fresh grass. Once eaten it can be removed to allow the grass to re-grow and subsequently given to your rabbit again.
These are just a few ideas but many more can be found on the Rabbit Welfare Trust web site, particularly on the page ‘A Hutch is Not Enough.’ Click here to visit the site directly: https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-housing/why-hutch-not-enough/