Housing Your Rabbit

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

What type of cage does my rabbit require?

In general, the biggest cage you can afford is too small! When it comes to cages, bigger is better. Cages should be made of material strong enough to prevent the rabbit from chewing its way out. A large, well-ventilated cage with a plastic bottom and wire walls and top is suitable.

Wire-bottom rabbit cages are acceptable, but to decrease foot trauma, at least half of the wire floor should be covered with something solid such as plastic, Plexiglas, or untreated wood. However, note that wood is very difficult to clean and properly disinfect, so it must be replaced often. If bedding is not supplied, wire flooring or hard plastic flooring may cause sores on the bottom of the feet (also called pododermatitis, or sore hocks - see handout "Diseases in Rabbits" for more information).

Also, a concealed hiding area in the cage, such as a cardboard or wooden box, allows the rabbit to feel secure. A litter pan or litter box with bedding or timothy hay is highly recommended so that the rabbit has a specified area to go to the bathroom.

Does my rabbit need bedding in its cage?

The bottom of the cage can be lined with timothy hay or commercially available recycled paper products. Unlike wood shavings, these items are non-toxic and digestible if eaten. The cage must be spot-cleaned daily to remove all feces and urine and the litter box thoroughly emptied out and cleaned fully once a week.

"The bottom of the cage can be lined with timothy hay 
or commercially available recycled paper products."

Many rabbits seem to appreciate the addition of a soft towel to sit on, which may also help decrease the incidence of sore hocks. Be sure that your rabbit does not chew or eat the towel because the towel fibers may cause an intestinal obstruction. If your rabbit chews the towel, remove it immediately.

What else do I need in the cage?

Most rabbits prefer to urinate and defecate in the same spot. Like cats, rabbits will quickly learn to use a litter box for this purpose. You can place the litter box in one corner of the cage, and stainless-steel food and water bowls, or a water sipper bottle, in another. Some rabbits prefer to drink water from a bowl, rather than a bottle. If you offer water in a bowl, monitor to ensure your rabbit does not tip it over or constantly soil it with feces. If you use a sipper bottle, inspect it for clogs and change the water each day. Choose food and water bowls that hook on to the side of the cage so that they cannot tip over or ones that are constructed to be untippable.

In addition to food and water bowls and a litter box, rabbits need toys. Rabbits are playful and clever and could become bored if they are not provided with some mental stimulation. Rabbits like to dig and to chew. Cardboard boxes, paper tubes, paper bags, and hard plastic baby toys can make entertaining toys for rabbits. Offering your rabbit chew toys may prevent them from chewing inappropriate or valuable objects. Wooden sticks or blocks make good chew toys and are very inexpensive. Avoid cherry wood though, as it is toxic, and fresh pine branches emit a lot of sticky sap that could stick to the rabbit's fur and make a mess. There are commercially available wood items, such as wooden blocks and apple wood sticks, that are safe for your pet to chew on.

Can my rabbit roam around in the house?

Rabbits should never be allowed to run loose in the house unless they are contained in a specially designated rabbit-proof room or under strict supervision. They love to chew and can be very destructive to the house and furniture. Plus, if allowed to roam unsupervised, they can become injured by chewing on exposed wires, electrical cords, carpet, or poisonous houseplants. The use of an “X Pen” or playpen is highly recommended. This allows your rabbit(s) time to stretch and move around outside the cage without the freedom to chew on furniture or wires.

Is there anything else I need to know?

Rabbits tolerate cold better than heat and are very sensitive to heat stroke. Keep their environmental temperature at or below 80°F (26°C), and make sure their enclosure is well ventilated. If you choose to house your rabbit outdoors, you should discuss this with your veterinarian. Your rabbit will need an area safe from predators and one out of the sun to avoid becoming dehydrated.

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