I got my first house rabbit, Buffy, 10 years ago and very quickly I decided that I wanted to ditch the modern, fancy cage I had bought for her. I loved having an indoor rabbit and even though she lived in the same room as me I felt she was detached and distant from me when she was in her cage.
Immediately after removing the cage and letting her roam free about the room 24/7 the change in our relationship was almost immediate. She bonded with me very quickly and went from being a shy bunny who really didn’t have any kind of interest in me at all, to an energetic, bossy little fluff ball who’d climb all over me to demand nose rubs and followed me everywhere I went.
Buffy was only in a cage for the first few weeks of her life so it was only when I became a foster carer for Fairly Beloved Rabbit Care that I saw the detrimental effects on rabbits who had lived their entire lives in a cage. The physical and psychological damage on the rabbits was shocking and sometimes incredibly upsetting.
All of the rabbits I have fostered had been kept alone and many in cages no bigger than my own rabbit’s litter box. Their white feet were stained with urine and some smelled very badly as they would lie down and sleep in their own faeces in the litter box because they knew nothing else. One rabbit had teeth that were so overgrown from a poor diet and inactivity that her teeth had curled back up into her mouth and had to be surgically removed. Muscle wastage and an overall weakness in their bodies was also obvious when watching them tire quickly after a few minutes hopping about or have difficulty jumping up onto things. One rabbit was so overwhelmed with the wide open space of our narrow hallway that she literally didn’t know what to do, so she lay down and didn’t move from that spot. Rabbits are fastidiously clean and curious creatures but it was as if they didn’t know how to be a rabbit.
In some cases the psychological damage was more severe than the physical damage. All of the rabbits suffered from some degree of anxiety ranging from just being quite jumpy to severely nervous. Rabbits are prey animals so they need places to hide in their home so that they can feel safe. When living in a small cage there’s nowhere to hide or escape if something frightens or startles them. Additionally, the rabbits showed a severe distrust or a detachment from humans as if the cage walls themselves had created an emotional barrier between the rabbit and the human. With the rabbits who had suffered from severe anxiety it would take at least 2 months before I would start seeing any kind of improvement but that first time when they voluntarily come over to me and ask for a nose rub is what makes me absolutely love fostering.
The damage caused by keeping rabbits in small cages can be reversed but what makes it so heartbreaking is that a lot of good owners who genuinely do love their rabbits aren’t aware of the damage that they are causing.
A cage is simply not enough.
It’s so simple to go cage free. You don’t need to let the rabbits have free range of your entire home, just “bunny proof” a room to start off with. Bunny proofing is very simple and much like how you would baby proof your home for a toddler. Put anything you don’t want nibbled out of reach, hide or cover all electrical wires and give them lots of toys to nibble and somewhere to hide. An empty cardboard box makes a great burrow and junk mail or an old telephone book are a favourite among rabbits who love to nibble. Litter training is very easy with rabbits of any age and has never taken longer than 4 days with all of my foster bunnies.
I love sharing my home with my bunnies. I love it when they greet me in the morning. I love seeing them happily binky and do mad dashes across the room. I love it when I’m watching TV and they hop over and fall asleep beside me while I stroke their ears. Most of all I love knowing that they’re happy because they’re free. Free to come and go as they please. Free to roam and play and investigate and carry out all their natural bunny behaviour to their heart’s content.
I’ve been cage-free for 10 years now and I’d never go back.