An article about owning House Rabbits written by Laura McFarlane, a Fairly Beloved Rabbit Care volunteer.
It is a relatively new concept to keep rabbits indoors. It can be very challenging but also very rewarding. Having 4 house buns of my own, I can honestly say the pros far outweight the cons (even for the most house proud!)
The first thing to say is that rabbits make excellent house pets. They are clean, quiet,extremely sociable and they love nothing more than to be part of the household.
Because rabbits are most active at dawn and dusk they fit very well into most peoples work routines.
They can even get on with other house pets. There are many examples of rabbits living happily with dogs and cats (although this must be done with caution and they will need supervision) but as with any pet, the best friend they can have is one of their own kind and that is very important for rabbits.
So why keep rabbits indoors?
The main reason I chose it is because I live in a flat. I didn’t think I would be able to keep a rabbit until I did some research. I found that there are many benefits. I wanted the rabbits to be part of my home and a be big part of my life. By keeping them inside I am able to spend lots of quality time with them without having to go outside (in the cold and rain!) I can sit and watch the tv with the buns lying next to me, play with their toys, talk to them and have a very close bond. Because of this, I am able to see subtle changes in their health and behaviour that I may not see if they were outside or if I wasn’t seeing them as much. As rabbits are prey animals, they hide illnesses and quite often can be seriously unwell before we realise there is a problem.
By keeping them indoors I don’t need to worry about keeping them safe outside, predators and extremes of weather – and as a very paranoid bunny mum this is a huge positive for me!
The first thing to consider is where bunny is going to live. Are they going to have a cage/hutch, their own room, or have free reign.
Whatever option you chose, your rabbit will have to settle into your house. The best way to do this is to give them a small area to use (puppy pens and large dog crates are brilliant for this and can be adapted really well to suit). By starting with a small area, they will feel safe and can adapt to the noises, smells and routine without too much stress and it’s a good opportunity to litter train them. Once they become used to their new environment, the area they are allowed access to should be gradually increased until they may eventually have free reign of your house.
As rabbits are very territorial, litter trained rabbits will often scent mark areas around the house.The house (and all contents) now belongs to them. They will leave droppings and may pee in and around their own area and possibly other areas they decide they like (my bed was a victim of this for a while :/ )
If this continues, reduce the area they have access to until it settles again.
Always give them a hide hole and a special place for them to go to to relax and feel safe in.
Our homes are filled with many hazards for our furry friends and before deciding to keep a house rabbit, you must be prepared to bunny proof everything.
Every area they have access to must be made safe. Wire cables are a major attraction for rabbits. They are like magnets to wires and cables… I can’t count how many rolls of electrical tape I have gone through trying to repair wires I thought the buns couldn’t get to….they are masters of destruction!!
The best way to protect them is to hide the wires altogether, but when that’s not possible, you can get plastic cable managers that cover the wires. It won’t stop the buns chewing but it at least they are not at risk. They must be checked regularly for signs of nibbling.
(Thick hose pipe can also be used and are normally a much cheaper alternative)
Many household plants are poisonous to rabbits. Always make sure plants are out of reach (bearing in mind they will jump up onto shelves/tables/windowsills) and always check for fallen leaves/petals.
Food is another hazard. Rabbits don’t always know what’s bad for them and may nibble at food left around or dropped on the floor and can cause health problems. I learned this early on when my 4 month old girl ate half a malt loaf that was left on a table one night…thankfully she got away with a minor upset tummy. Unfortunately though, she hasn’t learned her lesson and has been found trying to raid the biscuit tin :/
Another hazard that I haven’t found mentioned before is the toilet. If your bun has access to the bathroom I would make sure the seat is always down… They don’t know what it is and are more than likely to jump up thinking its a platform. This is potentially a deadly situation if they fall in the toilet.
Rabbits are very complex animals. Although they have been domesticated, they retain some of their ‘wild’ behavior. This means they can become very challenging at home. They love to dig and chew and sofas and carpets are perfect for them to practice this.
The best way to keep bunny happy is to give them a friend.
A single bunny is a lonely bunny. Some pet stores are happy to sell single rabbits but this is not recommended, even if they are house rabbits. When I first enquired about getting a rabbit I was told that it would happy on its own because as a house rabbit, I would be it’s companion and friend, but over the years I have realised this is not really true.
Even though you are around a lot of the time, you are not at home all day, every day. If we are out at work for long periods, rabbits get lonely and depressed. This can show in many kinds of behaviour. They can become withdrawn, stressed (strange noises can scare them), they may stop eating or can become destructive in the house due to boredom (Chewing and digging at sofas/carpets/tables) and can develop health problems.
Rabbits should always be in at least a pair. A neutered boy/girl is the best combination.
Pairs of rabbits provide great company and support for each other, esp when we are out and they are home alone. A pair of rabbits with turn to each other for comfort and although that means they don’t crave our attention as much, the joy of watching them interact with each other makes up for this!
It’s very difficult to avoid any kind of misbehaviour, but providing toys and wooden chews can help to minimise it. A dig box filled with shredded paper/hay is a good alternative to the sofa/cushions. Toilet roll tubes stuffed with hay/treats can be fun as well as many toddler toys (not gel filled) but remember bunnies have very sharp teeth and always check them for signs of wear and tear and make sure small parts are not being eaten :/
A good routine helps keep bunny happy. They are like children. They are very much creatures of habits. When you spend more and more time with them you will notice they tend to do certain tasks (like sleeping/cleaning themselves) in different locations throughout the day. This pattern repeats each day so when we keep them to a good routine – breakfast /dinner at the same time. Bedtime cookie/treat etc, then you will have a happier and healthier companion.
Although I live in a flat, I worried that the rabbits needed some outdoor time to feel the grass, the sun and get some fresh air, but despite many attempts, the buns hated it. They were not used to the noises (leaves blowing on the trees/wind/birds etc) and it ended up being a very stressful event for us all so I gave up on it. I still worried, however, that they were missing out on important vitamins so I discussed it with my local vet, who reassured me that if they were happy indoors then there is no great need for them to out if they don’t like it. I was reassured that if they are getting good quality hay and grass then they will get all the vitamins they need from that and they would not be missing out. That said, I still wish I could take them out regularly and that they would enjoy it.
If they do have acces to outdoor space, remember it’s a big scary world if they are not used to it. Start with a small area. And always ensure they are safe with no means of escape!!