If, like me, you kept rabbits in your childhood some 20 years ago or more, you most likely have an image of a rabbit in a hutch, looking at you through the wire mesh with those big eyes. You’d open the door once or twice a day to change the water bowl and throw in some food, pat their head, close the door and wander off again – job done. Rabbits for me back then were “”cute”” to watch, but a bit boring. But hey, it was easy to look after (I thought), and they didn’t live that long anyway.
What I didn’t realise in my childhood was that my “”boring”” rabbits were bored themselves, growing old before their time as their body was wasting away due to lack of movement. Thankfully in my early adulthood I discovered what real rabbit ownership was like and realised the joy that can be found from providing rabbits with the adequate care they require.
This biggest myth about rabbit ownership, that rabbits belong in small boxed hutches, is still as common as it was back then, and sadly there are still far too many rabbits stuck in these conditions right now.
Research has shown that rabbits need lots more space than we originally thought. The myth was borne from how we kept rabbits originally – they weren’t pets, but a meat source and households would typically have a rabbit in a hutch to store it until it was “”ready””. But when rabbits became popular as pets we stuck with the same type of home for them.
However, its important that our rabbits are given enough space to stretch their bones & muscles when they are confined to a hutch area. Ideally we’d rather they weren’t confined to a hutch, but we know that for their own safety it is often necessary for them to spend some time in hutches. Research by the RSPCA and the Rabbit Welfare Association has determined that the ideal hutch size is 6ft (or 1.83m) x 2ft (0.61m) x 2ft. This is designed to allow a typical rabbit enough space to complete three consecutive hops, and to stretch up with enough height. Obviously for some larger rabbits it may be worth considering even bigger hutches.
The challenge though is to find a pet store or online supplier that will sell hutches of this size. The RWAF have provided a list of approved retailers who have signed up to their “”A Hutch Is Not Enough”” charter. Sadly though, too many retailers are still selling hutches which are far too small!
It’s often worth thinking about hutch alternatives – a converted shed or children’s play house is increasingly popular, and often cheaper than a purpose built hutch.
Another myth about the appropriate size for rabbits has come from the growing trend for house rabbits. Indoor cages are often even smaller than the outdoor hutches that you can buy, but it seems to be commonly accepted because the rabbit is indoors. In terms of considering their living space, it’s not usually appropriate to accept a reduced living space as a result of a larger run area: we must consider the amount of space they will have when locked in their hutch or cage, regardless of how much space they have when they’re out of it. “”They’re only in it at night”” still means they’re in it for at least 8 hours a day. This means that most indoor cages, including dog cages, are still not big enough for your rabbit. We still recommend providing something in the range of 6ft x 2ft.
A few indoor alternatives:
- Use a playpen to fence off a 6ft x 2ft area, and use an indoor cage base, dog bed or litter pan within the pen to create a bed for them within the area. Then open or remove the pen when you’re around for exercise time.
- Consider joining two dog cages together: sat end-to-end with the end panels removed will often meet the 6ft x 2ft minimum, and are still easy to clean, and remove when not in use.
- We’ve seen many people turn household furniture (cupboard units, understairs cupboards, utility rooms) into a rabbit pen.
- We’ve also seen people using outdoor hutches as furniture items. The best example we’ve seen – a hutch painted to match the living room dÃ©cor and used as a television stand, with the rabbit’s home under the telly. It also allowed all the wires for the tv to be hidden behind the hutch and out of reach from the rabbit.
As you’ll learn in our future blogs, there are other things that you need to consider when considering the size of hutch/living area you may need. For example, if you load the hutch with a large hay feeder or toys, how much space is it leaving for the rabbit to stretch?
If you’d like any further advice about giving your rabbits enough space, please don’t hesitate to contact us.