Rabbits need space to exercise and play as well as to defecate away from their feeding area. With our increasing knowledge of rabbit biology and behaviour a small hutch at the end of the garden does not provide suitable living conditions. Indeed it has been proven that small hutch size is linked to several painful skeletal disorders and can increase the risk of pododermatitis (sore hocks).
So how much space does a rabbit need? The answer to this is as much as you can provide. The hutch should be at least large enough for the rabbit to stretch up fully on their hind limbs and perform at least three hops. A converted garden shed can be an ideal home for an outdoor rabbit as there is space to interact or move away from companions and a litter tray can be placed away from feeding areas. There is also plenty of space to arrange toys and hidey holes.
The house rabbit will need some form of hutch or enclosed space to keep them safe when unsupervised. There are many dangers in the home particularly for a species that has evolved to eat spaghetti shaped objects such as electrical wires.
Whatever is chosen for the main living area should be positioned so that it offers dry, cool and well ventilated shelter. Poor ventilation will increase the risk of respiratory disease and conjunctivitis. Rabbits are able to tolerate cold better than heat as they are unable to sweat or pant effectively in hot conditions so care should be taken when positioning their accommodation. It may not be necessary to move the rabbit indoors during the winter if they are acclimatized to living out of doors. As long as plenty of bedding is provided and the rabbit is fit and well they will benefit more from the opportunity to exercise, exposure to sunlight and adequate ventilation than sitting in a dark stuffy garage for a significant part of the year.
The floor covering should also be carefully considered as hard flooring that the claws cannot sink into to bear the rabbits weight can increase the likelihood of pododermatitis occurring also known as sore hocks. A layer of hay is suitable to provide a comfortable edible bed.
Rabbits will produce large amounts of urine and faeces but will readily take to using a litter tray which can be cleaned at least once a day. It is important to keep the rabbits home clean as you wouldn’t like living in dirty conditions that you are unable to move away from. The ammonia found in urine can lead to respiratory tract infections and droppings will attract flies increasing the chance of flystrike occurring. Litter trays can be filled with natural materials or litters, however clay litters can cause impaction if eaten and so should be avoided as should pine wood shavings and cedar chips as the organic solvents sometimes used in these can cause liver problems.
Rabbits ideally need the opportunity for at least four hours of exercise per day all year round. The safest way of providing this may be an outside run or enclosure which could be linked to their hutch or cage or could be movable so a fresh area of grass can be offered each day. Some people allow their rabbit free range of the garden but must first make sure they are safe from escape or predation from cats, dogs, foxes and predatory birds. Whichever form of exercise is provided a safe bolt hole should also be available to increase the rabbits sense of security when out. Other play items can be provided such as plastic tubing, feeding balls, branches and specially designed rabbit toys. If it is not possible to provide a safe exercise area then some rabbits can be trained to a harness and lead. As long as you are prepared to be led this is an excellent way to look after the physical and mental health of your rabbit.
Many rabbits enjoy burrowing. This is a pastime usually enjoyed by females rather than males although not exclusively. They may be more inclined to dig during the spring breeding season and burrowing behaviour can sometimes be reduced by neutering. Pregnant or pseudopregnant (false pregnant) females are also more likely to dig. Once a burrow has been established most rabbits do not tend to begin another and can be satisfied with the one they have created.