“A hutch is not enough!”
Rabbits are not designed to live in a confined space. Hutches were originally used by the Victorians when they kept rabbits in backyards as a source of cheap meat, and were housed on a short term basis while they were fattened up. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, rabbit owners are required by law to meet their rabbit’s welfare needs – which includes providing a suitable environment.
The Rabbit Welfare Association recommend a minimum hutch size of at least 6’ x 2’ which allows rabbits some room to move, stand on their hind legs, and enough space for the food, toilet and sleeping areas to be kept apart. They should be able to perform at least 3 consecutive hops. Larger breeds will need more space than this.
A hutch should not be their only living space – it should be attached to a secure run of at least 8’ x 4’. Bear in mind, these are the minimum recommendations – as with most things in life, bigger is better!
Your rabbit should never be kept in its hutch permanently. They need daily exercise; at least 8 hours per day in a large run or garden.
Location and Design
Their living area should be sheltered; out of direct sunlight with some shade, and also against driving wind or rain. It should also provide a hiding area where your rabbit can hide away and feel secure from predators.
The hutch should be raised on legs to prevent rising damp and deter vermin. The roof should be covered with roofing felt to allow rain water to drain off.
Unfortunately, each year many pet rabbits are unfortunately snatched by predators. You need to make sure your rabbits are safe from foxes, dogs, cats and birds of prey. Strong mesh is better than chicken wire.
Rabbits are very social animals, and should be kept at least in pairs as they rely on the companionship from another rabbit – they love to snuggle together, groom each other and keep each other warm. The best pairing is a neutered male and a neutered female. Keep them occupied with toys such as tunnels, plant pots or even a cardboard box. Scatter food around to encourage them forage rather than feeding from a bowl, and ensure they have constant access to hay.
Many people nowadays choose to keep their rabbits indoors, which can be very rewarding. The area needs to be well bunny-proofed.
Rabbits can be litter trained relatively easily. A litter tray should be placed in a corner of the area that the rabbit has already used to soil. Make sure the sides of the litter tray are low enough so that your rabbit can easily get in and put. It’s best to use newspaper or paper based litter. It may help to put some droppings in the litter box to start with, to encourage your bunny to use it.
Written by Laura Sullivan MRCVS