A Guide to Keeping Rabbits Indoors
Rabbits make fantastic pets, and in fact thrive in an indoor environment. They are quite social creatures and most importantly can be very clean - making them the perfect indoor companion. Indoor rabbit set-ups are super easy to put together and there are many benefits of keeping rabbit indoors including: reducing the risk of disease, protection against the elements, eliminating the risk of predation and improving the human and animal bond.
Once you have the basic indoor rabbit set up, the next step is to bunny proof your home, and train your rabbit to come back when called!
To Free Range or To Not Free Range
It important to realise there are two main ways of keeping a rabbit indoors: completely free ranging your rabbits, or confinement to certain areas of the house. You can even do a mix of both! Free-ranging a rabbit inside the house is entirely possible, but it is important to have a bunny-proof home, regardless of your setup. There are also some important questions to consider as well such as:
Do you live in a rental? If so, you may need to consider confining your rabbit to certain areas of the house.
Do you have other pets in your household?Â If so, can you keep them separate safely?
What kind of flooring do you have, and is it easy to clean?Â If not, do you have an area of your house that you can easily clean and keep your rabbit confined?
The Basic Rabbit Indoor Setup
The basic indoor rabbit set up, regardless of if you intend to have them completely free range or not, includes the following:
-Â A tall, sturdy playpen**
-Â A litter boxÂ
-Â A hay feeder
-Â Bowls for food and water/water bottles
-Â Bedding (including tunnels, play areas)
-Â Suitable flooring
Puppy play pens are perfect for indoor house setups! Multiple packs can be purchased to allow for a larger area to roam, and they are easily foldable which makes it handy for storage and cleaning. Make sure you purchase a tall playpen with small gauge wires where possible, as rabbits are capable of jumping and escaping quite easily. If you already have a hutch for your bunny, use the playpen to extend the play area available for your rabbit.
Rabbits are super easy to litter train, and this is no different in an indoor setup. Itâs important to allocate an area where your rabbit can toilet readily. Read our handy article on Litter Training Rabbits to find out more. Make sure your bunny tray is easy to clean, and relatively deep so that it can be lined with a good quality litter. Make sure to pick litter that is absorbent and can help reduce odours around the house. Although your rabbit may have small accidents around the house (namely a few stray poos here and there to mark their territory), a well-trained rabbit will often frequent the same spots. If your rabbit is completely free-range, simply place the litter tray in those spots. You may also need some additional protective flooring such as an absorbent mats or towels around the litter tray to help with clean up.
A Hay Feeder
Rabbits require a diet that is high in roughage or hay. In an indoor environment this can be quite messy! Hay racks or hay holders are a perfect way to ensure your rabbit is getting their daily hay without causing too much of a mess in the house. Dedicated hay feeders can be purchased online OR you can "MacGyver" your own using fabric bags with holes in them, old plastic laundry baskets with holes, or repurpose a plastic storage container as a hay holder.
Feeding Bowls and Water Bottles
Did you know that a study showed that rabbits prefer consuming water from a bowl rather than a bottle? Use heavy duty ceramic bowls to provide food and water to your rabbit. Stainless steel bowls are also great as they are easy to clean - be prepared for some bowl flipping though if your bun is still hungry! You can also look at using foraging toys to make mealtimes more interesting. Water bottles can be used in an indoor setup, and ensure you anchor it to a sturdy part of the their playpen or hutch. It is also best to allow your rabbit access to water from a bowl as well.
Bedding and Enrichment
Although an indoor set up provides many benefits such as protection against the elements, and reducing the risk of catching infectious diseases such as Calicivirus or Myxomatosis, it is still important to provide plenty of enrichment for your bun inside! If you have a playpen set up, consider repurposing cat scratchers and cat condos for your rabbit to play with. Tunnels are also great fun. Recycle old cardboard boxes for your bunny to enjoy and do some home renovations with. Rabbits will often cuddle up in soft bedding as well. Rabbit beds or even cat beds are perfect for these. Seagrass baskets and mats can also be repurposed for bunny fun.Â
Both overly smooth and rough flooring can cause wear and tear of your rabbit's feet, increasing the risk of a condition known as Pododermatitis aka âSore Hocksâ. It is important to ensure the main areas in which your rabbit frequents has suitable flooring.
Tiles, although easy to clean, can also be quite slippery, and lack traction for normal locomotion, which can result in pressure sores at the base of the feet. On the flip side, rough, abrasive flooring (which can include carpet) can cause damage as well. Their sensitive skin can also be easily damaged when kept on wet or soiled bedding as well. Provide soft, dry bedding or flooring where possible. Vet Bed is a super thick and absorbent bedding material that you can place in areas of high traffic. Thick, good quality fake grass and foam flooring are also options (however bear in mind that some bunnies may nibble on these, and they will need to be discarded if that is the case).
How to Bunny-Proof Your Home
Rabbits have a natural tendency to explore via nibbling, so if you want them to be free around the house, you will need to bunny-proof your home.
Electrical cords also known as âspicy hayâ are often the target of a bunâs explorations around the house. Ensure you have your cords well hidden behind furniture or hardware or high enough to not be nibbled on. You can purchase cord organiser/protectors from your local hardware store. These are often in the form of plastic tubing which can help protect your cords. Be aware that they can squeeze into some very tight spaces!
As indoor plants become all the rage, it is important to remember that many are toxic to pets when ingested. Make sure to keep your plants away from your rabbits, and high up enough that they cannot be easily accessed. Donât forget rabbits can jump quite high and will use their surroundings as perches to reach what may be, a seemingly impossible spot. Donât forget stairs are not an impediment to the stubborn, adventurous bun!
Natural fibre baskets or rugs are also very tempting to rabbits. You may need to remove these items in your house, or keep your rabbit confined to areas of the house where they cannot access them. Many natural fibre pieces of furniture are made of seagrass which can be quite tempting for bunnies to consume.Having plenty of stimulation and enrichment can help direct your rabbit's attention elsewhere. Rabbit specific toys are perfect for this.
Don't forget to also use pet safe disinfectants if you are cleaning their enclosure. F10 is a Veterinary Disinfectant which is safe to use on bedding and around pets. If you are using it around your household, remember to do a spot test on your furnishings. Human Grade household cleaners can be used around pets, just make sure to double check any safety warning or disclaimers for use around pets. Remember that most household cleaning products will have the caveat that they should not be sprayed directly around pet food or water, or directly on the pet. If you have concerns about using a household cleaner around your rabbit, keep them away from the newly cleaned area for up to 24 hours, to minimise any risks.
Rabbits like many pets, do shed. Consider investing in a good quality broom, mop and/or lint roller/fur remover. This can help keep your furnishings and carpet look minty fresh!
Teaching Your Rabbit To Go Back To Their Cage
It is one thing to let your rabbit roam free around the house, it is another to make them go back to their enclosure when you need them to! You will quickly notice that bunnies are stubborn little creatures who love running around and let you chase them when you are in a hurry.
If you don't want to end up chasing your bunny around, teaching them to come when called or go back into their cage is essential! Even if you keep your rabbit confined to certain parts of the house, recall is just as important! Not all rabbits enjoy being picked up, so training to recall can also reduce unnecessary stress from chasing.
The easiest way around this is to have a set routine. If your rabbit knows when to expect meal time (i.e. pellets, fruit, vegetables or treats) theyâll be inclined to come back without much fuss, and be rewarded for their effort with the promise of food! You can use a clicker or affirmative word to help reinforce the behaviour, and over time it will be second nature. Some owners like to use the shaking of pellets or treats as a sign to come when called.
Like everything else, it will take some time, but eventually your bunny will get it.
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