The idea of indoor rabbits is not a new one – rabbits have been kept inside houses for decades. In fact, any rabbit can become a house rabbit; they are not a specific breed, and there are some potential benefits to keeping indoor rabbits in the best indoor rabbit hutch.
Many people feel it allows them to build up a better relationship with their rabbits, and as they are living in closer proximity to them, to spot the signs of illness sooner. Rabbits are most active at dawn and dusk, so for working people they are most active before and after work, and social interactions are increased.
For some people, having rabbits outdoors may not be an option even with the best rabbit hutch and best rabbit run they can find. They may live in an area with lots of foxes, may not have a safe and secure garden, or the temperature may be too hot or cold. Whatever the reasons, indoor rabbits can and do make great house pets.
1. Consider safety
Rabbits love to chew and dig, this is totally natural for them but often they do not know what is safe to do so. They can easily chew through electrical cables, which may have fatal consequences.
It is imperative that you bunny-proof your home. Move all electric cables and aerials out of the reach of your rabbits, and bear in mind how tall they are when standing on their hind legs and stretching. Anything else you don’t want chewing needs to be placed out of their way too, such as plants, books, TV remotes, shoes etc.
Care needs to be taken when walking around, as indoor rabbits will run in and around your feet, and you may not notice them. Take care also when opening and closing doors so you do not accidentally injure your rabbits.
2. Make the environment suitable
Rabbits need to feel safe in their environment, and while they should be allowed access to a large area inside the home, they should also be allowed to retreat away for peace and quiet when they chose.
Rabbit cages can be used, but they must be open at all times, and used as a resting area or litter tray, and not to shut the rabbits away in. The rabbits can be placed in a single, safe room if this need should arise. No indoor cages are large enough for any size rabbit to live in and be able to express normal behaviors.
Rabbits do not like strong smells or loud noises – make sure you minimize these, especially cooking smells, and keep the volume on televisions, computers, and radios down to a minimum.
Ideally, all rabbits kept indoors should also have access to a large and safe enclosure outside, especially in the warmer months of the year, when they can graze and have access to the fresh air. To avoid picking up rabbits, which they find stressful, a tunnel/cat flap set-up is preferable for access to outdoors. However depending on your home, this may not be possible.
3. Rabbits will make a mess
Rabbits love to chew and will happily chew on carpet (often the corners behind sofas and furniture where it is dark), wallpaper, and the plaster off the walls, especially if there is a lack of other stimulation in the environment. These can be dangerous, and cause blockages in the rabbit’s gastrointestinal tract. If you notice your rabbit chewing any items that they shouldn’t be, access must be blocked off to these areas. You will also need to increase the chewing and digging opportunities your rabbit does have, such as providing more willow, apple, or seagrass balls, mats etc. to chew on and boxes to dig in, and the best rabbit toys to play with.
Hay is imperative to rabbits, and house rabbits are no different. Hay must be provided 24/7, and should always be fresh, sweet smelling, and free from dust. Feeding hay off the floor is preferable, and mimics a natural feeding and foraging pattern, rather than feeding from hay racks, but this can be messy. Place hay in several areas of your rabbits’ living area to encourage them to eat more. This should be changed at least daily, if not more often.
Providing several litter trays will mean your rabbits are more likely to use them. Place them in corners in different areas, and make sure they are cleaned regularly.
4. Mixing with other animals
It may be that you also have dogs, cats, or other animals in the household. If this is the case, you need to be sure they cannot gain unsupervised access to your rabbits. Cats and dogs are natural predators to rabbits, and even the sight of one may invoke fear and stress in your rabbits. Even the most gentle of cats and dogs are still capable of inflicting serious or fatal injuries on rabbits.
With careful introduction and training, rabbits can enjoy the company of household dogs and cats. Nevertheless, don’t ever assume they will be safe, or leave them together unsupervised.
Rabbits should not be housed with, or mix with guinea pigs for health, behavior, and welfare reasons.
5. Still need a rabbit friend
Whilst living inside with you will mean your rabbit has more human company, this cannot replace the company of another rabbit. Rabbits exhibit different behaviors to companion rabbits, from those they exhibit to their human owners, so it is imperative that house rabbits are kept in pairs.
The best combination is a male and female with BOTH rabbits being neutered. Many rescue centers will have suitable rabbits available for adoption, and be able to help with bonding.
It is important to remember that house rabbits also need vaccinating and to have regular boosters. Your vet will be able to advise you on this.
With careful thought and consideration of what rabbits need to live a fulfilled life indoors, it is very much possible to have them sharing our homes. They will make entertaining and endearing house companions, but you must be prepared for potential pitfalls and what you will do to overcome these.
By Claire Speight, Registered Veterinary Nurse, on behalf of the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF).
Claire currently works in Kettering as a Head Nurse in a practice with a high rabbit caseload, as well as frequently lecturing and writing on rabbits to both veterinary professionals and owners. She also edits the RWAF's quarterly magazine, Rabbiting On.
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