Indoor rabbits hopping around your home means that your bunnies are never short of attention and are closely involved in family life, which can be a great experience for these sociable, intelligent, inquisitive creatures.
However, before you let some indoor bunnies (always keep at least two, as they need the company of their own kind) loose about the house, some careful preparation is required. From creating the perfect indoor rabbit zone to safety issues to consider, litter training and managing their insatiable chewing habit – there’s plenty to consider when it comes to settling your bunnies in as part of the family.
But never fear, our 5-point indoor rabbit guide is here!
1. Create the perfect indoor rabbit zone
- Even if you’re happy to let your house rabbits have the run of the house when you’re around to supervise them, it’s essential that you create a safe space that they can call their own. Rabbits are territorial and having a specially designated area will make your house bunnies feel much more secure and content. This could be a room or an area of a room, partitioned off with a large run or enclosure. Some people use dog crates and/or adaptable puppy pens for an indoor enclosure, but this has to be as large as the recommended minimum size which is 3m x 2 m with a height of 1m. Indoor bunnies need plenty of space to exercise, explore and play.
- Rabbits have furry feet and no pads, so they will slip and slide on smooth surfaces. Non-slip lino for flooring is a good idea. Along with a soft vet bed for the rabbits to rest on, provide a litter tray for each bunny and a hay rack stuffed with good quality long-stemmed feeding hay. Rabbits need to constantly munch on hay to keep their constantly growing teeth in check and their digestions moving or they can become seriously ill with a condition known as gut stasis.
- You should also provide places to hide so they’ve somewhere to go to feel safe if they’re startled by something. Cardboard boxes with cut-out entrance and exit holes are ideal.
- Rabbits also like a private sleeping sanctum where they won't be disturbed when they’re having a nap. Create a place which feels a bit like a burrow, with a roof and an entrance and exit route and a fleecy blanket to lie on and dig at.
- Just like outdoor rabbits, house bunnies need to be able to display their natural behaviours such as digging, running, hiding, jumping and foraging. Supply a digging box (this could be large litter tray or plastic storage box partially filled with some chinchilla sand and hay) and opportunities to forage. Use a treat ball to feed them and they will enjoy nosing it around to get the pellets. Willow tunnels and willow balls stuffed with hay and herbs or paper bags filled with hay and special rabbit treats to discover will keep them busy.
2. Always think safety first
The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) advises that you must ensure your indoor bunnies are safe from:
- Other pets– as prey animals, rabbits will need to be introduced to other animals in your household such as dogs or cats very carefully. Ask your vet for advice.
- House plants– a number of these are poisonous to rabbits and so the only safe thing to do is to assume that they all are and keep them well out of reach.
- Electric wires– in the wild, while burrowing, rabbits chew through roots and they will treat wires in the same way. Cover them with cable protector, available from DIY stores, or pieces of hosepipe.
- Being trodden on– unlike dogs and cats, rabbits will often put themselves exactly where your foot is about to land. You’ll have to develop a sixth sense and learn to tread carefully!
- ‘Escaping’ into a dangerous outside environment– rabbits can squeeze through the smallest of spaces so you’ll need to check the areas they will spend time in very carefully.
3. Get the low-down on litter training
Rabbits are generally quite easy to litter train, although be prepared for occasional accidents. RWAF has the following tips:
- It’s a good idea to place the litter tray in an out of the way spot where the rabbit will not feel disturbed and place a non-slip mat next to it so the rabbit can safely jump in and out. Placing the litter tray in a dog crate with the door left open so your rabbits can go in and out as they want can work well.
- Put a hay rack within easy reach as rabbits like to poo and chew at the same time!
- Put some of their droppings and urine in the tray so that it smells right and encourages them to go in there.
- Keep them confined to an area around the litter tray and then gradually increase the time and space they are allowed to access once they are using it reliably.
- Use a non-clumping bedding, or newspaper with hay on top. Do not use anything clay based or made from pine.
4. Provide plenty of things for your rabbits to chew
- Rabbits will chew door-frames, skirting boards, carpets, and the wooden legs of dining chairs and tables. That’s why it’s essential that you supervise them at all times while they are running free in your house and protect anything you don’t want chewed.
- Provide lots of rabbit suitable alternatives such as gnaw sticks and toys, so that they are distracted from chewing furniture and rugs. They will also appreciate some willow, hazel, apple and blackthorn branches to nibble on.
- Rather than having toys constantly scattered around, keep them in a box and bring them out during your rabbits' active times (morning and evening) for them to play with. Rabbits are curious but get bored quickly so the reintroduction of a toy will grab their attention – if it’s there all the time they will stop noticing it.
- Put digging and shredding material such as old phonebooks and newspaper in a large, sturdy cardboard box with a hole cut in one side for access. This can also double as a handy lookout point.
RWAF has more great enrichment advice here >>
5. Settling in
Remember that all the household noises and smells such as the TV, vacuum cleaner, washing machine and cooking smells will all be scary to rabbits. Try a Pet Remedy diffuser to help them feel calm, and make sure they always have access to a bolt hole so that they can go somewhere they feel safe. Rabbits do adapt life in the home as part of the family, but they just need a little time to do it.
If you found this interesting, you may also like:
Meeting the nutritional needs of indoor rabbits >>
Why hand-feeding is a great way to bond with your small pets >>
Sources: rabbitwelfare.co.uk, rabbit.org, bunnyhugga.com