House rabbits – the risks of living at home

Many of your clients will be sharing their homes with a pet rabbit. This will be fun, entertaining and should be encouraged, but there are also many things that can go wrong if they don’t take some precautions. The home needs to be made safe, so in this article we look at some of the risks and offer some ideas to keep the home rabbit friendly.

Posted: 12 November 2019

House rabbits – the risks of living at home

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Rabbit-proofing the family home is essential and the owner should be warned of and prepared for some chewing, urine accidents, faecal droppings as well as hair throughout.

Essentially, the rabbits need to be safe from:

  • Other pets
  • House plants
  • Electric wires
  • Being trodden on
  • Escaping outside

A good suggestion is to ask the owner to get down on the floor and look at the world from a rabbit’s point of view. They’ll be amazed at how many places there are to explore, hide and chew. Indeed, the idea of rabbit proofing the whole home is so daunting that many prefer to set up an indoor fenced exercise area instead.

9 Hazards in the home

1. Electrocution

Electrical cords pose a considerable risk to house rabbits. Chewing through a wire could cause severe electrical burns or death by electrocution. Phone, computer and TV cords are also at risk and can be expensive to repair.

The most effective way to protect the wires is to wrap or enclose them in a hard plastic sheath. PVC pipe or polyethylene hard tubing can be split and wrapped around the wire.

2. Chewing challenge

Rabbits love to chew wood. Some people try using a bitter spray, but these are usually not effective, as rabbits tend to like bitter tastes.

Whilst some owners try to wrap and protect their furniture, why not provide a variety of chew toys as alternatives?

3. Plant poisoning

Many common houseplants are poisonous to rabbits. Even if they’re not poisonous, house rabbits can make a real mess of a potted plant by chewing the leaves, roots and digging out the soil. If they want to let their pet roam, it’s best to check if the plant is toxic first. A list of poisonous house plants can be found here.

Why not suggest hanging plants from the ceiling or placing them on tables several feet high? Don’t forget that leaves may still drop to the floor.

4. Stress from predators

Great care should be taken when introducing a rabbit to other animals, including other rabbits. Fights between rabbits can be serious and cause significant injuries.

Never leave a loose rabbit unattended in a room with another pet if there is even a remote possibility that aggression or rough playing could occur. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

5. Serious injury

A rabbit can be seriously injured if they’re improperly handled. Always take into account the age of children and their maturity and experience with handling animals.

Show children the correct way to hold, pet and play with a rabbit and support them when they do it properly. There must always be a safe area where a rabbit can retreat to get some peace and quiet.

Childproof gates to separate younger children from the rabbits are also very effective. 

6. The great escape

Open doors and windows provide an easy escape for a curious rabbit.

Suggest using security child gates, though some rabbits can even squeeze through surprisingly narrow gaps and jump very high. The golden rule is to take care when the front door is open.

Tell them to close any doors and put away unnecessary items or furniture and always do a final check before leaving. It may be better to have a safe secure fenced off area in a single room where the rabbit can be left for such periods of time.

7. Chemical poisons

Cleaning chemicals, detergents, dishwasher tablets, biological washing capsules and other cleaning supplies can be very dangerous to rabbits.

Even if the chemical is in a closed container, the container must be out of reach before they’re chewed. There may also be chemical drips on the outside of the container, which could come in contact with the fur and then groomed off and swallowed.

Best to keep everything away and use childproof latches to secure the doors of lower cupboards.

8. Lost not found

Rabbits love to find places to hide. Rather than let them disappear into the back of cupboards, keep these shut and locked. Offer cardboard boxes and tubes instead for them to explore.

9. Too hot, too cold

Make sure they have shade from the sun and warmth in the winter. Conservatories can have extremes of temperature in both the summer and winter, so aren’t really suitable for housing a rabbit.

Enrichment - keep them occupied

Minimising the risks in the home is important but keeping them busy and enriched will also go a long way to stopping them becoming bored and destructive. As part of your advice you can also discuss the benefits of physical and nutritional enrichment.

Physical Enrichment

Physical enrichment involves making the environment appealing and safe and allowing the pet to perform all of its natural behaviours. For rabbits, this includes digging, tunnelling, grazing and chewing. In the home, this can be achieved in a number of ways;

  • Cardboard tunnels and hides - tubes and boxes, such as those from carpet shops and supermarkets, provide ideal hiding and tunnelling toys. They’re safe and inexpensive and will provide hours of fun. Fill the boxes with clean bedding, hay or soil to allow them to burrow and dig.
  • Scatter food - dry food pellets can be placed in all sorts of different areas around the home. By doing this, the animal will have to actively move about looking for food. This helps to keep them mentally and physically stimulated.
  • Deep bedding – add plenty of fresh dust free bedding hay or shredded paper. This will allow the rabbit to settle and hide, so reducing unwanted stereotypic behaviour

Nutritional Enrichment

Healthy food treats can be used as opportunities for foraging to stimulate mental activity and increase exercise. This can be as simple as;

  • Hay bottles - stuffing fresh hay into a suspended plastic water bottle
  • Food line – attaching bunches of hay to a line with a wooden peg, or maybe create a string of vegetables fed onto a line
  • Activity balls – hard plastic balls sold for dogs can also be used for rabbits. As it’s rolled around, pieces of food fall out.
  • Move it around – why not suggest moving furniture, food items and treats into different areas within the home, forcing the rabbit to take part in an active hunt for food. This will help with sensory enrichment.

A rabbit living in an environment that offers high levels of enrichment is less likely to develop destructive behaviours. Enrichment can be applied to social interactions, the manner in which food is obtained and by play.

Have you seen our range of feeding hay and rabbit treats?

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