Rabbits can be housed indoors, outdoors, or a combination of both.
There are some basic considerations for housing, and then special factors that depend on the location the rabbits are housed.
Many hutches marketed for rabbits are too small; these active and inquisitive animals need plenty of space. The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund recommends a minimum enclosure area of 3m x 2m x 1m for a pair of average-sized rabbits, regardless of whether they are housed indoors or outdoors. Cages for rabbits over 12 weeks old should be not less than 45cm high and should be of sufficient height to allow rabbits to sit upright with ears fully erect.
A rabbit enclosure consists of two parts:
- A hutch is an enclosed area where your rabbits can hide, sleep, and eat. It should be draught- and rain-proof, quiet and dark, and your rabbits should be able to come and go as they please. It needs to be large enough for all your rabbits to lie outstretched and sit down without restrictions. A ‘burrowing’ area (usually deep straw or hay) should also be included with regularly cleaned bedding. Burrowing is a normal behaviour for rabbits and gives them added security. Wire floors should be avoided – if this is not possible, the hutch floor should be covered in newspaper and deep hay or straw.
- An attached exercise run is essential. Rabbits are very active animals – they need to be able to run around to prevent excessive weight gain or bone problems. The run needs to be long enough to allow your rabbit to run, jump, sit/stand upright, exercise, and express normal behaviours (such as grooming and feeding, with a separate area for toileting). It must also provide the opportunity for plenty of mental stimulation. See this article for some suggestions on how to do this.
Other considerations for your rabbits’ enclosure:
- Indoor rabbits will benefit from occasional outdoor activities through moving them out into a safe place outdoors three to four times weekly, or they can be trained to use a cat flap to a secure safe outdoor area.
- Both indoor and outdoor enclosures must provide protection against predators such as dogs, cats, and birds of prey.
- It must be insect-proof (flies and mosquitoes). Mosquitoes can infect rabbits with dangerous diseases such as myxomatosis or Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (calicivirus). Netting is also essential in order to keep out flies which can cause ‘flystrike’. Flystrike is a condition where flies lay their eggs on the rabbit and maggots hatch out, which can burrow into the rabbit’s skin and have fatal results.
- Rabbits are susceptible to heat stress. If outdoors, the enclosure needs to be well-ventilated and have adequate shade to prevent it from becoming too hot. An entry and exit hole should be made at each end of the hutch to allow air to circulate and to allow the removal of moisture and ammonia. For more information see this article.
- Access to the enclosure by feral rabbits, rats, and mice should be prevented by fencing and enclosure design.
Another option is to keep your rabbit entirely indoors, with free run of the house replacing an exercise run. A big benefit of this option is that people can spend a lot more time getting to know their rabbit companions really well, fostering positive interactions with them and forming a close bond. Your rabbits would still need a hutch to themselves inside so they have their own private space to which they can retreat for some peace and quiet but otherwise are only confined by the house itself. They can even be toilet trained (litter trained); see this article for more information. The downside to this system is the access to household hazards by your rabbit, so it is important to take steps to minimise the risks. See this article for more information.
What do I need to provide for my rabbit in their home?
Having a safe hiding spot is important for your indoor rabbit. It should include an entrance and an exit hole, so your rabbit doesn’t feel trapped while inside. Cardboard boxes, modified cupboards, or soft cat/dog tunnels or beds may be suitable. Some soft bedding such as blankets, old sheets, or padded pet beds should be provided for your rabbits to rest on.
Rabbits love height, so providing ramps or a small cupboard or hutch that they can jump on top of is a great idea.
Food and water bowls should be easily washable, flat, and wide. Hay racks (such as wire hanging baskets) should also be provided. Bowls should be heavy enough to stop the rabbit lifting it or otherwise tipping it over. You may need several food and water dishes to prevent competition between rabbits.
Rabbits love to dig, but this may allow them to escape. But because digging is a natural behaviour, you will need to provide them with an alternative: a digging pit, which could be a large litter tray or planter filled with earth.
Litter trays should be easy for your rabbit to climb in and out of and easy to clean. Plastic cat litter are ideal, and hay is the ideal substrate. Ideally, whether your rabbits are housed indoors or outdoors, there should be one tray per rabbit plus at least one extra to prevent rabbits from fighting over resources.
1. Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (2023) How to keep pet rabbits happy and healthy. Accessed 15 Feb 2023
2. Jenkins JR (2001) Rabbit Behavior. Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract 4:669–679
3. Crowell-Davis S (2021) Rabbit Behaviour. Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract 24:53–62
4. Varga M, Harcourt-Brown F (2014) Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, 2nd ed. Elsevier