To make this easier to digest, I have sorted it into outdoor and indoor housing. By now, you ought to have some idea of whether your rabbits will be living outside or inside. You can either jump to the relevant section or if you are still deciding, read both parts. Where possible, I will give you some pros and cons of each type of housing.
This is the traditional housing method for rabbits. A hutch is basically a wooden structure with weatherproof roofing. They come in various sizes and shapes although generic ones are rectangular with either one floor or two. Hutches will have a smaller area which is shielded so the rabbit can hide and a larger area which will have strong mesh so you can see your pet and your pet can see its surroundings. Both sides will be fully accessible with doors. Firstly, I will go over the basic things to look out for in a hutch, then I will talk about the various styles and finally I will give you some pros and cons of using a hutch and where to position it.
Make sure your rabbit is safe
When choosing a hutch (or making one, if you feel daring) it is important to ensure that it is rabbit safe. There may be many cheap hutches available but those could be poorly made or use materials that are not good for rabbits. A poorly made hutch will not be very durable and in the long run, you will find yourself replacing it. If you consider the possibility that some rabbits live up to ten years, it is in your best interest to choose something that lasts, even if it means paying a bit extra for quality.
- A good hutch will have roofing felt. This will prevent water from leaking into the hutch. Roof should be slightly slanted towards the back so water does not drip in through the mesh at the front.
- The wood used should not be toxic as rabbits may chew on it and the outside should be painted with non toxic wood preservative. If the hutch is not painted with protective preservative, you can easily find some of this paint in any DIY store. By applying a few coats and reapplying every year, you ensure that you get the most use out of the hutch.
- The mesh windows are usually made from chicken wire or weld mesh, the latter being stronger. It needs to be at a thickness that will not break if a rabbit tries to bite it or a predator tries to get in. Gaps between the wires should not be so big that a cat can fit its paw in. It should be securely attached on to prevent rabbits from pushing out or foxes from getting in.
- The mechanism for keeping the door shut should at least be a bolt. This is probably one of the more important points if you live in an area with many foxes. Foxes are cunning animals that have been known to open a hutch if the locking mechanism is a rotating bar of wood. Bolts are a more difficult task for a fox and every time you lock your hutch door, always ensure you push the bolt as in as possible and pull the bolt handle down. Double check. If you are particularly worried about the foxes in your area it is advisable to find a hutch you can padlock or relocate your rabbits indoors. A padlock is also advisable if you have young children as when unsupervised they may not always shut the door properly. If your current hutch does not have a bolt, I urge you to screw one into place.
- The hutch should always have a place for the rabbit to hide where it cannot see the outside and any predators will not be able to see it. Some rabbits have been known to die from fright, having a place to hide will reduce the chances of this happening.
- It should be raised off the floor by a few inches to prevent water seeping in. If the hutch has no legs, you can improvise by using several bricks stacked on each other to create legs.
Double-decking Rabbit Hutch
Hutches used to be a one floor rectangular structure with one hiding place and one mesh window which took up 2/3rds of the hutch. Today, with people getting more creative and wanting more for their pets, there is a lot more choice on the market. Here are some of the creative ideas.
- Hutches with more than one floor. Sloped ‘stairs’ allow the animal to traverse up and down the different levels. They may contain more than one hiding space. These are ideal if you place two rabbits in them as they allow them more room to roam and give them enough space so that they can avoid each other if they feel like it. Seeing rabbit hutches with two floors is common but there are some with three floors. Remember that the need for a ramp to move from one level to another means that you will not have twice the space of a single storey as the ramp causes areas of the hutch to be unusable.
Examples of a single storey hutch:
Examples of two or more storey hutches:
- Hutches that have a run joined to them allows the rabbit access to grass or extra running space at all times. The main hutch is usually raised off the floor with a ramp going to the ground level allowing access to the run. The size of the run itself will be different every time, depending on which model you are looking at. This hutch style allows your rabbit to have even more running space. However, you may have to go through extra steps to prevent a rabbit digging out or a fox digging in if it is on the lawn. Two ways to prevent this is to dig a mesh trench along the perimeter that goes a few feet down or to have a mesh base so the grass can grow through the mesh but no animal can dig in or out. Rotating of the hutch and run will prevent over grazing on one part of the lawn. With some DIY, you can attach a larger run to a hutch.
Examples of hutches with runs:
- Hutches with removable bases for easier cleaning. Bases will be like trays that you can slide out to make spot cleaning easier. They aid cleaning so you do not have to stick your body into the hutch at awkward angles and depending on how it is made, it allows you to clean without opening the hutch. Personally, I believe these to be an unnecessary expense. My reason for this is that rabbits are creatures of habit and prefer to use the same area for their toileting needs. This means you can easily place a litter tray (a small cat’s tray will do) into this area and rabbits will naturally go to the toilet there, limiting all waste into one litter tray. That way, your daily spot cleaning will be to pick out the waste from the litter tray instead of having to search around the hutch for droppings. Earlier I mentioned that some models allow you to clean without opening the hutch. Since rabbits need daily exercise and time out of a hutch, there should be one point of time every day where you should have access to the hutch to do whatever cleaning you need without your pet trying to join in with the cleaning.
Location, Location, Location
When positioning your hutch, choose an area where there is no direct sunlight during the hottest times of the day as rabbits are susceptible to heat stroke. Also choose a position where there is less draught or wind blowing at the hutch, particularly through the front as draught can make a rabbit ill. If weather conditions are rough where you live, consider buying a hutch cover.
My opinion on hutches is that a good quality one can provide good decent living quarters for your rabbits providing you choose the largest possible one you can afford and if you choose to house a pair of bonded rabbits. Why? Because of the nature of this type of outdoor housing, every time you visit your pet, you are exposed to the elements. This is all fine and dandy when its summer but in winter or when it’s raining, you may be less likely to sit outside and play with them.
Don’t make your bunny sad
There are certain things you must do everyday such as provide hay, pellets and clean water but there will be some days where you will not spend as much time by the hutch or weather is too bad for them to play in a larger run and you cannot let them in the house. On those days, a larger hutch attached to a run and another rabbit for company may be the only thing that prevents your rabbit from becoming depressed, lonely, antisocial, and overweight and from taking up bad habits. Commercial hutches are also limited by height; medium to large breeds will have some trouble standing up to full height without touching the top of the hutch. To prevent growth problems, they will need regular access to a run which allows them to stretch. Of course, if you are building the hutch yourself, the sky is your limit. If you feel that you may not be able to afford or build a spacious hutch or you cannot have a bonded pair, please consider a different method of housing as one rabbit at the end of the garden is one sad rabbit.
Converting shed or garage into a bunny home
Converting a shed or garage into a bunny living space has become a popular choice of housing. My rabbits used to live indoors until we found out that my dad was extremely allergic to the hay. We decided to use the garage as a rabbit home. We have a double garage and as one half is used for storage, I have used the other half to create a bunny space. Firstly, I will go into reasons why and general pointers in converting a garage or choosing a shed but since this is a creative choice of housing, I will only go over the necessities and common ideas. There are many tutorials online and many people have uploaded photos so feel free to do some research if this method appeals to you. The RWAF has a good link on shed conversion. Finally, I will do a pros and cons.
Why use a shed or garage instead of a hutch
There are reasons for you and reasons for your pet. It enables you to spend time with your pets without freezing half to death in winter. I come from the south of England where winters only reach -5 degrees Celsius, which is nowhere near as cold as the northern parts. Even so, I would not like to be standing around outside and even though rabbits can handle cold temperatures reasonable well, I’d think given a choice, like me, they would prefer to be somewhere warmer.
Garages tend to be attached to the main house’s electricity so you can place a radiator in there which allows you to keep warm (not directly next to the rabbits, of course). You can connect a shed to the house’s electricity which will allow you to have a light bulb in there. Both options mean that if you should check on your pet when it’s dark, you will not have to use a torch. I may sound superficial with these reasons but I do believe that the more comfortable you make an area for yourself, the more time you will spend in that area and the more you will enjoy being there. I spend many hours in my garage per day with my bunnies where I play with them and I also do my work in there.
The reasons for your pet are so that you can create a living space that will suit their needs more. There will be no height restriction that comes with a hutch and run and there should be more hopping space for the rabbit too. You will be able to personalise it and move things around to keep them interested and to prevent boredom. There will also be more space for toys!
(Summer playing with the castle in the garage)
Choosing the suitable shed for your rabbit
If you are using a shed, you will need to choose a suitable one. You can also convert an old shed. These are some points to consider:
- Sheds can be categorised by the type of cladding used. To prevent draughts and damp coming in, the cladding should be tongue and groove or shiplap as these interlock. Overlap cladding is cheaper but not so good for the bunny. Cladding also needs to be thick enough for rabbits to not chew through.
- The shed will need a bolt and I recommend you to add a padlock to prevent intruders from attempting to enter your shed.
- Like a hutch, it will also need protecting with wood preservative (use a pet safe one).
- Consider attaching a mesh door/screen so that you can leave the shed open for daylight and ventilation if there are no windows.
- Lino to cover the floor would protect the shed from water spillages.
When using a garage or shed, you will have to bunny proof the area. Any wires will have to be placed out of reach. One idea in a large garage is use several runs joined together to make a rabbit area free from wires. This is what I have done as the property is my parents and they would rather I not make any permanent changes to their garage! In a shed, you can have a baby gate near the entrance and then have the wires between the entrance and the baby gate so the rabbits cannot reach it. Of course, you will have to make sure your rabbits do not jump over the gate or run.
Rabbit House Furniture
Once the area is wire free, you can design how you want the space to look. Here are some brief ideas, it need not be expensive and you can always reuse things:
- Add shelves or even use an old coffee table to provide higher spaces for rabbits to sit and jump on. This also maximise play area as they can hide underneath shelves or jump around on top.
- Making a hole on the wall leading to a run outside for extra space. This is easily achievable on a shed with basic DIY skills. Use of a cat flap will minimise draughts or rain getting in.
- Reuse cardboard boxes by giving them to your bunnies; these make cheap easy beds and hiding spaces for your rabbits.
- If there are windows that you like to keep open for ventilation, consider placing mesh on top to prevent escaping rabbits. Adding netting on this will also prevent flies from coming in to harass your bunnies.
There are many ideas out on the internet so if this method appeals to you, I encourage you to research and look at photos of people’s set ups.
Pros and cons with using a shed or garage
Sheds and garages allow your pet more living space. Sheds are more expensive than a hutch but for the price you pay, you get a lot more space and bad weather is no longer an issue. Converting a garage is not expensive as long as you already own the garage! But it will require you to tidy up a bit. You will need more wood preservative to protect a shed than you would if you used a hutch. But if you used a garage, you would not need any preservative.
For a method of housing outdoors, there are not many cons for using a garage or shed. I prefer this method to using a hutch. If you only intend to keep one rabbit, I would recommend letting the bunny live indoors to prevent boredom.
The two methods above are two most common methods but no doubt people have found other ways to house their rabbits outdoors. I will not go into detail on these other methods. Whatever you do, never decide to give your whole garden as your rabbit’s home. To allow a domesticated rabbit to free range unsupervised is a dangerous thing to do as there are many predators that can kill or harass your rabbit such as foxes, seagulls, birds of prey, cats and dogs. Also there is the risk of your rabbit digging out of the garden. Wild rabbits will know to run and hide from predators but a pet rabbit given the garden to live on might not know what to do.