Is it sensible to keep rabbits indoors?
The answer is yes, providing you take the right precautions. Kim Sullivan talks to one man who says his bunnies are a delight to have in the house.
‘There is nothing nicer than coming home to find your two rabbits lying on the carpet looking completely content,’ says Alan Wilson, who has shared his home with his pet bunnies for 10 years. ‘They surprise us every day with their cute antics.’
Alan decided to keep rabbits indoors after he spent time working as a volunteer at an animal rescue centre near Brighton. While there, he was shocked to witness some of the awful conditions that caged rabbits had come from. ‘I wanted to give a pair a really good home – and that meant sharing mine,’ he says.
Alan did a lot of research beforehand to ensure a safe, healthy environment for his bunnies. ‘It’s important to understand what you are taking on, and to make adjustments before your rabbits move in. House rabbits make wonderful pets, but they’re still wild animals and are unlikely to be cuddly like a cat or dog. It’s a bonus if your bunny is happy to snuggle on the sofa with you.’
BUNNY-PROOFING YOUR HOME
If you’re considering keeping a rabbit at home, bear in mind how inquisitive and eager to burrow they will be. You need to keep them safe while protecting your house. Alan has some excellent advice on how to do this: ‘Separate off the areas of your home where your rabbits can roam,’ he says. ‘Our Lionheads, Vic and Neo, have a “safe box” in the kitchen near their hay tray and litter tray, but also have access to the living room and hall. We use child stair-gates to block areas, or to keep them in the kitchen if visitors come to the door.’
You should cover all wires and cables with spiral cable wrap and protect power points. Block access to the back of electrical equipment and remove houseplants or other potentially harmful chewables. It’s essential to protect anything you don’t want to be chewed and use plastic or cardboard tubing to cover the legs of chairs and tables. ‘Coating them with lemon juice can help, as rabbits usually don’t like the taste!’ says Alan.
Cover sofas with old blankets or a cheap throw. Better still, limit the number of soft furnishings in bunny areas. Rabbits will often chew or try to burrow in corners or doors, so use cardboard or other protective material to cover areas they’re attracted to. Strategically placed cardboard boxes to jump on or with a little cut-out doorway to hide in can be a great distraction, Alan suggests.
But however well you bunny-proof your home, your furry housemates are still likely to cause some damage sometimes – so forget about being overly house-proud.
HOP THIS WAY, PLEASE...
Bunnies will skid about on shiny floor surfaces and be keener to burrow in deep-pile carpets, so well-tacked-down, light-pile flooring is preferable. ‘I buy cheap carpet squares and lay them like stepping-stones up our hall so they can get a grip,’ says Alan. Putting carpet squares or cardboard in areas where your rabbits may head to go to the loo will protect your flooring, too.
Toilet-training your bunnies should be fairly easy. Research by the British House Rabbit Association found that 98 per cent of neutered bucks had reliable or reasonable house training. Put a litter tray with some hay (rabbits like to chew while they poo) near their safe area where they rest and keep them enclosed there for a couple of hours until the tray is well used. ‘Once they get used to going to the loo in one place, they will return, although there will always be accidents,’ says Alan.
House rabbits have the same nutritional needs as their outdoor relatives. At least 80 per cent of their diet must be hay or grass, 15 per cent leafy greens and just five per cent pelleted food. Bunnies need to be able to graze at any time, so keep a large tray available, along with a heavy bowl of water. They also need a safe area outside where they can exercise and obtain vitamin D from sunlight.
SAFE AS HOUSES
House rabbits are unlikely to mix well with cats or dogs as your bunny will see them as predators. Sharing space with small children isn’t a good idea, either. ‘You need to be very rabbit-aware,’ warns Alan, ‘and watch where you tread.’ That’s why it’s essential to warn visitors. ‘A plumber came round and nearly fainted when one of my rabbits suddenly hopped out from behind the television,’ continues Alan. But you could say it’s the many surprises offered by a house bunny that make them such fun to own.
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
An indoor cage, feeding bowls and protective materials cost £500 plus. Food and upkeep is about £70 a month for two rabbits. Rabbits live for about 10 years, so this is a long-term commitment.
WHICH BREED IS BEST?
You should always keep a pair, preferably a doe and buck, as rabbits are highly sociable and don’t like to be on their own. Any breed is suitable, as long as they have been neutered or spayed, although larger rabbits may be a wiser choice as they are less likely to get underfoot. Rae Todd, chief executive of the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund, advises: ‘Young rabbits are more destructive – older rabbits often make better indoor pets as they have got past the teenage destruction phase!’
The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF) is the largest UK charity with the aim of improving the health and welfare of domestic rabbits. Find out more at rabbitwelfare.co.uk or call the helpline on 0844 324 6090.
Do you have a great house-rabbit story to share? Let us know in the comments box below.