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Is it sensible to keep rabbits indoors?

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.’

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.

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.

Rabbit eating lettuce GO GREEN
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.

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.

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.

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.

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I used to have a Netherland Dwarf called Guiness, she had use of my very large room while I was in. I had made it bunny safe and when I was out at work she had a large cage and small run to play in.On this occaision I had opeed up her run to put her into her cage for a couple of hours and thought I had secured the door. Later when I arrived home my mother told me of her morning. She'd been alseep and dreaming of galloping horses, when she stirred like any dream the galloping stopped but as she became more awake and just lay there she again heard the galloping across the ceiling. Like any of us would my mother thought 'what on earth?' and headed upstairs to my room. On opening the door there was silence, not a sight nor sound of Guiness anywhere. My mother stepped into he room and shut the door, at this Guiness lept into action once again. What a sight to see, a little ball of black fluff galloping at full speed round the room. At each corner of the room the ball of fur became an urban surfer and went up the wall, bounced off one to the other like a wall of death rider then back to the floor to gallop at full speed. Naughty (funny) little bunny!
I have two mini lops, Peter and George who live in doors with us. They were a birthday gift to my daughter though I tend to feed and clean them out and interact with them mostly, but I wouldn't have it any other way. They are amazing, happy, and contented rabbitsThey have an extra large cage to sleep in at night but are also able to roam and explore the house when I'm there with them. They also share the house with one cat and two Doberman's; its amazing how they all seem to get along without any issues, nothing seems to phase any of them.It makes my day when I come home from work to seem them, running around and waiting contently by the fridge waiting for dinner!
Mabel's Mum
Rabbits are a significantly under estimated animal; having shared my home with house rabbits for 10 years or so now, the depth of personality, mischief and affection they can show is astounding. My bunny Mabel (now 6 years old) was a rescue bun, who simply cannot bond with another bunny (believe me, I and many others have tried and I have the vets bills to prove it!). I suspect this is because she bonded with people in her formative years instead. I could write reams about her, but a good illustration of our relationship is our bedtime ritual.She goes to bed at around 20.30hrs – 21.00hrs and when I say goes to bed, I mean she sleeps on the other side of my king size bed, on an old fleece throw (significantly chewed) and I have a single duvet my side (easier to change, launder etc)If I fail to start getting ready for bed by about 21.30hrs I start getting ‘hints’. This used to be a question of coming half way down the stairs to give me a disapproving stare through the bannisters if I was watching tv, or, now I have moved to a bungalow, I get repeated ‘visits’ which if they fail to get me moving, turn into nose nudges on my ankles.Once we have both gone to bed, she will demand some food and fusses, which continue to be demanded any time she knows I am awake in the night. Having 7lb of rabbit land on you can be a compelling incentive to do as you are told! At one stage she also learned how to turn the other bedside light on (they are touch base lamps) which had much the same effect as jumping on mum. Suffice to say I had to nip that one in the bud and took the bulb out!She potters off to her litter tray in the conservatory when she needs the loo, then bounds back onto the bed. I am very lucky that she doesn't do what most bunnies do when faced with soft furnishings! I have had to put a chair beside her at night as her full length flump onto her side has on occasion been too close to the edge; thankfully other than being very embarrassed, she hasn't hurt herself falling off the bed. I am the only person I know who has to take cabbage, kale and beans to bed with me every night!It so grieves me that many bunnies are still kept in solitary confinement in inadequate hutches at the end of the garden - both they and their owners are missing so much!
Emily Fitzpatrick
I have kept house bunnies for 5 years now and it really is the best thing ever. It is so lovely coming home to them chilling out when I finish work. They are so loving and have me laughing all the time with their silly antics! Mine have large cages for when I am not there and then they have the run of the house therest of the time. I found it very easy to litter train them. Just a bit of patience required but after a couple of days we had it nailed and I have had no accidents now in years. My house is well bunny proofed although i have to watch the hoover wire like a hawk when i am doing the housework! Bunnies are the most beautiful pets and I am so lucky to share my life and my house with my two!
eleri randerson
I have had my two rabbits for over 5 years and they are such great company. I have two netherland dwarfs and they are like chalk and cheese but they both show a large amount of mischief, affection and a great personality. I am amazed at how emotionally intelligent rabbits are. If it is dinner time they will not fail to tall you. My two rabbits partly live outside in their hutch and come in for exercise and company but I only keep them in one room only when I am in the house and it is very important to bunnie proof the place against wires and your chairs and curtains will not last as they love to chew although I admit that my rabbits are thoroughly spoilt. One of the rabbits in particular provides us with hours of entertainment but they can also be very persistent. I do not think that house bunnies would be good if you have alot of house guests or young children as they do have a tendancy to get underfoot but I certainly miss them when they are in their cage.
eleri randerson
with regards to litter training it is possible although I think that my rabbits are a little lazy so I spend alot of time clearing up little current poos with the dustpan and brush. I also spend alot of time laughing at the their antics and coeeing at the affection ad loyalty they show each other
I agree with all the above statements - however - I do not keep my bunny indoors. As much as I would like to, its just not practical at the moment. Myself and my husband both work and live in a rented house so we are not supposed to have pets indoors. My Bunny is very safe - he has a very large two story wooden hutch which has a year long waterproof cover over it which has panels you can unzip to let air in. He also has a large run attached to the hutch which has a removable cover - this contains all his tunnels and toys and even a little wooden table that he loves to sit on. Our garden is a tiny walled garden, which is very secure and we don't have any cats living nearby - so when its dry and we are at home, we let him out into the garden which he just adores. He binkies, races around like a lunatic and spends the rest of the time eating grass and all my plants and flowers!!! When its wet or cold he does come indoors and in the summer we leave the back door open so he can come and go as much as he pleases. In severe weather we have an indoor cage that he stays in but we don't have a lot of room so it cant remain in the house as a permanent fixture, which is a shame. I think if we were living in our own house and house the space I would definitely have house rabbits - they are such beautiful, clever little animals with so much character!
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