Creating the Best Living Environment For Your Pet Rabbit

Although any rabbit kept as a pet should be given plenty of time to roam free through the house or a designated "play area", its cage will still be where it spends most of its time. Rabbits are inherently "domestic" (as opposed to "domesticated") animals- in other words, they need to have a home! In the wild, they dig out large warrens where they are safe from predators, in the company of their fellow rabbits, and able to safely raise their young. Therefore, it is no surprise that these intelligent creatures have a sense of "home". A rabbit whose cage is not a home, but a prison, will suffer from all the ill effects that depression can wreak on them- obesity, listlessness, destructive behavior, and greater susceptibility to disease. On the contrary, a rabbit who is secure and satisfied with his home will be healthier, more sociable, and a great joy to keep.

The first and most important factor to consider in creating a happy home is the size of the cage. Various owners offer varying rules of thumb for rabbit cage size. Some say one square foot per pound of rabbit; others suggest that the cage should be four times the size of the rabbit. In any event, bigger is better, and it should always be tall enough for the rabbit to stand on its back legs without its ears pushing against the ceiling. You may be able to get away with a cage that is smaller than recommended, but this means giving your rabbit more time to roam the area outside his cage.

When introducing your rabbit to his cage for the first time, it should offer a pleasing environment. Thick, plentiful bedding is a good place to start- it will give the rabbit a medium to forage through, and the rabbit may take pleasure in rearranging the material to its liking. Many rabbit owners have noted that, long after their rabbit has become fully acclimated to its home, it continues to enjoy rearranging or bunching towels. This is part of an instinct to nest, and should be given full expression. You may consider hiding a few treats here and there throughout the rabbit cage, which will pique the rabbit's curiosity and encourage it to think of the cage as a place of pleasant surprises. If you don't include a thick layer of bedding in a wire cage, you might consider laying down grass mats or something comparable to keep the rabbit from having to walk on the wire bottom. The irritation of standing and moving over the wire grating all day can sometimes cause "sore hocks", evidenced by balding, rashy-looking patches on their feet. Not all rabbits have this problem, so it isn't necessarily bad care to leave the wire exposed, but keep a close eye on their feet to nip a problem in the bud.

There are other things you can do to make the cage environment more attractive. Rabbits love to explore, and if you are able, including a small, enclosed nesting area is a great idea. This is especially nice if the nesting area provides a platform that the rabbit can climb on top of. This gives them the sense of having a better view of their surroundings- essential in the wild, where they must guard against predators slinking through the grass, but still enjoyable in a tamer setting. If a platform or nesting area won't fit in your cage, you might consider putting in a paper bag with the bottom cut out, or a cardboard tube big enough for your rabbit to wriggle through. Anything that gives the rabbit the impression of interesting nooks and crannies to explore, or comfortable places to hide, will increase the rabbit's comfort and security in its home.

Apart from exploration and nesting, rabbits have several other notable instinctive behaviors. Chewing is an obvious one. The teeth of rabbits grow continuously throughout its life. If they are not worn down through constant chewing, they will eventually grow so long that the rabbit will be unable to eat, or until they actually begin piercing the bottom jaw. This rarely happens, as rabbits will invariably find something to chew on. For the rabbit keeper, the question is whether that "something" will be the wire of the cage, the water bottle, furniture, electrical cords- or an appropriate chewing toy. Almost anything can be a chew toy. Many rabbit owners find their bunnies enjoy tearing apart phone books- just make sure that they're printed with soy-based ink. A block of wood- no cedar, pine, or other aromatic woods- will do the trick too, as will hard plastic baby rattles, untreated wicker baskets, apple twigs, or any of the many commercially available chew toys.

Rabbits also love to dig. This is a behavior that indoor rabbits will not get to experience in a natural form, for obvious reasons, so offering a substitute of some kind is a good idea. A simple "dig bin"- a plastic tub filled with newspaper, bedding material, old towels, or the like- is a cheap and simple way to let your rabbit vent its instinctive urge to get its paws dirty.