Rabbits are most active in the morning and evening and sleep during the day and at night; hence, their schedule fits with those of active families. Bunny should be given only as much freedom as she can handle; some bunnies can be free-range or cage-free outside all day, but some need greater limits.
Bunny needs 3-6 hours of exercise, stretch and playtime daily outside her cage; remaining time is spent napping in a cage or fenced “playpen” area. Bunnies are curious and need social interactions. If using a cage or pen, set it up where you are active – like in a family room or kitchen. Rabbits enjoy listening to people and will often position themselves to watch you. If bunny is kept in a very active area (e.g. den or rec room), a small “cave” should be added so bunny has a safe place to lounge when stressed or tired; cardboard boxes with a hole cut in one end, paper bags, and milk crates turned on the side all work well.
Never keep bunny outdoors. There are too many predators (two- and four-legged) that can directly or indirectly kill a rabbit, plus many insects carry diseases (myxomytosis, botfly, maggots, fleas, mites, etc.) that easily infect an outdoor rabbit. Outdoor rabbits also suffer from undetected illnesses and loneliness. If you let your rabbit outside during the day, make sure she is confined in a sturdy wire enclosure, protected from the weather, and safe from predators on feet and wings.
Temperature is also a concern; rabbits are susceptible to heat stroke and will succumb to temperatures in the 80s F. Keep bunny in a cool room (60-70 F); on hot days run the air conditioner or place a plastic soda container filled with frozen water in the cage with a fan. Sadly, we have seen many rabbits with missing ears caused by exposure to a Wisconsin winter. Rabbits belong indoors with your family.
If Using a Cage
A good minimum cage size is 24”x30”x18” (DxLxH); bigger is always better. Do not use aquariums or solid walls as these trap heat, reduce circulation, and prevent bunny from watching her people. A wire mesh of 14 gauge and with 1” x ½” openings is adequate. Another great choice are multi-level hutches connected with carpeted ramps (www.Leithpetworks.com). Cages of exceptional value can be ordered from Klubertranz (800-237-3899; Edgerton WI) or KW Cages (800-447-CAGE). A wire-bottom cage is fine, as long as there are solid surfaces (rugs, litterpans) to protect the feet. We do not recommend cages with solid plastic bottoms, because their slick surface can lead to hip problems.
Place a throw rug, carpet square, or other washable surface on the cage floor to protect feet from wire damage (sore hocks) or add a solid floor; inexpensive throw rugs work well and are readily washed. For bunnies who like to chew their rugs, try woven grass mat squares. Metal urine guards (Farm & Fleet, Klubertranz) help keep hay, poops, etc inside the cage. Place a removable litterpan (metal or plastic) beneath the cage to catch hay and debris. Place a smaller litterpan inside the cage (atop the wire) in a back corner for bunny to use; most rabbits will use this litterpan rather than the larger tray, making cage cleaning easier. Use a litterpan of sufficient size; many rabbits like to lounge and sleep in this pan. Change toys frequently to prevent boredom. Hang a filled hayrack on the cage exterior so she can nibble all day; place the hayrack over the litterpan to enforce litter training.
We know many rabbits that do not live in cages but have a room or area of the house that is their space. Baby gates and exercise-pen/pet fences work well to establish an area that will keep bunny safe and contained without being as limiting as life in a cage. Larger rabbits may be able to scale some pet fences and baby gates. You’ll need to observe your rabbit and how high it is able to jump. Once the rabbit is used to using its litterbox, you’ll want to be sure to bunnyproof the room or space and be sure there are hiding places for bunny to rest and feel safe.
Bunny-Proofing Your Home
Bunny-proofing has three goals: (1) preventing destruction of your home; (2) protecting bunny from harm; and (3) providing safe chewing alternatives. Electrical cords look like branches and taste sweet; wrap these with spiral wrap plastic tubing (Radio Shack) or pre-slit tubing (hardware supply stores). Tack loose wires to walls or molding, or bundle them into tubing or hard PVC pipes. Most houseplants should be considered toxic and should be kept from bunny’s reach; the House Rabbit Handbook (M. Harriman, Drollery Press) has a list of poisonous plants. Corners that are irresistible for chewing can be covered with furniture, throw rugs, woven grass mats or a hay tub. If bunny likes to burrow beneath furniture, block it off with a scrap lumber frame or staple hardware cloth across the underside (especially for sofas and mattresses). Protect wood molding with a wood tacking strip or a strip of double-sided scotch tape. Apply lemon oil soaked with hot chili peppers to furniture or wood; products such as Bitter Apple don’t work well for rabbits. Often bunnies chew furniture when they are bored or upset; provide lots of alternatives in the cage and outside (see toys below). It is often safest to keep bunny caged when you are asleep or not at home.