Providing the perfect rabbit enclosure - what we are looking for when you apply to adopt
A pair of standard sized rabbits will require a minimum floor space of 60ft². This can be created in a number of ways, for example a 6ftx10ft converted dog kennel or a 4ftx4ft child's playhouse with a 11ftx4ft run attached. How about a 4ftx6ft shed with a 6ftx6ft run. You could be more traditional with a 6ftx2ft hutch attached to a 6ftx8ft run. The minimum run height is 3ft with a minimum 'hutch' height of 2ft. Please note that if you choose to use a traditional hutch as a sleeping area it needs to be a minimum of 6ftx2ft. To allow enough space for both rabbits.
This is a 6ft x 10ft pen we built here at Nibbles. Inside is a 6ftx2ft hutch with one of the doors removed to provide a snuggle space.
Here's one of our more traditional enclosures. This is a 6ftx8ft run attached to a 6ftx2ft hutch. One of the hutch doors has been removed.
Looking for inspiration? Check out our rabbit housing blog
What to understand why we have minimum housing requirements? Read our blog article
Many people are surprised by just how big the enclosure needs to be. After all, pet shops don't sell housing to meet these requirements, so why do we insist on 60ft²? This is based on peer reviewed research based around welfare and carried out by leading universities across the UK. 60ft² allows rabbits to display natural behaviour which meets the 5 freedoms included within the current animal welfare act. Leading welfare organisations such as The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund and the PDSA also recommend a minimum of 60ft².
It's very important to provide adequate protection from the weather, allowing rabbits to use the entire enclosure at all times.
What are we looking for:
Protection from rain - this can be as simple as covering the run with a tarpaulin, or by creating a permanent roof and creating roll down covers for the sides
Protection from the wind - once again this doesn't have to be complicated, a secured tarpaulin or solid sides will do the trick
Protection from direct sunlight - again easily achieved using an old double duvet cover cut down 2 seams and placed over the run will be just fine. CAUTION if you've used a clear roofing material this will trap heat inside the enclosure, we recommend either covering this with an opaque sheet or using onduline or coroline roofing sheets.
We've used onduline or coroline roofing sheets on all our rabbit housing. This protects from rain and direct sunlight.
All our rabbit units have drop down rain covers which we made and installed ourselves from clear tarpaulin sheets, webbing, buckle clips, mug hooks and elastic. These protect from rain and from cold winds, keeping enclosures dry and draught free when needed. When the weather is good, they simply roll up.
Making it safe
Stop rabbits digging out and other animals digging in! - runs need to be placed on concrete or paving slabs. Rabbits can dig a hole big enough to escape within 15 minutes or less. Foxes are also capable of digging under unprotected runs to get in. If you wish to provide access to a grass run, this should be an additional area, and only used when you are there to fully supervise the rabbits.
Fox resistant mesh - mesh needs to be 19g at an absolute minimum, preferably 16g to help prevent foxes pulling it apart. Chicken mesh is absolutely useless and even rabbits can chew through this and escape!
Cheap paving slabs make a great base for runs. Here's a row we laid when first setting up Nibbles back in 2015
We've used 1"x1" 16g weld mesh for our housing here at the rescue. This is a lovely thick mesh which will provide difficult for a fox to rip off.
We no longer recommend using hay hacks to provide access to fresh hay. Research has shown that rabbits will eat more when hay is placed on the floor as compared to a rack. This mimics more natural grazing behaviours. We tried this ourselves at the rescue and where blown away by the result. All our rabbits did indeed eat more hay when left in piles on the ground compared to the hay available in racks. We have since removed all the hay racks from our housing and now place two small piles of hay (per rabbit) in various locations inside the enclosure.
Water bowl - bottles are incredibly difficult for a rabbit to drink from. Research shows that rabbits provided with a water bowl will drink more and therefore stay better hydrated, compared to rabbits with a water bottle.
If you are using a converted shed, playhouse, or kennel, a suitable snuggle space will need to be provided. You could make this super simple by using a large cardboard box with a hole cut in the side and stuff this with hay or straw and replace it on a regular basis. Or you could use a smaller hutch inside this area, once again with plenty of hay or straw. Please don't use plastic boxes upside down, these trap condensation which in turn makes the snuggle area damp.
Items to hop in, over, under and through - these need to be provided an empty enclosure is as exciting to rabbits as a house with just a bed and bathroom would be to us! Hooded cat litter trays, non-collapsible step stools, fabric and plastic tunnels all make great enrichment items. There are also some amazing items available on the internet to help provide an interesting environment.
Chew, throw and play - our rabbits love toddlers stacking cups, we hide treats between the cups for the bunnies to find. They love plastic balls with bells which they can pick up and throw. Willow toys are also a firm favourite to be chewed and thrown. Why not save the cardboard inserts in your loo rolls and stuff them with dried herbs and forage to help keep your rabbits amused. Enrichment doesn't have to be expensive, but it's very important!
Here's one of our runs for two of our sanctuary rabbits, Seren & Marshall. They have items to hop in, over and under and toys to play with.