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Rabbit Housing - Let's get it right for our rabbits!

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

Did you know that the rabbit hutch was a Victorian invention, created as an easy way to store a live rabbit before slaughtering it for supper. Well, actually, that's the truth! Rabbits were kept and bred for meat long before they were kept as pets. Move forward a hundred years and rabbits are now the third most popular pet, right after dogs and cats, but we still use this archaic method of housing our pets. A recent survey carried out by The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund found that over 60% of hutches available for sale in stores and online were actually smaller than the minimum requirements for housing meat and lab rabbits. It seems that when it comes to housing our pet rabbits we've actually taken a huge step backwards.

Pet rabbits really deserve better, both from retailers and from their owners. But so many rabbits still remain in totally unsuitable housing, which has been proven to have a detrimental effect on their health and welfare. Rabbits need space to lead happy and healthy lives. Inadequate housing leads to muscular and skeletal problems, in meat rabbits this wasn't a problem. The rabbit wasn't destined to live long enough for the lack of space to become an issue. But, pet rabbits can reach 10 years or more when correctly cared for. So many pet rabbits die young due to a failure to meet their welfare needs and this heartbreaking.

I have yet to walk into any pet shop and see appropriate sized rabbit housing for sale. In fact, I have struggled to even find it available online. The market is flooded with housing that is far too small; despite it being advertised as large, extra-large, and spacious. The truth is that it's nothing other than cramped and cruel.

In the vast majority of cases, we seem to think that bigger is better. If I offered you the choice of a 24" TV or a 52", which would you pick? Or a bedsit verses a 5 bed detached family home? But when it comes to rabbit housing so many people choose the smallest possible option! There is also a huge amount of hostility when suggesting to owners that their current rabbit housing is too small. We regularly hear 'I've kept rabbits for years, how dare you criticise me.' What I want to say is that we also used to rub snails on warts and the Victorians who invented the rabbit hutch, also thought that radioactive materials made great face creams! You can understand just how ludicrous radioactive face creams are, but you'll still opt for a hutch to house a rabbit. Times change and we need to change with them.

It would be very unfair to lay all the blame at the feet of the majority of rabbit owners. The manufacturers and retailers certainly have a lot to answer for, after all they are the ones making, selling and promoting all of the unsuitable housing. New owners follow the advice given and as a result are unintentionally condemning their rabbits to a miserable existence. But owners must be willing to listen to the advice given by leading animal welfare organisations and be prepared to follow it.

One of the biggest misconceptions about rabbit housing is the concept that housing with a second storey contributes to the square footage. This actually isn't the case. When looking at the space available, this refers to the area in which a rabbit can move across horizontally, not vertically. A rabbit needs to be able to hop across the space, not up and down a space. A hutch sitting above a run provides an extra living space but it does not contribute to the space available for the rabbits to exercise and therefore can't be counted as part of the exercise area calculation. The minimum recommendation for an exercise area is 48²ft and a hutch/sleeping area of 12²ft.

How does this compare to housing commonly found online advertised as large or extra-large rabbit housing. Here's the results of a quick Google search using 'large rabbit hutch and run'.

This housing was found for sale at Wayfair. The exercise area measures in at only 26. 2²ft. There are also a number of other issues with this housing which will have a detrimental effect on the welfare of rabbits.

Firstly it's not tall enough for an average sized rabbit. It is only 27" high in the 'run' areas, the minimum height recommended is 36“ to comfortably allow a rabbit to stretch up, jump and binky. It is also highly exposed to the elements, rain will be able to enter from the top and sides. There is also little protection from direct sunlight.

Secondly, there are two doors in the 'hutch' area with access ramps into the exercise area and a further mesh door to allow access for owners. This sleeping area is highly exposed, and the wind is going to whip through this area, exposing the rabbits to a constant draft. This sleeping area is 10.8²ft. As the run areas are highly exposed, there is no way to keep fresh eating hay dry, during the winter. A hay rack would need to be provided in the hutch area and that will reduce the space available to the rabbits even further.

Lastly it is going to be a nightmare for owners to clean due to the limited access, especially in the run areas. The materials used aren't great, and the hutch is very light weight. We have a lot of 'weather' here in Wales and this would be blown over very easily. Rabbits would quickly suffer from sores on their back feet and bums from using the run area during periods of continuous rain. Covering the run area to protect from the rain would only guarantee that the hutch would take off in the wind. It would also be incredibly easy for a fox to knock this over and get to the rabbits.

This hutch/run combo was found at and comes in at 22.7²ft for the exercise area. This combo looks bigger than the one available at Wayfair, but it actually has less space! The height of the run is even less again at only 17“ making it far too low for a rabbit to stretch up.

Again the run area is very exposed to rain and although access is slightly better, it's still going to be difficult to clean and requires owners to crawl into small spaces.

Again the run area is very exposed to rain and although access is slightly better, it's still going to be difficult to clean and requires owners to crawl into small spaces.

The hutch area is better protected compared to the Wayfair housing but it is still too small at only 7.8²ft in total, as this area is partitioned inside, space is actually reduced and even a small breed rabbit is going to struggle to stretch out in the fully covered sleeping area. Again a suitable hay rack would need to be added, decreasing space further.

This hutch and run was found at Screwfix and the exercise area measured in at a shocking 12.7²ft, despite the word 'mansion' attached to it. The run height is the smallest so far at just under 16" and the hutch area is only 4.8²ft.

The saddest fact of all is that many rabbits are living in housing even smaller than our three above examples.

Even when searching for 6ft rabbit hutch with run, I was only able to easily find a 6ftx2ft hutch with a 6ftx4ft run under. While the hutch meets the 12²ft minimum the exercise area is still too small at only 24²ft. Again the height is too low at only and the run is very exposed.

If I am struggling to find suitable housing, how can we expect a first time rabbit owner to get it right? Even Pets at Home don't sell housing to meet the minimum requirements, with their largest run being only 32²ft, despite them calling it XXL.

Despite the terrible offerings available it is still possible for all rabbit owners to provide enough space for their rabbits, you just need to think outside of the traditional hutch and run!

A really easy answer is to buy a 6ftx10ft dog kennel. Pop that into ebay or Google and you'll get lots of results. Dutchy Farm Kennels offer a great 6x10 kennel with tons of optional extras. Personally, I think these kennels make the best rabbit housing. The solid back, sides, and full roof keep the entire space protected from the rain. It's really easy to make your own rain covers for the front section, providing an exercise space which can be used all year round. As the kennel area is on the same level as the exercise area you don't lose exercise space and it measures in at 60²ft in total. A kennel like this is by far the easiest option if you don't want to build or modify anything yourself.

If you feel at a bit more confident with DIY, buying a 4ftx4ft child's play house and adding a pop hole and covered exercise area is another great solution. The playhouse will provide a 16²ft sleeping space and by attaching a 4ftx11ft run will provide a 60²ft in total. Here's a great example of this type of setup. The playhouse and aviary pictured are both 6ftx6ft, providing 36²ft in each area and as both are on the same level, accessed by a short tunnel the overall space provided is 72²ft. Inside the playhouse, a second level of 6ftx2ft, accessed by a ramp has been added, to provide a further living space. The run roof has also been covered to protect from rain.

It is easy to purchase or make aviary panels and cover the back and one side with feather edge timber to protect from the rain. It is also easy to put a sloping covered roof on a flat mesh panel roof. We've adapted previously open runs at the rescue with great success. It's easy to pick up 2x4, 2x3, 2x2 and 2x1 lengths of timber at your local timber merchants and corroline and ondoline roofing sheets are also easy to find. Simply attach the different widths of timber across the top of the run and attach the roofing sheets to the timber. To cover a 8ftx6ft run requires 3 roofing sheets with a 2 rig overlap.

Another easy option is to buy enough panels to create a 10ftx6ft aviary, once again cover the sides and back with feather edge timber and add a roof. Then place a 6ftx2ft hutch inside for a sleeping area. Here's a great example of this type of setup. The aviary is 12ftx6ft, providing 72²ft and has a playhouse inside for a sleeping area. The aviary is protected on 2 sides and has a roof providing a great all weather space.

If you want a fully walk in space, which makes cleaning so much easier, then why not go for a standard garden shed and attach an aviary. A 6ftx4ft shed provides 24²ft and you can add a 9ftx4ft or a 6ftx6ft aviary to make up the rest of space required. Here's a great example of a 6ftx4ft shed with a 9ftx4ft run attached.

If you don't have the space for a 10ftx6ft footprint you can use a Runaround tunnel to connect a sleeping area to an exercise area. Here's a great example of this using a 7ftx5ft shed and a 12ftx6ft run. The shed provides 35²ft and the run is 72²ft. The run is also against a wall protecting the back and the top has been covered with tarpaulin to protect from rain and direct sunlight.

Believe it or not, it was actually really easy for me to get all of these wonderful photos of amazing rabbit setups. A simple post on a couple of rabbit groups on FB was all that was needed. We had so many people submit photos we couldn't use them all! But it just shows how easy it is to provide welfare driven housing for our pet rabbits and evidence that wonderful owners, all over the UK, are providing their pet rabbits with suitable space.

So please don't confine your rabbits to a traditional shop bought hutch and run set up. There are loads of options available to create a suitable enclosure which will allow rabbits to run, jump and binky. So many believe that rabbits just sit in a hutch at the bottom of the garden doing nothing because that's what they like to do. It's not true! The rabbit is sat there, as that's all the space allows them to do. Providing more space will allow your rabbits to move about, run, jump and binky. Adding enrichment items such as tunnels, hooded cat litter boxes, and small plastic step stools provides your rabbits with items to hop through, under, over and in. You'll soon see your rabbits enjoying themselves and being a lot more active. Creating a walk-in enclosure allows owners to interact with rabbits in their own space and at their own level. Sitting on the floor with your rabbits and allowing them to come to you for attention is a great way to bond with your rabbits and really get to know them and their personalities.

It is important to note that rabbits need constant access to a suitable space. As rabbits are most active at dawn and dusk, shutting them into hutches overnight isn't suitable. We also don't believe that rabbits should be allowed to free range in gardens. It's far too dangerous. Foxes aren't just active at night and are amazing climbers, sadly we've learnt this the hard way after one climbed a tree to get over 6ft fencing and get to our chickens. For years we've allowed our pet chickens to roam in a fully fenced area of our small holding without issue. Then within 6 months we've had a fox get over and a Goshawk took a chicken while I was close by. We've never seen a Goshawk before and had no idea that they were even in the area, sadly we learnt of their presence in the worst way possible. Rabbits need to be housed in a secure enclosure to protect them from predators and from other domestic animals such as cats and dogs. I have seen a number of terrible situations where dogs have escaped into gardens with free ranging rabbits and instances of local cats chasing rabbits. There have also been cases involving stray ferrets and their wild cousins. It's just not worth the risk.

I have also talked a lot about protecting runs. If you wanted to search for Edward Cullen in the UK, West Wales is certainly the place to look! Our original housing at the rescue was the traditional hutch on top of run combos. From late Summer to early Spring the following year, heavy or constant rain left the runs water logged. The rabbits' feet quickly became sore from being continually wet. This was especially bad for longer haired or fluffy butt rabbits. Our only solution was to block access to the runs for long periods, which wasn't ideal either. In the end we opted to replace these with custom built kennel style housing. Although we still have a few hutch on top of run setups, these have better overall protection, where we have added sides, rain covers, and roof covers. Recently as an emergency measure we had to reinstate one of the old hutches. Within a few weeks of use the rabbit was on the verge of getting sore feet, while all our other rabbits were happy and content in their far more sheltered housing. Thankfully, we were able to move Bran into a kennel unit pretty quickly before his feet became a serious problem. But it really did highlight the importance of providing sheltered accommodation.

On a final note, if you are going to build your own rabbit enclosure from scratch, or if you are looking for aviary panels, it's important to know that you will require at least 16g wire mesh. The lower the number the stronger the mesh. Rabbits can actually chew through chicken mesh, so it certainly won't stop a determined fox or dog. I would also not recommend feather edge timber to build from scratch or as a shed option. It's great and inexpensive to run over the outside of an exposed run but without a layer of mesh in front or sheets of plywood, the little overlaps in the timber are just way too tempting for a rabbit to chew. They can create an escape sized hole within a few hours of determined chewing, that's something I learnt years ago! It is also really important to provide protection from rabbits digging out of runs or other animals digging in. Once again, I have witnessed just how quickly a rabbit is able to dig a hole and escape a run. Placing runs onto paving slabs is the best solution. It is also super easy to clean and disinfect this area. If you do want to provide your rabbits access to graze then adding a movable run with a Runaround tunnel is a great, and safer, solution. Please note that access to these runs should only be allowed when someone is home and able to keep a regular eye on the rabbits. They can dig out within an hour!

I hope that this post has inspired you and given you plenty of ideas to create a welfare driven enclosure for your rabbits. Thank you to everyone who responded to our request for photos and it was wonderful to scroll through them all and see such happy rabbits.

If you have found this article helpful, please consider making a donation towards our work at Nibbles. We are West Wales' only specialist rabbit and rodent rescue and totally reliant on donations and fundraising to keep the centre open and running. We can't do what we do, without the support from wonderful people just like you!

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