Susan Brown. D.V.M.
Cage – A metal cage may be used with a wire flooring of 14 gauge wire (1’x 1/2′ square openings). A solid floored area is necessary to prevent sore hocks and to provide an area for resting. The size of the cage should be at least 24′ x 24′ x 18′ high for the small and medium sized breeds and 36′ x36′ x 24′ high for the large breeds.
You can use a towel (unless you have a pet that likes to eat towels), or piece of carpeting or wood for the solid area. We have found that the ‘synthetic fleece’ cloth that is sold in fabric stores (in a variety of colors) works very nicely, as it is washable and if the pet chews on it, there are no long strands of fabric that can get caught in the digestive tract. Newspaper can be used under the wire. Do not use aquariums or solid walled cages because the lack of sufficient air circulation has been directly correlated with an increase in respiratory disease.
If you are going to have your bunny roaming the house either all or most of the time, make sure that you eliminate areas that your pet can get wedged in or escape from. Also watch out for electrical cords, which they like to chew on, carpeting, which they like to dig up and chew, and any toxic materials such as rodent poisons that your pet could get into. Get on your hands and knees and ‘ bunny-proof ‘ your home.
Litter Box – Rabbits can be litter box trained relatively easily. Initially you need to keep your pet in a small area, either in a cage or a blocked off section of the room and place a litter box in the corner (try to pick the corner your pet has already used). Make sure the sides of the box are low enough so your pet can get in and out easily. It is helpful to put some of the droppings in the box. Some people have also found it helpful to put some hay in the box to encourage defecation in the box (they usually pass stool while they are eating). You can reward your pet with one of the treat foods listed previously whenever he or she has used the box successfully. Do not punish your pet while in the litter box. Do not worry if your pet sits for extended periods in the litter box. Sitting in the box can be allowed as long as he is not soiling himself and the box is cleaned frequently.
Pelleted paper or other organic products make the best bedding. These products are non-toxic and digestible if eaten, easier to clean up than shavings or clay litter, control odor better and are compostable. Some examples are Cellu-Dri and Yesterday’s News (which are paper products), Mountain Cat Kitty Litter or Harvest Litter (pelleted wheat grass products), and Gentle Touch (pelleted aspen shavings). We carry a number of these products here at the clinic.
Temperature – Rabbits should be kept in the COOLEST and least humid area of the house. Studies have shown that bunnies kept in warm, humid environments with poor air circulation, have a dramatic increase in the incidence of respiratory disease over those animals kept in cool, dry environments with good air circulation. Damp basements are one of the worst areas to’ keep your pet. If your rabbit must be kept in a basement, invest in a dehumidifier and a fan to keep out dampness and improve air circulation.
The optimum temperature range for a bunny is 60-70 degrees F. When the temperature gets into the mid 70’s, one may see an increase in drooling, and nasal discharge. If temperatures reach the upper 80’s and beyond, and especially if the humidity is high the potential for a fatal heat stroke is very real. On very hot days, when air conditioning is not available, it is helpful to leave a plastic milk jug filled with frozen water in the cage, for a portable ‘air conditioner’.
Please keep fresh, cool water available, as this will also help to keep the body temperature down. If your pet should actually experience a heat stress reaction, try holding an ice cube on the ear or gently wetting your pet down with cool (not cold) water If the heat stroke is severe, veterinary attention will be necessary.
If your bunny is being kept outdoors in either warm or cold weather, make sure that part of the cage is sheltered from the wind and the sun. For the winter it is advisable to use straw bedding in the sheltered area for insulation and make sure that the water bowl is changed daily, as your pet can dehydrate rapidly if the water is frozen for more than a day.
Small Mammals Series, Dr. Susan A. Brown