In the past, rabbits were generally seen as “outdoor pets”, best kept in a wooden cage in the garden. Over time, however, a growing number of people have decided to keep indoor rabbits. Increasingly, these aren’t simply kept in a standard cage inside the home, but are allowed out for varying periods of time to exercise and explore. These rabbits are most commonly known as “house rabbits”.
So, what are the benefits of house rabbits?
Benefits for Your Pet
Rabbits are naturally active animals, which exercise continually throughout the day. Being trapped in a small cage for extended periods of time isn’t just boring – it can be downright unhealthy. Indoor rabbits can explore larger areas even when the weather outside is poor.
The warm, dry and relatively draft-free homes we live in provide a comfortable environment for your pet. While most rabbits are fine outdoors, there is an increased risk of snuffles, respiratory problems or even attacks from foxes. In contrast, living indoors helps to mitigate these risks.
Rabbits are sociable animals naturally, so living indoors they are in more regular contact with you and your family. This helps to provide companionship throughout the day.
Benefits for You
While the benefits to your rabbit of living indoors are of paramount importance, there are of course also benefits for you – the owner.
Keeping a house rabbit means constant entertainment for you. There’s little more enjoyable than watching your rabbit exploring the house, coming over for a stroke, then dashing off on some new adventure.
When you have a rabbit in your home you’ll also appreciate them over a longer period of time. Especially in colder weather, many owners spend minimal time outside with their pets.
That said, of course, keeping an indoor rabbit can be rather different to keeping one outside.
For one thing, you’ll need to be even more careful over cleaning and hygiene. Rabbits are naturally very clean creatures indeed, but if urine is allowed to sit for periods of time in a cage or on home furnishings then the smell may not win you over many friends.
Secondly, you’ll need to put careful thought into how to “rabbit proof” your home to prevent damage either to your pet or your belongings. Here are some elements to consider…
Rabbit Proofing Your Home
Keeping your pet safe is of primary importance when allowing your rabbit free-reign over your home. For the more house-proud owner you’ll also want to minimise the chances of things getting nibbled.
Not only are nibbled electrical cables an annoyance to you; they also serve as a potential danger to your pet. Use cable ties or covers to raise cabling up off the ground and protect it from your pet’s continually-growing incisors!
House plants come in a huge range of species, and we simply don’t know which ones are toxic to rabbits. What we do know, however, is that rabbits like to try nibbling on plant material, just in case it turns out to be edible.
Remember, too, that just because a house plant is situated off the floor doesn’t necessarily put it out of reach. Some plants have long trailing leaves or stems that might grow down to floor level without you noticing. Raise up those plants and trim them as necessary.
From open fires to hot water pipes, be sure to protect your rabbit from anything too hot.
We use an astonishing array of chemicals to keep our homes clean and hygienic these days. From oven cleaners to bleaches, many of these are potentially harmful to your pet. Try to minimise their use in areas that your rabbit will be playing in, and ensure that your rabbit cannot nibble on any bottles.
While many human foods are perfectly edible for rabbits, not all are. Processed foods, for example, are best avoided. So too are potatoes and rhubarb. The best solution here is to keep all human food (and drink!) off the floor.
Rabbits seem to have a particular fondness for soft furnishings, such as cushions, curtains, or tassels on coats and sofas. Be sure that you’re happy for them to end up a little dog-eared, or remove them to a safer location.
Family photos, vases or fancy tea services can all smash if bumped by an over-enthusiastic rabbit. Also consider if they could fall or be knocked – even if resting on a table or other tall object.
Cats and dogs may mix OK with your rabbit, or you could end up with a very nasty surprise. For safety, try to separate your rabbit from other pets while it is out exploring your home.
Your rabbit may be cuteness itself within your home, but trying to catch your pet after it has ducked through an open door is not many people’s idea of fun. Try to keep your pet away from external doors, and ensure that anyone coming and going is aware of their presence.
Controlled Exercise or Free-Running?
So you’ve rabbit-proofed your room. The next question is whether your pet should be allowed to roam full-time, or is only going to be let out for supervised exercise. Just as importantly, how much of your house are you going to allow them access to?
At it’s extreme, some people allow their rabbit the full run of the house right around the clock. On the other hand, a safer option is generally to limit them to just one rabbit-safe room. You will have far more control over this environment.
In the end, only you can make this decision. The key is to put your rabbit’s health and happiness first at all times.
Litter Training an Indoor Rabbit
If there’s one major concern that many people have over house rabbits it’s what happens when they need the toilet.
Here, there are two solutions, both of which are recommended.
Firstly, consider leaving your rabbit’s cage open and accessible at all times. This way, your pet can always pop back in to visit the toilet, or if it feels at all threatened.
Secondly, you might be surprised to hear that most indoor rabbits can be quite effectively house trained. The generally accepted method involves placing down as much protection as possible to start with. Newspaper tends to work well.
Then take the time to observe your pet, and figure out where they seem to like going to the toilet most. This is where you’ll place their litter tray. A traditional cat litter tray works well, with a layer of non-clumping cat litter within it.
Leave the tray and newspaper in place until you’re confident that your rabbit knows where it’s going to the toilet. From here, you can gently move the tray a little each day, until it ends up in your preferred location.
Follow the tips above and owning a house rabbit or indoor rabbit can be a most enjoyable and rewarding experience for you. At the same time your rabbit will be able to enjoy a quality of life that most other pets only dream of.