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Where Should I Keep my Rabbit?

You should always keep your rabbit in a hutch or cage when unsupervised. However, a hutch is not enough for a pet rabbit, good exercise and socialisation is vital for health.

Many commercial hutches are invariably too small, certainly for sole accommodation. Hutches can be made of wood, metal or plastic; wood has the advantage of being cheap but can be gnawed and absorbs urine so can smell if there is insufficient bedding or infrequent cleaning. Hutch design can be variable but the essentials are a dry, draught-free secluded nest area and an area for exercise. A solid fronted nesting area and mesh fronted living area are usually provided (see diagram, over page).

Hutches should be as large as possible and your rabbit should at least be able to stand up on its hind legs (allowing for the ears!) and complete three hops length wise. Rabbits hate hot and humid conditions; they cannot sweat and are very prone to heat stress and stroke. The optimum temperature range is 60-70°F; never let the ambient temperature exceed 90°F.

Outdoor hutches should be at least 20cm above ground and sheltered from the wind, the sun, predators, insects and rodents. If the hutch has a mesh bottom provide at least a section of solid flooring and do provide bedding in the form of grass hay, soft wood shavings (not sawdust) plus straw or recycled paper product. Carpet should not be used. Your rabbit will appreciate a box for hiding and sleeping. Clean the cage frequently (at least completely once a week). Wet, soiled bedding causes ulcerative plantar pododermatitis ('sore hocks') and high ammonia levels predispose to respiratory disease. Do provide your rabbit with plenty of items to chew on such as untreated wood, cardboard, commercial cat and bird toys.

An exercise area must always be provided in addition to hutch accommodation. This can be in the form of a mobile run or ark or a permanently fenced area of grass. Does will dig deep burrows and measures to prevent escape should be taken such as sinking wire mesh below ground level. Contact with wild rabbits should be prevented, in order to minimise the risk of disease transmission House rabbits should be confined to a secure cage area when you are not there; exercise around the house should be encouraged but make sure to eliminate areas that your pet can get wedged in or escape from. Watch out for electrical cords, rugs and furniture which they like to chew or any toxic materials they can get into. Rabbits naturally urinate and defecate in one place and so are easily house trained to use a litter tray by repeatedly placing them in the tray on acquisition. It may be necessary initially to place some droppings in the tray. House rabbits will readily learn to use 'cat flaps'. Be careful not to leave your dog or cat unsupervised with the rabbit.

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