Preparing for the New Family Member
Bunnies are very social and love to be around their people. Bunnies who live in outside hutches are usually lonely and bored, and they generally do not live to be as old as their house-living counterparts.
Moving into a new environment can be stressful, and as bunnies tend to check out new things with their teeth (this is natural and something to be re-routed rather than stopped), we thought some ideas on housing and bunny-proofing might be helpful.
ENCLOSURE: X-pens and baby gates. If you need to keep your bunny in an enclosed area while you are away from the home, an x-pen or a baby gate would be your best choice. X-pens are a series of eight 2 foot wide wire panels that come in several different heights (we suggest 30” or 36”), which can be set up in 4’x4’ squares, rectangles—or other ways—to fit where you need them! Baby gates can be used to close off one room, such as a kitchen or Bunny Room, while you are out. Not only are these much better options than a cage (which tend to be small, expensive, hard to clean), they are both less expensive than a very large cage, and it is a lot easier to sweep out a pen or your kitchen or a bunny room. All in all, x-pens and baby gated rooms are just much more comfortable and happy spaces for your bunny to stay while you are away! This doesn’t mean they won’t need to be out to play for at least 5 hours a day; and not everyone uses these options: many people simply allow their rabbits free run of the house, or at least the bunny proofed rooms, all the time.
INSIDE THE ENCLOSURE: A litter box big enough for bunny to lie down in filled with bunny-safe litter, which you as a dutiful friend will clean at least once a day; food and water containers; toys—and perhaps a box for bunny to hide in and chew upon. Industrial, indoor/outdoor and “office” carpet (low weaves that bunny cannot chew / NO astro-turf) make great pen bottoms. You can get these types of carpets fairly inexpensively at places like Home Depot. Grass or corn husk mats are also good, they are safe for bunny to chew on. Some people like to put a plastic tarp beneath the carpet in case of water spills. At Zooh Corner we don’t find this necessary, we just have the carpet.
TOYS: Bunnies are curious and like to be entertained. Hard plastic toys suitable for babies are good, as are some cat toys. Also try cardboard tubes from toilet paper or paper towels, plastic cups and bowls, large plastic or metal trucks they can climb on, brown paper bags (which are fun to pull and rip), etc. See our Toys For Bunnies list, and of course, buy Zooh Toys for your bunnies – a healthy way to let bunny have fun, and to help support our rescue efforts! IMPORTANT: As bunnies teeth grow continuously they must have wood chew toys, or chew blocks made of untreated woods (NO CEDAR or FRESH PINE).
OUTSIDE OF THE BUNNY HOUSE: Bunnies love to explore. They will get into places that you do not expect and they will consider your furniture their furniture, so a bit of bunny proofing is in order before the first out-of-cage excursion. Family members MUST learn that there is a new member under-foot whom they must watch out for. DOORS to the outside (or to rooms where bunny is not allowed) MUST be closed at all times. If you must, put up little reminder notes until closing doors becomes habit.
WIRES AND CORDS: Very enticing and very dangerous. Plastic tubing (which can be purchased at most hardware stores) can be slit lengthwise to accommodate the cords of most electrical appliances. Secure to floorboards or up off of the ground.
FURNITURE, ETC: Bunnies do not have fingers with which to explore, so they use their…TEETH. Make sure that all furniture where bunny plays is okay for bunny to climb upon, because she will! If you don’t want bunny in certain rooms close doors or use other barricades (baby gates ). If you do not want bunny getting into certain areas (behind stereos, squeezed between the couch and the wall) make accommodations to prevent her from going there (2×4’s and small pieces of plywood which can be hidden work well). Bunnies like sneaky spots and they will find every one in their new home! Bunnies do like to have a spot where they can lie down and nap or be left alone. Our bunnies like to lie down under coffee tables and chairs where they can survey their world.
For the first several out-of-pen excursions we advise keeping the area available to a minimum, and the play periods short. Put many litter boxes around to accommodate bunny needs (watch where bunny tends to “go” and put a litter box there). Make sure there are plenty of toys available to bunny outside of her house. Wooden chew toys and blocks to help redirect chewing; perhaps a small box of straw or shredded newspaper for bunny to jump into and dig. Putting bunny’s hay at one end of the litter box will encourage its use.
NEVER shout at a bunny or hit/spank it. This serves only to frighten the bunny and it is NOT the way they learn. Removing bunny from a naughty situation (perhaps even putting her back in her pen/room), or redirecting her energies in a quiet, firm voice is the way to teach! Watch your bunny and learn her habits, likes and dislikes. Knowing your bunny and being willing to compromise with her are the best ways for her to learn-and become a happy house rabbit.
WARNING: PINE and CEDAR litter can be FATAL; as can regular sand and clay litter (kitty litter). Do not use it! Instead, use a safe, natural litter such as ground corncobs, recycled newsprint or cardboard (such as Clean N’ Comfy, Yesterday’s News or Carefresh). Litters made of recycled plant fibers and hardwood litters such as Aspen are also good.