Bedding is one of those topics that can be confusing for new rabbit caretakers. You see the bags in the pet store and wonder if this is something you should get for your rabbit. Bedding was traditionally used in hutches for rabbits kept outside of the home, but as rabbit care practices change, so does advice for bedding. In my articles, I very rarely mention bedding at all. That’s because in most cases you won’t need it for your rabbit.
For indoor pet rabbits, bedding is not necessary to include in your rabbit’s habitat as long as your rabbit has access to soft flooring. Outdoor rabbits will require bedding for insulation to help them stay warm in the night and during the cold months of the year.
If you use bedding when you don’t have to, it can actually be a detriment to your rabbit’s litter box habits. Instead it’s a better idea to use bedding only inside your rabbit’s litter box and not over the rest of their enclosure. There are also certain types of traditional bedding that are not actually safe to use for rabbits and should be avoided.
Why your rabbit probably doesn’t need traditional bedding
The majority of pet rabbits will not require any bedding in their enclosure. If you keep your rabbit indoors (which I always recommend), then bedding is unnecessary except when it’s used as litter in a litter box. The main functions of bedding in a rabbit enclosure have been to help a rabbit stay warm during cold nights and winter days, and to give breeding rabbits materials for nesting.
You might choose to give your indoor rabbit an old towel or blanket in their enclosure. Some people would consider this to be bedding, but it’s more of a way to give your rabbit a digging toy that they can burrow into when they want to play. In this context they generally don’t serve the same purpose as bedding traditionally has.
Why it’s best to avoid unnecessary bedding
Using traditional bedding when it’s not needed can actually end up doing more harm than good. It can be a detriment to your rabbit’s litter training and make it more difficult to keep a clean enclosure for your rabbit. Both of these put together can end up attracting bugs or causing your house to smell.
- Using bedding makes it more difficult to litter train your rabbit. When you use a traditional bedding material in your rabbit’s entire enclosure, they are more likely to see the whole place as their litter box. Even if they pick one corner to use as their bathroom, they are unlikely to make the correct association with the litter box.
- Bedding is more difficult to clean. Cleaning out a rabbit enclosure is never fun, but cleaning out and replacing bedding can add hours to the job. Because the bedding is more likely to get soiled, you’ll also have to clean the enclosure more frequently.
- It’s important to discourage bugs from congregating in your rabbit’s area. Bedding, especially if it’s been soiled, is more likely to attract bugs even in indoor spaces. Rabbits can suffer from many conditions caused by insects, including the potentially deadly fly strike.
What about comfort?
There are people who claim that you should give a rabbit bedding even indoors to make them more comfortable. In my experience, this is not the case. Almost every rabbit that I’ve known will actually behave the opposite.
When given bedding, most rabbits will try to move it out of the way. They prefer to lay down and sleep on a flat surface. Even fabric bedding, such as fleece blankets, end up getting shoved out of the way. Many rabbits will prefer to lay down on a hard surface such as hardwood floors or cool ceramic tiles if given the choice. Bedding ends up being an expensive addition to your rabbit’s enclosure without adding any actual comfort for your rabbit.
This is one of those situations where we humans think a rabbit should be more comfortable with more bedding, so we decide that’s what they need. However, when you take the time to look at their behavior, you’ll find that rabbits feel differently about it.
Outdoor vs. indoor rabbits
While here at the Bunny Lady we advocate for keeping pet rabbits indoors all year round, we also understand that everyone’s situation is different. If your rabbit’s enclosure is outdoors or you haven’t been able to bring your rabbit inside yet, then you might need to use some bedding for your rabbit’s area.
Using bedding in an outdoor enclosure does still come with the same downsides as indoor enclosures. However, it will be necessary to keep your rabbit warm, especially in wintertime. In these cases you’ll want to choose an appropriate type of bedding. One that will help to insulate your rabbit’s enclosure from the outdoor elements and also help your rabbit stay comfortable.
- Hay as bedding for outdoor rabbits. While it may be a little expensive to use hay to completely insulate your rabbit’s enclosure, it’s a good source of bedding that also doubles as food for your rabbit.
- Towels and blankets. Fleece and cotton towels and blankets are safe for rabbits to ingest in small amounts. Even if your rabbit is a chewer, you can use these materials to help insulate their enclosure.
- Paper or cardboard pulp. This is the type of bedding that you will commonly see sold in pet stores as small animal bedding. It can be soft and comfortable, but usually doesn’t provide great insulation.
- Aspen shavings. Aspen wood shavings are okay to use as bedding for a rabbit enclosure. You want to avoid wood shavings that are made from pine, cedar, or have an unknown wood source.
- Straw. Straw is cheaper than hay and is actually a pretty good insulator. You’ll want to make sure your rabbit has hay also to cover most of the straw. Straw does not have any nutritional value for rabbits and should not be given as food, but it’s okay if your rabbit nibbles on it a little bit.
Bedding vs. litter
While in most cases it’s best not to use bedding in your rabbit’s entire enclosure, you will want to make sure you have a litter box set up for your rabbit. Instead of using clay cat litter, which can cause respiratory problems in rabbits, rabbit litter is often made of the material that’s traditionally used for bedding.
Aspen shavings, condensed paper-based litter, and even just plain hay are common choices to use in your rabbit’s litter box. I would, however, avoid using fabric bedding products, or the less absorptive bedding products. Shredded paper, straw, and paper pulp bedding are not great choices for the litter box.
What NOT to use as bedding or litter
There are some types of bedding and litter out there that are best to completely avoid for rabbits. While they may be traditionally used and marketed toward small animals and rabbits, they are not safe and can potentially cause health problems.
- Pine and cedar wood shavings. The phenols that are released from pine and cedar shavings have been linked to liver problems in rabbits.
- Anything with a high amount of dust, such as sawdust. Sawdust or even old, dusty hay can end up causing respiratory irritation in rabbits.
- Clay cat litter. In addition to being dusty and potentially causing respiratory complications, the clumping nature of cat litter can cause digestive problems for rabbits who have a tendency to eat their litter.
Alternatives for the base of your rabbit’s enclosure
Just because you’re not using bedding for your indoor rabbit doesn’t mean you want to keep the floor of your rabbit’s enclosure completely bare. Slippery floors, such as the plastic bottom of an enclosure, can cause a rabbit to lose their footing and hurt their back. Wire floors can cause sores on your rabbit’s feet over time.
In these cases you’ll want to give your rabbit some kind of mat to give them a better footing. I also like to make sure my rabbits have access to a few ceramic or marble tiles, since they like to lay down and sleep on these.
Giving your rabbit appropriate footing is actually pretty easy. For exercise pen enclosures or DIY enclosures, you can simply use an area rug to cover the flooring. You can use a rug that is made of natural fibers, such as sisal, so that you don’t have to worry about your rabbit chewing on it.
For enclosures with a plastic or wire flooring, you can use soft mats (such as bath mats) or even towels for your rabbit’s footing. If you find that your rabbit is digging and chewing into these too much, you can even use cardboard as their flooring. I actually find that many rabbits even prefer cardboard to the softer floorings that you’d expect them to like.
Should you give your rabbit something to sleep on?
If you’re worried that your rabbit won’t be comfortable sleeping without any bedding, then you can try some different options to see what your rabbit prefers. Every rabbit has their own personality and preferences. So just because most rabbits prefer a hard, flat surface doesn’t mean every bunny will.
Here are some ideas to try to see what your rabbit likes best for a bed:
- A dog or cat bed
- A couple large ceramic or marble tiles
- A towel or a blanket
- A hiding house to sleep inside of
- A cardboard box
- A grass mat