If this is your first time caring for a rabbit, I’m sure you’re nervous and excited. You want to make sure you do everything right so that your rabbit will be happy and comfortable with you in your home. Of course, that means you want to create a home base for your rabbit that they will love!
A rabbit enclosure or cage should provide a litter box for your rabbit to use as a bathroom, as well as toys, healthy food, and plenty of water. It’s arguably more important to think about the type of enclosure you get for your rabbit, as well as the place where you set up their home.
While it’s not at all difficult to set up a home for your rabbit, it can be a little challenging to figure out what your rabbit really needs. You walk into a pet store, and you’re bound to see a lot of colorful packages trying to get you to buy more and more supplies for your rabbit that are actually unnecessary. I’ll walk you through how to choose an appropriate enclosure for your rabbit and exactly how to set it up to give your rabbit the best home possible.
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Choosing an enclosure
Rabbits need more space in their enclosure than you think. They are active animals that need space to hop around at all times of the day. Their home base needs to be large enough to accommodate your rabbit’s needs.
A rabbit enclosure should be at least 3 times the length of the rabbit and approximately two times the width. If it has a ceiling, it should be tall enough that the rabbit can stand up all the way on their hind legs without bumping their head. For an average-sized rabbit, the enclosure should be at least 4ft by 2ft, or 8 square feet of space. It’s always okay to go bigger!
Unfortunately, most cages sold and marketed for rabbits do not fit these requirements. You can search for the dimensions of rabbit hutches to find one that large enough, but a better option is using a pet exercise pen as your rabbit’s enclosure. These are cheaper than a typical rabbit cage, easier to clean, and can give your rabbit a full 16 square feet of space for their home.
You can typically find these pet playpens in the dog section of pet stores or online (check it out on Amazon). These large pens give your rabbit enough space to hop around, and it makes it easier to set up all the supplies you need to include in your rabbit’s home.
Supplies you will need
When setting up your rabbit’s home, you want to make sure you have everything you need to keep them happy and comfortable. Many of these supplies can be purchased cheaply or be made from items you have around your home.
- Litter box: Get a cat litter box to use for your rabbit. It should be large enough for your rabbit to fit in and turn around inside. Avoid the too-small corner litter boxes that are marketed toward rabbits. These are often uncomfortable, and the rabbit is more likely to avoid using the litter box.
- Paper-based litter: Avoid using any clay-based litter for your rabbit. This can clump up in a rabbit’s stomach since rabbits often nibble on litter. Instead, get a paper-based litter that’s safe for your rabbit to eat. My preferred brand is Yesterday’s News since it also does a decent job at controlling odor.
- Timothy hay and hay trough: Rabbits need unlimited access to timothy hay, so it’s an integral part of their enclosure setup. You can put the hay directly into your rabbit’s litter box or place it in a hay trough. You can get timothy hay at most pet stores, or you can buy it online at Small Pet Select. (use code ‘BUNNYLADY’ to get 15% off your first order)
- Healthy pellets: Rabbit dry food should be just those plain brown pellets. Avoid anything that has added colorful or fruity pieces. If you look at the ingredients list, the first thing should always be timothy hay or timothy grass. My brand of choice is Oxbow. This company has an excellent reputation for creating healthy products for small animals.
- Towels, mats, or soft flooring: Depending on your enclosure setup, you’ll want to get some sort of flooring to give your rabbit traction in their home base. You can also use a cheap area rug to cover more expensive carpeting.
- Hiding house: Rabbits feel more confident if they have a place to hide when they feel scared. This can be anything from a rabbit den, to a cat cube, or even a cardboard box.
- Food and water bowls: You will need bowls for food and water for your rabbit. Get heavy ceramic bowls to prevent your rabbit from flipping them over and causing a mess.
- A variety of toys: Rabbits are playful and curious, so you’ll want to provide them with various toys to play with. Learn about how to find toys that your rabbit will want to play with.
Supplies you do NOT need
Not everything you see marketed toward rabbits is necessary for their enclosure setup. Many of these products are remnants of old and outdated rabbit care practices. They don’t take our current knowledge of rabbit health and cleanliness into account.
- Bedding: You do not need to use traditional bedding in your rabbit’s enclosure. Using towels, mats, or other floorings to give traction is sufficient for rabbits.
- Salt lick: Salt licks are often marketed toward rabbits, but they are unnecessary. Usually, the rabbit will just ignore these, but some salt licks can be harmful to rabbits if the rabbit chews on them.
- Treat bars: You should only give treats to rabbits in minimal quantities, so any kind of treat bar that is meant to be left in the rabbit enclosure and chewed on should be avoided.
- Urine guard: I often see this recommended, but I’ve never had to use a urine guard. A litter box with high sides is effective at preventing any urine spray.
Step 1: Let your rabbit out
If you already brought your rabbit home, you’ll want to give them this time to explore and exercise outside of their enclosure. It’s a lot more challenging to set up their home, with the rabbit inside moving everything around. Of course, make sure there is someone to supervise your rabbit, or you’ve taken the time to rabbit-proof the room before you allow your rabbit to roam around.
Some rabbits will even get territorial and aggressive if anyone comes into their space. If you’re dealing with one of these rabbits, make a habit of cleaning the enclosure when your rabbit is out and about. This way, you can avoid being bitten or scratched by a rabbit.
This behavior often disappears after the rabbit has been spayed or neutered, so if you’re living with an aggressive rabbit, I recommend finding a rabbit veterinarian and scheduling an appointment.
Step 2: Find a good spot
Before you can set up your rabbit’s home, you need to decide on the best place for the enclosure. You want to ensure that you pick a position where your rabbit feels safe.
I typically recommend the corners of rooms since the walls will give your rabbit a sense of security. They won’t feel like they’re being watched from all sides, and they will be able to find a place to hide more easily.
Other aspects you want to think about when choosing a place for your rabbit’s home include:
- Noise in the home. Many rabbits will get scared of loud noises, so you want to avoid putting them next to noisy appliances, such as washers and dryers. You also want to think about noise levels from a TV and avoid areas where people gather and talk loudly.
- A room where your rabbit can play. Rabbits need many hours of exercise every day, so you want to place them in a room where they can come out and play without getting into too much trouble.
- Keeping out of direct sunlight. Rabbits can overheat pretty quickly, so you want to avoid placing their enclosure in a place that receives too much direct sunlight. It’s okay if there is some sunlight. However, there should always be areas of their enclosure that are shaded.
- Privacy from other pets. It’s a good idea to place your rabbit in a room that can be closed off from other household pets. Rabbits are often afraid of cats and dogs, and they may need some time to get used to each other before they can be comfortable and friendly.
Step 3: Cover the floor
After you pick a spot, the first action you should take to set up your rabbit’s home is to cover the floor. If you have carpeted flooring, this will protect it from digging rabbits or urine stains. If you have hardwood or slick flooring, this will give your rabbit’s feet some traction and prevent injuries.
You can line towels up on the ground, place soft bath mats, or even use large puppy pee pads if your rabbit isn’t litter trained yet. I also like using a cheap area rug over the area to protect carpeted flooring underneath. If you need a temporary solution, you can just flatten some cardboard boxes and lay them on the floor of your rabbit’s enclosure.
After you have the flooring in place, you can go ahead and set up the enclosure fencing on top. It’s a good idea to make sure the flooring is slightly larger than the exercise pen area so that the rabbit doesn’t easily dig up and move the towels around.
A rabbit cage or hutch with plastic or wire flooring should also be covered with a towel or mat to give your rabbit some footing. Wire flooring is particularly harmful to rabbit feet and will often cause sores and joint pain.
Step 4: Set up the litter box
Now that we’ve got the enclosure base set up, it’s time to add the supplies. The first part of setting up is the litter box.
Fill one of your large cat litter boxes (not the tiny corner boxes) with litter. You only need a layer that’s about an inch thick or even less since rabbits don’t bury their poop the way cats do. Then pick a corner of the rabbit enclosure and use that as your rabbit’s bathroom.
If you already had your rabbit in this space, you may have noticed that they already use one corner as their bathroom. If that’s the case, you want to follow your rabbit’s behavior and put the litter box in their chosen corner to encourage good potty habits. You can always switch the litter box to a different position if your rabbit changes their mind and decides on another corner to use as their bathroom.
Step 5: Give your rabbit lots of hay
Hay is vital to rabbit health since it keeps their digestion healthy. You want to make sure your rabbit has access to this at all times of the day. To accomplish this, you can either get a hay trough and set it up for your rabbit, or you can place the hay directly into the litter box. Ensure you give your rabbit enough that they won’t run out of hay throughout the day.
Either way, you want to make sure that the hay is close enough to the litter box that your rabbit can eat it while they go. For some strange reason, many rabbits like to munch while they poop. Placing the hay nearby (whether that’s inside the box, next to it, or hanging on top of the litter box) tends to promote good potty habits.
Step 6: Place food and water bowls
When putting your rabbit’s food and water bowls in the enclosure, it’s best to place them away from the litter box area. This will prevent any poop or urine from spraying out into their food and water, keeping you from having to clean out their bowls too frequently.
You can place their daily amount of pellets in their food bowl. For most rabbits, about ¼ cup of pellets is sufficient for the whole day (it’s okay if your rabbit runs out pretty quickly, they’ll still have the hay to eat). If you want a more exact amount, it should be approximately 1 tablespoon of pellets per pound that your rabbit weighs.
I also recommend using a bowl for water rather than a bottle. This is a much more natural way for rabbits to drink and promotes better hydration. However, many rabbits tend to flip over their bowls, so you’ll want to get a large, heavy water bowl so your rabbit won’t be able to knock it over.
Step 7: Provide a hiding house
You want to place a hiding house in a free corner of your rabbit’s enclosure. This is a place where your rabbit can go when they feel scared and want to get a little privacy. When you position the hiding house, you want your rabbit to feel they are blocked from view, so turning the entrance away from the front of the enclosure can help.
You want to make sure the hiding house is large enough for your rabbit to completely fit inside. Many times cat houses are excellent choices for your rabbit because those marketed for rabbits are a little too small. You can also easily use a plain old cardboard box as your rabbit’s hiding house. Cut a large hole in the side of the box or just lay it on its side to give your rabbit a place to hide.
If you have your rabbit’s enclosure up against a wall, place the hiding house along that side. Sometimes rabbits will hop on top of the house and then over the top of the enclosure fence to escape.
Step 8: Give your rabbit toys
Now that the rest of your rabbit’s home is all set up, it’s time to add in some toys. Toys keep your rabbit occupied, preventing boredom during the day. They are also great for rabbit teeth and can distract your rabbit from their more destructive chewing behaviors.
It’s best to give your rabbit as much of a variety of toys as possible since all rabbits will have their preferences. I recommend getting the toy sampler from my favorite online store Small Pet Select. I like to get this for my rabbits to see which toys they like best. Then I can continue to get them their favorites to play with in the future. (and if you use the code ‘BUNNYLADY’ at checkout, you can get 15% off your first order)
Step 9: Let your rabbit into their new home
Okay, you’ve got everything set up. Now it’s time to let your rabbit into their new home, but guess what! Your rabbit will have some opinions of their own about how everything is set up. You’ll watch as your rabbit starts to shove everything around and rearrange the space to their own liking.
And that’s okay! This is your rabbit’s home, so why not let them arrange their furniture however they want to. When my rabbit Elusive kept moving her litter box away from the corner of the enclosure and over to the middle, I let her. Now that you know how your rabbit likes the place to be set up, you can continue to arrange it to their satisfaction.