A HUTCH IS NOT A HOME
Cottontails is proud to be the first animal welfare organisation to promote keeping rabbits completely free range in the house, or if this is not possible, a safe outdoor building. In the daytime rabbits can exercise in the garden with supervision and enjoy the best of both worlds.
We believe that caging rabbits is inhumane, unnecessary and has gone on for far too long. Please read on…
DITCH THE HUTCH Press release 1
Imagine living in a cage 2 or 3 times your own size, where you can barely stretch – let alone exercise – and you are unable to stand. How would you feel? Sadly this is life for most of the 4 million pet rabbits in the UK, confined to a hutch measuring on average just 90cm X 30cm X 30cm. “People wouldn’t dream of putting a dog or a cat in these tiny cages” says Lulu James, Director of Cottontails. “Hutches are too small and don’t provide sufficient protection from predators and the elements. In the 21st century it’s no longer acceptable to keep companion rabbits in this way.”
A rabbit’s place is in the home, not a hutch
Rabbits are intelligent, sensitive creatures who enjoy interacting with people, playing and exploring. The best place to keep your rabbits is in the home – if you need to confine them you can simply use a baby gate. Rabbits like nothing better than to sleep in a dog basket or under a bed and can be litter-trained at any age. Adult rabbits make wonderful pets because they are less destructive than babies, especially if they’re neutered. If you can’t keep your rabbits indoors, Cottontails recommends giving them the run of a secure shed, summerhouse or other outbuilding. Provide a dog bed, litter tray and toys to make them feel at home. In the daytime rabbits can exercise in a run or well fenced garden but supervision is essential as fox attacks are on the increase.
THE PROBLEM WITH HUTCHES Press release 2
Would you keep a cat or a dog in a hutch? Cottontails believes it is equally cruel to cage companion rabbits and that they deserve a better life. The average hutch on sale in pet shops measures just 90cm X 30cm X 30cm. This means the rabbit cannot stand up or take a few hops and has to lie in his urine and droppings. There’s no room for toys, a litter tray or a companion. The hutches are cheaply made – though not cheap to buy – and offer little protection from predators and the elements. In other words, they are totally unsuitable for housing rabbits.
So where do you keep rabbits, then?
The best place for companion rabbits is in the home. Rabbits like to sleep in a dog basket or on a fleece rug and can be litter-trained just like cats. There’s no need to buy a hutch or a cage – if you need to confine them you can simply use a baby gate. Contrary to popular belief, companion rabbits are not a special breed. Any rabbit can live happily indoors, and hutch rabbits will adapt quickly to being part of the family. Adult rabbits over a year old make the best housemates because they are easier to train and less destructive than babies. If you can’t keep your rabbits indoors, a good alternative is to give them free run of a summerhouse, shed, or other safe outdoor building. Provide a litter tray, toys and a dog bed to make them feel at home. In the daytime rabbits can exercise in the garden with supervision, and enjoy the best of both worlds.
Note No hutch does not mean keeping rabbits loose in the garden at the mercy of predators and weather extremes. If you cannot provide the right living area for your rabbits, it is kinder not to acquire them in the first place.
RABBITS AND HUTCHES DON’T MIX
Happily, more and more caregivers are keeping their rabbits free range in the house or a safe outdoor building. But old traditions die hard because of commercial interests – think pet shops and hutch manufacturers – and because caregivers may not realise there are better alternatives to hutches. You’ve probably heard some of these stereotypes…
It is natural for rabbits to live in a hutch There is nothing natural about keeping rabbits in a hutch. It is natural for wild rabbits to live in underground warrens sheltered from predators and bad weather. Being very clean animals, they never soil inside their burrows. This is as different as you can get from a hutch or an indoor cage. Moreover, companion rabbits are not wild animals – although they share the same instincts – so it is our responsibility to provide them with a large, safe and interesting living area, preferably in the home.
Rabbits are happy to live in a hutch Rabbits hate being confined and will often run, hide and bite to avoid going back to their hutch. Rabbits cannot bark or meow to show they’re unhappy – if they did they would attract the attention of predators. But just because they are quieter than other animals, it doesn’t mean they are content to be in a hutch. Rabbits are very intelligent and sensitive creatures. They may express their frustration by becoming aggressive or withdrawn, by overgrooming and pulling their fur, by chewing the cage bars, by throwing their food bowl around, by pacing up and down or other repetitive behaviour. Sadly these signs are often ignored or misunderstood. No animal is happy to live in a cage, even less a cramped one. Being in a hutch is no life for bunnies.
Our rabbits’ hutch is very big Obviously a larger hutch is better than a smaller one, but how big can a hutch be? All cages are small. The largest hutches on sale in pet shops measure around 120cm X 30cm X 30cm. If you confined a dog or cat to such a small space, you’d be reported for cruelty to animals.
Our rabbits’ hutch is safe While a sturdy hutch is better than a flimsy one, it can never offer 100% protection against predators. Rabbits frequently die of a heart attack when they see, smell or hear a predator. Many caregivers find their hutch rabbits dead in the morning and wrongly assume they’ve died of natural causes. Even if rabbits survive visits by foxes and other animals, we can only imagine how terrified they must be. Companion rabbits should not live in fear. If you can’t keep them in the house, they should have the run of a shed, summerhouse, or other safe outbuilding.
Rabbits need a place to call their own But it doesn’t have to be a hutch. Let your rabbits choose their favourite spot – under a bed, behind the sofa, under a chair – to relax or take a nap.
Rabbits like a burrow-like place Cardboard boxes and clay pipes with two or more exit holes make wonderful burrows for rabbits to retreat to. Hutches and indoor cages don’t.
I will get a hutch, but I won’t lock my rabbits in So why buy it? A plastic dog bed is a much better choice for your rabbits to sleep in, it’s inexpensive, long-lasting, easy to clean, looks nicer than a hutch or a cage and doesn’t take up as much room. If you need to confine your rabbits a good tip is to use a baby gate so they can still see and hear you – and viceversa.
I cage my rabbits because they’re destructive When you have a pet, some damage is to be expected. Rabbits are no more destructive than cats and dogs, but it’s important to educate yourself on neutering, toys, bunnyproofing, and other ways to minimise damage. Luckily, help is at hand (please see our Rabbit Care pages). Adult rabbits make the best housemates because they are less destructive than babies – to adopt one or a pair search The Bunny Hopline. If your rabbits are very young or destructive, you don’t have to give them the run of the whole house. Start in one room without carpet and wallpaper and gradually increase their running space. One of rabbits’ favourite activities is to chew telephone and electric wires. These are easily protected with cable covers from a DIY store.
I cage my rabbits because they’re not litter-trained Like dogs and cats, rabbits can take a while to become house-trained and may have “accidents” from time to time. Please be patient. Neutering and providing multiple litter trays will help with litter-training. During the training period, keep the rabbits in just one or two uncarpeted rooms. Rabbits can be litter-trained at any age and adults over a year old are easier to train than babies, especially if they are neutered. For more litter-training info please click here.
I cage my rabbits because I’ve got a dog/cat Dogs and cats don’t have to have full run of the house. Isn’t there a single room where your rabbits can stay, perhaps a boxroom or utility room? It’s easy to fit a wire frame in the doorway to keep away the dog or cat, and even a small room is bigger than a hutch.
I only cage my rabbits when I can’t keep an eye on them That’s at night, when you are at work, when you go out, when you are busy, when you are cooking, having a bath, doing the housework, doing DIY, when you are on the telephone, when you are online, when you have guests, when you watch TV, when you’re reading, when there are children around… in other words, most of the time. For more advice on keeping rabbits free range, please see our Rabbit Care pages.
Cottontails believes there’s no excuse for keeping rabbits in a hutch or an indoor cage. All our officers and volunteers keep their rabbits free range in the home, with access to the garden in the daytime with supervision. Even our foster rabbits have the run of one or more rooms, and are never confined to a cage or pen