THE MERCK VETERINARY MANUAL
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Housing of Rabbits

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A rabbit hutch placed in the back yard, basement, or garage has been and continues to be traditional housing for rabbits. The hutch should be conveniently accessed for proper care of the rabbit, as diseases of neglect are common in rabbits abandoned in a hutch at the back of the yard. There should be adequate ventilation and protection from dogs or other predators.

Rabbits can become a more integrated part of the household when they are trained to a litter box and accustomed to periodic confinement housing. Rabbits have a tendency to chew on things and may gnaw furniture, curtains, carpeting, or electrical wiring, which is dangerous for the rabbit and creates a fire hazard. Rabbits should be confined to safe quarters when unsupervised.

Rabbits gnaw, and caging should be constructed of materials that will hold up. Cages should be easily sanitized and allow easy manure removal. All-wire cages with a minimum of 12-gauge wire (16-gauge recommended for cage floor to support the weight of the rabbit) are preferred. Cages can be suspended from the ceiling with wire or set on metal frames. The size of the hutch depends on the size of the rabbit. Giant breeds (>12 lb) require a minimum of 30 × 36 in. to 36 × 48 in. Medium breeds (7–12 lb) require 24 × 30 in. to 30 × 36 in. Smaller breeds can be accommodated by 18 × 24 in. The cage should be equipped with a feed hopper and a watering system. Feed hoppers are best constructed of sheet metal with holes or a screen in the bottom for removal of “fines” (small broken feed particles). Rabbits drink more than other animals of similar size and they should be offered ad lib potable water. Rabbits often chew on the watering valve and eventually destroy it unless it is made of stainless steel or has a stainless centerpiece. Water bottles with sipper tubes work well. Crocks and cans are sometimes used in small rabbitries; such containers are easily contaminated and should be washed and disinfected daily. A barren cage is inadequate; the cage environment should be enriched to give the rabbit something to do. Optimally, rabbits should be given run time outside of the cage daily.

Nest boxes should be constructed so that they can be easily placed in the cage and later removed for cleaning and disinfecting between litters. Disinfecting the nest box after cleaning and again just before placing it in the cage helps reduce incidence of disease. The box should be large enough to prevent crowding but small enough to keep the kits warm. A standard size nest box for medium-sized rabbits is 16 × 10 × 8 in. high. Wooden, metal, or plastic nest boxes with nesting material (eg, straw, hardwood shavings, shredded sugarcane) serves well in either warm or cold weather. Shredded paper, hay, leaves, and other materials have been used with less success. Rough edges such as splintering wood should be avoided as they contribute to mastitis when does hop in and out of the nest box.

Pens should have a nonslip floor and may be bedded with straw or shredded paper covered with straw or hay to increase absorbency. Shavings or sawdust are not the best as the scent is too powerful. Pen sides should be at least 4 ft high.

When setting up group housing, compatibility is a major factor. Personalities should be evaluated for docility and aggressiveness. Strain influences personality. Rabbits that have grown up together are best, although adult males may be so aggressive toward each other that serious fights occur. Neutering may improve compatibility. A general guide is “same sex and same size.” A period of adjacent proximity is prudent prior to group housing rabbits. Another factor to consider is stocking density. Floor space recommendations vary from 3.5 to 10 sq ft/rabbit to allow territory establishment. Others recommend 3.5 hop lengths per rabbit as a rule of thumb. Regardless, group-housed rabbits should be provided escape and hiding places and should be frequently monitored.

Housing requirements for rabbits depend on climate. Minimal housing (an A-frame roof without sides) can be used in moderate climates, while a climate-controlled rabbitry may be necessary in hot or cold climates. Rabbitries should be located on nearly level ground and use well-drained soil or tile-drained pits for manure. Shade should be provided over as much of the rabbitry as possible. Rabbits are prone to heat stress. While they tolerate subzero temperatures when provided proper shelter, the optimal rabbit environment is 61–72°F. Good ventilation at all times is imperative.

Cleaning frequency depends of the type of facility or caging system. Rabbits typically choose a preferred latrine site, such as a corner of the cage. Sanitation is especially important in rabbit production. Poor sanitation leads to disease and deaths; therefore, cleaning and sanitizing must be constant. Nest boxes must be disinfected between uses. Cages, feeders, and watering equipment should be sanitized periodically with an effective and inexpensive sanitizing solution such as diluted household chlorine bleach (1 oz/1 quart water) or other less corrosive disinfectants. Complete cleaning should be performed before housing new stock.

An active rabbitry constantly experiences a loose hair problem. Does pull hair from their bodies to make nests, and some of this hair becomes airborne. It sticks to almost any surface, including cages, ceilings, and lights, and must be removed periodically. The most effective ways to remove hair from cages are washing or using a propane torch or flame. Washing, brushing, sweeping, and vacuuming also are effective in other parts of the rabbitry. Pens or wire-floored cages should be brushed or hosed every 2 wk. An acid wash may be required to descale rabbit urine from solid floor pans.

Frequent manure removal is essential. Excess manure leads to unacceptable levels of ammonia in the air, which predisposes to respiratory disease. The manure can be composted in an efficient pit system.

Last full review/revision July 2011 by Diane McClure, DVM, PhD, DACLAM

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