Everything You Need to Know About Raising a Free-Roam Rabbit
Pet rabbits don’t require much space to thrive. In fact, the ability to keep them in small enclosures can make them an ideal alternative to cats and dogs. However, rabbits are notoriously curious creatures, and it’s a great feeling for rabbit owners to see their adorable friends freely hopping through their home. That’s why for many owners and rabbits, the more space the better.
Your home, however, isn’t quite like the forests and fields that bunnies inhabit in the wild. The modern human home usually contains a wide variety of objects that could be dangerous to your rabbit...or be destroyed by them.
Allowing your rabbit to roam freely through your home comes with its own unique challenges, but it is definitely achievable with a bit of effort and education on how to take care of your pet rabbit. Best of all, it can be incredibly rewarding, creating a more intimate and open bond with your pet.
How to Rabbit-Proof Your Home
Everyone is familiar with the concept of baby-proofing a home, and most animals require the same kind of preparation, including rabbits. Your first and foremost concern should be to examine your home and make sure your new friend won't have access to anything that could hurt it. Make sure to do this before Mr. Hoppers McHoppington sets a paw in your home, or risk beginning your life as a rabbit parent with an emergency trip to a rabbit vet nearby.
On the top of your list should be electrical wires, as rabbits tend to chew right through them, which could result in electrocution and burns, not to mention ruined appliances. Luckily, there are a few good options to protect your rabbit from the wires in your home (and vice versa).
Areas with a large number of cords running near the ground can be blocked or fenced off with furniture, plastic storage bins or just about anything else that fits in your home. Check for danger spots behind computers and televisions.
Cover your wires with thicker protection like PVC piping, cord concealers or plastic wire tubing.
When in doubt, try to rearrange things to keep wires out of reach entirely. Extension cords can help you keep more important wires out of reach, and properly placed power strips can mean you only have one wire to cover rather than three or more.
Wiring may pose the greatest immediate threat to your rabbit, but there are plenty of other items in your home that could be ruined or harm your new pet, including carpets, baseboards and furniture.
Rabbits don't just chew; they also dig, especially at the exposed corners of a room. While preparing to introduce a new rabbit to your home, you should make sure any wall-to-wall carpeting doesn't have loose threads at the base of a wall that might tempt your rabbit to dig and chew. Your rabbit may have digestion problems if it eats your carpet or area rug, which could eventually warrant a trip to your rabbit vet.
You should also be ready with plastic mats or natural fiber area rugs. You won't know exactly where to put them until you see where your rabbit tries to scratch and dig, but it wouldn't hurt to have a couple on hand from the outset.
Rabbits also love to chew on wood, including furniture legs and the baseboards around your home. The paint on your baseboards may even be toxic for a rabbit, so it's important to cover or block them. Cat scratcher pads, protective wooden planks or some kind of fence are all good options. Bitter apple spray can also help deter your rabbit from gnawing on your baseboards.
The wooden legs of your furniture can be similarly protected by flexible cat scratcher pads and you should cover other expensive furniture like your couch with old blankets or some other kind of protection, at least when you aren't there to keep an eye on your rabbit.
Creating a Home Base for Your Pet Rabbit
Yes, the end goal is to have your rabbit feel at home wherever it wanders, but no matter how comfortable it gets, your pet needs a stress-free home base to relax, play and go to the bathroom. Imagine your home is like The Big Apple. After some time, the city feels like your own. You know exactly where to get the best bagel in town, how to reach your New York rabbit vet (of course!) and what to expect from your neighbors, but at the end of the day, you always return to your home for some peace and quiet.
Your rabbit needs a similar space, especially when you first bring it home. In fact, it's recommended that the rabbit begin its life confined to its home base, whether it be a pen in the corner or an entire room all to itself. Let it get accustomed to its immediate surroundings first before gradually opening up the rest of your home for it to explore.
Potty Training a Free-Roam Rabbit
One of the challenges that may discourage you from letting your rabbit roam free is training it to use a litter box. It's important to note that there are no skipping corners here; proper litter box training is a must if you want a free-roam rabbit. Rabbit pee contains a high concentration of ammonia that can damage pretty much everything it touches, and the longer it's left, the worse it gets. Rabbits also poop frequently, and you’ll eventually get tired of picking up droppings If you haven’t put in the work to train them.
The good news is that rabbits are typically an easy animal to potty train. The most difficult phase is the very beginning, when you have to pay close attention to where and how much your rabbit is going to the bathroom, another reason it's recommended to keep it confined to a pen or a single room to start out with.
Rabbits generally choose to relieve themselves repeatedly in the same corner of the space they are given. Put its litter box in its chosen corner. When they poop or pee outside the box, scoop or soak everything up and put it in the litter box to reinforce association with that spot for using the bathroom.
As you expand the area your rabbit is allowed to explore, place more litter boxes where you see it wants to use the bathroom. Then, slowly take them away as the rabbit has fewer incidents outside of the boxes, eventually leaving just the one you put in its home base.
Rabbit Toys and Other Tips
Rabbits may not be as rambunctious as a typical puppy, but they are without a doubt playful creatures that desire interaction and playtime. Having toys and sufficient interaction with you will also reduce the likelihood it will chew, scratch and dig where you don't want it to. Toys can be left in several locations throughout your home so your furry friend has something to keep it occupied and entertained wherever it hops.
Most importantly, rabbits need toys they can chew on, so anything made of wood or even cardboard like a toilet paper roll are great options. A digging box can help prevent it from digging into your carpets and creative food and treat dispensers are a fun way for your rabbit to eat.
Finally, here are some other points to consider:
Spayed or neutered rabbits are generally easier to train and handle in a home environment. Doing so at your nearby rabbit vet makes them easier to potty train, more docile and even reduces the risks of them getting certain diseases.
Don't forget that rabbits can jump! Human food, houseplants and any other dangerous objects should be kept high out of reach. How high? Each rabbit is a little different. Watch your bunny carefully at the beginning to get an idea of how high it's likely to jump and adjust accordingly.
Go slow. Your rabbit needs time to adjust, and so do you. Keep it in one area you know is rabbit-ready in the beginning. This allows the rabbit to get familiar with its immediate environment and gives you the option of stepping away for a few minutes to do everything else you need to do every day. Once you’re ready to let it explore, don’t give your little bunny the entire house all at once. Use pet gates or other barriers to designate a larger, but still limited area of the house for it to wander in. Gradually expand this area until you can see that your rabbit is comfortable and confident making the entire house its home.
With the right precautions and preparations, rabbits are not particularly high-maintenance pets. Establishing your home as an area where your rabbit can roam freely requires a bit more attention and responsibility, but even in this case, a little effort reaps a huge reward. As you go about your daily life, your bunny can do the same, giving you that extra warmth and companionship we all love our pets for.