Rabbit runs – space, not the final frontier!
Rabbits are active creatures and they need enough space in their home to run, jump and play. This means that a hutch on its own won’t be enough to keep your bunnies happy – they’ll also need an exercise area where they can hop about to their heart’s content. Read on to find out all about rabbit runs and gain some top tips on how to set them up.
How much space do rabbits need?
To keep our pet rabbits happy, we need to set up their home so they can express all the behaviours they would in the wild. In their natural habitat, rabbits are energetic creatures and they’ll keep themselves busy running, hopping and ‘binkying’, which is when they jump in the air when they’re excited or happy. Pet rabbits need enough space to be able to do all of these things.
But how much space is enough? The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund recommends that a pair of average sized rabbits should have a run of at least 3m long by 2m wide. Having the full 3m length is important, as this gives your bunnies enough space to run, rather than just take a few hops. The run should also be at least 1m high, as rabbits like to be able to stand up on their hind legs to check there are no predators around. While these are the minimum size requirements, rabbits will be happier if they have a bigger home, so think about how much space you can give your bunny friends!
It’s important to note that rabbits need access to their exercise space all the time – it’s not enough for them to stay in their shelter or hutch most of the day and just come out for playtime. Bunnies really need to be able to run about whenever they want to, so the exercise area should always be available to them. If you’ve got a separate run that’s not connected to your bunny’s main living quarters, this can provide a fantastic place for them to have a bit of extra fun, but it shouldn’t count towards their basic 3m x 2m x 1m area.
How to set up an outdoor rabbit run
The minimum space requirements apply for all rabbits, whether they live outdoors or indoors. We’ll talk about outdoor runs here, but if your bunnies live indoors, check out our blog on looking after house rabbits. This will give you some tips on setting up a fab indoor enclosure, or even bunny-proofing a whole room or a bigger area of your house!
For outdoor rabbits, the basic setup will usually consist of an exercise run that’s permanently connected to a suitable shelter for sleeping. This shelter will normally be a hutch, but it doesn’t have to be – if you’re feeling creative and you’ve got the resources, it’s possible to convert a garden shed into a rabbit paradise! If you opt for a hutch, there’s a lot to think about in terms of setup and maintenance, so take a look through our 10 top tips to make a hutch a home if you’d like to learn more.
The shelter can be within the exercise run, or it could be connected via a tunnel. Provided your bunny is free to hop between the sleeping area and the run whenever they like, they’ll be happy! When it comes to the run itself, you can either buy a pre-made enclosure or build one yourself. Whether you’re choosing or constructing a run, there are a few things to think about, and the first of these is safety.
How to keep a rabbit run safe
It’s vital that your rabbit run is secure – you want to be sure your pets can’t escape and that predators can’t get in! Foxes, stoats and weasels can be a real danger to our pet bunnies and they can break into runs made of weaker materials like chicken wire. A thick mesh of at least 1.2mm diameter is recommended to keep these predators out, and the holes in the wire should be narrow enough to stop smaller animals such as weasels getting through. Holes no greater than 13mm wide are ideal, but if the wire has bigger holes, you can always double up the layer of mesh.
Other security measures include using strong staples to firmly attach the wire to the wood, and ensuring that all doors can be fastened securely. Some predators will be able to slip bolts back so it’s safest to use a sturdy padlock on the entrances.
A final point to consider in terms of safety is the fact that your bunnies will almost certainly chew their run! Gnawing is a natural behaviour for bunnies and it’s important to bear this in mind. Chew toys can help divert your pet’s attention from nibbling on their run, but this often won’t be enough to prevent damage entirely.
Since we can’t stop our bunnies from chewing their run, we should make sure the wood of the run hasn’t been treated with a toxic preservative, and also keep a close eye out for damage as this could provide a weak point where predators can get in. Any areas where the run has been weakened should be repaired promptly.
Where to put your rabbit run?
Once you’ve thought about the size and design of your run, the big question is where to put it? Depending on your outdoor area, you may have a choice between setting up the run on a hard surface like paving or on grass. Rabbits can be happy on either type of surface but there are a couple of differences to think about.
If your bunnies have a run on the lawn, they can graze on the grass and this will help keep their delicate guts and teeth nice and healthy. However, bunnies do have a habit of digging, and if you don’t take suitable precautions then you may find that they make a tunnel out of their run. Predators can also potentially burrow in, and this is also a danger. Strategies to deal with tunnelling include moving the run regularly, fitting a mesh ‘skirt’ or sinking mesh under the ground, or placing paving slabs round the outside of the run. Bear in mind that bunnies are experts at digging so even if you think you’ve taken enough precautions, it’s wise to keep checking for tunnels.
Runs on hard flooring won’t have the problems associated with tunnelling, but bunnies kept in these enclosures will still need to express their natural instinct to dig. So it’s worth providing your pets with a tray filled with earth for them to enjoy. You can also offer ‘grazing trays’ planted with turf, so they can get the benefits of grass as well.
Whichever type of surface your run is on, it’s worth considering the weather when you’re choosing the location and setting it up. Make sure the run is not in full sunlight, and don’t forget to provide some cover to protect from wind and rain. In winter time, if the run gets muddy and icy, you might like to think about providing an alternative area for exercise – for example a garage, garden shed or rabbit-proofed indoor room.
What should I put in the rabbit run?
After choosing the size and location of your run and setting it up securely, the next question is what to put in it. An empty run won’t meet all your rabbit’s needs – here are a few elements to include:
- Ramps and platforms: rabbits have a natural instinct to scan for predators so they like a vantage point to look around their environment. Wooden platforms, blocks or boxes can provide a good place for your pets to take a look round and check for danger.
- Tunnels: since rabbits live in burrows in the wild, tunnels are a great way to satisfy their natural behaviours.
- Hiding places: as prey animals, rabbits need to have hiding places available so they feel safe. A hidey-hole can be as simple as a box, but remember to provide more than one entrance/exit so your bunnies won’t feel trapped.
- Digging trays and grazing trays: as mentioned above, these are important if the run is on solid flooring.
- Toys: these are great for livening up the run, and rabbits love variety so you can swap around the toys on offer every now and then. Some toys such as treat balls are a fantastic way of encouraging natural foraging behaviour – try stuffing them with a few healthy treats such as Selective Naturals Orchard Loops!
On the topic of foraging, it’s particularly important to set up your rabbit run to encourage this behaviour as bunnies in the wild will naturally spend most of their day foraging for food. There are lots of simple ways you can indulge this natural instinct – for example, scattering meals around the enclosure rather than just using a food bowl can make dinner time a much more stimulating experience. Hay should always be freely available, and stuffing tubes or paper bags with a tasty and nutritious hay such as Science Selective Timothy Hay or Russel Rabbit Tasty Hay is a simple but effective way of amusing your bunnies!