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Housing: Why a Hutch is Not Enough

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Housing: Why a Hutch is Not Enough Empty Housing: Why a Hutch is Not Enough

Post by Happy Hoppers on Fri Nov 18, 2011 12:13 pm

"In the UK alone the current UK pet rabbit population is around 1.6 million

The main reason given for getting a rabbit is that 'the children wanted one'

Over 150,000 rabbits live in hutches that are too small"

Housing: Why a Hutch is Not Enough DominoHUTCH

According to the recently published PDSA Animal wellbeing report, 16% of rabbits in the UK live indoors, the majority of companion rabbits live outdoors in a variety of hutches, playhouses, and sheds. "Nearly 10% of rabbits – around 150,000 – live in hutches that are too small where they can only do up to two hops. 18% of rabbit owners did not know how many hops their rabbit could do across their living quarters."

More alarmingly, "...6% of owners think a rabbit doesn’t need to go outside its hutch, meaning 100,000 rabbits may be confined to a hutch with no regular access to space outside it."
Source PDSA - Full report download

Most pet supply shops sell small and inadequate accommodation for indoor and outdoor rabbits at an affordable price. Whilst some also sell larger accommodation to new rabbit owners who may not know about the needs of their prospective new bunny, there is no reason to assume that the accommodation on offer is adequate or meets the recommended standards. The Animal Welfare Act of 2007 does not provide a legal obligation to suppliers and owners to provide suitably large accommodation for rabbits, merely a recommendation.

The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) recommend a large accommodation size to ensure that rabbits enjoy one of the five freedoms stipulated in the Act – ‘Freedom to express normal behaviour’. In the case of the rabbit this includes hopping, jumping, twisting, standing fully upright and hopping over large distances at speed, in long or short bursts. As a prey species rabbits need to practice these behaviours regularly.

There is a great deal of published research into the problems created by inadequate and substandard accommodation, which makes it hard to understand why small hutches and cages are allowed to be made and sold as rabbit accommodation. A simple internet search brought up a handful of expert and academic papers on the subject, all suggesting the same recommendations regarding size and preferences.

The Royal School of veterinary studies information sheet on rabbits is a good example, and says of accommodation requirements:
  • The hutch/cage should be large enough for the rabbit to stretch up fully (their ears should not touch the roof of their hutch or cage) and be able to hop a minimum of 3 hops.

  • The new Animal Welfare Act 2007 and Rabbit Welfare Fund recommend - hutches should be a minimum of 6ft x 2ft x 2ft, and preferably with an attached run to allow the rabbits to exercise at will. The run should be 6ft x 4ft x 4ft as a minimum. Hutch size and runs can never be too big, so don't skimp.

  • Outdoor hutches should be raised off the ground (approx 20cm)

  • Ideally the hutch should be placed in a sheltered area away from direct sunlight/rain/wind.

  • Temperature – rabbits will get heat stroke if they are kept above 22C (70F). This is true for house rabbits and hutch rabbits.

  • As well as a dry draught-free separate nest area rabbits should also have access to a separate exercise area.

  • All hutches must be well ventilated. Drill holes in the back just under the eaves of the hutch roof to encourage airflow but prevent your rabbit sitting in a draft. This will prevent pneumonia.

  • Protection from predators is essential.

  • Always provide bedding of newspaper/wood shavings (not sawdust) and straw/hay. The amount of bedding provided should be increased in colder weather. Provided your rabbit has enough bedding it can cope very well with our winter climates so you don’t need to cover the front as this will reduce ventilation.

  • The hutch should be cleaned out at least once a week to help prevent disease. Use a litter tray in the latrine area of the hutch to make cleaning easier and change this daily. You can use paper or wood-chip based cat litter. Do not use clay or fullers earth.

So what are the problems with inadequate accommodation?

In the accompanying video for this article, Anne McBride explains that the problems with small hutches are that...
“…the (rabbits) don’t get to exercise their muscles or bones. They can only do one and a half hops and they've completed that area. If they don’t get to exercise their muscles and their bones several things happen. First of all, their bones will get weak and not have much density. The bones are far more likely to get broken when we pick them up, particularly if they struggle. Also, because they can’t exercise their muscles properly, they’re going to get stiff and weak, and again all of that can lead to problems. If they move suddenly, or if they're startled they can easily break their backs. If they can’t stand up straight and stretch, or if they can’t hop properly, the backbone can deform, and that too will lead to arthritus and a lot of pain. This can make our rabbits quite grumpy and aggressive when you go to pick them up, because actually they’re in a lot of pain. “

Before watching our film on accommodation, watch this brave wild rabbit chasing a rattlesnake! Neither animal comes to any harm, but you can clearly see just how agile a rabbit is, and the extensive range of movement it has. The jumping, twisting turns and leaps are exactly what prevents this brave bunny from meeting a nasty end.

Although this is unusual behaviour for a rabbit, it could be explained as an act of protection for the rabbit's young family, however as we don't know the context of the film clip, this is only an educated opinion.

This video is published on You Tube by 'thedknucles' - View the original HERE

In this film, made exclusively for 'Hopping Mad!', Anne McBride discusses why
small accommodation is inadequate and unhealthy for rabbits.

Last year, the RWAF launched a campaign to address and tackle the problem of substandard housing for rabbits – ‘A Hutch Is Not Enough’. The campaign is pitched at 3 levels:

  1. Encouraging retailers to exclusively sell accommodation that meets the minimum standard, as recommended in the Animal Welfare act – 6’ x 2’ x’2.

  2. Informing and advising prospective buyers, many of whom simply do not realise that anything smaller is inappropriate for a rabbit.

  3. Educating current owners, and encouraging them to look at rabbit accommodation, with a view to helping them improve their rabbit’s lives.

Housing: Why a Hutch is Not Enough Thumpersmumhutch
A recommended hutch - 6' x 2' x 2' with attatched run

The campaign website states that...
“Rabbits are not designed to live in a confined space. In the wild they cover an area equivalent to 30 football pitches. They're not designed to live alone either - wild rabbits live in large social groups, foraging, grooming each other and huddling together for warmth. Rabbits living alone experience high levels of stress.”
“Domestic rabbits are not fundamentally far removed from their wild cousins. They share the same need to run, jump, explore and share companionship with their own kind, so their accommodation must allow them to display these natural behaviours.”

“The RWAF recommends a minimum hutch size of 6' x 2' x 2', which allows rabbits some room to move, stand on their hind legs and enough space for the food, toilet and sleeping areas to be kept apart. It is commonly accepted that a rabbit should have space for 3 hops, but it is commonly underestimated just how far 3 hops is - our tests show that 3 hops from an average sized rabbit covers 6-7 feet!”

The RWAF have produced a ‘Retailers Charter’ to encourage retailers to get on board, and the campaign is starting to gain momentum. In their recent campaign update, the RWAF have now persuaded some retailers to withdraw sales of tiny hutches. A 77cm hutch on sale in Argos has now been withdrawn from sale, and Argos will not be selling hutches in their new catalogue.

Encouragingly, some retailers are already supporting the campaign by exclusively selling recommended accommodation for rabbits, such as The Rabbit Hutch Shop.com

So, what are the benefits of larger accommodation?

Happy Hoppers forum members answered a request to describe the changes in their rabbit’s behaviour after upgrading their accommodation. In nearly all cases, they had started out with a 4’ x 2’ x 18” hutch, similar to the hutch demonstrated on the accompanying video. The replies we received were enlightening.

“…He (Thumper) had more space and we discovered he was Houdini reincarnated. (He also had Ruby to play with as well!)
I still felt that the two of them needed more room so now they have the hutch with permanent access to half the conservatory so they have space to run, binky or whatever. They do seem to be happier with the extra space, and it enables them to show their true personality. Thumper is the more active and he has the space to express it, but Ruby is more relaxed (or should that be lazy) so tends to find that comfy spot and relax. The extra space gives more room for toys and games so they can chase, explore, they love tunnels and so obviously more space they can have more tunnels which also become obstacles to jump over. I don't think it has affected health as such, more their emotional health in that they do seem happier and I'm sure would love more space still.”

Housing: Why a Hutch is Not Enough Thumper
Thumper and Ruby

“Trip and Scarlett each had a 5ft hutch outside not long before they moved in together. They were inside before that. There was a huge change in their bahaviour when they moved into their 6ft hutch/run combo but they were recently bonded too so it wasn't just the hutch that was new to them. I am sure they both prefer having the hutch attached to their run though so they can go down whenever they want.”
“Having a lot of space for the buns and the freedom to use it when they want, means they behave in a more natural way and it is fun to just watch them from the house or the garden and see them having fun.”

"When I first got bunnies, Peanut and Jelly had a four foot hutch each, and they could only go up and down as it wasn’t very deep. I think they felt very on edge because they couldn’t hide from me, and they were bored. When they got a six foot hutch, they could go up, down, sprawl out, periscope, and they wouldn’t feel as vulnerable and trapped so they would come and see me more, rather than run up and down the hutch like they were scared.”
“When I got Luna the dog crate over the standard rubbish sized petshop rabbit cage, she was so much happier. She seemed less bored and destructive and enjoyed being there. I could add more things in it therefore giving her more things to do.”

“Vince was in a 2 tier 4ft hutch when I first got him but it was obvious to me that it wasn't big enough. I bought him a 2 tier 5 ft hutch that he can periscope in and he looked happier to me, then I got a run that was attached to it but shut it off at night. Vince didn't like this and would pace and chew the hutch by the door, so I left it open and he seemed happier again. I've just bought a tunnel to connect the main hutch and run set up to a large run on the lawn, and I've seen Hazel binkying lots in it so I feel that they are far happier in an environment that simulates, as far as I can create, a natural habitat for them all to live in, with tunnels and different areas to live in.”

“We started off with a three foot double hutch. This lasted for less than a month before I swapped it for a four foot double which was in reality not much better. There was a small run attached and the buns had time in a bigger run on the grass too. Thankfully the four footer was used for less than three months and then after Herbie was bonded with Hollie and Rosie they spent the winter indoors in a 20ft long conservatory. Seeing the three of charging and binkying around the conservatory made me realise that moving them back outside into a hutch, even a bigger one, was unacceptable to me.
It seemed the best choice was a shed, hence Herbie's and Hollie's customised shed and run. BJ and Rosie then took up residence in my husbands self built large garden shed which is, this very week, having decking put in front for them!"

"Gabe and Noo started off in a 6ft hutch over a run, which was fine for use over the summer but long term I knew I wanted them to have more space too as Gabe is a bit of a live wire! They are now permanently outdoors and have been upgraded to a wendy house with attached run. The addition of runs accessed by cat flaps allows them to be indoors or out as they please! I have no doubt that the increased space, multi levels and hiding places that sheds can offer has benefited my six. With the extra floor space I can move around tunnels and boxes which gives the buns different ways to explore. They are obviously a lot more active in the sheds as they can do so much more than simply move backwards and forwards in a straight line. The increased space gives them much more opportunity to show their natural bunny behavior - curiosity, mischief and that wonderful joie de vivre.”

The future for rabbits in the UK certainly looks more spacious...

What is encouraging about the RWAF campaign is that rabbits are being taken more seriously as companion animals. They have specific needs that must be met in order for them to enjoy their lives with us.

Over the last few years, there have been a lot of changes to companion animal and care and welfare, however, the rabbit has always seemed to be overlooked, most probably as rabbits are seen as children’s pets. Even now, many rabbit enthusiasts feel that they cannot share their joy for these wonderful animals for fear of ridicule. Or even having the suggestion that their beloved bunny would be more enjoyable in a pie, or similar. How many people would suggest such a thing to a dog owner and expect it to be received with humour?

One forum member said that..."At work today my colleagues were making me feel stupid for how much I care...one of them even saying I was being over the top about wanting to put up a "make mine chocolate" poster. I'm probably being over sensitive, but it's just times like that I wish I could be around more like minded people who know why I feel like that."

It is a very familiar feeling. And whilst we can encourage retailers, associations and the novice owner to look more seriously at rabbit welfare, changing the perception of what a rabbit is, and giving its life and needs an equal value to that of dogs and cats is a much bigger battle, but by no means an insurmountable one.
Ultimately, we may see large hutches and cages with attached runs as standard, which will improve the lives of rabbits immeasurably. It may well be this change of direction that brings about a change in perception. A rabbit housed in small and inadequate accommodation is most likely to be, amongst other things, bored, and bored animals can seem boring. It is a common misconception that rabbits can thrive on a bowl of pellets and hay, unfortunately, feeding in this way can also lead to boredom, as rabbits naturally spend up to 70% of their time moving around and grazing. Housed in an environment that is lacking in stimulation and space, the rabbit can quickly start "...developing problems related to boredom, and these can include frustration, aggression, self-mutilation, and destruction."
Source:Thumper, Fiver. Wee-er, Biter - THE NATURAL BEHAVIOUR OF RABBITS AND ITS INFLUENCE ON BEHAVIOUR PROBLEMS - E. Anne. McBride, G. Hearne and E. Magnus

As our members have observed, the change in their rabbit’s behaviour when moved into suitably large accommodation is pronounced. Larger accommodation is always an improvement on smaller accommodation. This in turn allows us, as owners, the opportunity to view the rabbit exhibiting its natural behaviours, rather than something that just sits in a hutch, with all the misguided perceptions that accompany that.

As we have seen in the videos that support this article, a large hutch with a large run attached, or for house rabbits, a large cage with plenty of free protected space, gives these energetic creatures the chance to live and express themselves fully. In turn this shows us, as owners, just how agile, responsive and entertaining they can be!

How can you help?

  • Support the RWAF campaign, ask your pet store manager and/or veterinary surgery, or anywhere else you deem appropriate, if they will dipslay he RWAF poster.

  • Use social networks to raise the campaign profile.

  • Speak to other rabbit owners about accommodation, personally or via forums etc.

  • Recommend and support companies that are striving to improve standards, and have signed the Retailers Charter.

N.B. Edited November 2011: There are currently two research papers that are awaiting publication, to demonstrate that rabbits exhibit more natural behaviours given more space. As soon as this research becomes available, we will update this article with the findings.

This article is abridged. The original can be read HERE

Produced for Hopping Mad! Bunny Magazine Copyright © Happy Hoppers Forums Uk - March 2011 - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

This copyright does not extend to quotes that are reproduced from other websites, articles, papers or other content that is externally linked to this publication.

Last edited by Jay on Tue Nov 22, 2011 9:18 am; edited 5 times in total (Reason for editing : Formatting)
Happy Hoppers
Happy Hoppers

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Number of posts : 6477
Registration date : 2008-06-14


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