Bunny Proofing Your Home: What You Need to Know
Living with a rabbit can be extremely gratifying, entertaining, and heart-warming. It can also present some challenges! Rabbits are very curious animals. Rabbits like small, dark, cozy spaces. Rabbits love to chew on things and dig. These are just a few good reasons why you will need to "bunny proof" your house prior to turning your furry roommate loose in the house! Rabbit proofing your home will protect your bunny, your home, and your furniture and belongings. If you were to get down on the floor, and imagine for a minute, that you are a rabbit, you would see at once all of the wonderful places you have to explore and hide in, and the many items that would provide chewing enjoyment and digging satisfaction. Now, think of yourself as your rabbit's guardian, and all the things you might need to do to protect it. Rabbit proofing your home will be crucial if your rabbit will be living out of its cage inside their humans’ home. Depending on the amount and type of space you intend to offer your rabbit, the bunny proofing may be fairly simple, or fairly intense.
Rabbits can be trained not to chew on certain objects or enter certain rooms, but training should not be the only protective measure. There can always be gaps in training. Likewise, protective measures and deterrents alone may not be sufficient. Combining the training with removing access to the problem area is the best formula for success. Also, start out with a small room area. Monitor what materials and items your rabbit is more prone to chew on or get into. Find a successful strategy and use training to prevent the unwanted behavior. Then, start allowing the rabbit access to larger areas.
Allowing your rabbit access to the house so he can have exercise is a good thing, but it is not enough. The rabbit is also a social animal and needs interaction and mental stimulation. Nothing takes the place of spending time with your rabbit. Providing your rabbit with a variety of toys is also helpful. Change which toys you put out every several days so your rabbit does not get bored. Ideas for toys include:
- Cardboard boxes
- Stuffed animals
- Empty oatmeal containers
- Empty coffee cans
- Hard plastic toys for babies, e.g., rattles, keys
- Bird toys
- Plastic slinkies
- Cardboard paper towel or bath tissue rolls
- Papers to shred (printed is fine, but with soy ink only)
- Other hard plastic toys such as balls
- Wooden sticks made of apple, willow, aspen, or pine
You can also play games of hide and seek. Hide small pieces of food around the room and allow the rabbit to "forage" on its own. Build ramps and burrows of cardboard, wood, and large diameter PVC (make sure the diameter is bigger than your rabbit.)
Potential Problems and Solutions
Potential Problem: Chewing on wooden furniture and baseboards
Rabbits love to chew, especially on wood. This is not something you will be able to train your rabbit out of – it is a natural and necessary activity. Females have a high propensity to chew than males, because they have a stronger urge to nest and burrow. They will naturally be drawn to surfaces and objects made of wood. Not only is this destructive to the home, but if the wood is treated, it can be toxic for the bunny. Bitter sprays can sometimes deter a rabbit, but there are some who seem to be drawn to bitter tastes, so the sprays have the opposite effect!
Solution: By not allowing it to chew wood, you are going against the rabbit's basic instinct, and necessity, to chew. It will inevitably find other things to chew, that can be just as destructive and dangerous. Training the rabbit not to chew these items may help, but training alone will not solve the problem. You can try placing hard PVC pipe or other tubing around the legs of furniture. Placing boards that the rabbit is allowed to chew next to baseboards can help deter baseboard chewing. Most importantly, provide your rabbit with plenty of toys it can chew, and offer them to the rabbit frequently. He or she will likely catch on that those are what they can chew on.
Potential Problem: Cord chewing
Electrical cords are a very serious threat to a rabbit. Other types of tempting cords to chew include phone, computer, stereo, cable TV, and appliance cords. Chewing through a cord could cause severe burns, or even electrocution. On a minor note, it can be very destructive, and damage or ruin your expensive equipment.
Solution: Simply raising the cords above floor level is not always a solution. When rabbits sit up on their hind legs, they can reach a foot or more in the air. Placing cords behind furniture will likely not prevent your rabbit from reaching them. Rabbits can fit into some pretty tight spaces. Some ways to protect your cords and your rabbits include:
- Spiral cable wrap - this is a flexible plastic sheath that can be wound around the cords. CAUTION: Some rabbits may still try to chew through this! Keep a close eye on your bunny, and if it still tries to chew through this covering, try one of the following alternatives
- Cord concealer - These are hard plastic, come in various colors and sizes, and can be applied to the area above the baseboards, or secured up the walls or ceiling.
- PVC pipe or polyethylene hard tubing - a slit can be cut through the pipe or tubing, and the cords slipped inside. Tubing that is already split is also available.
Potential Problem: Chewing upholstered furniture, carpet, and curtains
Upholstery, carpet, and long curtains are all very attractive to rabbits for chewing. Rabbits may not only chew the upholstery that you can see, they may get underneath the furniture and chew the underside. Some rabbits will try and turn the hole they have made into a den of sorts to climb into. Use extreme caution with recliners, since rabbits may get underneath them and into the mechanism. Carpet chewing is a common problem, and can not only create holes in the floor covering, but can be a health hazard if the rabbit ingests the carpet fibers. They most commonly gravitate to corners, and love to dig and chew the carpet until it pulls up from the floor.
Solution: You should always know where your rabbit is before your lower or raise your recliner. You can buy plastic carpet runners to protect the area where the rabbit likes to chew and dig. However, if your rabbit begins chewing on the runner, you may need to find an alternative, or put up a barrier that prevents your rabbit from accessing that area of the home. It is wise to replace floor length draperies with shorter ones, if your rabbit is attracted to them and it causes a problem. Also, be sure to keep curtain and blinds cords from dangling low enough that your rabbit can get hung up in them.
Potential Problem: Damaging books, newspapers, and magazines
You may not care if your rabbit chews last week's newspaper, but there are many paper items you do not want your rabbit to chew.
Solution: Keep books and other printed materials that you are still using in hard metal or plastic bins. The copper and brass bins designed for holding firewood are also a good choice. Do not place any books or periodicals on the lower shelves of bookcases. Remember, if you do give paper to your rabbit to chew, make sure it is printed with soy-based ink only. One school of thought is, if you don’t want your rabbits to chew certain types of paper, it provides consistency for the animal if you simply don’t offer any paper to chew at all.
Potential Problem: Closets
Open closets can literally provide a smorgasbord of delight for your rabbit. Think of all the things in there that could be fun for a bunny to chew - shoes, clothes, belts, boxes - all of these are potential chew toys. In addition, your rabbit could accidentally be locked in a closet without access to food, water, or a litter box, or could get hung up or stuck in something.
Solution: Unless you plan on keeping the entire floor of your closet empty, and ensuring that nothing is hanging low enough for the rabbit to reach, it is best to just keep closet doors closed at all times in any room the rabbit has access to. Consider getting child-proof latches to keep bunnies from nudging open sliding doors.
Potential Problem: Mischief in the kitchen area
The kitchen can present special hazards for a curious rabbit. Open cupboards and drawers, open spaces on the backs of appliances, and toe kicks on lower cupboards are just several of the places that may spark a bunny’s curiosity. Having to remove the rabbit from one of these areas may mean moving heavy appliances, with the possibility of hurting the rabbit in the process, or removing the bottom of the cupboard to free a trapped rabbit underneath.
Solution: Restrict your bunny’s access to the kitchen by shutting the door, or if you have an open floor plan, the use of baby gates or other barriers are recommended.
Potential Problem: Getting into non-rabbit food
Food for other pets, grocery bags of food, waste baskets containing food scraps, and food set out on low tables can all be tempting to a hungry rabbit. Eating this food could result in a digestive problem, or potential health emergency for your furry friend.
Solution: Put waste baskets under the kitchen sink, or use a covered can that is sturdy enough that a rabbit cannot tip it over. Place grocery bags on counters or tables after coming home from the store. Put food for other pets out of reach, or in a sealed container that the rabbit cannot open.
Potential Problem: Exposure to cleaning supplies
Chemicals, detergents, rags, sponges, rubber gloves, and other cleaning supplies can be very dangerous to rabbits, even if not directly ingested. Rabbits clean themselves a lot, and a chemical on the fur is likely to be ingested.
Solution: Even if the chemical or cleaning solution is in a closed container, the container should be out of reach of the rabbit. Rabbits can chew containers, knock them over causing spills if the cap is not tight enough, or there could be chemical drips on the outside of the container. If the hazardous items need to be kept inside, childproof latches can be installed on the doors of lower cupboards. Even the odor of chemicals is not safe for rabbits to breathe in. Rabbits should not have access to a room that is being cleaned with chemicals, until you are sure the chemicals have dissipated or been washed away completely. Keep cleaning items in high cupboards.
Potential Problem: House plants
Some common house plants can be poisonous to rabbits. Even if they are not poisonous, a rabbit can make a disaster from a potted plant, chewing the leaves and digging into the soil.
Solution: Plastic plants are not a good alternative, since the plastic is an invitation for chewing, and broken off plastic pieces could cause an intestinal blockage. Planters filled with dirt are an invitation to dig, as well, which although harmless to the bunny, creates a huge mess! Keeping plants on surfaces out of the rabbit’s reach or installing hanging plants is ideal. Keep in mind though, that debris can fall from elevated plants that a rabbit might think is a snack, and that means there can be no plants that are toxic to rabbits in your home. For a list of dangerous plants for small animals, see our “Helpful Links” section at the end of this article.
Potential Problem: Heaters, fireplaces, wood or pellet stoves, and candles
Any type of fire is always potentially dangerous. While it is unlikely that your rabbit will try to approach any source of flames, it can become injured in an accident involving fire, or tip over a hot object and start a fire. Also, while you might enjoy a toasty room on a cold evening, remember that your rabbit can become overheated easily, and at the least will not enjoy an overly warm room as much as you do.
Solution: A rabbit should never be left unattended in a space with an open flame, or a heater running. Barriers should be placed around heaters and stoves. Screen or glass doors need to be closed on fireplaces to prevent your bunny from coming into contact with sparks.
Potential Problem: Fans and air ducts
As they are for children, fans can be hazardous to rabbits. Ears and inquisitive noses can be seriously injured. A fan could also be tipped over by a rabbit.
Solution: Fans in the warmer weather should always be placed out of reach of your rabbits. Air ducts need to be covered to prevent rabbits from exploring and becoming lost and perhaps stuck inside.
Potential Problem: Interactions with small children
A rabbit could be hurt, or hurt a child if it is not handled properly. Small children might see a rabbit litter box as a fun place to play. They may also try to approach a rabbit with overwhelming enthusiasm, and might not realize how to pick it up or hold it safely.
Solution: Rabbits are often not appropriate pets for small children, with rare exception. You must establish appropriate boundaries and rules with your children regarding handling and interacting with a pet bunny. Model for children how to safely pick up and hold a rabbit, and reinforce that they should respect the wishes of a bunny that resists being held and petted. If your children are too small to understand those requirements, use baby gates or other barriers to separate the rabbit from little kids and the rabbit’s living space.
Potential Problem: Interactions with other pets
Care should be taken when introducing your rabbit to other pets, even other rabbits. Fights between rabbits can be very serious and cause severe injuries. It is natural instinct for wild canines and felines to prey on rabbits. Do not assume domestic cats and dogs will know any different. Rabbits are also known sometimes to take the offensive, and attack first.
Solution: Do not put another pet with a rabbit without a barrier in place until you are confident that the two pets will accept one another. Never leave other pets alone with your bunny friend without supervision either. Fights among pet species can be traumatic for everyone involved. Whenever possible, the rabbit should not be sharing its living space with a foreign animal companion. Allow gradual introductions, until you are certain your rabbit respects and understands its place in the household. This can take a long time to accomplish.
Please refer to our “Helpful Links” for more great information concerning your rabbit. Thank your for reading! If you have more information or have a question, feel free to leave a comment below!
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