Raised-Bed Bunnying: Reaching new heights
As an older adult, I would like to share my experience developing a bunny habitat that works for my limitations. I have six pet bunnies. With Binky, the first, I began with a roomy cage (with a solid bottom) that sat on the floor. I had great difficulty managing this low-setting object. Getting up and down to insert bowls of salad, change water bowls, clean, and refill the hay bin was more than I could handle.
I share the prevailing wisdom that we humans should join bunnies at floor level, where they are most comfortable. But I hoped to find a compromise that would meet their needs and mine without asking too much of either species. I thought about raised-bed gardening, which brings plants to a reachable level for those of us who can no longer bend and kneel comfortably.
I had to get Binky’s habitat to a height where I could care for it properly. At the same time, Binky needed to be free to enter and exit his house safely and at will. How could this be accomplished with a traditional cage on legs? And how could I protect his feet from the wire-mesh floor common to these cages?
I wound up purchasing a redwood- stained, two-door, front-opening hutch. (The top also opens, but I rarely use that feature.) I got the largest one I could find and put it in my kitchen. Now I had to find some stairs.
Step Right Up
The pet stairs made for little dogs to get up on a couch or bed were the wrong height, and its steps are narrow and treacherous for bunny feet. Next I tried cardboard boxes. They were unstable and shaky. I even paid someone to build a two-step bunny stair I designed myself. He made it out of cheap plywood, against my instructions, and it wobbled terribly. I realized that even if a device was safe, as long as it wobbled slightly Binky would not use it. Too scary!
Necessity truly is the mother of invention. One day I thought of my wicker ottoman. Binky loved to jump up on that in the living room. What if I removed the cushion and put the ottoman in the kitchen, under- neath the door of his house? Eureka! The ottoman was the perfect height-exactly half the distance between cage and kitchen floor. It did slide a little on the linoleum floor, so I put a small rubber-backed rug under two legs. (I checked the rug frequently to make sure Binky was not chewing this potential hazard.) Binky loves it, and so do the other five bunnies I eventually adopted. They tear around their play areas and race in and out of their houses just for the lark of it.
The hutch costs around $200 and is generally cheaper at feed stores than at pet-supply stores. The ottoman cost $75, but it is worth it for the pleasure and security it gives the bunnies and the ease it gives me in caring for them. One of the best things about the ottoman is its generous width and length. When bunnies have a giant “landing pad” as a step, they feel safe and are safe, entering and leaving.
Wire-mesh flooring can be made safe in a number of ways. A large matching floor-board came with the hutch and the bunnies agreed to sit on it, but they also destroyed it with urine. Synthetic-fleece rugs work well in the winter, but when the weather gets warm my buns pee on it as soon as I give it to them. I interpret this as, “It’s too hot. Get this out of here.”
They informed me that for summer they prefer a large paper bag with an inner “mattress” of a quarter-inch folded newspaper. An average-sized newspaper, folded in the middle, is just the right shape and dimensions to slide into a flat paper grocery bag. Pull off the handles before you place the bag in the hutch, so Bunny doesn’t get her head caught should she decide the bag is also a toy. The nice thing about this set-up is that it’s soft yet cool in the summer. And when it gets dirty, you simply throw it away.
For some rabbits, polyfleece blankets are the answer. That won’t work for mine as they are chewers and would eat fabric, which could cause fatal digestive obstruction. Be vigilant when offering any new item to Bunny.
The bunnies like their house so much that they sometimes choose to nap in it during the daytime when their door is open, rather than lie elsewhere in the house on rugs or carpets. The hutch goes beautifully with my furniture and even matches the wicker ottoman. It actually adds to the décor of the kitchen, making it warm and friendly. The rabbits often stretch out on a rug underneath the hutch, and there is a wicker basket next to the rug with their toys. The raised hutch and ottoman are a space-saving arrangement in addition to everything else that’s good about them!
Up Close and Personal
Perhaps the best part of the whole operation is the closeness it gives me to my bunnies. Last thing at night and first thing in the morning, I go to their house, open the door, and put my face in the opening. They come over and lower their head for kissing. I rub my nose on their foreheads, then press my forehead against theirs in a quiet gesture of love. They raise their heads, nuzzle me, and, if I’m very honored, they lick me. I know what a special gesture that is.
Raised hutches aren’t for everybody. But they can be made to work beautifully if care is given to design a system that allows a rabbit to go in and out as easily and safely as he would if his house were on the ground. Many people who might not be able to have a rabbit for a pet if great amounts of stooping or kneeling are involved can successfully care for a bunny using this raised-hutch system. Our household is very happy proof.
To make the bunny house cozy and private, I cover it with a tablecloth or sheet so the cloth hangs over two sides. I put decorations on the top (since it’s “furniture”), and that keeps the covering stable. For ventilation, I keep one side of the curtain always up (except on cool nights). The other panel I usually leave down, creating a little private nook.
By Jessi Hoffman
House Rabbit Journal Winter 2009: Volume V, Number 4