In my posts so far, I may have given the impression that our bunnies just roam the house freely all the time, as a house-broken cat or dog might. But this isn’t really correct. It’s true that our rabbits do get plenty of time to run around and explore, play, and socialize with the rest of the family, the other animals included.
But we can't watch them all the time, and like your average toddler, sometimes we need to set limits.
“Bunny Force Fields… Activate!”
We’ve given our rabbits two levels of “containment” within the house. First, the room in the house that most people call a “living room” has been turned instead into a “bunny room,” complete with library, rocking chair and grooming supplies cabinet. Second, inside that room, the rabbits have their own “house,” which holds their food dish and water, and a litter box for each bun. Both the bunny house and the bunny room have closable doors, which mean we don’t have to ride herd on the bunnies 24-7.
Having their own room makes it a lot easier to contain potential problems, like litter accidents, or chewing on furniture, or cleaning the carpets. Also, bunny-proofing just one room instead of the whole house is a lot less work. Since the rabbits stay in that room 90+% of the time, the other animals in the house recognize that the room “belongs” to the rabbits. While our cats try to pretend that doesn’t matter, the minute the buns are let loose, the felines generally depart for higher ground.
Looked at from the other side, having their own room means the bunnies have a “safe” place where they can be comfortable meeting new people or pets. (*Meeting new rabbits is a different story – ask me how!*) Getting their fur brushed, their nails trimmed, or shown off to strangers is more palatable for them in there, since the surroundings are still familiar even if the activity might be new or unwanted.
Having an actual “house” inside this safe territory is an added source of comfort to the rabbits because they know that if things get really wild, they can just high-tail it into their enclosure and leave trouble behind. This has tended to make our bunnies a bit bolder in the long run, and more willing to take chances on new people and experiences that they wouldn’t stick around for otherwise.
“Clean Up, Aisle 9!”
Our set-up makes cleaning up after the buns fairly easy, too. Food and water can be left in one specific spot they have access to at all times, and they can be left there unattended for as long as we need to be away from them. Bunny droppings are about as benign as you can get when it comes to animal waste, but even so it’s a lot easier to clean up after a rabbit that only goes in its box or pen than it is one that’s free to run wherever it wants, whenever it wants.
Inevitably, there will be “accidents” around the bunny room, something that rabbits will do being the territorial creatures they are. But having a readily available box or two nearby (and getting your rabbit fixed!) will limit the territorial “marking” they do, and most rabbits will learn to do their business in their litter boxes exclusively without much difficulty.
Even if they don't, bunnies do their marking with their droppings rather than with urine as cats and dogs might. This means there are no stains or spots to clean or hide, and no real odor either. If the rabbits are healthy, you can just sweep those stray pellets up with a dust pan or vacuum cleaner. We don't worry about any harmful bacteria left behind because there really isn’t any to worry about.
Once our rabbits have gotten used to their own “house,” and to the room it sits in, then they’re allowed to occasionally run about the rest of the home. The main rule is that they must be actively watched. The rest of our house is not nearly as bunny-proof as their room is, and the other animals (mostly cats in our case) have free run. Active supervision is required so that any misbehavior or dangerous situations can be quickly defused.
But this is the time when things can be the most fun for both you and your house rabbit. The interactions between a confident rabbit and our curious-but-cautious cats can be downright hilarious. Family night in front of the VCR feels more complete when all of the animals are present (watch out for Percy: he’ll steal your popcorn!), and while a cat curling up in your lap is a beautiful thing, a bunny relaxing comfortably against your leg while you scritch it between the ears is priceless.
"Enough is Enough!"
Just because rabbits appreciate their time out of the cage doesn’t mean you have to drop every other hobby or chore you have to let them run around freely everywhere. Our bunnies are lucky to get more than an hour or so out and about on days during the school week because we can’t there to supervise them. Sometimes on busy days they don’t get out at all, but we try to make up for that on the weekends, if we can.
The more time we can afford to spend with them out and about, the happier they are, and the better eye we can keep on their health and well-being. Rabbits that stay cooped up 24-7 don’t just get bored and lonely, they also don’t get seen. Being “prey animals,” symptoms of illness or injury can be very subtle unless you’re used to what normal looks like. A bunny that stays cooped up won’t get a chance to “tell” you there’s a problem until it’s far too late many times.
To sum up, rabbits are highly interactive and social creatures, and do best with plenty of time spent outside their cages, crates or boxes. But don’t think you have to give them unlimited run of the house, and it’s usually not a great idea to let them run around completely unsupervised. Some few rabbits are that well behaved, but their owners have also done their part and made sure the whole house is bunny-safe beforehand.
Just remember that even a well trained and well socialized bunny can be thought of as a short, long-eared, fuzzy three-year old. Playful. Intelligent. Inquisitive.
And a Murphy’s Law magnet.
He’s fine on his own for a little while, but it’s best to keep an eye on him.
Do you have pets that you only let run around the house some of the time? Are there only certain places they're allowed to go? Share your pet containment methods and stories with us in the comments below!