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The hutch
  • Rabbits need a roomy hutch. Typical dimensions for a small-to-medium-sized rabbit are 150 centimetres × 60 centimetres × 60 centimetres high.
  • One-third of the hutch should be enclosed to provide warm, draught-free sleeping quarters. The remaining two-thirds should be a run covered with strong mesh allowing light and ventilation.
  • Hutches should be large enough to allow free movement, be easy to clean, and have no rough edges. As both wire and solid flooring may give rabbits sore hocks, use washable plastic floors or lay wood shavings or hay over a solid floor.
  • Rabbits may be housed indoors or outdoors. Their ideal temperature range is 18–28°C. If temperatures rise above 27–30°C, they are susceptible to heatstroke.
  • Access to both the sleeping quarters and the run is needed, especially for cleaning, and many hutches have a hinged roof for this purpose. Catches on these should be strong and secure. Consider security needs both during and outside the hours for an ECE centre and a school.
Outdoor hutches
  • An outdoor hutch should have a sloping, waterproof roof that overhangs the sides. The cladding of the sleeping quarters should also be waterproof.
  • Outdoor housing should give protection from direct sunlight. In temperatures below 18°C, provide the hutch with insulating material or heat.
  • For protection from predators (dogs/cats), the hutch should be strongly constructed with welded mesh and/or be elevated on stilts.
  • The door to the sleeping quarters should be protected from wind and rain to ensure that both the rabbit and its bedding stay warm and dry.
  • The sleeping area should have a layer of litter about 5 centimetres deep. Litter materials can include kitty litter, untreated sawdust, and wood shavings. Cover the litter with a deep layer of straw or shredded paper. This provides warmth and insulation and a chance for the rabbit to burrow and hide.
  • Cover the floor in the run with litter also.
  • For ease of cleaning, both compartments may be lined with newspaper, which will absorb a lot of the urine.
  • Good hygienic practices reduce unpleasant smells and the risk of disease. Cleaning materials include rubber gloves, a scrubbing brush, a cloth, dishwashing detergent, and water.
  • Rabbits tend to use one area to urinate. Clean this area daily.
  • The sleeping quarters and run should be cleaned twice a week. If cages are dirty, irritants such as ammonia, moisture, and bacteria may rise to harmful levels, causing illness.
  • Each month, wipe all the hutch surfaces with a weak bleach solution (10–20 millilitres of bleach per litre of water). Rinse them well and dry them.
  • Every day, wash the water bottles and tubes with detergent and water. Rinse them well. Once a week, disinfect the bottles and tubes with the bleach solution, soaking them for fifteen minutes. Rinse them well and dry them.

Hutch Diagram

  • optimum temperature range 18-28°C


Rabbit hutch: main features


Hutch diagram explanation

The hutch needs insulation during winter and needs cleaning twice weekly.

In both areas there is lining to absorb urine that should be changed daily.

The run area is covered with strong mesh for predator protection.

On the run floor are objects for gnawing and a branch for climbing.

Attached to the mesh walls is a water tube and feeding containers for the dry pellets.

The dry pellets are the base diet of rabbits.

Remove uneaten food. Once a day, clean the and water tube.

Optimum temperature range for rabbits is 18–28°C.

How to care for rabbits

  • Rabbits are herbivores, and so their diet is based on vegetables.
  • Dry pelleted food formulated for rabbits, which is available from pet shops and some veterinarians, is a good base that can be supplemented with fresh, well-washed, raw fruit and vegetables. These are also good for their teeth. Suitable fruits and vegetables include cabbage, cauliflower, pūhā, dock leaves, carrots, swedes, turnips, apples, and pears. Each day, remove uneaten food.
  • A supply of good-quality hay is an important source of dietary fibre. Inadequate dietary fibre may lead to enteritis and diarrhoea. Furballs are common in rabbits that have a diet low in fibre. A combination of a high starch intake, such as bread, and low fibre can cause fermentation in the caecum by bacteria that produce toxins. This may kill the rabbit.
  • Avoid sudden changes in diet because these may lead to digestive upsets.
  • Store dry food in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Buy only three months' supply at a time to ensure good nutritional value.
  • Dry food pellets and water are best supplied in hoppers and bottles that can be attached to the side of the run because rabbits will often dig in open food containers. Wash the food hopper every week.
  • A 3.5-kilogram rabbit will drink 175–350 millilitres of water per day. (Calculate water needs as 50–100 millilitres per kilogram per day.)
  • Provide a gnawing block. Fruit tree branches are a good source. Remember that many garden plants are poisonous.
  • Never pick a rabbit up by its ears.
  • There are two methods you can use to hold your rabbit.Method 1: Place a hand under the rabbit's chest, gripping its forelegs between two fingers. Support its hindquarters with your other hand and cradle the rabbit close to your body.Method 2: With the rabbit facing your elbow, slide your arm underneath the rabbit and grasp its hindquarters so that its body lies over your arm and its legs are held firmly between your fingers. Clutch the rabbit firmly by the scruff of its neck with your other hand and hold it close to your body. You can tuck its head under your elbow to restrict its vision.
  • To restrain a rabbit on a table, place a towel on the table's surface so that it is less slippery. Gently clutch the skin behind the rabbit's neck and place your other hand over its hindquarters. Inadequate restraint may result in the rabbit fracturing its spine if it kicks or struggles.
  • Always take care when handling rabbits. They have strong hindquarters and will kick and scratch if they are frightened. Some may bite. Daily petting helps to keep them tame and provides an opportunity to check on their health.
  • Always supervise any handling of rabbits by students and children.
  • Wash your hands after handling rabbits.
  • In your daily health check, look for normal activity. Is your rabbit eating and grooming? Check its fur and skin for scabs, scurf (dandruff), bald spots, or itchiness. Check that its eyes, ears, and nose are clear of any discharges and that its faeces and urine are normal. Know what is usual for your rabbit.
  • Cleanliness and good nutrition are necessary for rabbits' health.
  • Rabbits should be vaccinated annually to protect against rabbit calicivirus.
  • The toenails of caged rabbits may not wear down as they would in the wild, and they may become too long. If this occurs, trim them back, taking care not to cut the blood vessel or nerve in the nail quick. Ask a veterinarian to check the rabbit and demonstrate the correct technique.
  • Rabbit incisor teeth are open-rooted and grow continuously. To maintain good dentition, rabbits' teeth need constant wear. Provide a sufficient amount of hard food and a gnawing block.
  • The condition of rabbits may deteriorate rapidly if their illness is ignored. At any sign of illness, or if you have questions, consult a veterinarian.

Interesting facts about rabbits

Rabbits are members of the order Lagomorpha. Lagomorphs have six open-rooted incisors (three upper and three lower) compared with the four incisors of other rodents.

Rabbit digestion also differs from that of other rodents. Their gastrointestinal tract has a simple glandular stomach, a long intestinal tract, and a large caecum. The caecum is the site of bacterial synthesis of B vitamins.

About one-third of the normal faeces is composed of soft faeces called cecotrophs. The rabbit, usually at night, consumes cecotrophs, which are an important source of vitamin B, electrolytes, and nitrogen.

The other two-thirds of faeces are hard fibrous pellets that are usually passed during the day.

In healthy rabbits, urine may sometimes have a red or orange discolouration. This is because of the presence of a porphyrin pigment or a food-related metabolite excreted in the urine.

The many recognised breeds of rabbits can be divided into three groups:

  • giant breeds, with an average body weight greater than 5 kilograms
  • medium breeds, with a weight range of 3.5–5 kilograms
  • small or dwarf breeds, whose weight is less than 3.5 kilograms.

Small-to-medium breeds are more suited to the classroom because housing for large breeds takes up more space and the rabbits are usually too heavy for small children to handle.

Long-haired varieties, such as the angora rabbit, need daily grooming.

Rabbits are social animals, and so you should house two of the same gender together. Male rabbits are best neutered to help stop them fighting.

Reproduction and development

Rabbits are prolific breeders. The males (bucks) reach puberty at six to ten months.

Depending on its size, a female rabbit (doe) may breed at four to eight months old. The does are induced-ovulators, that is, the act of mating stimulates their ovaries to release eggs for fertilisation.

Gestation is usually thirty to thirty-three days, and litters average four to ten kits.

The kits are born with no fur and with eyes and ears closed. Their eyes open after seven to ten days. Kits leave the nest box at fifteen to twenty days, and they are weaned at four to six weeks old.

If you are breeding rabbits, you need a special nest box.

Line it with straw. The doe will use fur from her abdomen to provide more soft insulating material.


The text and illustrations for this online edition of Caring for animals: A Guide for teachers, early childhood educators, and students (published on Te Kete Ipurangi for the New Zealand Ministry of Education in 2005) is copyright © Crown 2005. All rights reserved.

Content has been adapted for the web from the printed version, originally published in 1999 by Learning Media Limited for the Ministry of Education. Although no longer available this publication may still be available in some schools.