Really oddly, some of the best advice came from breeders of meat rabbits, which freaked me the fuck out.
Things I Learned
The thing is, rabbits are generally a cross between cats and guinea pigs when it comes to being a pet; there are elements of both. They're prey animals with a cat's curiosity about their surroundings but a guinea pig's enjoyment of small comfortable spaces to hide and rest. They're social; they do better in pairs which maybe because they're more secure, they like people more, which was something of a surprise to me. They're escape artists, but not for the reason you think; this is fun for them. Mine for the most part escaped only to come back and look annoyed them couldn't get back in.
(Gareth is the exception to that, but he only ran away to find another tiny, enclosed space to live in under my shoes in the closet. He's a freak.)
Let me repeat: they're faster than you and while not as limber or graceful as cats, are weirdly twice as maneuverable on the ground. They flee in zig-zags, can turn on a dime, and fake you out where they're really going and make you feel so stupid, you have no idea. And if you corner them on the ground and get too low, they can and will run at you and launch themselves off your body to land behind you. Like cats, they can fit themselves almost anywhere; my play area's pretty wooden front with gate has long wood slats; I had to attach black wire grids behind those slats because the fuckers can squeeze between them and I measured and they should not be able to do that but here we are.
They can parkour. Gareth once did a flat run to bounce off the wall to get onto the roof of the rabbit house and leap for freedom in a very successful escape attempt.
Cages and enclosures are actually fine for the most part--rabbits really do like small spaces and will spend a lot of their time there very happy (and sometimes preferably)--as long as you let them out to play for a while every day. In addition, a small rabbit igloo (see Amazon) or mini-house is also recommended for them to crawl into as well. They prefer the combination of safety and security (the cage = warren) with exploration. I found that out the really hard way by paranoidly building massive cages thinking I was torturing them and discovering they'd only use one square foot of the cage but took every opportunity to go out and play in the temp play area I'd set up before going back to their one foot square area.
Free-range can work as long as you bunny proof everything and have a good hand held vacuum. Yes, rabbits like cats potty train themselves somewhat and you can work with them to make it even better but--they will poop. Fortunately, it's tiny hard balls that are easy to clean up but there are a lot of them because they can poop their weight three times a day and no I don't know how. On the upside, rabbit poop is the best fertilizer; my son's friend's mother and a friend from work both get bags of it from me, and as they have a basically vegan diet, there's no smell.
Their pee is pure ammonia and it is strong; that is your biggest issue. And no matter how well trained or how good their litter--and I have tested all the litters--it's going to be an issue.
Things You Need I Wish Someone Had Told Me As More Than An Aside About Habitats
Litter - get food grade litter/bedding if possible or pet-safe paper based. It's a little more expensive than SUPER ABSORBENT but it's safer and honestly, it lasts just as long.
Litter Box - after going through many iterations, I picked up jumbo paper-based safe disposable ones and haven't looked back. Each lasts about a month or two, is safe for chewing--much safer than plastic--and I can just toss them when they're worn down as they're eco friendly as well and break down. Rabbits like to use litter boxes as rest areas while eating hay, so I station at least one directly under the hay so they can wallow. They cost about three dollars each on Amazon.
Here's why: without liners--very bad idea, rabbits chew on them, I tried this--the ammonia from rabbit pee really really sticks to the bottoms and sides of the plastic and no matter what litter you're using, it will smell. You will only be able to clean them so many times before they begin to look questionable and the smell doesn't go away. Also, the rabbits will chew on the plastic because that's what they do, and while I seriously doubt the tiny bits could really hurt them, it made me nervous. The paper ones I have seem to absorb the pee better when it gets through the litter and the smell problem is noticeably less.
Another option: if you're wood-conversant or know someone who does shit with wood, build a litter box from wood and buy vinyl or tile for the bottom and interior sides. This is kind of my dream to do with a ceramic interior. Most flooring is much easier to clean, the ammonia doesn't seem to affect it nearly as much, and you can pull it up and replace the flooring very easily if it becomes unusable because again, rabbit pee is ammonia and sticks. It's actually fairly cheap to do--I checked--but it does require skills with wood and basic design abilities.
(Note: my rabbit house is on a platform with wheels that I designed myself, so it can be rolled around as needed and is just cool. However, (1) it was a fairly simple design and (2) my BIL was involved once I got home from Home Depot to do the final cutting and re-measuring and joining while I did the screwing and nailing where he told me so it would roll and be stable. So yeah, you need someone who knows what they're doing involved.)
Rugs - this is your first line of defense and main source of rabbit comfort. You are going to invest in a lot of these
For cage and especially for your floor play area - get a cheap waterproof area rug, like any outdoor rug or RV rug, 3 X 5 or 4 X 6, but whatever size you need. If they're a really good price, get two or three for easy trade off. You can just get rug spray and urine spray to clean them. All mine came from Amazon Warehouse Deals, which means my rabbits' last rug was a hideously expensive Safavieh that was marked down like ninety percent. They didn't appreciate it, but that baby did the job.
This is not safe for chewing though yeah, they'll eventually going to try, so now we get to layers. That is your defense as well as makes a fun and comfy play area/cage floor.
Waterproof bed pads - these are super super not safe for chewing but work gangbusters for accidental peeing and on purpose peeing. Best used in a cage either on top of or under the base rug. If on top of the base rug, make sure it's not easy to get to. Yes, they will eventually because rabbits but this will slow them down enough to assure they don't get much chewing done. Throw in the washer to wash, easy to do. This is optional but useful possibility.
Rag rugs - GET THEM. Make sure they're natural fibers (cotton and wool are awesome) and buy all you can. Go to Amazon warehouse deals, go to rugs, put them in price order, and buy the small ones as soon as they hit your price (or larger ones, whatever). These are your best friend in rabbit life; they're usually relatively thick, they absorb well, you can wash them over and over and over, and they're safe for chewing and comfy to lay on. When they fall apart, that's fine, just toss them in for the rabbits to tear apart completely for fun.
Blankets - cheap two for ten at Wal-Mart or any sale will get you decent fleece rugs or look around for cottons or wools. Same as above; shake them out and throw them in the washer to get clean.
Grass mats - you can buy some suitable for rabbits specifically to lay on and eat but they get expensive. But having a few of them around is a great idea; it keeps them from chewing the rugs too much. You can also get home-quality large grass rugs but keep in mind--grass is not very absorbent and they're also usually treated for home use. Again, tiny nibbles aren't going to kill the bunnies, but pee will get through them, so they should not be a bottom layer.
I cannot say this enough; you can give them all the chew toys and hay in the world, but they will go for anything they can possibly chew, including their flooring (ask me about my fancy vinyl tile flooring over particleboard floor for them). Basically, stock up on all of these so cleaning days are easy and you can just trade them off without stress.
Chlorox Urine Remover - this shit is magic. Spray it where there is bunny pee or suspected bunny pee and watch in awe as it turns white to show you exactly where the problem is. For places you found months too late, spray, leave it to soak, spray again, then scrub. If you do this in a bunny play area or in their house, go over the area after with some soap and water to get rid of the reside, just in case.
Works on pretty much anything including toilets that seem to resist all other cleaning products, in case you're curious.
You are going to have a mess, both inside the cage/play area/enclosure and all around it. Litter, hay, food pellets, poop, shredded paper, this will happen. Unless you hermetically seal your rabbits into an enclosure, it's going to happen. They are going to escape and run around the house pooping and chewing everything; they are faster than you and better at hiding and unlike you, they never get tired. They can and will throw shit out of their cage when they don't knock it out on accident (or 'accident').
Make your life easy; don't say "I will use a broom and dustpan" like a fool; get thee some shit with power behind it.
Shop Vac - this first. For the love of God, don't try to deal with rabbit mess with anything else or your regular vacuum--I made that mistake and regret it so much. They're not expensive, they pick up everything, and they make cage and play area cleaning fast and easy. I promise, you will love it; it picks up litter, hay, leftover spilled food, everything. Also, they're super useful for other things around the house that need bulk vacuuming or blowing things for fun like leaves or raccoons on your porch trying to steal your pillows.
I have this one: Vacmaster 12 Gallon - also vacuums up liquids! But the wheels do like just sliding off.
Small hand-held vac - I have two, one wired, one wireless. Perfect for quick spot cleaning and under the bed where Gareth the fucker hid for two days and also gets all those corners you pretend dont' exist becuase you can't get to them that currently are home to rice, potato flakes, and your nightmares. I personally love it for doing quick clean-up around the house and also getting into the bottom floor of the bunny house to do spot cleaning between major cleaning days.
Optional: Pet Air Purifier - I have a small one in the playpen--cord inaccessible--to pick up all the fur and hay particles because fur and hay get everywhere as well as deal with the smells. I got a Hamilton one for about fifty dollars or so and don't regret it. If you have allergies, you are realllly going to need to consider this.
If you have allergies or asthma, this is going to get tricky for you. Timothy Hay is considered the standard and it is basically allergy central.
That is not, however, your only choice; fuck Timothy Hay is what I'm saying. It's time to do some testing; here are a few to start you off.
Orchard Grass - it has a nice smell and less people are allergic to it.
Meadow Hay/Grass - same as above
Gulf grasses - same as above.
Oat Hay - it doesn't really have a smell and very very few people are allergic to it, and from my experience, it doesn't seem to have a lot of chaff and tiny bits for floating around in the air purposes. Check this one first because it's the least likely to affect you and if its fine, you can more comfortably test with the others while still keeping your bunnies in hay.
Also: it has some bits that are tough and chewable that my rabbits really love.
These are only a few of your options; depending on where you are, there are many different types to try. Livestock feed stores may also have possibilities.
Note: I generally switch up types of hay every few months to keep it interesting and fresh for my rabbits.
Really: invest in an air purifier and put it near/in the cage/enclosure, even if you already have one in general. If you have allergies or asthma, I really deeply recommend this.
I have the Hamilton Beach Air Purifier for Allergies and Pets for the rabbits and a Honeywell HEPA which I got last year to help with allergies. Nothing really teaches you what's in the air like cleaning them out and rabbit fur and hay bits were definitely a feature.
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