An untrained rabbit can and probably should be kept in a cage or confined to a room while you're not home to supervise, but they must be let out for at least several hours each day, both to exercise, and to have social interaction with you and/or your other pets. Also, the more they are let out, the faster they will learn proper behavior through discipline. Younger rabbits tend to get into more mischief and must be watched and disciplined more closely. As time goes on and their behavior improves, more freedom may be given. If you don't want to confine your rabbit to a cage, a clean, rabbit-proofed room may be used. Rooms that are generally easy to rabbit-proof are the bathroom, laundry room, kitchen, and bedroom.
Eventually, when you feel you can trust your rabbit, free run of the house can be given. But first, you must inspect every room extremely carefully for any exposed wires and other dangerous objects (like plants) that could be harmful to your rabbit. You may have to deny access to one or more rooms if bunny proofing is difficult or impossible (such as a computer room). But the more space your rabbit has, the more delightful you will find him/her as a pet and companion. See rabbit proofing section for information on how to rabbit proof your house.
- Bunny hop/dance: A sign of pure joy and happiness. This "dancing" includes leaping and/or spinning in the air, racing around, etc.
- Chinning: Rabbits rub their chins (which contain scent glands) on items to get their scent on them. This indicates that the items belong to them and also defines their territory.
- Thumping or Stomping: The bunny is either frightened, mad, or sensing danger (real or imagined). Reassure him that everyting is ok.
- Teeth grinding: Soft grinding indicates contentment and is usually heard when petting the rabbit. Loud grinding can indicate pain and is usually heard during an illness.
- Circling your feet: Usually indicates sexual behavior (even when neutered) but basically means "I love you".
- Playing: Rabbits like to push or toss objects around. They may also race madly around the house, jump on and off the couch, and act like a child that's had too much sugar.
- Grunts: Usually angry - watch out or you could be bitten!
- Spraying: Unneutered males will mark female rabbits and their territory in this manner. Unspayed females can also spray.
- Territorial droppings: Droppings that are not in a pile, but scattered, are signs that this territory belongs to the rabbit. This will sometimes occur upon entering a new environment or if another rabbit is brought into the house, and may be temporary or ongoing. Droppings in piles indicates that the rabbit needs more litter box training.
- Don't touch my stuff!: Some rabbits do not like when you rearrange their cage as you clean and may grunt, charge or even nip you when you try. They are creatures of habit and once they get things just right, they like them to remain that way.
- Shrill scream: Hurt or dying.
- False pregnancy: Even though a rabbit may not be pregnant, unspayed females may sometimes build a nest & pull hair from their chest and stomach to line the nest. They may even stop eating as usually occurs the day before they give birth.
Timothy hay is highly recommended as the most foolproof method for the litterbox material. It is very inexpensive (if purchased in bulk at feed and grain type stores), extremely easy to use, and provides the most natural environment for the rabbit. Simply put a layer of newspaper in the bottom of a large kitty litter box and a nice, thick, soft bed of hay on top of that. The rabbits will sit in the box and eat the hay in the front and relieve themselves in the back (it is very natural for them to graze and go at the same time and they usually take to it immediately). If this method is used, do not put hay in any other place! This will only confuse your rabbit as to where he/she is supposed to go.
If hay cannot be used, organic dust-free non-clumping kitty litters such as Care Fresh, Cat Country, Cat Works, etc. may be used instead - do not use clay litter. Whichever material you choose, make sure to change the litterbox regularly to keep it clean. The litter box can be rinsed out with white vinegar, which eliminates mineral buildup on the surface of the box. (During training, you may want a slightly "dirty" litter box to help teach the rabbit where he/she is supposed to go. If you are constantly cleaning it, they'll think that it's supposed to stay clean and won't use it. Also, their scent in the box is another attraction for them to continue to use it).
Confine the rabbit to a small area (without carpeting is preferred) with the litter box. Do not give the rabbit access to any other room until he/she is always urinating in the litterbox. Stay in the "training room" for as long as possible to observe its behavior. If the rabbit has an accident outside of the box, wipe it up immediately with a paper towel, partially bury the towel under the hay, and then place the rabbit in the litter box. This will teach the rabbit that the urine belongs in the box! If the rabbit deposits any droppings on the floor, immediately pick both the rabbit and the droppings up and put them into the litterbox. Pet your bunny while he/she is sitting in the box and say "good bunny". When you have to leave, put the rabbit back into its cage or enclosure with the litterbox. When the rabbit is using the litterbox all of the time, you can then let him/her out into other rooms.
Rabbits love to chew electrical wires, telephone wires, TV antenna wires, etc. These wires can be covered by a plastic tubing available at most hardware stores. This tubing goes by several different names including polycon tubing, plumber's tubing, and vacuum tubing and comes in various sizes, thicknesses, and types of plastic (some are hard while others are soft and easily bendable). Use a utility knife to cut the tubing lengthwise and insert the wires inside. If the bunny chews through the tubing, another type may have to be used. Another good product is Cord-mate.
Some wires can be taped up on the wall and the tubing won't be necessary, but check for hidden places that the rabbit may be able to get to that you can't see such as under a bed or behind furniture.
Some rabbits will chew on the corners of wood, walls, or windows. This is one reason to be patient and observe them before they can be allowed the run of the house. If they find a favorite spot to chew, you can purchase hard plastic corner protectors from hardware stores to affix over the area.
For items like chair legs, kitchen cabinets, baseboards, etc., a product called Bitter Apple (available at pet stores) can be applied to the area being chewed. This product has an extremely awful flavor and should deter any further chewing. Unfortunately, for some reason, a few rabbits may like the taste. In this case, try Tabasco or another hot sauce. Blocks, baskets, boxes, and other toys (see Toys section) should also be kept around the house to give the rabbits something to chew rather than your furniture. Just make sure that the material is natural and has not been painted, stained, varnished, or treated with any chemicals (no plywood, press board, particle board, pressure treated wood, etc.).
A bored rabbit is a destructive rabbit! Digging or chewing the carpet and chewing forbidden objects are just two examples. Whether inside the cage or out, your rabbit needs plenty of toys to keep him/her from getting bored. Following are a few examples of suitable toys:
* Toilet paper & paper towel rolls * Untreated straw baskets of any size * Natural wood blocks (no pressure treated wood, plywood, particle board, press board, etc.) * Canning jar rings * Rolled oats box with ends cut off * Soft drink can with a few pebbles inside for noise * Rubber balls (unless they chew on them) * Wire ball with bell inside (available at most pet stores in the cat section) * Baby toys such as rattles and giant key rings * Hanging bird toys with bells * Rice or maize mats (available at Pier 1 Imports) * Cardboard boxes with openings or "doors" cut in the sides * Things to jump up on (they like high places where they can look around) * Busy Bunny Baskets available from: The Busy Bunny, PO Box 1023, San Bruno, CA 94066 * Large "bouncy" balls