Keeping Rabbits Alive

—is more work than you think.

They are sensitive, nervous, little things, prey animals at that. They don’t behave very well and they don’t give up their secrets easily. This can make it incredibly difficult to diagnose internal issues until it is too late.

Our most common issues are neurological, digestive, or environmental.

Neurological? I am at a loss on that one. We haven’t pursued treatment in the one or two instances, simply made them comfortable until the end.

Digestive? I am a firm believer in the power of hay. Consistent access to timothy or alfalfa hay provide the rabbits plenty of roughage to keep their digestion moving right. Keeping it moving help keep bacteria or disease from taking hold.

Environmental can mean many things. We keep the hutches away from the fences the dogs bark at to keep their stress levels down, and we keep them in the shade to help them regulate their temperature. Rabbits are sensitive to extreme temperatures, and especially ill-suited for the extreme heat.

In the winter we protect them from drafts and keep them dry, using tarps or plywood. And we keep their water unfrozen, using heat lamps or heating pads. I’ve heard some things about beet juice and may look into it this winter.

In the summer we keep them in the shade and we keep them in fresh water. However these heat waves are more cause for concern. We’re facing ten days of over 100° temps this week, and Monday evening I had to get prepared.

Freezing water bottles for them to lay against is a common option but one I haven’t had much luck with—they seem uninterested. Instead, this year I’ve made a point to supplement their diet with chilled produce: cabbage, celery, apples.

And with the heat wave in mind, this week I froze slices of watermelon and apples, and bags of stir-fry vegetables. They’ll enjoy some cool cabbage most days and on the very hottest days will get some frozen treats in the afternoon.

Monitoring their water is extra important. I partially filled and frozen their bottles to help their water cool enough to be refreshing.

Heat wave agenda: Fresh water in the mornings, cool treat in the afternoon or evening, and a final glance at their water levels after work.

Other options include evaporative cooling, or chilled tiles or bricks for them to lay against. We’ll see how they hold up and decide if we need to change our approach.

A rabbit hutch.

Rabbit cages are small, and unattractive.
And rabbit hutches are either too expensive or poorly constructed.

So I decided to build my own.
I really wish I could have avoided this—because basically all my attempts to build things have been frustrating, imperfect, and expensive (sometimes).

What I planned to do, and what I did, started to vary after the first day of work.

I made a larger hutch for our mama bunny, a shorter one for our fella.
The dimensions of our mama hutches was 30″h x 3’w x 6’l—with about 2′ with a solid bottom and sides, a cozy space for nesting and in the colder months.

They are both 3′ off the ground—easier to grab rabbits.

I used salvage and what I had around as much as I possibly could.

My process:

  1. Build the frame for the floor first.
  2. Cover 1/3rd with OSB board cut to fit. Cover the rest in 16-gauge double-galvanized wire with 1/2″ x 1″ holes.
    Sixteen gauge is stronger and more supportive on our rabbits’ feet.
  3. Build the frame of the hutch off the base. Simple screwing A to B.
  4. Cover one side with 16 gauge wire mesh with 1″ x 1″ holes.
  5. Use OSB board to cover the other side, and the back.
  6. Create the door frames. Cover one with OSB board. Cover the other with 18 gauge wire mesh with 1″ x 1″ holes.
  7. Attach door at the bottom of the frame with 2-3 hinges. Install latch on opposite side to hold door closed.
  8. Attach legs to outside of the frame.
  9. Add the roof. I intended to use salvage, but bought more OSB instead.

For the doe’s hutch I put in two doors, a solid one in the nesting area that opens out, and a mesh door for the larger open area that opened up.

These are three webpages I found to be most helpful:

Mistakes I made:

  • Framing off the base and adding the back and roof last, meant there were small gaps running along the base and top. I consoled myself with the idea that this will allow some circulation, and I can use hay as a stop-gap.
  • Tried regular staplegun staples to hold down the wire mesh.
    Had to upgrade to heavier staples from the nail/screw aisle.
  • This thing is heavier than all get-out.
    Somehow when I build things, they weigh incredible amounts.