What It's Like Having A Cage Free Bunny

November 15, 2018

Chloé has been with us for about 8 months now and I've gotten many questions on how I've bunny proofed the apartment and what it's actually like to have a cage free rabbit at home. To be completely honest, I still can't quite believe it myself. I never thought I'd have a rabbit hopping around in my living room, neither did I know that rabbits smell like newborn babies, that they are incredibly smart and that they can be total divas. I've been told Chloé is a very unusual pet to have, I've also been told she's spoiled rotten. Having a cage free bunny is both amazingly rewarding but also hard work. Here's everything I've learned about having a rabbit free roam in your home!

Chloé is a Dutch bunny, she's one years old, and previous to her I'd never had any indoor pets. As soon as I officially became her owner I was adamant to let her free roam in the apartment. I used to be her petsitter before and knew she was spending most of her time in a tiny little cage, I didn't like that. Even though I'd known her to always be in good spirits, she deserved better, much better. I did a ton of research about having a rabbit free roam and I just knew it was the right thing to do. I potty trained her, I taught her words, I gave her a new name, got her thoroughly checked out by her new vet (not that she'd ever seen one) and she is as happy as can be. I feel very lucky to have her be a part of my life. Chloé is super sweet, super clean and she has a very funky little personality. She loves to hang out on the sofa (as you can see), chew cardboard, hide in her designer bunny house, beg for treats, and have her nose rubbed by her pet humans - all the time.

Living with a free roam bunny means you're going to dedicate a lot of your time teaching your bunny about boundaries and teaching yourself that there's no way you can keep your stuff laying around on the floor. When it comes to rabbits, it's really all about prevention - they can learn a lot but you can't expect them not to chew on - all of your belongings. Rabbits love to chew and Chloé has chewed up our slippers, some of the cushions in our living room, she's chewed my boyfriend's books, she even chewed part of my phone case the other day, because I forgot I had placed it on the floor when I was spending time with her. Young and especially unspayed or unneutered rabbits will absolutely destroy anything they redeem interesting, however bunnies are also incredibly savvy and learn things very quick. It took Chloé about 3 weeks to understand that she couldn't chew on our home decor. Of course, she'll still try once in a while but now that she's been spayed she has become very calm and sleeps most of the day. Providing your rabbit with a lot of toys to play with will also prevent any destructive behaviour. Card board boxes, chew toys made from handwoven grass, plastic throw toys (with bells), willow sticks, throw blankets to dig into, you name it. I've never known Chloé to get into trouble when we leave the house. Apart from a couple tiny holes she's chewed in our couch, Chloé is a very good girl. I'd say she's about 99% trustworthy now when she has the house all to herself. I've actually noticed that she is much more likely to be naughty when we're at home, she loves taking the piss and she's quite hilarious when she does. She'll look at you with the funniest facial expression, jump up in the air and start running around like crazy. I'm not sure why she starts running because we've never chased her around but she's very aware of herself and knows that her mommy doesn't like having her furniture chewed.

A common misconception about having your rabbit free roam is that they need to have access to the entire house. That is false. They can of course but any room will be just fine, as long as it has been properly bunny proofed and has windows to provide your bunny with natural lighting. Although Chloé is free roam, we didn't actually have to do that much bunny proofing ourselves when she joined us. You see, our apartment has parquet flooring and many rabbits including Chloé don't like walking on wooden surfaces, it makes them slip as they have completely fur paws that don't provide any traction. This means that Chloé spends most of her time in our living room. We have a huge rug that she loves to run around on, that gives her plenty of space to play and hang out. Some days we also extend her area with another rug to make sure she gets enough exercise. She can go on and under the sofa and she also has her old cage that we use as a litter and digging box. She does try to leave the rug sometimes but it never lasts long. I don't really discourage it, as it does add some thrill to her day but if she were to ever decide she will hang out on the hard wood flooring, we'll just bunny proof the apartment further. We did invest into a play pen to make sure she doesn't get into any trouble when we're sleeping but we never actually lock her in as we only use it to barricade the sofa so she doesn't destroy or ingest anything she shouldn't. Right now we have a puppy pen from the brand Topmast, that is perfect for keeping rabbits and cheaper than any cage you find in a pet shop. It took me a while to find one that was both good quality and actually (kind of) aesthetically pleasing. The play pen is almost 6m long and 76cm high. I was a bit worried that she'd be able to jump over the play pen but this height seems to be perfect. We got it at the beginning of June and I'm super happy with it, I was worried that it would be wobbly and extremely unpractical but it's not. Chloé was very apprehensive about the pen at first, it took her a while to get used to it, now she doesn't really mind anymore. We have our little routine to make sure she's comfortable and doesn't get stressed out. I kiss her goodnight every time so she knows we're going to sleep and then she goes to bed herself soon after.

One thing that you definitely need to know if you're even considering adopting a pet rabbit is that they need to be spayed/neutered and should be adopted in pairs. The reason why Chloé is alone at the moment is because she was by herself to begin with. Whilst I was researching on how to care for a rabbit I read that it can be very difficult to bond rabbits that don't know each other. They are extremely territorial. When Chloé wasn't spayed she used to be overly energetic and social, at some point it honestly became borderline exhausting. She'd be awake all day and constantly look at me with the cutest little puppy eyes, begging for me to pet and play with her. She'd also have these moments where she'd just poop all over and pretend she'd forgotten about her potty training. This was all territorial behaviour and has changed since the surgery.  Even though she was already great at using her litter box (apart from those funky moments), right now she's an absolute angel. I haven't cleaned up after her since. She also started sleeping most of the day and is way more reserved than she used to be. That last one I find a little sad, it's like she was a completely different bunny before. She still likes to join me on the sofa for a cuddle every morning and every night but she gets stressed more easily and doesn't like strangers anymore. I'd love to get her a companion at some point, especially if I'd be going back to work as I wouldn't want her to stay alone at home, I'm sure she'd be over the moon but I'm worried about them not getting along and having to bring the bunny back to the shelter. It just makes me nervous because there are many rabbits in need of a forever home. Financially it will also be a bit more costly to have 2 bunnies. Her spay surgery was €150, including after care, and an appointment at the vet is about €25, without additional fees such as vaccines or medicine. I like to bring Chloé in on a regular basis to make sure she's okay and I would do the same if I had 2. Her food isn't that expensive but hiring a petsitter can be. My family isn't used to caring for pets so I prefer to pay someone that is experienced and that would of course let her free roam.

The biggest change in having a free roam bunny is, quite obviously, that I have to clean the apartment more. I vacuum multiple times a week and I've purchased a little handheld vacuum to make the process easier if I happen not to have time. Bunnies like to groom themselves more than cats do and having a clean space is very important for their well being. Something I've learned by having a free roam bunny indoors is that Chloé doesn't smell at all. When I gently push my nose in her fur coat she smells like a baby. You can't smell that we have a pet at home when you come in our house. I love it, quite frankly. Of course, I empty her little box twice a week, Chloé always gets excited about that. She likes to double check that I've done my job well. Having a rabbit is definitely time consuming, I can tell you that much. Chloé has always been very vocal about her needs. I also made it a point to learn about a rabbit's body language to make sure she's understood when she tries to say something, as rabbits don't make any noise. I think having her set up in the living room was a great idea because it's a place that is both well frequented and quiet. We don't have a tv so it's not a noisy area and since we all love to hang out in the living room morning and evening when she also happens to be awake, as rabbits are crepuscular animals, she really is part of our family life.

I'd like to finish this article by saying, that if you ever consider getting a bunny, to please do extensive research. Most pet supply stores don't sell adequate housing and food for rabbits, let alone give you the right information about their needs. Rabbits are delicate animals that can die within 12 hours if not cared for properly. They are living, breathing beings that deserve a good, loving and stress free home and that require medical attention, just like you do when you're ill. Don't buy any for your children, as they aren't suitable pets for them, and especially not if you as an adult have no interest in caring for the bunnies yourself as soon as your kids loose interest. Bunnies do not like to be cuddled or picked up like cats or dogs. I'm not an expert by any means and I have made mistakes. There's an extensive article here where I explain how I immediately changed the way I cared for Chloé as soon as I realised that what I was doing was wrong and I hope that you can learn from that too. Having a pet is a huge commitment and one that definitely shouldn't be underestimated.