Are rabbit cages cruel? I know that I will most likely get some very strong opinions about this from rabbit owners all across the world. However, it is time we sit down and have a candid conversation about this subject.
First of all I want to be very, very clear. This article doesn't have anything to do with the issue of whether a rabbit should be living outside in a tiny hutch. The name of this website is "I love my house rabbit" and I think we can all agree that if you are going to bring a rabbit into your family, it is best to have it inside.
Also this is not an article that is in anyway against allowing your rabbit to live "free range" in your home. If you can do this and if your bunny is comfortable in this situation, it is a very good thing.
So, having cleared that up, it is time to broach the subject of whether or not it is "cruel" to have your rabbit in a cage inside your home. The reason I bring this up is because we share a lot of pictures on our Facebook page that others have posted. Some of those pics show a bunny in a cage. Almost everytime we share such a picture we get at least a few people (usually using all caps) saying "YOU ARE SO CRUEL!! WHY DON'T YOU EVER LET YOUR RABBIT OUT TO RUN???? YOU ARE INHUMANE AND DON'T DESERVE TO HAVE A RABBIT!!!!" and so on and so forth.
We are going to look a little deeper into this subject and understand why some people do choose to keep their rabbit(s) in a cage and whether or not it is cruel.
But first, let's define "cage". In this article I will be using the word "cage" to mean any enclosure where are rabbit can be "locked" in and does not have full range of a home. This includes x-pens, 3 story condos, and cages you can buy at the pet store. I will note a difference when I am specifically talking about a cage that is very small and not considered appropriate for most bunnies under most circumstances.
Why some people choose to keep their bunny in a cage.
Reason #1 – They don't know any better. Think about it for a minute. If you have never had a rabbit before and somehow one arrives into your life, most people in the general public don't know what they are doing but truly want to take good care of their buns.
They go to Petco or Petsmart believing that they will get the best supplies for their bunny there. Of course few employees there know much more than to recommend a cage, usually a small one, to the novice bunny owner. Heck, if these big box stores won't even pull potentially deadly treats off the shelves, do you really think they know better than to sell tiny rabbit cages?
So now our well meaning new rabbit owner buys the cage and thinks they've done the right thing. They are super excited about their new bunny so they take a pic (with bunny in cage) and post it to a Facebook page to brag. Then they get screamed at by people all over the globe claiming they are cruel. But where you really that much different when you go your first rabbit? Honestly, how many of you did not know that rabbits could even be house pets when you first got yours? Sure some of you where very aware of the "house rabbit" lifestyle but most people who get a rabbit learn about it after they have their new charge.
So, is it cruel? Well perhaps it is. When rabbits are kept in cages that are very small day after day after day and never allowed to exercise I think we can agree that is not good for the rabbit. But was it the rabbit owners intention to be cruel? No, in fact they where trying to do the right thing.
Remember, the house rabbit "movement" is still a fairly new phenomenon (started to become popular in the 80's). Most people grew up believing it was perfectly OK to put a rabbit in a small cage and had no clue there was any other way. In fact pet magazines, pet stores, etc all perpetuate this notion with pictures of bunnies in small cages, normalizing it further.
Maybe we need to show a little restraint and understanding in that either this owner does not know better yet or it is not the full story. Perhaps they let their rabbit out most hours of the day but that story is not told in a single picture on Facebook. Helpful suggestions and further education are lightyears better than just labeling that person as "cruel". Also lobbying for better, more appropriate products in pet stores (who should know better) will help alleviate this problem.
Reason #2 – They need to protect their house. Some people do not accept this as an excuse and when it comes to tiny cages or never letting their bunnies out, I understand why. However there are many, many, many rabbit owners who take excellent care of their rabbits, let them out for several hours a day (if not all day) but who are not willing to have their drywall, baseboards, etc chewed up when they are away or sleeping.
Is it fair to say that these loving, attentive owners are cruel or abusive by putting their bunnies in a safe spot when they can't be watched (again, not excusing very small cages, the enclosure should be comfortable for the bun)? Is it not in the bunnies best interest to be kept safe from dangers too? What about a spouse that really isn't "in to" rabbits. What will his/her reaction be when bunny has chewed a hole in the families brand new couch? I suppose this is how some rabbits find their way to shelters.
So the questions again is, is this cruel? I think it would be crazy to deny a bunny a happy, healthy forever home just because he would not be allowed to run loose 24/7. Obviously it would not be good if bunny was locked up 24/7 but is a happy medium not attainable? Is 1 or 2 hours too little time? Is 4 or 5 hours of play time enough?
These are debates we can have but should rabbits remain in shelters and not be adopted because the new owners will not allow them to have full run of the house 24/7 or not be willing to dedicate an entire room of the house to the bunny? Further education, tips, and tricks about bunnyproofing your home can help many rabbit owners to allow their buns more free time.
Again, please remember if you see a picture of a bunny in a cage, don't assume the rabbit is never allowed out and is bored out of his mind. It may be that it just so happens to be the moment when a good picture was captured and bunny immediately hopped out and went roaming.
Reason #3 – The rabbit likes the cage. Now I really don't know how common this is but this reason hits home for us. When we got Lola she was kept in a very small cage that was not at all appropriate. Apperently she lived for two years in a hutch outside and was recently brought in with this cage. When we got Lola we weren't exactly expecting to get a rabbit so we where unprepared. A larger enclosure needed to be constructed. So while Lola waited we would remove the entire top of the cage to give her plenty of excercise since we where sure she must be going stir crazy in the cage.
To our surprise Lola refused to leave the base of the cage. It took about a week to get her new enclosure done and for that entire time she never left that cage base. We put the top back on at night (since we where afraid she would overcome her fear during the night and chew everything) and took it back off in the morning. We even lifted her out of the cage and put her on the floor but with one strong hop she was back in the base.
The day came when her new, grander enclosure was done. We placed her in it and she hopped hesitently at first from one end to the other. After a few days she was very comfortable and we thought that perhaps now that she is away from her "home base" she will be more likely to explore and play in the rest of the house.
Everyday we opened the door of her new home to give her play time and ever day she stayed in her house. She would barely even poke her nose out. This went on for a couple of months. Then we got Merle. Merle was a rescue from our local animal shelter and I new he would be a great companion for Lola who seemed lonely. Merle is young and not afraid of anything so he easily and quickly decided the entire house was his domain.
Lola and Merle have been together for over 2 months now and in that time Lola has strayed outside the cage maybe a dozen times. She prefers to stay in. Merle spends about an hour in the morning exploring the house (checking to see if the kids dropped any goodies under the table) and returns to the cage to relax during the day. In the evenings he will often come out again (especially when the kids are eating dinner )
Again, is this cruel? Both rabbits have full access to spend at least most of their time outside the cage but one chooses to stay in all the time and the other readily goes back there to nap during the day. My feelings are that it would have been cruel to Lola to not give her this sanctuary. While I hope she gets more and more adventurous over time I believe she will always feel more comfortable in her cage than out. Forcing her to live without a cage because some rabbit owners would call it "cruel" would have been one of the cruelest things we could have done to her.
Without a cage Merle would probably do just fine, he would claim some other area of the house to sleep in (and at times has) but he also feels at ease and shows preference to his cage.
The purpose of this discussion is really to have open, honest dialogue with one another. So often in our society we fling out the word "cruel" or "inhumane" simply because someone does not care for their pet exactly the same way we do. But every animal is different, every persons knowledge base is different, and every situation is different.
I think we should encourage people who are willing to share their life with rabbits and cut them some slack when they don't measure up to our standards. We may be making all the wrong assumptions about the actual quality of care the rabbit is receiving! Sharing our own experiences, answering questions, and education are the best way to improve the quality of life for our furry friends all over the world.
Let's reserve the words "cruel" and "inhumane" for people like the teenager in this article.
If you are thinking perhaps your bunnies cage is too small, check out this article about indoor rabbit cages for different ideas!
What do you think. Are your rabbits free range 24/7 or do you have a cage in your home? How often do your rabbits have "play time" and what special arrangements have you made to make your bunnies as comfortable as possible in their enclosures?