A person who doesn’t know rabbits may raise an eyebrow or even laugh at the term “bunny-proofing”. While it’s not listed in Webster’s dictionary … yet… it is a regular part of a house rabbit owner’s vocabulary. Anyone who shares their living space with a pet rabbit soon learns the importance of this funny-sounding word. Rabbits can be curious, inquisitive and even downright adventurous. They need owners who are well versed in bunny-proofing to help protect them from their own curiosity.
Rabbits living in our homes have safer lives than if they lived outdoors; however, there are still a number of common household dangers that we need to be aware of, and many may even slip our minds from time to time. Whether your rabbits are free-roaming or given exercise time with supervision, remember that rabbits are quick, quiet and will often wait until your back is turned or your attention is diverted to find things that weren’t meant for their entertainment. They can also suddenly take an interest in objects and areas that never merited a second glance before.
Here are a few reminders and tips to help keep your rabbit safe:
Cords: A simple nip of an electrical cord can cause serious burns to the mouth or even electrocution, so cords need to be well concealed or covered. Don’t be fooled: most rabbits are not tricked by a cord hidden under a rug. Cords should be wrapped with protective plastic tubing which can be purchased at hardware and home improvement stores, auto supply stores, and electronic stores. Cords that run along baseboards can be covered with a plastic shower curtain rod cover. Also, a piece of tape or twist tie wrapped around the cover can be helpful if your rabbit likes to dig at or play with the shower rod cover.
Remember: some rabbits can jump onto shelves and reach audio and video equipment.
Computer cords: Try concealing all the cords behind a desk, then cut wood, plexiglas or cardboard so that it fits securely between the floor and bottom of the desk. If you use cardboard, be sure to check regularly for chewed “access holes”. Do not leave a chair pulled out from the desk or it will be used as a way to easily jump onto the top of the desk. If proper cord protection is not possible, the computer area may be off-limits.
Carpet: Ingesting synthetic carpet fibres can cause stomach upset or a blockage. In addition, many of today’s carpets are treated with stain-repelling chemicals. Try to divert chewing and digging by providing more suitable alternatives such as a litter box, unwaxed cardboard box, or large paper bag filled with hay, untreated pine lumber or pesticide-free apple sticks. You may also try to cover the area that your rabbit is chewing or digging at with ceramic tile or a mat made from natural fibre, such as a grass mat. Clean the area with vinegar to remove any odours that may be attracting interest.
Cage dangers: Always be cautious if you use a cage liner for the bottom of your rabbit’s cage unless it is a piece of cardboard or newspaper. Swallowed fibres from towels or cloth can cause GI tract troubles. Your rabbit could also get its head stuck through a hole in the towel or cloth, possibly causing strangulation.
Cage doors (both side opening and top opening) should be securely fastened in THREE places (each corner and the centre). Rabbits can get their heads caught by trying to escape through doors that are only secured in the middle, possibly causing paralysis or death. Do not remove built in cage accessories that will leave a hole in the side of the cage, such as pellet bins. Your rabbit may get its head stuck in the hole and break its back struggling to free itself. Small rabbits may also be able to escape through these holes. At the very least, it could get serious scratches to the eye.
Pam writes: “Heccubus used to try to stick his head through the hole left by the pellet dispenser by turning his head sideways. We ended up covering the hole with cardboard because we were afraid that he was going to scratch his eye or get his head stuck.”
Wire or metal cage tops and shelves should be covered with wood, grass mats, ceramic tiles, or towels so that your rabbit doesn’t get its foot or toe caught in an opening and possibly break a leg when jumping down. Be sure that any covering you use is secured to the shelf or cage top. Also, be sure that your rabbit cannot squeeze or fall behind the cage and get stuck.
Toys: Carefully check any toy before giving it to your rabbit. Do not provide wooden toys that are lacquered or chemically treated or those that have small breakable parts, long strings or laces, or are made of soft plastic or rubber. Also use caution when providing a willow ring or similar toys with a hole in the middle. Make sure the rabbit cannot fit its head through the opening – or, to be on the safe side, cut the ring in half so that it is no longer an enclosed circle.
Christy writes: “Meadow got caught in a guinea pig toy. It was a wire ball with four holes in it for the guineas to use as tunnels. We came in to find Meadow wearing it like a big fat hulahoop. I finally managed to get her out of it just as Mark returned with the wire cutters.”
Unstable surfaces: Do not allow access to tables or shelving that is not securely fastened to the wall or floor. Lightweighted tables, lamps, vases, and other items can easily be kicked over by a rabbit’s powerful back legs. Lamp cords should not hang loosely or they could become tangled around a rabbit’s leg, causing a break.
Recliners and rockers: Always keep an eye on your rabbit if you are sitting in a rocking chair. Rabbits can be injured when a rocker is leaning back or when the chair is brought back to an upright position.
Sherry writes: “The reclining mechanism should be blocked, or everyone (including guests) should not recline while the bun is out of its cage.”
Underneath/behind furniture, appliances or beds: Rabbits love to explore dark areas, so you must block access to areas behind appliances and under furniture or beds. An unsuspecting owner may sit in a chair or bed and injure a rabbit that has crawled inside. Block access to these areas with wood, cardboard or NIC panels.
Emily writes: “One night recently we heard Kobi making a lot of noise and felt the sofa moving. We knew a 2 lb rabbit couldn’t actually move the sofa and realized that he had crawled inside from underneath. We quickly got him out, flipped the sofa over and attached wood to the bottom to block his entrance route.”
Stairs: Open staircases or stairs with a slippery surface (such as hardwood) may be unsafe for rabbits to climb. Consider blocking off the stairs with a baby gate.
Railings: Be careful that your rabbit does not get its head stuck between a railing or that it can’t slip through. Fasten a piece of Plexiglas to the railing so the opening is covered, or do not allow the rabbit access to the area.
Ductwork: Be sure heating vents are not left uncovered and that register covers sit flush with the floor so they cannot be lifted or pushed aside. A rabbit can quickly climb into the hole in the floor and be unreachable in the ductwork.
Krista writes: “Bossy had always been obsessed with pulling the grates up and flinging them around, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that she could ever fit down the duct, since it’s about 5 or 6 inches in diameter. However, one day the grate in the kitchen was up and Bossy was nowhere to be found. I went downstairs and felt along the tubing until I came to a warm spot. She’d traveled about 15 feet in one direction, went down again, and around a right angle turn, and then traveled for about 10 feet before she either got stuck, or decided to take a nap. We had to take the ductwork apart and shake her out. After that we put screws through all the grates to keep them down.”
Cords from blinds: Looped drapery or window blind cords can get wrapped around your rabbit’s neck, causing strangulation. Use a cleat mounted to the window frame to hold the cord high off the ground.
Renovations: Remember that many renovation products contain chemicals that may be harmful. Newly applied particleboard, solvents, paints, glues, varnishes, and carpets can release volatile organic compounds such as aldehydes, which can irritate a rabbit’s mucous membranes and act on the central nervous system. Damp mop frequently and change your furnace filter regularly to keep dust under control. Move your rabbit to a friend’s house or to another area of your house away from construction and open a window to provide fresh air.
Lead paint: Eating lead-based paint or breathing in lead-laden dust can cause lead exposure. Poisoning from lead can harm many organs and tissues in the body, including the brain, kidneys, stomach, liver and red blood cells. Most houses built prior to 1978 probably contain some lead paint. Do-ityourself kits that test for high levels of lead can be purchased at hardware stores. Do not scrape or sand paint that may contain lead – it will only let loose the lead dust.
Toilets/buckets of water: Do not leave your toilet seat up or a bucket of water unattended. Rabbits are bottom heavy and can drown in a small amount of water.
Garbage bags and refuse: Do not allow your rabbit access to garbage containers that are not tightly sealed. Many items found in garbage can be harmful, such as cleaning rags, poisons, wrappers, soiled food, and discarded peelings. Bathroom garbage containers, which are usually lightweight and easy to tip, often hold discarded materials such as dental floss that should not be ingested. Not only are garbage contents dangerous but a plastic grocery or garbage bag wrapped around a rabbit’s head can cause affixation.
Poisonous plants: Many houseplants – or parts of them – are toxic to animals. Place your plants out of reach and watch for falling leaves. A few common poisonous plants include Amaryllis, Azalea, Calla (rhizome), Corn plant, Chrysanthemum, Christmas Rose, Daffodil, Dieffenbachia, Ivy (Boston and English – berries), Lily-of-the-Valley, Philodendron, Rhododendron, Tulip and Virginia Creeper (berries).
Closets: Before you go off to work in the morning or to bed at night, make sure you know where your rabbit is and that he hasn’t been locked in the closet by mistake.
The purpose of this article is not to cause panic, but to merely point out that many common household items are potentially dangerous. Some bunnies are certainly more apt to get into trouble than others, but even rabbit owners with ‘little angels’ should be aware of potential dangers that can occur, and how we can help to prevent them.
We all have heard of rabbits dying by trying to escape from NIC cages (doors not secured properly) and from cages that open at the top, but never from trying to escape from a dog crate. Unfortunately, accidents sometimes occur despite our very very best attempts to provide a safe environment. Young bunny Flurry (from OREO on-line forum) died trying to escape from her cage – a dog crate with a door that opens out and up (much like a garage door).
Julie says: “Our Flurry died last night. We are getting ready now to bury her in the wood near our home. We are all so upset – crying. [...] She was getting a bit more active and tragically she died an unrelated death. We were keeping her in a dog crate and she tried to get out. [...] I feel just terrible about that.”
Julie asked us to alert other bunny parents: make sure that cage/crate doors are properly latched! Make sure your bunny is secure and his home is not a trap!