What are the benefits and risks of a wire bottom cage for my pet rabbit?

  • Often when you see rabbits on TV, they are in cages with wire floors. It seems to be made out of half inch hardware cloth (wire). We know from this question that rabbits can be litter box trained, so a wire bottom cage is not required.

    What are the benefits and risks of a wire bottom cage for my pet rabbit?

  • Amy

    Amy Correct answer

    7 years ago

    Regardless of floor choice, remember that they need a burrow-like "safe" area to cope with stress. Many pet rabbit hutches have BOTH a mesh floor portion and a little "house" like portion that has a solid floor with bedding. These are not used industrially because they take up much more space and require bedding changes.

    You'll need to decide based on your personal factors, but basically: MESH IS EASY FOR PEOPLE. RABBITS PREFER LITTER/BEDDING if you keep it clean like you're supposed to.

    "Movies" are not a good role model because animals are always provided by a trainer who keeps multiple rabbits and possibly other animals. They will generally opt for the "easiest" and most "industrial" style methods.
    - The rabbit cannot be seen when in its "house" - so it is not used in TV or rabbit farming.
    - The pan can be swapped out quickly as soon as it's dirty so that viewers do not see waste. With litter/bedding, they might have to change it in the middle of filming, which would take time and also disturb the rabbit (make it nervous).
    - It is very possible that a trainer would have bedding for his rabbits - but uses a classic cage temporarily during filming/on set.

    Compromise with both. Have a large mesh-bottomed area for easy clean-up (eating, pooping, etc) PLUS a "hut" with litter/bedding for warmth and comfort. The hut can be made to have a big hinged lid for easy access and cleaning. Make sure the wire mess will not hurt the rabbit's feet. (see below)
    OR
    Just give the rabbit what it wants and change out the litter. Using a litterbox makes everything even easier, but you should still change all the litter occasionally.

    Example from Bunny Hutch HQ (.com) This hutch provides THREE levels of protection: a hut, a semi-protected area, and an open area. A simpler hutch would be something like the top portion only, with the left side being either mesh bottomed or solid bottomed with litter. An indoor hutch could be more open on the left side.
    ![From BunnyHutchHQ.com]

    Mesh doesn't allow rabbits to chew their pellets (soft poo) for nutrition. - This is similar to a cow chewing its cud. Plant material isn't "finished" on the fist pass through, so the rabbit will re-eat some poo pellets. These will be soft and round and you usually don't see them. They are pooped during resting (such as inside a hut) and eaten immediately. The "finished" poo will be hard and the rabbit usually poops these in one particular corner of the cage. (That's where you put the litterbox for training. You're not training the rabbit, you're just putting the litterbox where it poops.)

    All info from this point on is summarized from the rabbit husbandry webpage of The Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    http://www.fao.org/ag/portal/index_en/en/
    http://www.fao.org/docrep/t1690e/t1690e08.htm#uses%20for%20waste

    Litter helps the rabbit maintain warmth and temperature regulation.
    - Too much mesh can allow too much airflow making temperature regulation difficult.
    - Indoor housing will help counteract this (do not put near sunlight, drafts, doors, etc where rabbit may be forced to endure a bad temperature or quick changes in temp)
    - *Some mesh is good - and usually provided from at least half of the cage being wire mesh on the top and sides. Less for outdoor cages. Most pet cages meet the fresh air requirement.
    - All mesh makes rabbits rely COMPLETELY on YOU for temperature and airflow regulation.

    Litter can encourage certain parasites to be spread from one rabbit cage to another nearby rabbit cage.
    - This is a bigger problem for rabbit-farming than pet ownership.
    - You are unlikely to have this problem is changing the litter and/or using a litterbox.

    Wire mesh can irritate the feet, causing bacterial infection. Make sure the wire is fat and the holes are small so their weight is distributed.
    - It is even more likely when the area is warm and/or moist.
    - It is also more likely if the animal thumps their foot a lot (stress).
    - It is more likely in heavy breeds and nervous/excitable breeds.
    - "New Zealand White or Californian breeds" were mentioned as being better adapted to mesh flooring.

    It can be difficult to find proper mesh for just 1 pet rabbit.
    - Just because the pet store sells it doesn't mean it's any good.
    - Plastic coated mesh can fatten the wire and provide a little more comfort - but rabbits can chew the plastic right off. Depends on the rabbit and mesh size.
    Wire thickness: "Diameter 2.4 mm, minimum 2 mm"
    Size of "hole": "diameter 1 to 1.3 cm, but narrow enough to prevent the feet getting caught in the mesh"

    Even the best mesh isn't that comfortable.
    - Provide at least some non-mesh area for the rabbit to rest on.

    Wire mesh can be disinfected. Wire mesh is easy to clean.
    - Again, this is more of a concern for rabbit-farming type conditions. Wood is naturally anti-microbial, but it's not microbe proof. The site recommended changing a wood floor every 2 years, but their focus was on farming conditions.

    As you can (hopefully) see, mesh is just easy for people to deal with. It's the standard for farming lots of rabbits in a tiny space. This concept has carried over into the pet rabbit, but it isn't necessarily appropriate. Traditional rabbitry in Europe uses straw litter. Modern rabbit farming uses mesh with waste collection pits or troughs (with rabbits stacked above each other - the site has diagrams) so that no one has to change the litter in each cage. This allows maximum rabbits in minimum space. You can collect waste and distribute food and water without opening each cage.

    +1 lots of good research here. The answer seems primarily focused at outdoor rabbits. But does have lots of helpful information for the indoor rabbit.

    The picture hutch is less then optimal. As pictured it does not have wire on the ground, so the bunny could dig out. The reference you supplied for the image suggests wire in this setup so that is good. The hutch would need to be moved frequently (every couple of days) to function as designed, everything from lack of sun to bunny droppings are going to leave a dirty/muddy mess in a couple of days.

    Yes, you would not want to leave your rabbit in a hutch like that outdoors unsupervised if there was no wire bottom! Those kind are expected to be moved and I have seen some with wheels like those "chicken tractors". It wasn't meant to be an ideal example. I needed a basic picture that showed the basic combo of an enclosed hut and a roaming area PLUS a photo that was actually posted on a website, not just some photo-sharing site.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM