Designing a Homemade Rabbit Cage
This article covers some of the things to think about when you are planning to build a cage for your house rabbit, to help avoid ending up with any big design flaws in your plans.
The size of your cage is a very important consideration - generally you want to go as big as you possibly can. The minimum area a rabbit should be confined in is 12 square feet e.g. 6'x2', but they need additional space for exercise. Ideally you'd design a setup that allows them to access to all the space at once or a way to move between living and exercise space freely.
Keep in mind, if you are housing giant rabbits or more than two bunnies then you'll need to upsize accordingly.
When thinking about size, it's also a good idea to think about anything you may want to fit in the cage - for example a litter tray. Measure these items and make sure they'll fit in your plans.
The location your cage will occupy in your home goes hand in hand with cage size. There is no point building the perfect cage and then finding it won't fit through a door way or is blocking a plug socket you need access to.
You might like to look around your home for opportunities to create something 'built-in' taking advantage of a cupboard, space under the stairs, or alcove that could be adapting into rabbit housing. This can be a good way to create a rabbit space without taking up too much people space.
This pen makes excellent use of empty space under a staircase.
One of the benefits of house rabbit is that they are part of the bustle of family life, but your rabbit will also appreciate quiet time where they can escape from busy people and noise. That won't necessarily be at the same time you like to relax - choose a location where your rabbit won't disturb your sleep if they choose to play at 5am.
Any materials you use in making your cage need to be chew proof and non toxic. There are lots of options depending on how you want your cage to look and the needs of your rabbit.
Most untreated wood is fine for example pine, for sheets - plywood is fairly commonly used to build outdoor rabbit housing. MDF is quite toxic if ingested/the dust is inhaled, so unless the wood if where your rabbit can't touch it then its best avoided. Different cuts of wood can be used for different purposes for example trim is good for covering edges that might get chewed and skirting board can make a nice tray.
Corrugated plastic sheets (Correx) can be an easy to use building material - though they aren't very chew proof.
If your cage will include a mesh section, I'd suggest using weld mesh which creates a nicer finish than chicken wire. Plastic or powder coated mesh can look better than bare wire. If you can buy coated mesh in the size/colour you'd like then you can coat your own using Plastikote Fast Dry Enamel, which is non toxic when dry and available in a range of colours.
Fitting the mesh on the inside of the frame generally gives a neater finish and also helps prevent your rabbit chewing the frame by limiting access.
Rabbit Safe Paint/Varnish/Stain
There are a range of pet safe paints available for example Cuprinol Garden Shades. It's also fine to use normal water-based paints on the outside, where your rabbit doesn't have access to chew. Inside, leaving any wood untreated and just protecting the floor is generally fine - particularly if you provide a litter tray.
Choosing flooring that's hardwearing and easy to clean can make cleanout day much easier. Lino or safety flooring is a great option as it's fairly cheap, can be cut to any size and is easy to install. Safety flooring is harder (good for digger/chewers) and has more grip than standard lino. It's the type of flooring you often get it vets' waiting rooms.
Fit it using double sided tape or flooring adhesive. The edges can then be finished off with bathroom sealant to give a neat finish, protect them from chewing and prevent any liquid running underneath. Alternatively you'll find a range of trims, either flat to cover joins or corner shaped to hide edges - this is a good option if you had trouble cutting the flooring edges neatly as they get hidden under the trim!
Tiles are also an option, though they take a little more skill to fit and can be slippy if too smooth. Keep in mind rabbits have fluff on the bottom of their feet, not pads, so can have trouble with slippery surfaces.
If you find your floor choice doesn't have enough grip, you can add a rug, woven mat or rubber stable matting over the floor afterwards.
If you have the height available, adding a shelf to the cage can be a good way to add extra floor space and rabbits like to have a raised platform to rest/lookout from. A shelf can be supported with shelf brackets (like you'd use for a bookshelf) or if the walls are mesh, by slotting a couple of lengths of wood all the way through to span the gap and fixing a board on top. Notch the wood supports so they sit over the mesh to stop them moving.
This shelf is fitted in a dog crate.
If the shelf is quite low e.g. less than one foot (30cm) your rabbit maybe able to easily jump up and down without any help. For higher shelves, or less agile rabbits, you can add a ramp - easy to make from a flat piece of board with pieces of trim to create grip. Another alternative is a series of small shelves leading up to make steps. These take up less room than a ramp.
One of the benefits of building your own cage is it doesn't have to look like a cage. You can pick materials that give you a nice finish to fit in with your home furnishings.
This indoor hutch is converted from an ikea cupboard. You could start with any large peice of furniture in a style you like.
It's really important to think about your cleaning routine when designing a rabbit cage. A lot of commercial cages are let down by how difficult it is to clean thoroughly. Make sure doorways are wide enough to easily remove the litter tray for cleaning and that ramps and boxes don't leave corners that are difficult to reach. Making a ramp removable can make sweeping around it a lot easier.
Think about the depth of your cage and how long your arms are, for example if your cage is 4' deep but only 2' tall you are going to have to wriggle your way in on your stomach to clean the back! Likewise, high shelves can be tricky to reach if the cage is very tall.
Try to avoid any awkward gaps, for example small spaces between mesh and frame that can fill with hay and be difficult to clean.
You might also want to consider keeping the area around the cage clean - hay and litter has a tendency to spread well, so a substrate board/tray around the base of the cage will help keep mess contained if your rabbit start digging and throwing things around.
Your Skill Level
Building your own cage might seem a bit daunting, but super DIY skills and a lot of tools aren't necessarily a requirement. Cage builds using pre-fabricated materials such as storage cubes (very easy to put together) or adapting a piece of furniture are good for the DIY challenged.
Many DIY shops also offer a cutting (and sometimes drilling service) quite cheaply (or sometimes free) so you can take you plans in an have the pieces cut to size ready for you to assemble. If even that sounds outside your skills, try designing your cage and then getting a local carpenter to build it for you.