My chum Bernice is not an animal person, but she has given in to getting a low-impact pet. She's thinking about a rabbit and asked me to drum up some info on rabbit hutches. My first call went out to another college chum who has taken up raising rabbits. She filled me in on rabbit details. "Domestic rabbits can live up to 15 years, so they are a long-term commitment pet," answered Christine. "And there is a reason they say 'breed like rabbits,'" she jested. "I read once that it was estimated that a single pair of rabbits can produce around 13 million rabbits in three years. Gestation is a mere 28 days, offspring can mate with a parent, fertility is induced by copulation, as opposed to being a cyclic thing, and females are sexually mature at four months of age."

If you want your rabbits to be friendly, "They need to be handled frequently and from birth," she informed me, "or they can go wild and not be very fun pets at all. They have sharp teeth, and they bite with them, and they also chase and grunt."

With regard to hutches, "If they are outdoors, they need to be waterproof and draft-free to maintain your rabbit's health. A feature I love on my hutch is the sliding cage-sized metal pan that catches the droppings. It's easy to just pull it out and dump it into the trash can." With regard to the floor of the hutch, "If there is no place for the rabbit to rest he can get foot sores from standing on wire mesh flooring. So slatted floors are an option, or some hutches do sit on the grass."

Next I spoke with Kevin Whaley of KW Cages in Santee, which has been around for 30 years. "In the whole of the United States," Whaley explained, "there are only about two or three companies that are similar to ours in that we specialize in rabbits."

There are a few things to keep in mind with regard to rabbit hutches, he explained. "When a rabbit urinates on wood, the wood harbors the urine, odor, and bacteria, and it is not healthy. And the wood will also rot out in a fairly short amount of time. Our basic cage is all galvanized steel -- very rabbit chew proof, and it holds up to their urine. That cage fits into the wood hutch. So you have not only a cage that can be replaced, but the rabbit doesn't come in contact with the wood. This prevents the rabbit from chewing or urinating against the wood."

Whaley suggested their Backyard Hutch ( $139 up to about $259 ). "The hutch has a redwood roof, back, and legs, with an interior steel cage that has a pullout drawer underneath. It has a deflector guard, which is like a metal splashguard that goes around the perimeter of the cage. When the bunny backs up to a corner to urinate, as they like to do, it will deflect the urine down into the pan and not against any of the wood."

KW Cages sells a single-story hutch two feet by three feet. They also sell a double-decker hutch two feet by three feet by six feet for multiple animals or for more legroom for one bunny. "Rabbits range in size," said Whaley, "from about 2 pounds to about 22 pounds. It is kind of like dogs in that there isn't one wire crate that fits all. The average bunny weighs about six to eight pounds, and they need a two-foot by three-foot hutch."

In case Bernice becomes a hobbyist, "We also sell a back yard Bunny Barn, which is a bigger structure that you can walk inside. It has a bank of cages, which protect the animals from the weather. They start at about $1500 for four feet by six feet by seven feet.

"There is a tendency for people to want to put a box in the hutch for the bunny to go in, like a hideaway. It's not a good idea. A rabbit that you want to be tame, you want it to come to you when you open the door and be friendly. The hideaway works in the opposite way. They will get a sense of security if they are in an enclosed area. And the more you try to coax them to come out, the more they dig in; it is like a burrowing instinct.

"Rabbits don't really need an enclosed area," he continued. "They can withstand the temperature as long as they are out of direct inclement weather. People raise rabbits outside in Northern Minnesota; they withstand subzero temperatures by acclimating, growing big double coats." However, heat can be a problem for the little creatures. "The hutch should be in a naturally shady spot in the yard. If the temperature rises to around 80 degrees, we recommend putting frozen two-liter pop bottles in the hutch. Put it in the hutch in the morning, and it will stay mostly frozen through the day and the bunny can lie up against it. It's like a natural air conditioner for them."

And for the door on the hutch, "one wants a door that swings sideways so the door swings out of the way. A door with a hinge on the bottom, which swings down, makes it hard to hold the bunny when you're getting him out. Bigger is better on the door, so that when you are reaching in there lifting the bunny, his back legs may splay out, and the rabbit doesn't get caught on the door opening."

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