A Gilded Cage for Rabbits... Though probably not gilded, and more a hutch than a cage
November 30, 2012 3:22 PM   Subscribe

Help me find a straightforward 1-2 weekend DIY outdoor rabbit hutch plan. It's a Christmas present for my sister, who is 12 and not necessarily the most responsible. More (ranty) details inside.

I've tried dissuading my sister from buying rabbits altogether. She already has a 55-gallon fish tank, a red-ear slider turtle, two cats and a dog. She has previously had more fish, a hamster, and four hens. She gets them and gets bored and does not take good care of them, and my mom and grandma only do the bare minimum. The animals are fed and watered and cleaned, but not much beyond that (i.e. not much social interaction or training). So yes, I tried to discourage her from getting rabbits, but she's getting them anyway.

So I'm trying to build her a rabbit hutch that'll be somewhat comfortable for the rabbits. They will be kept outdoors in Seattle weather (where it may snow once the entire winter). The lot is not completely level, and my sister will definitely not be moving the hutch regularly (so digging is a concern). She definitely plans to have more than one rabbit, but I'm not sure how many or which breed.

My sister wants to breed the rabbits, but she doesn't know how old they will be. Or how many litters. Or how much fixing the rabbits cost. Or where she'll get the breeding rabbits. Or where she'll rehome the babies. ("Lots of my friends like rabbits," she said, but I don't think she understands.) She optimistically thinks the $400 in her account is enough for everything--including the hutch, even though the breeding hutches seem to start at $500. To me, this seems like a nightmare.

My mom and grandma will probably be willing to do regular chores everyday or every other day, when my sister inevitably gets bored and drops the ball. But they won't be supervising the rabbits running around outside or anything.

So I want to build the best rabbit hutch I can for the rabbits' sake, and automate whatever is automatable. But I want it to be a Christmas present. So at least 90% of it needs to be doable in a weekend or two. (I can finish the trim or add automation later, as my sister probably won't get actual rabbits until March.)

Bonus points if it's: pretty, modular, easily maintained.

I have power tools, and basic wood furniture building skills. My boyfriend has framed houses before and can help me (with reading the plans and the building). I'm willing to pay for a good plan, but of course I'm DIYing because it's cheaper. I can build onsite, though I'd prefer to do it at home, and possibly rent a pick up truck to transport it.

Please help!
posted by ethidda to Pets & Animals (26 answers total)
I hate to say this, but you are being an accomplice to what potentially could be perceived as animal abuse. You could build them the nicest rabbit hutch in the world, but if they sit stinking in their own wet hay for weeks on end, with no fresh water, care, or human socialization, you might as well hand them over to the SPCA and ask them to go ahead and euthanize them. I'm sorry if I'm being harsh, but from all accounts, your sister is not mature enough to handle the care of these rabbits.

Rabbits are not disposable hobbies and should not be treated as such, and the idea that you're going to build a hutch so that they could lead miserable lives is unacceptable, I'm sorry.
posted by HeyAllie at 3:29 PM on November 30, 2012 [12 favorites]

Your sister is twelve? Why don't you just tell her

posted by Sara C. at 3:30 PM on November 30, 2012 [10 favorites]

Please stop enabling your sister. She needs to learn responsibility. All those poor animals.
posted by Seboshin at 3:34 PM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

A Google search shows a gazillion rabbit hutch plans, so I suspect what you're really asking is "how do I talk her out of this, or help her do it without abusing the rabbits". To that end, may I suggest that you get her involved in your local 4H chapter?

4H isn't just rural, and a good portion of it concentrates on doing exactly this sort of education: How do I effectively raise an animal (or number of animals) for market/sale? There will be peer education to help her learn what the real responsibilities and issues with raising rabbits are, there will be other people who have hutches, there will be materials to try to build an actual business plan for raising and selling rabbits.

So, yeah: 4H meetings first. Written business plan. Full understanding of exactly how much time this is going to take. Then worry about the hutch.
posted by straw at 3:35 PM on November 30, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'm in the "someone should say NO MORE PETS" camp but the OP is a sibling, not a parent, and presumably it's the mom and grandma who can't tell Sister "No." Siblings have little power in this situation.

However, the OP can stop assisting any enabling. What will happen if the OP doesn't build a hutch? Will this mean the rabbits run loose in the backyard? The OP should only build that hutch if they are the only thing standing between the rabbits and the freezing cold. Sister might reconsider getting rabbits if she has no enabling safety net.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:49 PM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Assuming ethidda is an adult and not a teenaged slightly older sibling, I think she or he absolutely does have the power to say NO MORE PETS. Maybe not to unilaterally make it so, but I absolutely don't think that s/he has a duty to stay out of it and let Mom and Grandma be the ones to set limits.

Firstly, as pointed out, ethidda is the one building the hutch for the rabbits. So s/he can absolutely refuse to do such a thing or enable the rabbit scheme in any way.

Secondly, where there's a wide age difference between siblings, the adult sibling does have more leverage on stuff like this than if OP were fourteen and saying, "no way, Sister should so NOT get to have rabbits, because when I wanted rabbits you wouldn't let me!"

Thirdly, even if ethidda can't officially weigh in on setting limits about pets, her/his opinion about the situation might carry real weight. If only as the sole voice of reason saying, "this is going to be abusive to the animals, she's not going to take care of them, you've seen how she treated the hamster, etc. etc. etc." Even if Mom and Grandma push back, it's important that someone stick up for the right thing and give them something to push back against.

It's almost like the Overton Window in politics. If ethidda rolls over on this because it's "not my place", nobody says anything, Sister gets her way, and we're living in a world where twelve year old Sister has no limits set and that's perfectly normal. If ethidda speaks up vociferously, at least someone has to try to defend Sister's right to have these animals. At least there is some question as to whether this is a good idea. Even if ethidda loses, the family dynamic is at least vaguely based around real world concepts.
posted by Sara C. at 4:06 PM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Jesus Christ. Breeding them? Rabbits? That, you know, breed like rabbits?

I would suggest that maybe you offer to get her a hutch for *a* rabbit. One. Singular. That cannot possibly breed. And that if she takes *good* care of that rabbit, you'll give her an IOU to help her expand the operation a year from now. I wouldn't do that, myself, but that would be the absolute maximum participation I can imagine doing without, well, if it was me, feeling like the resulting population explosion and inevitable horrors being at least partially my fault.

If it takes more than that, I'm not willing to Google at suppertime, but I'm pretty sure you could probably find some pretty effective pictures and stories about abused rabbits to drive the point home. Or maybe a link to an episode of that Animal Hoarding show, because bad breeding plans turn into hoards fast, and feeding twenty rabbits is a lot more imposing than feeding two, and a hundred is a lot worse than that, and... yeah.
posted by gracedissolved at 4:10 PM on November 30, 2012

Seattle 4H
posted by Floydd at 4:21 PM on November 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm 24. My sister is 12. I have moved out of the family house. They (my sister and mother) have floated this idea since January of this year, and I have repeatedly told them that I do not support this. I have offered to build a hutch and rescinded the offer when my sister said she was going to breed them. I have pointed them to 4-H, but it is either too foreign (culturally) or too far away to drive and they have not pursued that. My sister has borrowed many books from the library which is the only saving grace. (But she studiously avoids looking at rabbit breeding photos and goes "ewww!" when I read that page.)

If I do not build a hutch--which I'm not entirely certain I will--my sister will still get the rabbits. And she will get the cheapest hutch that she can, which will probably be a cage, and which will most likely be too small or not sheltered enough.

I have previously tried to pressure my sister to not adopt the cats, and the dog, and the hens. And have offered no advice, and taken a "I don't support this, don't mention it to me" stance. But that has been unhelpful.

Again, I expect the rabbits will be fed and watered and cleaned regularly. I just don't think anything else will be done that doesn't NEED to be done, according to the standards of people who treat animals as "just" animals, and not as pets or companions or friends. If there is more than one rabbit, I think they will have each other for company. (I have two indoor cats, who play with only each other for 8-10 hours a day while I'm at work, and that seems fine. I don't see why rabbits would be different...?) The breeding part is the part I worry about most.

So, yes, I'm open to solutions of delayed hutch-giving as gracedissolved has mentioned, as well as trying to get a business plan from my sister. (Though she hates jumping through hoops and will probably just talk my mom into yelling at me for trying to demand it, the same that happened when I emailed my mother and my sister a long email saying why they should reconsider.) I would also consider not giving my sister a rabbit hutch. However, if any of the commenters think that that would do anything for the rabbits my sister will get, you are sadly mistaken.

I have looked online for rabbit hutch plans, but they are not straightforward to me. If there is particular one that a Mefi likes, I'd love a link.
posted by ethidda at 4:21 PM on November 30, 2012

Please contact the House Rabbit Society. They have great information about establishing safe, appropriate homes for pet rabbits, and your sister is old enough to learn how to care for this animal properly. They might even be able to arrange a home visit and a volunteer may have tremendous luck in getting the proper set up, if your sister has her heart set on it.

(I had a houserabbit for 10 years. They are bright, social animals. They do not belong outside in a hutch. If she won't do an HRS visit, make a cardboard hutch large enough for your sister and give her a warm jacket, but make her sit outside in it for a whole day. Ask her how she likes it.)
posted by mochapickle at 4:23 PM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

too far away to drive

Does her school have a 4H chapter that she could join and attend meetings after school or on weekends? Not sure how urban an environment they are in, Seattle-wise, but a lot of non-rural schools have them. I lived in boring suburbia as a kid and was in the 4H club at my school (where I mostly learned to sew and did fundraisers and stuff, because we didn't have the land for animal husbandry).
posted by Sara C. at 4:24 PM on November 30, 2012

Sorry to threadsit...

But my sister would prefer for the rabbits to be indoors. My mother very adamantly refuses to allow that. I will not be able to make my mom sit outside in a cardboard box.

Her school does not have a 4H chapter. My mother would have to drive her 30 minutes to an hour in traffic each way for the nearest 4H chapter. Between her other extracurricular activities, I suspect this won't happen, though I will definitely try to push them to do it again.
posted by ethidda at 4:30 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

As for breeding, your sister and mother should also know that unspayed female rabbits face an extremely high rate of cancer and tumors within the first 3-4 years. It's a painful way to live.

I really do feel that a visit with HRS folks would be informative for both your mom and your sister. Perhaps they are not aware that rabbits can live 10 years, or need particular types of food (pet store pellets are terrible for them), or need vets that specialize in "exotic" pets. I made so many mistakes with my little bunny when I got him, and there was a steep learning curve. Proper housing/care was part of that.
posted by mochapickle at 4:37 PM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is also the very real problem of raccoons opening the theoretical hutch and consuming the rabbits inside. I agree with the above posters who state that rabbits absolutely do not belong outdoors, for the main reason of safety for the rabbit. I strongly urge you not to underestimate racoons, as they are wily little beasts who will stop at nothing for a free meal (i.e. rabbits stuck in a cage just waiting to be eaten).

I also have to say as someone who previously owned multiple guinea pigs and currently owns a cat, small animals require so much more work than cats or dogs. cleaning the cage takes up a huge amount of time (at least once a week, sometimes more frequently) feeding them fresh veggies every day, socializing them, things of that nature. Rabbits also can live quite long and are sometimes extremely mean, especially if never socialized. I would honestly, never recommend small animals such as rabbits or guinea pigs as pets for children, as they require a lot of time and money to take care of well.
posted by ruhroh at 6:11 PM on November 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Another rabbit owner chiming in to say pet rabbits live indoors. There are any number of ways they can die outdoors, from simple weather exposure to having a heart attack if a dog barks at them.

And they are tricky to take care of. While this:

pet store pellets are terrible for them

is false, they do need to eat greens and hay as well. This:

need vets that specialize in "exotic" pets

is also not true, but not all vets work on small animals.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:21 PM on November 30, 2012

While this:
pet store pellets are terrible for them
is false,

Correction: Most rabbit pellets sold in general pet food stores are old and do not have the proper fiber content. Source. Or they have additives that are not good for rabbits.

need vets that specialize in "exotic" pets
is also not true, but not all vets work on small animals.

I assure you, it's quite true. I have encountered several vets who had no idea how to care for rabbits. One Brooklyn vet I went to in an emergency simply shrugged and explained that rabbits are natural prey(!) and he could not offer any treatment(!!). Maybe you were lucky, but in my very real experience, some vets and staff have no training with these animals and are unable or unwilling to treat them. And it's awful to be in an emergency situation and encounter that. OP's sister and mom need to be aware that it's part of rabbit care.
posted by mochapickle at 6:39 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you tried talking with your mom about restricting your sister's animal intake? She's 12. There's only so much autonomy she gets in this matter.
posted by schroedinger at 7:10 PM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

The sweet, fuzzy, very much spayed apartment bunny sitting at my feet compels me to add to the pile-on saying please don't enable this terrible idea in any way. Yes, bunnies probably could stay warm through a Seattle winter. But I know of two who died due to a heat wave in Minnesota of all places, to say nothing of the concerns above about raccoons, and yes, they will be bitey jerks if nobody socializes them, and illness-prone jerks if they aren't fixed.

Maybe your mother should read up about the terrifying consequences of rabbit hoarding, and be aware that lady rabbits have not just one uterus, but two, so it is completely possible for them to carry two litters at the same time or in rapid succession.
posted by clavicle at 8:00 PM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

You should refuse to assist them in their absurd plan, and when your sister goes ahead and gets them anyway, you should dime her out to local animal control.
posted by crankylex at 8:24 PM on November 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm sure you and your boyfriend can build a ventilated plywood box in a couple of weekends, but that won't help anything. Your sister might spend her $400 on a cage and a couple of cute bunnies, and those rabbits might die of exposure in her backyard, but at least if her plan crashes and burns it will end there. Building a better hutch will only free up more of her cash so she can buy and abuse even more rabbits. Some rabbits (like some people) are beyond your capacity to save.

All in all, I think you could stand to be less involved in this family pet-hoarding dysfunction drama. Rescind your offer to build the hutch. Apologize for having been inconsistent, be kind but absolutely firm. Then take your little sister out for ice cream and talk about something other than rabbits.
posted by jon1270 at 2:13 AM on December 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm sorry, but I've got to agree with the folks who are saying you should NOT, in any way, assist your sister with more animals. Don't find her hutch plans, don't look up resources or books or anything else: refuse to participate entirely, no matter how much your mom yells --- YOU aren't the irresponsible one, your sister is, so that's who your mom should yell at, although it would be even better if your mom would face up to her own enabling. Among other things, someone who is immature enough to 'ewww!' and refuse to face the biological facts of rabbit life is NOT someone who should be expecting to run a breeding program!

So what would happen if you just stepped back and refused to have anything to do with this? One likely result is that your sister would spend all (or at least most) of her $400 on a hutch, which would make it that much harder for her to keep expanding her animal collection. (By the way, who pays for supplies for all the current animals? Their food, vet bills, bedding, etc.? It SHOULD be paid for by the pet owner, i.e., your sister, NOT your mom or grandmom. And if the current animals AREN'T seeing a vet on a regular basis, why not?!?)

on preview: jon1270 says it beautifully.
posted by easily confused at 3:37 AM on December 1, 2012

We have rabbits. They live indoors in a big hutch I made from Neat Idea Cubes. I agree with the sentiment that a 12 year old should not be breeding rabbits, nor should rabbits live outside.

One additional complication is that you can't just grab a handful of rabbits and expect them to be best buddies. If two bunnies disagree as to who is the Main Rabbit In Charge, they will fight. Fighting bunnies means bleeding bunnies and bleeding bunnies should not be outside where they may not get medical attention and may attract unfriendly wildlife.

Sit your sister down and make her watch Watership Down. Hopefully that will be enough to steer her away from this project.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:22 AM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Perhaps, instead of a hutch, you could get your sister an enrollment in a class like this one. Or, if it's possible, your Christmas gift could be enrollment and transportation to 4H. This Seattle club meets only once a month, plus some field trips.

One of the most positive things about 4H and other youth livestock groups, IMO, is that they provide social pressure, from peers, to keep your animals clean and in good health. It's embarrassing to bring a dirty, sick animal to a group meeting.

A hutch could be next year's Christmas gift, contingent upon her participation in these programs.

It's also probably worth noting that, in my area, there's pretty much a seasonal demand for bunnies as pets (usually easter), and that's about it. I've heard from other farmers that there is some market for the meat, and even less of one for pelts. Also, depending on what your local restrictions are, processing may need to take place at a USDA-certified slaughterhouse, which is not cheap, usually. Unless you've got access to a very niche market for live animals, you're looking at processing the animals for meat, and selling said meat. Which is a whole other can of legal worms.

tl;dr: wake your sister up to the fact that if you're breeding rabbits, you're likely selling them for meat. While many of us don't have a problem with that, I somehow doubt it's what your sister wants.
posted by Cracky at 6:47 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cracky's last two paragraphs are a perfect example of why 4H and other local agricultural extension services (which is where 4H comes from and what it centers around), are so important.

It's important for your sister to understand exactly what she's going to be doing and that it's not just a big pen full of cute bunnies to snuggle with for... some purpose... I guess...?

You raise and breed animals like rabbits for food. They are livestock. There are standards about how to care for them and what exactly needs to happen on the other end of the project. It's not like having a pet where you just acquire an animal and it's fun to have around and the end of its life is something you prefer not to think about.
posted by Sara C. at 10:49 AM on December 1, 2012

If she ends up getting the rabbits and abusing or neglecting them, I wouldn't hesitate to call the ASPCA or Humane Society. I wouldn't put up with a relative abusing animals just because we were related. Please don't let innocent animals suffer just because your family can't say no. You may not be able to stop them from acquiring the animals, but you can intervene on the animals' behalf if they're not being treated well.
posted by i feel possessed at 6:01 AM on December 10, 2012

I got her a computer instead. We'll see what happens. Maybe she'll lose interest in rabbits.
posted by ethidda at 2:35 PM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

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