How to house your special needs or disabled bunny rabbit
The right housing and bedding can make all the difference to your special needs bunny...and can make your life a lot easier as you care for your special pet. As you create your own space for your special needs bunny, you're aiming to create housing that is:
- Soft: special needs bunnies are often confined to just a few comfortable positions, or they may fall over or roll. Cushioning is critical for these rabbits. We also recommend cushioning the side walls of the pen or cage so that your bunny can lean or rest against the bars comfortably.
- Easy to wash: you'll want at least two full sets of bedding for your special needs rabbit, so you can easily swap out bedding that needs to be washed. We actually recommend three full sets just in case.
- Dry on the surface: This is critical! Rabbits who aren't able to move easily, or who are unable to use a litter box, can easily get urine scald. Urine scald is treatable but painful for your bunny. Avoid urine scald by using a top layer of faux sheepskin (examples below). We've found nothing that works as well as this to wick moisture away from your bunny's delicate skin.
- Absorbent: Layers under the sheepskin have to do the job of absorbing urine. Luckily, old towels do a great job, and they are easy to find.
- Accessible to both you and your rabbit: You want to create a space that is easy for you to clean, and that makes it easy for you to interact with your bunny. Pets and love are critical! You also want to make sure that everything in the area is accessible to your bunny. This includes food dishes, water dishes, and litterboxes...which you can cut down (examples below).
The perfect housing and bedding configuration for a special needs rabbit
Well, it may not be perfect, but it's working very well for us and our bunnies!
- Start with an X-Pen. Standard X-Pens have 8 panels, and can be configured to make a 4' by 4' square pen. If your bunny is still somewhat mobile, and doesn't have seizures, fall over and not be able to get up, or spin, he or she will enjoy the space. If your bunny does have seizures, fall over and not get up, or spin, see below for our advice on housing extremely ill rabbits.
- Create a waterproof barrier to cover the floor, and make sure it's at least a little larger than the X-Pen. While you can use a thin layer of plastic for this, we find it's worth it to invest in something a little more substantial that will last longer. We've used various materials for this, including:
- A large sheet of plexiglas, or
- A waterproof tarp, cut into 4.5' X 4.5' squares, or
- A large sheet of thick plastic from a roll, or
- A vinyl flooring remnant (however, be careful. Some of these can 'off-gas' chemicals that aren't good for your rabbit.), or
- A plastic chair mat meant to be used in an office, or
- Whatever you can find that's waterproof!
- Cover the waterproof layer with a cushioned layer. You can just use several layers of towels, but we find that a cushioned layer makes the bunny more comfortable without using up tons of towels that have to be washed frequenty. Note that you can put the cushioned layer against the floor and then cover it with the waterproof layer...we like to use two waterproof layers to keep things easy to clean. For cushioning, we use a foam layer that's covered with vinyl. More ideas you can try:
- Old yoga mats, or
- Old camping bedroll mats, or
- Cushioned mats meant to go on the kitchen floor, or
- Egg-crate foam cut to size and covered with a waterproof sheet, or,
- Whatever you can find that's soft and is, or can be made to be, waterproof!
- Time for towels! Layer towels onto the surface. Helpful hint: we've started sewing together two bath towels along the long edge. This makes one big towel that covers the entire X-Pen area! We love it because the edges fit neatly under the X-Pen panels, and they don't shift and bunch up like two separate towels can.
- The most important layer of all: "Sherpa" faux sheepskin 'fuzzy' material. We swear by this stuff. It wicks moisture away from your bunny and into the towels, it's easy to wash--it's great. With one exception: one or two of our bunnies think it's super fun to eat it, which is NOT good, because that can cause a blockage (Darnit, Roo! Stop eating your fuzzy!). Do NOT use blanket-fleece material instead. Instead of wicking moisture away from your rabbit, it maintains big wet spots that can cause urine scald.
- JoAnn Fabrics is the best place to get sherpa fabric for special needs bunnies. We've looked high and low and we can't find better deals...but you've got to get the coupons to get the best deal! JoAnn often runs coupons for 50% off a single item. We go and buy whole rolls of sherpa for our shelter, and, as long as it's only one 'cut,' this counts as one item.
- See Sherpa fabric at JoAnn Fabrics
- See JoAnn Fabrics coupons here and check your Sunday newspaper for their inserts, which often have the 50% off coupons. You will also see a button to sign up for their coupon texting service to get coupons sent right to your smartphone!
- Create a bumper against the walls of the pen. Not all bunnies need a bumper, but we like to provide one for extra comfort and cute leaning opportunities. We use crib bumpers, which are often easy to find at your local thrift store! They are also machine washable, which is convenient. Other ideas for bumpers:
- Rolled-up towels or rolled-up fuzzy material
- Home-made bumpers created out of old stockings (see the photo, below!)
- See below for more info on rolls of fabric for special needs bunnies.
- Use a cut-down litterbox or litter 'tray.' We cut down one side of a standard litterbox to make it easy for special needs bunnies to get into them. We also have used trays-like big versions of cafeteria trays-for some of our 'down' bunnies ('down' means that the bunny is partially paralyzed and can't stand on his or her own). We cover the bottom of the litterbox or tray with woodstove pellets (that's the litter we use) and a generous layer of hay.
- Use shallow food and water bowls to make it easy for your bunny to eat and drink.
Additional advice for housing extremely ill rabbits
We always recommend x-pens over cages, because most cages are simply too small for most bunnies. The one exception is for critically ill rabbits who are having extreme balance issues or who suffer from seizures or rolling. In this case, we recommend using a smaller, plastic-bottomed cage with a detachable 'roof' for easy access.
Our goal with these rabbits is to stabilize them so they don't constantly fall over and panic or struggle to get up. The struggle can often cause 'carpet burns' on their skin as they repeatedly struggle with their legs.
We set up the interior of the cage much like we do with x-pens. With a cage, you don't necessarily need the bottom waterproof layer, as it's easy to clean the plastic bottom of the cage itself.
To set up your cage:
- Cover the bottom of the cage with folded towels. Try to create a smooth surface to minimize the possibility of creating pressure points.
- Cover the towels with a faux sheepskin 'fuzzy' layer. You can either tuck the fuzzy under the towel or, if you know how to sew, you can create the equivalent of a 'bottom sheet.' Simply create a hem on all sides of the fuzzy and string elastic through the hem. This will help keep the fuzzy in place even if your bunny moves around a lot or digs.
- If your rabbit is still able to use a litterbox, and there is room, use a cut-down litterbox. Some of the commercially available litterboxes are already fairly low-edged on one side and fit well into cages. We find that our severely ill rabbits can't continue to use the litterbox, so we change their bedding every day. It's handy to have three sets of towels and three fuzzies on hand for this purpose.
- Create bumpers. You can roll up towels or roll up extra fuzzy material to do this. In severe cases, we have surrounded an ill bunny with the bumpers to keep him or her from rolling or falling. One of our special needs rabbits, Sunshine, lived propped up by bumpers for many months. She was happy as long as she felt secure, got lots of attention, and yummy food to enjoy. That's her in our logo!
Rolls for Rabbits!
We're not exactly sure why, but special needs bunnies seem to LOVE rolls of fabric. Our paralyzed or 'down' bunnies always love to lean on them, lay over them, and just basically rely on them for comfort. It's easy to provide create a safe 'rabbit roll':
- Use sherpa fabric (see above)
- Create a long roll and tie it to make sure it stays rolled. Too much loose fabric can be dangerous for a special needs bunny with limited mobility.
Litterboxes for special needs bunnies
If you have a bunny who is special needs, but not totally immobile, you might want to try this litterbox 'pro tip' to create a litterbox that is much less slippery and much easier for a disabled bunny to use.
Check out the video here.
More resources for special needs bunny care:
This is a wonderful page with lots of pictures and great stories about bunnies who lived long happy lives despite physical limitations.