Introduction: House Rabbit Palace
In Israel, and probably most of the world, most house rabbits are given to children, who keep them in tiny cages (cheap) and forget about them after a month. The tragedy of the house rabbit is its low price. The costs of having a healthy and happy rabbit are enormous compared to the price you pay for the animal at the pet shop. For comparison, ferrets are treated much better simply because they cost 150-300$ and not 10-20$.
The other extreme of caring for a house rabbit is letting it run loose in the house, eat fresh vegetables with scientifically balanced dry mix and giving it unlimited attention. Not so easy!
I remember the day I came home from work. Stella came running to get her head rubbing fix. I picked her up and sat in front of the TV. Something was wrong. The sound system was shredded. I decided to surf the web. The modem supply cord was cut in two places.
Since that day, we kept Stella in a back room. Her projects included digging holes in the wall (new instructable: how to dig a hole in the wall) and shredding anything we absent mindedly decide to put in that room, including two very expensive mattresses.
Finally, I saw on the web a caging system that looked cool. It was a labyrinth of wire mesh cages assembled together to make a relatively large playing area for rabbits. Problem: it is not available in Israel. So, after finishing a basic wood working class, I decided to build a cage. The goal was to give Stella a big enough playing ground without compromising our apartment's free area and without letting her cause any more damage.
Step 1: Buying the Bars
Lately, hardware stores in Jerusalem show a range of wire mesh based storage solutions. I based my cage on two 1.2m-by-0.5m shelves (App. 4ft by 1.5ft). A shelf makes an excellent door because it has an optimal grid and usually L shaped, which makes it easier to mount on the wood construction. I found my shelves in "Ace Hardware". But I guess one can get them almost everywhere. I think that wire mesh shelves are more popular in America than in Israel. Here we have less built in closets. The simple grey bars make better cages than the PVC coated ones. Remember, rabbits chew.
Since the cage doors' measurements are the anchor of this project, go shopping before sitting down to the drawing board.
Step 2: Plan the Cabinet
The cage body is basically a modular cabinet. The technology is already the only way kitchens and cheap storage furniture is made these days. The connectors and sheets of plywood are readily available in Jerusalem and everywhere else on the planet. What you need to do is go to the nearest wood warehouse and ask for prices. For this project, a 17mm sheet of pine or poplar plywood is perfect. Don't use MDF! Rabbits chew. The glue in the MDF is toxic and the material is carcinogenic if crumbled.
After deciding on material and knowing size of sheet (normally 1.22x2.44 metres or 4x8 feet) and thickness (17-19mm) you can plan the cutting for the wood store. Here they're happy to cut it for you. But there's a catch: you can only get rectangles. If you can get a worker in such store to cut diagonals for you, you're lucky. I had to use my jigsaw to remove the corners of the shelves.
The design is simply a closet with shelves that don't span the entire width of the closet. The "missing" edges create steps that allow the rabbit to jump from level to level. When Stella stands under a hole, she can stretch upwards and when she's under a shelf, she gets the tunnel effect that makes her feel safe and at home.
Some measurements from my cage (metric figures are accurate):
Height: 160cm 5'3" total, 120cm 3'11" cage itself
Depth: 60cm 2ft
4 shelves divide the inner cage equidistantly to 5 levels.
The diagonals are not necessary. They just make the step wider for the rabbit and a little more aesthetic.
The copper foil you see in the picture was intended to keep the rabbit from chewing the edges of the shelves. The joke is on me. Now the copper is in tatters but the shelves are intact.
Get your cutting plan ready and give it to the wood store.
Step 3: Assemble the Parts
I use "Blum" type connectors. They're easy to assemble with the help of a rechargeable drill / screw driver and they detach with half rotation of that big screw head in the middle. It's easy to relocate the cage. You can see that the final picture was taken from the foyer, while the first one was taken from the back room.
After the cage is up, take it apart and apply varnish. Use water based acrylic varnish. It'll protect the wood from water puddles and other organic materials. The water base is essential because (for the last time) rabbits chew and you don't want the precious creature feeding on something based on acetone or turpentine. Stella, for some reason, doesn't like chewing on the cage walls. Can anyone offer an explanation? She did chew some varnished furniture legs before.
The connectors and varnish may vary on location. Blum connectors are cheap and popular here. But if you can't find them where you live, just consult the local hardware store expert.
Step 4: Mount the Doors
Here I didn't put much thinking, money or energy. I simply added some wood screws to the sides of the cabinet, slightly bent upwards so the bars on the sides of the doors can lean on them. The doors are held together with the help of laundry clips (what do you call it?).
I would love to get ideas for hinges and latches. The regular hinges don't fit wire mesh shelves pretending to be rabbit cage doors.
Step 5: Populate the Palace
Now it's time to move the spoiled rabbit to its new location. Grab all the mats and towels and layer the levels with them. Decide where you want the toys, the cardboard "project" box, the litter box etc. Make sure your rabbit has enough space to move around from level to level and doesn't get trapped once it goes to the toilet. Place the water dish and food in one level. Remember that rabbits don't like changes. Stella stomped for hours after her last move to the foyer. But they get used to their new place eventually and forget yesterday as ancient history. So spoil your rabbit but try not to move things around.
1. I built this cage for our one and only Stella, who's almost 3 years old and been living with people only for almost her entire life. We don't want to risk getting her a buddy rabbit because she is hot headed and seems to be content with us. I think a cage this size can easily host two more rabbits if you have them.
2. The extra height I gave the cage proved to be a good idea. We saved the storage room underneath the cage, which is necessary in typical Jerusalem apartments.
3. Final touch: I used a cutter to open windows in the mesh where Stella likes to sit. This enables me to pet her head (she loves that) almost every time I pass by her cage.
This is Stella's new location. Rosie the dog loves Stella but Stella prefers watching the dog from above. Kids, can you spot the little bunny in the picture?
Step 6: Our New Home in America
Recently, Kakungulu and family moved to the United States. We are expecting our first baby. Until then, we stay busy nesting.
We didn't leave our pets behind. Rosie and Stella are happy living in Colorado, where dogs have unlimited walking and running around space and rabbits have huge carpeted houses to explore.
The cage was left in Jerusalem. I think it is going to serve as my sister's ferret's new home. We'll see. Stella had to spend the first 3 months in a wire mesh cage that was ready for her when we landed. It was tiny in comparison to the huge cage she had in "the old country". But she also had a huge carpet to explore every other night.
The new house is big enough to have a proper wood shop (double car garage, it's the american way...). So naturally I made a practice run on my new 110v, Inch based, american power tools building a new cage for Stella. It was made for the living room so had to resemble a piece of furniture, not a makeshift plywood box. I got to practice "frame and panel" cabinet making techniques on my rabbit's expense. I made my mistakes and learned some valuable lessons building this one. Stella doesn't complain. Here's the result.
Step 7: "Rabbitat" 3.0
Since my original post, back in our Jerusalem apartment, the term "Rabbitat" became part of the common jargon. It's even recognized by spell-checkers. You can find ready-made rabbitats on Amazon. While I can't claim to have invented the multi-level cabinet rabbit cage, I wonder if I inspired anyone or maybe the idea came to me from somewhere else?
Anyway, years after our first rabbit Stella has passed away, our little daughter asked to get her own rabbit to care for. The child's room is very small and the original cage we had was hard to keep clean, so naturally, I was asked to repeat the "palace" project, for the third time.
The new design is based on Home Depot general-purpose mixing tubs, the larger ones. They are approximately 2'x3' and maybe 8" deep. The 3 tubs are perfect for cage levels, because they contain all the mess Lucky, our new rabbit, makes. The cage is built as a 2by3's skeleton holding the tubs, using lap joints (for easy transfer, when we move, again...). The tubs rest on the stretchers, not attached, so cleanup procedure is easy. We take Lucky out to play and pull each tub separately to be emptied on our vegetable patch and sometime hosed. Lucky is an excellent fertilizer machine :-)
Aside from the solid back and top, made of leftover plywood from my shop, the sides and door are covered with PVC-coated chicken mesh. As you can see, I didn't invest too much in hardware. The latch is improvised.
The landings between the floors are repurposed Ikea dresser fronts. We find that while Lucky loves to spend her play and eat time inside the tubs, she prefers sleeping on the flat landings, where she can listen to the kids play around her and get some human attention.