The Bare Essentials: litter box, bedding, food & water bowl (or water bottle), and wooden chews (yes this is essential, don't skip it).
Whenever someone asks what should be included in a rabbit's cage, we recommend the above basics. Rabbits do not need all the fancy bells and whistles (though those are definitely fun), as their cage is essentially a studio apartment. There are exceptions, but most house rabbits with a lot of playtime only really go in their cage to use the bathroom, eat, and sleep. Social interaction is very important, but a fancy space isn't.
Litter boxes-We'll talk more about litter training later, but here are some basics
Most rabbits will train themselves as long as you don't give them too much space too quickly. Bunny's normally like pooping and peeing in a corner and keep the rest of their den clean. Because litter box training is easy for most buns, there is no reason not to try.
The type of litter box can have an impact on the rabbit. There are sever things to consider when choosing the right box. First off, some litter boxes simply will not fit in the cage. Some cages are too narrow to fit certain litter boxes comfortably, however if that happens just use that litter box outside of the cage for playtime.
Large cat literboxes are good for small and medium size buns. However, elderly rabbits may find it hard to get into, but it works well for digging and overshooting normally is not an issue. We recommend these for outside playtime as most will not fit in a cage due to its size.
High backs are a good option as it will fit in most cages and prevent overshooting. Watch out for diggers. Since one side is short, the rabbit could easily dig out the litter if they chose to. Corner litter boxes are great space savers, but be sure to match the size of rabbit with the size of the litter box. A medium to large rabbit should use a large corner litter box. A dwarf or mini may get away with a medium one. Another trick is placing a medium corner litter box and put it inside a medium deep cat pan. This gives you an option to use multiple beddings and keep the rest of the cage cleaner.
For large, extra large buns and super lazy bun owners, I use a concrete mixer pan from Home Depot. Like seriously, love them. They make great dig boxes, litterboxes, and more!
The bedding goes in their litter box and not the main floor of their enclosure. If you put bedding all over the cage, they might not know where you want them to go and just choose their own place. I normally keep the floor of the main cage/ enclosure clean or place a soft fleece/ bathmat on the main floor so its soft on their toes and they have a different texture so its easy to decern the bathroom. Blankets and such are also easy to clean and swap out if they do get dirty.
SENIOR BUN TIP: If you have a rabbit who cannot get into a traditional litter box, you do have options. We convert the entire bathroom side of the cage with pee pads at the bottom and fresh hay on top. Rabbits tend to pee and poop where they eat so thats why we can use this as a trick to help keep messes at bay.
If you do choose to put bedding on the bottom of the main space have two kinds- one for in the litter box and one for the rest. Some people opt to have two litter boxes; one with bedding that the rabbit pees in and the other with a softer bedding for the rabbit to lay in if it wants.
As for the type of bedding, we recommend a Bunny Binkyland TRI-MIX which includes our mix of paper-based bedding (like Carefresh, Kaytee, or Small Pet Select) at the bottom, Aspen wood chips in the middle, and fresh hay on top. The hay is topped off every morning and night to ensure they have access to fresh unlimited hay and clean footsies.
The best at absorption is wood stove pellets (also called kiln dried horse pellets) which is pretty inexpensive and paper bedding which can be expensive. Aspen wood chips is less expensive so we use this to fill the litterbox the most. The various textures also help capture all the urine.
The cheapest option is newspaper or shredded paper. The downside is the absorption of those leaves something to be desired, and rabbits will get newspaper feet (ink on their feet so they are black). To prevent that, we recommend using newspaper on the bottom and Carefresh, Aspen, or hay on top.
Side note about wood stove pellets, the quality of absorption is really something else. It essentially becomes a powder when it gets wet. The only downside is it is quite heavy which is why I shy away from those.
Lastly, you can also just use hay. It doesn't absorb well, but if you top off twice daily, it works well enough.
NOTE: The only type of bedding that is NOT recommended is Pine or cedar. When it gets wet, it releases a noxious fume that can cause upper respiratory infections
Water should always be available. However, city water is not recommended for rabbits as it has Chlorine, Fluoride and other chemicals. We highly suggest that if you are able, to give distilled, spring, or at the very least filtered water. This will give the rabbit the best chance for a long healthy life.
There are two types of vessels that can be used for water.
BOTTLES: A water bottle is easy to fill and requires less cleaning. However, avoid placing the water bottle next to where the rabbit sleeps, as some have a tendency to leak. If you warm the metal part, it helps reduce leaks. However, if it continues to leak some people place it over the litter box, since it gets soiled and wet anyway.
BOWLS: Another option is a water bowl. This is highly recommended as it provides rabbits with a natural way of drinking. Studies have shown that while the rabbit can get the same volume of water from the bottle and bowl, it takes the bun longer with the water bottle. Bowls in the cage can get soiled quickly and must be cleaned every day, if not twice a day.
Some people use bowls or fountain bowls in the play area as it is less likely to get soiled quickly.
This seems straightforward, however a lot of rabbits (and people) can have preferences when it comes to the type of food bowl used. Some really get a kick out of flipping the food bowl over and getting the pellets everywhere but in their mouth. This is fine as your rabbit will generally clean up the mess for you, but it can easily be avoided by getting a heavier bowl. A ceramic bowl or something that attaches to the side of the cage are two choices that can be used.
One thing to watch for if an attachable bowl is used is height. Unless it is lined up with a shelf, often times the bowl is too tall and hard to reach for rabbits. Some people opt to feed their rabbits on the base of the cage and just sprinkle pellets directly on a mat or floor of the cage. This gives the rabbit an opportunity to forage and engage the mind. Just be sure that you monitor to ensure they are eating all the pellets. If the rabbit is not eating as much as they normally do, this could be a sign of an emergency. Therefore, we recommend to only use this method in an area that is clean and free of bedding. I have a timothy mat I use that they tear into which is a win-win.
Always, regardless if the rabbit gets out a lot or not, add a toy or two and switch them up every week. Rabbit’s teeth are always growing; they need wooden or hay toys to keep their teeth filed down. Willow tunnels and toys are great choices. Another option is timothy hay tunnels and toys. Always make sure they have something to chew on in their cage and definitely in the play area. Other fun toys are made of newspaper, paper towel rolls, toilet paper rolls, and cardboard boxes.
Things that are not required in the cage is a toy that dangles and perhaps something that makes noise (like with a bell). If you give toys that are made of plastic, ensure you only give during supervised play time so you can remove them if they start chewing on them.
Last NOTE: When you are at work or out for the day, giving a toy will ensure the bunny still has the opportunity to keep the mind active and engaged. Maybe also consider adding a bunny friend.
A happy rabbit has a better chance to live a long and healthy life.