The truth about wire floors

Forget everything you’ve ever heard about wire floors. Toss away the rumors, the “facts,” and the guarantees. It’s high time we nix political agendas over what lies under our rabbit’s feet and start a real conversation about adequate flooring.

Rabbits do not have pads on their feet like dogs or cats do. Instead, they have thick tufts of fur designed to protect their feet — socks rather than shoes, shall we say. And that makes all the difference.

From what I understand, wire flooring for rabbits is more common in the United States than other areas around the world. I guess we’re innovative like that. Instead of risking ailments like urine scald and fly strike, we said, “Hey! Let’s just take away the floor.” But it’s not a one-size-fits-all fix, and whether you’re a breeder or a pet owner, there’s more to take into consideration than the material the floor is made of.

Wire floors are inherently the most well-ventilated flooring option. They allow more air flow not only across the floor, but also through and around it. In areas where it’s particularly hot or humid, that ventilation may be the difference in keeping rabbits cool and dry. Just think of warm days when your cat or dog would rather sprawl on the air vent than cuddle up in the shag carpet.

Of course, the little slats in the flooring are exactly where we run into conflict over whether wire is worth it. How could rabbits possibly be comfortable walking on a metal grid?

For some breeds, it’s easy. Holland Lops, for instance, have small, wide, thickly furred feet and compact bodies. Their weight distribution (they weigh 3-4 lbs. full grown) is much different than French Lops, which are carrying a lot more body weight on their feet.

So, there are breed-specific considerations when considering wire. While I had little trouble housing Holland Lops and Jersey Woolies on standard wire flooring, I noticed that my young Dwarf Hotots’ feet were falling through. It was clearly less than comfortable for them, so I invested in heavy plastic resting mats to give youngsters reprieve from the wire.

While I was at it, I went ahead and got the same mats for my Hollands. Sometimes they accidentally lay on them, but I’ve noticed that they’re generally sleeping half-on-half-off or sprawled completely on the wire…further proving that Hollands have no consideration for the fancy things I buy them. And they don’t mind wire.

Other breeds absolutely require solid flooring. It’s my understanding that Belgian Hares do best on solid floors because of their unique body and bone structure. Likewise, heavier breeds or breeds with shorter fur (Mini Rex, Rex) may be more comfortable on solid flooring.

Wire is also easy to clean, which is a serious consideration. I’m not talking easy like “Yay! Less time cleaning, more time to sit on the couch!” It has nothing to do with whether or not someone is committed to proper care. Wood flooring or carpet is very difficult (stretching close to the realm of “impossible”) to clean thoroughly. You can bleach it or shampoo it, but that still may not reach into the depths of porous material. Even if you spend hours scrubbing and cleaning solid flooring, it is generally a less sanitary option.

Now, for breeds that require solid floors? Obviously the trade-off is that the animal will be in better physical condition, even though their flooring may harbor bacteria. But if the physical condition of the rabbit isn’t compromised by wire flooring…doesn’t it make sense to take advantage of a surface that can be disinfected more thoroughly?

There is long-standing conflict over whether wire floors cause sore hocks too. For a long time, the situation was seen as cause and effect — you put a rabbit on wire, they develop open wounds on their hocks. But as we learn more about rabbits and various breed tendencies, it’s clear that wire isn’t the single catalyst for sore hocks. Instead, soreness is generally seen in rabbits with thinner fur on their feet (Mini Rex and Rex are recognized in this respect) or uneven weight distribution (this could be a structural fault in any breed, or characteristic of larger/heavier breeds).

It has been my experience that rabbits who suffer from sore hocks have the same trouble on solid floors too.

Flooring isn’t a matter of convenience. Wire is chosen in most breeding facilities for environmental (ventilation) and sanitation reasons. However, solid flooring is still a consideration, even among breeders.

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