When I was growing up I always had a pet rabbit, one was a giant named Pablo who had a very colorful hutch. Back in the day, we did not think at all about the toxicity of the paint.
While most paints and sealers will be non-toxic once fully cured, we have to look carefully at how long it needs to cure before your bunny can re-enter as well as the potential toxicity of chewing on the paint as we know how rabbits can be around wood.
These are the least toxic paints, clear sealers, and colorful stains that will work on outdoor hutches and indoor ones too. These are also non-toxic for the person applying them.
Expert Contributor: I consulted with Dr. Sabrina Kong a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine for advice on the safety of the paints and sealers.
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1. ECOS Pet Dwelling Paint
ECOS Paints Pet Dwelling Primer and Pet Dwelling Paint are a 0-VOC acrylic paint and primer that are safe for all animal enclosures including rabbit hutches. It’s a water-proof exterior grade paint (that can be used indoors as well) that comes in eggshell, semi-gloss, and gloss.
Because it’s very fast to dry your rabbit can get back to their home quite quickly. However, you do have to take precautions with acrylic paint and restrict your painting to only the outside sides that cannot be chewed on.
“Rabbits tend to chew on almost anything, including acrylic paint, which is very unsafe for rabbits to chew on, says Dr Sabrina Kong, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Acrylic paint is a type of plastic, and when ingested, it can cause blockages in the digestive system” says Dr. Sabrina Kong.
Step 1 Check the weather. You need to be between 50°F (10°C) and 70s to lower 80s F and lower than 70% relative humidity. Also, make sure you’re either undercover or that it’s not going to rain for 72 hours.
Step 2 Prime over bare wood, dark colors, a higher gloss paint, an oil-based paint, or heavily sanded or scraped surfaces. Use one coat of Pet Dwellings Primer and allow 24 hours before painting. (The Universal Primer can be used for over oil-based paint if you follow the instructions on their website).
Step 3 Paint two coats of Pet Dwelling Paint on primed or previously painted (with water-based paint) metal and wood. It can be recoated in 2 hours if the first coat is fully dry.
If you want to paint the floor of the hutch, use the semi-gloss or gloss sheens which are more durable. (And make sure the edges of the floor are not chewable).
Step 4 Bring bunny home. Your bunny can re-enter at 24 hours, says a rep for the company. Hardening of the paint continues for up to thirty days and you should avoid washing it during that time.
Other Acrylic Paint Lines…
You can certainly use other acrylic paints that are exterior grade. The challenge is that most exterior paints are not 0-VOC and neither are most primers. I don’t know of a paint that beats ECOS Paints, but if you do find a 0-VOC acrylic exterior paint and primer that will be just fine as well.
2. Milk Paint + Tung Oil
Milk Paint is an all-natural paint, perfect for over raw wood, that does not give off any VOCs. With a natural protective coat of Tung Oil, the wood can be very durable to outdoor conditions.
Oil Fashioned Milk Paint is made of milk protein (casein), calcium hydroxide, natural chalk fillers, natural clay fillers, and natural pigments. It comes in a powder and you mix it yourself with water.
It’s very easy to apply this to raw wood, and that is the best application for this paint. (I wouldn’t bother using this if you’re painting over an existing paint).
Old Fashioned Milk Paint has tested its product against Toy Safe Standard EN-71 in Europe which simulates ingestion of the paint in humans. Not all colors passed the metal leaching tests (whites and blues did not make the cut). These Toy Safe colors are also safer for rabbits.
The Safest Milk Paint Colors for Rabbits
The following Toy Safe colors are made of red iron oxide pigment, lamp black pigment, yellow iron oxide pigment, raw umber brown pigment, and green chrome III pigment*, and are free of any substantial amount of aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barium, boron, cadmium, Chromium (III), Chromium (VI), cobalt, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, selenium, strontium, tin, organic tin, and zinc.
(*The company says the reason why the green pigments are based on Chromium III but are still Toy Safe is because the amount was low enough to pass the test.)
Safety for Rabbits
The Toy Safe colors are also a safer choice for rabbits says Dr. Kong, DVM, but that doesn’t mean they are totally safe.
“As for natural paint made with iron oxide pigments, while these paints are generally safer than synthetic ones, they can still pose risks if ingested by your rabbit. Iron oxide pigments are considered non-toxic in small amounts, but ingestion of larger quantities could potentially cause iron toxicity.” Dr. Sabrina Kong.
So be sure to keep a close eye on your rabbit to make sure they are not chewing this in any significant amount and provide them with lots of alternative wood chew toys.
Topcoat of Oil
Milk Paint requires a topcoat of oil to be durable to water otherwise the finish is quickly ruined. Tung Oil over Milk Paint will make the paint durable enough for outdoor conditions and durable enough to be wiped down and cleaned. It is also durable enough for the floor of the hutch.
The main downside is the Tung Oil darkens and dulls the color a bit. You can see the bright blue with Tung Oil over it above (and then shellac, but shellac is not for use on outdoor hutches).
Tung Oil and Citrus Solvent are food-safe and pet-safe once cured.
Safety for Rabbits:
“As for natural VOCs from tung oil and citrus solvent, it’s important to note that while these substances are natural, they can still be harmful or irritating to rabbits. VOCs (volatile organic compounds) can cause respiratory irritation and other health issues. It’s best to keep your rabbit away from freshly oiled areas until the oil has fully cured, been aired out, and the VOCs have had a chance to dissipate before allowing your rabbit access” says Dr. Sabrina Kong, DVM.
Step 1 Check the weather. Above freezing temperatures on the day of application and for 15 days after. Make sure the hutch is protected from rain and the sun while working. Exposure to the sun while it’s drying can make Tung Oil turn “frosty”.
Step 2 Apply oil to the milk-painted wood. Let the oil absorb into the Milk Painted hutch. You likely need to mix Tung Oil with Citrus Solvent in most cases (and use the half and half), unless the wood is very old and dry.
Step 3 Repeat until saturation. You repeat the oil application as many times as necessary until the surface doesn’t absorb any more oil. Once you reach the point of over-saturation, wipe away the excess oil and let the oil begin the curing process. It takes 7 to 15 days to be dry to the touch and 30 days for complete curing before you can wash it down.
Step 4 Bringing bunny home. Wait the full 30 days for a full cure.
3. A Clear Wood Sealant or Wood Stain for Your Rabbit Hutch
If you want to finish your rabbit hutch with a clear sealant I would go with a natural drying oil/penetrating oil here on its own. Synthetic sealers can be very low VOC but they are made with plastic resins so they are not be safe to be chewed on.
Tung Oil is very safe once cured. You can follow the same instructions as above but this time it’s going straight onto the raw wood. Tung Oil does naturally darken the wood, though it does not have pigments.
If you don’t want to go with Tung Oil you can use Linseed Oil. The best brand of exterior-grade Linseed Oil is Rubio Monocoat. This is not as pure as Tung Oil but it’s still non-toxic.
Rubio Monocoat Hybrid Exterior Wood Protector is a one-part system and requires no catalyst or accelerator. (I would recommend using it without the optional accelerator). Curing times without the Oil Accelerator B is 7 days. So, faster than Tung Oil, plus you only need one coat.
This product is Toy Safe EN-71 and comes in clear or 22 stain colors. The company says it’s safe for use on a rabbit hutch.
Rubio Monocoat still contains some unknown ingredients and likely metallic driers which could be like calcium, iron, zirconium, and/or vanadium.
“While these substances might not be harmful in small amounts, we can’t be sure how a rabbit might react to them, especially if ingested. So I would recommend using this product only on the outside of the rabbit hutch where your rabbit can’t reach to chew” says Dr Sabrina Kong, DVM.
If your hutch is indoors…
If your hutch is indoors I would still use the same exterior grade paints and sealants mentioned in this post. This will give it the durability needed for a robust cleaning.
Dr. Sabrina Kong, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in England in 2016 and has been working at a small animal clinic in Northern California since then.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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