Suitable environment for rabbits
Rabbits need a safe environment and protection from hazards, whether it lives inside or outside the house.
Where rabbits live, eat, exercise, go to the toilet
A rabbit’s environment is where it lives – not just where it sleeps, eats, exercises and goes to the toilet, but any place that it has access to. The environment also includes all the objects a rabbit comes into contact with and the materials, such as bedding, that it needs to stay healthy and happy.
Read also: Rabbit biology, ecology and distribution
Consideration should be given to providing enough space with adequate ventilation, with protection from predators and extreme temperatures.
A rabbit should have access to suitable places and supplies to:
- rest and sleep in comfort
- eat and drink undisturbed
- exercise and explore safely
- hide when afraid or feeling insecure
- shelter from the weather including wind, cold, rain and sun
- interact with (and escape from) companions
- chew whenever it feels the need
- mark its scent on solid objects
- look out for companions or danger
- Resting area for rabbits
A rabbit requires a resting area and an exercise area. Your rabbit’s resting area should have at least two compartments. A darkened sheltered area for sleeping away from noise and another for eating/relaxing. All areas should be well ventilated, dry and draught free as damp, poorly ventilated, hot or dirty environments can cause illness. The resting area should ideally be permanently attached to an exercise area to which the rabbit has free access at all times.
The resting area should be as large as possible. At least:
- big enough for your rabbit to lie down and stretch out comfortably in all directions
- high enough for it to stand up fully stretched on its back legs without its ears touching the top
- long enough so that it can move around, feed and drink
As a guide, your rabbit should be able to take three hops from one end to another as an absolute minimum. For a fully grown average rabbit this can equate to around 150/180cm in length and 60cm in height
Read also: Digestibility of the rabbit diet
In many cases the resting area is bought at the same time as the rabbit and this is when the rabbit is usually young and not fully developed. Therefore consideration needs to be given to future accommodation requirements and revising the rabbit’s living area as the rabbit grows in size.
If you keep more than one rabbit together, there should be enough space so that each adult rabbit can behave as outlined above. There should also be safe hiding places where each rabbit can choose to be alone if it wants to be.
If your rabbit lives outside
Rabbits can be kept outdoors all year round but ideally their resting area should be brought into a shed or unused garage with natural light and ventilation for the winter months or else protected with tarpaulin from bad weather. Also, an exercise run should always be available. Many consider a small shed fitted with a cat flap into a secure run as a good permanent accommodation.
If you are planning to keep your rabbits outdoors, make sure the resting area is:
- draught-free and fully weatherproof
- placed in a sheltered position (out of direct sun and prevailing wind)
- sturdy and easy to clean
- raised off the ground to keep the floor dry
- protected from predators
- fitted with secure catches to prevent escape or theft
- has an attached safe exercise run
Never house your rabbits outdoors if you buy them in late autumn/winter as they won’t have had a chance to build up a winter coat and may not survive. A constant source of fresh water needs to be provided at all times. It is important to check the water bottle and food bowl as they are prone to freezing in low temperatures. If rabbits are unable to drink they become dehydrated leading to health problems.
Keeping your rabbit inside
Rabbits can live quite happily indoors and they should be provided with secure accommodation where they can feel safe, sleep, use a particular area as a toilet, and be confined to when unsupervised.
If let loose indoors particular attention should be given to restricting access to areas where there are electrical cables which rabbits may chew through. As rabbits are prone to heat stroke attention should also be given to where their accommodation is situated as central heating systems can cause health problems.
Bedding for rabbits
Bedding should be provided to give your rabbit extra insulation, somewhere to hide and something to nibble on. It should be clean and dry and should also be safe for your rabbit to eat. Hay and straw can be used. Wood shavings are not suitable as bedding material.
Exercise area for rabbits – the run
Rabbits are very active, athletic animals. To exercise appropriately, they must be able to crawl, hop and run about. Jumping on and off raised areas, such as sturdy platforms, helps rabbits maintain their bone and muscle strength. If your rabbit does not have enough exercise, its bones can become weak and break; this can happen even if your rabbit simply struggles when you pick it up.
Your rabbit should have daily access to a run. The run should:
- be as large as possible to allow your rabbit to stretch upwards to full height and to run, as opposed to just hop
- contain raised areas for jumping and preferably should be outside with access to a grassy area
- be moved regularly to avoid any chance of burrowing out or overgrazing grass
- be escape proof and secure enough to prevent any threat from predators
- provide shade and protection from the wind and rain if the living area has been brought into a shed or garage during the autumn/winter period an exercise area must also be provided
Rocks, large terracotta plant pots, logs and chew toys can be provided within the run to prevent boredom.
Where more than one animal is kept together, there must be enough areas to shelter from the sun, wind and rain so that all the animals can shelter and choose to be in contact with others or to be alone.
Read also: How to control thermal stress in rabbits
Protection from predators
Living areas and runs should be secure from predators such as dogs, cats, foxes, rats and birds of prey.
Rabbits should have 24 hour access to suitable hiding places where they can run if they feel afraid, stressed, unwell, or simply want to be on their own for a while.
There should always be at least the same number of hiding places in any enclosure as there are animals. Hiding places should be big enough for your rabbit and should ideally have more than one entrance.
Suitable hiding places include cardboard or wooden boxes, paper sacks, sections of wide-bore drain pipes and shelves that your rabbit can get under. You will need to make sure that these are non-toxic and contain no sharp edges.
Ventilation and temperature
Rabbits should be protected from bad weather as well as strong sunlight or changes in temperature. This includes your rabbit’s living area and run.
Outdoors, a cover, blanket or piece of old carpet or other insulation material could offer added protection on cold nights provided there is enough ventilation.
Indoors, a rabbit’s living area should be placed in a cool room, out of direct sunlight and draughts, as well as away from radiators (as rabbits can suffer from overheating) and loud noises.
Hygiene for rabbits
Part of providing a suitable environment is making sure that it is safe, clean and hygienic.
Newspaper or shredded paper should be used as a toilet area. Alternatively a litter tray can be provided with non clumping, non toxic material. Wood shavings containing pine or clay based cat litters should not be used as they can be hazardous to rabbits.
Your rabbit’s living area should be cleaned daily. You should:
- remove and replace any shavings or bedding that are wet or dirty
- remove any uneaten fresh foods
- thoroughly clean water and food containers before refilling
The entire living area should be cleaned thoroughly at least once a week but as often as necessary to maintain a clean hygienic environment for your rabbit.
- use a good quality, pet-friendly disinfectant that, if necessary, you rinse off and allow to dry before allowing your rabbit to enter
- replace all bedding and shavings – it may be useful to leave some used but clean bedding so your rabbit feels safe, by recognising its own scent
You should not keep more animals than you can look after and meet their welfare needs. The more animals you have, the more work is involved in keeping them clean.
Protection from poison and other hazards
You should be careful when using either herbicides or pesticides. You should not allow your rabbit into flower beds or other areas that are likely to contain poisonous plants.
In the house, potentially poisonous plants should not be kept or should be placed where your rabbit cannot reach them. Household cleaning materials including liquids, medicines or other products intended for people or other animals should also be kept out of reach. You should contact your vet quickly if you think your rabbit has come into contact with anything that could harm it.
Travel for rabbits
You may need to transport your rabbit by car or other vehicle. Rabbits should be transported in a secure pet carrier of adequate size and with good ventilation. Your rabbit should be familiar with the carrier to help it feel at ease and reduce the stress of transportation.
The carrier should be secured firmly in place with a seat belt, or wedged in the foot well of the car, making sure there is adequate ventilation. The carrier should not be placed where your rabbit will become too hot, such as in direct sunlight or next to the car’s heater. Do not put the carrier in the boot of a saloon car.
Your rabbit should have access to food in its carrier and on long journeys you should regularly offer water and the use of a litter tray, but only within the safe confines of the vehicle when it has stopped.
Rabbits should not be left unattended in a car or other vehicle in warm weather. This can be life threatening and you could be prosecuted for causing unnecessary suffering. The temperature in the vehicle can rise extremely quickly and cause heat stroke or even death in a short period of time.
Care for rabbits when you are away
You have a responsibility to make sure that your rabbit is cared for while you are away. Someone looking after a rabbit for you must look after the rabbit’s needs every day. When someone is looking after your rabbit in your absence, they are legally responsible for its welfare and you should make sure that they understand its needs and any special requirements it may have. You should provide contact details to deal with an emergency medical situation.
Many rabbits prefer to stay in a familiar environment, but you should make suitable arrangements with a neighbour or pet sitter. You should make sure that they can meet all your rabbit’s needs.
You may wish to consider whether a good boarding facility would be better, where your rabbit can be monitored and cared for by someone knowledgeable on how to look after rabbits.
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