Environment - make sure your rabbits have a suitable place to live.
Rabbits are active animals so they need to be able to hop, run, jump, dig, stand fully upright on their back legs, and stretch out fully when lying down. They need regular and frequent opportunities to exercise every day to stay fit and healthy, as well as an appropriate place to go to the toilet.
Rabbits must be able to hide from things that scare them and, as they are a prey species, they need to be able to hide in a secure place, away from the sight and smell of predators such as foxes, cats, dogs, ferrets and birds of prey.
Rabbits are intelligent; if they are bored and do not have enough to do, rabbits may suffer – toys and activities can keep your rabbits occupied.
As they are inquisitive animals, if there are hazards within their environment they may easily injure themselves, so their home should be safe, secure and free from hazards.
A home is not a hutch
Living in a draughty, damp, hot, poorly ventilated or dirty environment can cause rabbits to suffer and become ill. Providing housing that meets rabbits’ complex environmental and behavioural needs is an important part of responsible ownership.
A traditional small hutch must not be the sole and permanent home of any rabbit as it will not meet his/her need for exercise and stimulation and could cause health and behaviour problems. You should provide both a large escapeproof living enclosure where rabbits can exercise and behave normally and a secure main shelter where your rabbits feel safe and can rest together if they chose to.
Make sure that all areas of your rabbits’ home are well ventilated, dry and draughtfree and that they are protected from predators and extremes of weather and temperature. Rabbits must have constant access to additional safe hiding places where they can escape if they feel afraid, as well as platforms from which they can scan their environment for threats.
Your rabbits’ home should be large enough to allow each rabbit to stand up on their hind legs without their ears touching the roof (so a medium-sized rabbit needs a height of at least 75cm), to lie fully outstretched in any direction, to take a number of consecutive hops, and to run, jump, explore and forage.
The shelter could be sited in/attached to a traditional exercise ‘run’ outside, an indoor pen or a ‘rabbit-proofed’ room in your house (where you’ll need to protect wires and cables by covering them or removing them from reach as rabbits love to chew). By permanently attaching your rabbits’ shelter (for example, a large hutch, cage, shed or playhouse) to their enclosure, exercise run or pen, your rabbits will have more space and choice about which section they spend time in and when, rather than limited access to their exercise area.
Your rabbits should have access to the main enclosure at all times unless it is absolutely necessary to secure them in their shelter. Rabbits are most active in the early morning and late afternoon, and overnight. This is when they like to graze, forage for food and be sociable, so you should try to make sure they are able to use a large area for exercising at these times in particular.
Your rabbits will need enough bedding to keep them comfortable and warm – it should be safe for them to eat so provide suitable insulating bedding materials such as dust-free hay and shredded paper.
They will also need regular (ideally constant) access to a suitable place where they can go to the toilet which should be separate to where they sleep. If you provide litter trays, provide a tray for each of your rabbits (with ideally one more in addition) and use absorbent materials such as newspaper, hay, shredded paper and/or natural wood or paper-based non-clumping, non-expanding litter.
Your rabbits’ toilet area(s) should be cleaned every day. The whole home should be thoroughly cleaned regularly, approximately once a week. Cleaning is potentially stressful for rabbits so after cleaning, a small amount of the used bedding should be placed back into the toilet area and shelter as this will smell familiar to the rabbits and help to reduce the stress caused by cleaning.
Only non-toxic cleaning products should be used and the housing should be dry before the rabbits are replaced in it.
Extra bedding and protection is needed for your rabbits during the winter months.