Rabbit behaviour

 

Ensure your rabbit is able to behave normally

 

Rabbits need:

  • Access to all the things they require (e.g. space, food, water, safe hiding places, companion rabbits, toilet areas and toys) at all times.  
  • Safe toys to play with/chew and regular opportunities to play with other friendly rabbits and/or people.  - Rabbits are highly social, playful and inquisitive and need to interact and play with other friendly rabbits.  - Many enjoy interacting with people.
Rabbits with enrichment toys © Andrew Forsyth / RSPCA Photolibrary
  • Constant access to safe hiding places so they can escape if they feel afraid. Rabbits must be able to hide from things that scare them. - As they are prey species, they need to be able to hide somewhere secure, away from the sight and smell of predators (e.g. foxes/cats/dogs/ferrets/birds of prey).  
  • Opportunities to exercise daily to stay fit and healthy.  - Rabbits are active animals needing regular, frequent exercise ideally with access to a large area during their most active periods (early morning, late afternoon and overnight) when they like to graze, forage and be sociable.
  • Constant access to good quality hay; it’s important for emotional wellbeing as well as dental and digestive health.  
  • Suitable materials that allow digging (e.g. sand box), and areas to mark territory with chin secretions, urine and droppings. - Scents are important communication methods for rabbits.  
  • Rabbit with hiding places © Andrew Forsyth / RSPCA Photolibrary

    You to be observant. If your rabbit’s behaviour changes or shows signs of stress/fear, seek advice from a vet or qualified animal behaviourist - they could be distressed, bored, ill or injured. - Rabbit’s behaviour depends on age/personality/past experiences. - Rabbits that are frightened/in pain may change their behaviour/develop unwanted habits e.g. aggression/hiding.  - Signs a rabbit may be suffering from stress/fear can include hiding/chewing cage bars/over-grooming/altered feeding or toileting habits/over-drinking/playing with the water bottle/sitting hunched/reluctance to move/repeatedly circling the enclosure.  

Rabbit Environment

We believe all rabbits should live in a home that suits all their complex needs. With our top tips, you can help ensure that your rabbits will live in a suitable environment and be happy bunnies.  

Ensure your rabbit has a suitable place to live

Top tips for your rabbits' home:

  • Rabbits are active, needing opportunities to hop/run/jump/dig/stand fully upright on their back legs/stretch out fully when lying down. Provide a secure living environment large enough for all your rabbits to exercise and stand up fully on their back legs without ears touching the roof.
  • Provide a large living area and a secure shelter where they can rest, feel safe and are protected from predators, extremes of weather and temperature. Ensure all areas are well ventilated, dry and draught-free. Living in draughty/damp/hot/poorly ventilated/dirty environments can cause suffering and illness  
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    Rabbits are a prey species, so need to hide in secure places, away from sights and smells of predators (e.g. foxes/cats/dogs/ferrets/birds of prey). Provide constant access to safe hiding places to escape if feeling afraid. Rabbits need to hide from things that scare them. 

     

     

  • Rabbits are intelligent and inquisitive. If they’re bored, they may suffer so they'll need daily exercise opportunities to stay fit and healthy.  
  • Provide enough bedding to keep warm. Bedding should be safe to eat, e.g. dust-free straw/hay.  
  • Rabbit's need regular (ideally constant) access to suitable toileting places. If providing litter trays use newspaper, hay/straw, shredded paper and/or paper-based non-clumping, non-expanding cat litter. Toilet areas should be separate to sleeping areas. Try placing a hay rack over the litter tray to encourage them to eat hay.  
  • Regularly clean their housing and toilet areas.  
  • If you’re away, try finding someone to care for rabbits to meet all their welfare needs within their own home for familiarity. If boarding, keep grouped rabbits together and take familiar items (e.g. toys).  
  • Transport rabbits in a comfortable and safe manner. Put familiar smelling items in carriers/new environments to help them feel at ease. 
  • The size/temperature of anywhere they’re left (including vehicles) needs to be appropriate.  
  • Provide a safe, secure, hazard-free environment for them to live in. Any hazards within their environment may injure them.

A healthy diet for rabbits

Ensure your rabbit has a healthy diet

 

Rabbits need:

  • Fresh clean drinking water continuously, checked twice daily. Ensure water doesn’t freeze in winter. Without water rabbits become seriously ill.  
  • Good quality hay and/or grass, always available, should constitute the majority of rabbits' diets.  - Rabbits graze, naturally eating grass/other plants for long periods, mainly at dawn and dusk.  - Rabbits’ digestive systems need grass and/or hay to function properly. 
  • Hay and/or grass as they’re much more important than commercial rabbit pellets ('nuggets').  - If giving pellets, follow manufacturer’s instructions.  - Don’t top the bowl up as rabbits might stop eating enough hay and/or grass.  - Growing/pregnant/nursing/underweight rabbits may need larger portions.  
  • Healthy diets. Avoid muesli-style foods as they are associated with health problems.  Contact your vet for dietary advice.  - Rabbits' teeth grow continuously, needing wearing down and keeping at the correct length/shape by eating grass/hay/leafy green plants.  - Not eating the right diet results in serious dental disease.  
  • Root vegetables (e.g. carrots) or fruit only in small amounts as treats. Don’t feed other treats as they may harm your rabbits.  - Rabbits don’t naturally eat cereals/root vegetables/fruit.  
  • Safe, washed leafy green vegetables/herbs/weeds daily. Take care – some plants are poisonous.  - Avoid sudden changes in diets and do not feed lawnmower clippings as both these upset rabbits’ digestive systems causing illness.  
  • Feeding quantities adjusted to prevent them from becoming underweight/overweight.  - Quantities rabbits need to eat depend on age/lifestyle/general health.  - Rabbits become overweight and may suffer if eating more food than needed.  
  • The amount they eat and drink monitoring. If these habits change, droppings gets less/stop, or soft droppings stick to their back end, talk to your vet immediately as they could be seriously ill.  - Rabbits produce two dropping types – hard dry pellets, and softer moist pellets they eat directly from their bottom and are dietary essentials. 

Rabbit health and welfare

Ensure your rabbit is protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

Rabbits need:

  • Neutering, unless intending for breeding and provisions made for parents/offspring. Before breeding, seek veterinary advice to ensure health and personality suitability.   - Un-neutered females are at high risk of developing womb cancer.  - Un-neutered rabbits are more likely to fight. 
  • Careful consideration. Before owning rabbits, investigate breeding/how they’ve been cared for. See if they’ve had/prone to, health/behavioural problems. Some breeds have exaggerated physical features/prone to inherited disorders/diseases which can cause suffering, reducing quality of life. Ask a vet if unsure.   
  • Correct diets, mainly hay and/or grass help prevent dental/gut disease. Check rabbits eat daily, passing plenty of dry droppings. If eating/drinking habits change/quantity of droppings reduce/stop, ask your vet immediately - they could be seriously ill.   
  • Checking for signs of illness/injury daily. Ensure this happens when you’re away.  - In warm weather check fur/skin around bottom/tail areas twice daily. Urine staining/droppings stuck attract flies, causing flystrike (often fatal).  - Rabbits feel pain but don’t show any outward signs so may suffer before being noticed.  - Changes in normal behaviour can indicate illness/pain.  - Stressed rabbits are more likely to become ill.  - Seek veterinary advice immediately if you suspect they’re in pain/ill/injured. See: behaviour.  
  • Their front teeth/nails checked at least weekly - these grow quickly. Only vets should correct overgrown/misaligned teeth. Rabbits are vulnerable to infectious diseases/illnesses, especially dental disease.  
  • Veterinary check-ups at least annually.  - Treatment for external/internal parasites (e.g. fleas/worms), as advised by vets.  - Vaccinating against myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD), as advised by your vet.  - Consider pet insurance to cover veterinary treatment.   
  • Keeping away from wild rabbits/areas where they frequent – they can carry diseases.  
  • To be treated with only the medicines recommended for your rabbit by a vet. Other animals’ medicines are dangerous to rabbits.  
  • Well-maintained coats - groomed regularly. If unsure about grooming seek specialist advice.  
  • To be identifiable, ideally microchipped (seek veterinary advice), so they can get quickly treated if injured/returned if lost.