All rabbits should be allowed to express normal behaviours. A normal behaviour is the way an animal acts in their natural environment. Enough space, proper shelter and housing, as well as company of the animal's own kind, encourages the expression of
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act says that your animal has five groups of welfare needs. These are five groups of things that animals need to be healthy and happy. These five welfare needs are called the Five Freedoms.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) need to provide these five groups of things for their animals. One of these Five Freedoms is: Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour. In this section you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your rabbits receive the exercise and enrichment they need to be free to express their normal behaviour.
Rabbits in the wild cover an area the size of 30 tennis courts every day, running, playing and foraging for food. Domesticated rabbits need this same amount of exercise to keep them fit and healthy, as well as keeping them entertained and their minds active!
By keeping rabbits in an enclosure, or in your home, you are taking away some of their natural instincts and pleasures. To make up for this, you need to ensure their living area is as large as possible, with a big floor area and high ceiling allowing opportunities for normal behaviours, such as: running, jumping, hopping and rearing up on their hind legs.
By permanently attaching your rabbits’ sheltered enclosure to their exercise run or pen enclosure, you can provide your rabbit’s greater space and give them the choice about which section they want to spend time in and when.
It is really important that you spend time with your rabbits as often as possible and create safe exercise spaces where they can munch on grass, run around, and dig to their heart’s content!
Rabbits are prey animals - they need to hide from things that scare them. Providing hiding places allows them to do this, helping them feel safe.
Rabbits tend to hide if feeling afraid, stressed, unwell or when they are wanting to have a break from social contact with other rabbits or people.
It is really important that you provide constant access to hiding places within your rabbits’ home. This allows your rabbits to escape and hide (natural behaviour) and feel safe and reassured.
Hiding places should be provided in addition to your rabbits' main shelter.
Position your rabbits’ hiding places in areas free from the sights and smells of potential predators, e.g. cats, dogs, ferrets, stoats, weasels and birds of prey. Locate them away from draughts, out of direct sunlight and in a quiet area.
Your rabbits’ hiding places should be high enough for your rabbits to quickly move underneath, but low enough to give them a feeling of safety. If your rabbits can jump onto them, they can function as platforms too!
Remember – hiding places are your rabbits’ safe places, it’s where they will go to escape and feel calmer. Never trap or remove your rabbits from them. Provide at least one hiding place for each of your rabbits, so all of them can hide at the same time if they want to. You could also provide at least one bigger hiding place large enough for all rabbits to rest together.
Ensure your rabbits’ hiding places have two entrances/exits. This will prevent your bossiest rabbit becoming territorial/aggressive and blocking others inside.
If you keep different sized rabbits together, ensure at least one hiding place has an entrance large enough for the smaller rabbit, but too small for the larger rabbit, to enter. This ensures smaller rabbits can escape from their larger companion if they ever feel bullied and need a break.
If rabbits use hiding places regularly or are hiding for lots of time, ask your veterinarian for advice - they may be unwell, stressed or frightened. Your veterinarian will rule out illness or injury that could cause the problem behaviour.
Platforms will allow your rabbits to scan their environment for threats and can help them to feel safe. They can also help to build up your rabbit’s physical fitness and bone strength, as jumping on and off a platform is an important exercise.
If your rabbit has previously been kept in a restricted environment with little or no opportunity to exercise and jump onto objects, ask your vet for advice before providing platforms so that you can make sure your rabbit does not injure him/herself.
Toys allow rabbits to perform normal behaviours such as digging, chewing, chin marking and investigating. Different rabbits enjoy different types of toys so try providing a variety of items until you find out which ones your rabbits like best!
Provide your rabbits with safe toys to play with and chew. Rabbits tend to love the simple (and cheap!) things in life. Here are a few suggestions for toys and objects that could be a hit with your rabbits...
Make sure any items you give your rabbits are safe and inspect them regularly to check for potential injury points. Repair, throw away or replace any items that become damaged or dangerous.
If you have more than one rabbit, check that there are enough items for each rabbit. Always ensure your rabbits can move away from a new object and keep a close eye on your rabbits when first giving them new items.
If they do appear stressed or frightened by a new item, remove it and watch their behaviour – talk to your veterinarian if you’re worried.
The way a rabbit behaves will depend on his or her age, personality and past experiences. If one of your rabbits changes his or her behaviour, he or she could be distressed, bored, ill or injured. Rabbits that are frightened or in pain may change their behaviour or develop unwanted habits such as aggression or hiding.
Signs that a rabbit may be suffering from stress or fear can include hiding, chewing cage bars, over-grooming, altered feeding or toileting habits, over-drinking or playing with the water bottle, sitting hunched, reluctance to move, and repeated circling of his or her enclosure.
Be observant. If your rabbit’s behaviour changes or he or she shows regular signs of stress or fear, ask your parents or caregivers to talk to your veterinarian.