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How do you define “housing”?

This is wherever your rabbits will spend the majority of time during their lives with you. Whether they be housed indoors or outdoors, it’s important that their needs for space and the ability to express their natural behaviours are met. It is worth mentioning that rabbits are social animals and should never be kept on their own - as a minimum, they should be living in pairs.

Why is it important?

Traditional hutches were made to house rabbits being raised for meat - this is because the hutch limited their exercise meaning they grew quickly. Rabbits were chosen because they breed easily and didn’t need much space to grow. Hutches weren’t designed with rabbit’s welfare, social or behavioural needs in mind - just to fatten them up quickly. Now that we are more aware of their needs, the traditional rabbit hutches simply just aren’t acceptable on their own.

Housing is an important part of meeting the five welfare needs for all animals that we consider keeping as pets - they need:

  • protection from pain, injury, suffering and disease and to be treated if they become ill or injured
  • the ability to behave naturally for their species eg. space to blay, run, dig, and jump
  • suitable companionship - to be housed with other animals of their species
  • a suitable diet for their species, age, and life-stage
  • a suitable environment with a comfortable place to rest and hide as well as space to exercise and explore

  • What’s the risk?

    The minimum space requirement as recommended by the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) is an area of 3m x 2m (about 10ft x 6ft) with a height of 1m (roughly 3ft) to allow standing to full height without ears touching the roof.

    Rabbits can be kept quite happily either indoor or outdoor providing their needs are considered and addressed.

    Housing should allow them to exhibit the following (normal and necessary!) behaviours at any time that they wish:

  • Run, jump and binky
  • Dig (either in a garden or provide a digging box)
  • Hide (any huts should have at least 2 ways in/out)
  • Forage/graze (grass/hay/forage boxes)
  • Standing and stretching up to full height
  • Lying and stretching out to full length

  • What happens to the rabbit?

    Inappropriate housing can cause a number of problems and affects both the mental and physical health of the rabbits.

    Behavioural concerns:

  • Cage biting/scratching behaviours
  • Repetitive behaviours such as circling/pacing
  • Depression/lethargy
  • Physical health concerns:

  • Obesity and associated diseases
  • Faecal/urinary soiling, flystrike, skin sores
  • Pododermatitis (hock sores)
  • Skeletal or muscular issues as a result of lack of movement and exercise

  • How do you know what’s going on?

    You can measure your current housing or you may see signs of disease (either physical or behavioural) that indicate things should be improved.

    Housing the Indoor Rabbit:

    Your rabbits will need a safe area within the house to call their own (meeting the minimum space requirements advised of 3m x 2m x 1m), anywhere that they are allowed to exercise must also be ‘bunny-proofed’ and this can be hard work so be prepared.

    Consider the location of their housing - they must be housed safely away from electrical cables, other pets, potentially poisonous house-plants and loud noises that may cause stress.

    Rabbits can be litter trained fairly easily but be prepared that there may be some accidents in the house during the training process. Also, remember that rabbits love to dig and chew, this is natural behaviour and should be allowed but encouraged in the correct places by providing digging boxes/items to chew and forage in.

    Housing the Outdoor Rabbit:

    Again, minimum space requirements must be met but there must also be access to a run, ideally permanently. The run provides fresh-air, encourages exercise and allows access to grass for grazing. It’s important to ensure that this is secure and that your rabbits cannot burrow out (or predators get in!). Make sure you use rabbit safe wire, wood, and any paint/chemicals - remember they chew!

    There are many options available for outdoor accommodation - large hutches with a permanent run attached or many people use sheds with dog runs attached.

    You must take temperature into account with both living arrangements - it can get very cold in the winter or hot in the summer in both environments. It can also be easy to overheat in a house (approximately 17degrees C is perfect temp for a rabbit, but they will adapt).

    What can I do to protect my pet?

    Have a review of your existing housing or, if you are thinking of welcoming a rabbit into your family, please first ensure that you do have enough space to meet their needs. If you don’t then it may be worth waiting until you do or considering a different pet.