Your rabbit's welfare needs

The five key welfare needs are:

  1. Environment — the need for a suitable environment and place to live.
  2. Diet — the need for a suitable diet.
  3. Behaviour — the need to express normal behaviour
  4. Companionship — the need to consider your pet’s social needs.
  5. The need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

Welfare issues for rabbits

  • Loneliness — rabbits are highly social animals, but only 18% have the company of another rabbit.
  • Cramped housing and no exercise — many rabbits live in hutches that are too small for them to move comfortably. Although rabbits need at least four hours a day of exercise, only 36% of rabbits are allowed out of their hutches daily. 7% are never let out of their hutch at all.
  • Boredom — rabbits need to dig, run and play every day. Yet 34% of rabbits don't have access to toys or other objects they can manipulate, 26% never receive opportunities to forage, and 25% never have an opportunity to dig.
  • Diet disaster — rabbits need to eat their own body weight in grass hay each day, yet 39% of rabbits aren't given any hay to eat. Instead, 30% of rabbits are fed rabbit muesli, which can cause dental disease and nutrient deficiencies.
  • Neglected health — rabbits require vaccination, dental care, grooming, desexing and other preventative health measures. 37% of owners don't vaccinate their rabbits, 36 per cent do nothing to maintain their dental health, and 35% of owners don't take rabbits to the vet for a checkup.
  • Hot and bothered — rabbits are extremely heat sensitive and can die from heat stress. 18% of rabbits don't have a cool, shaded area when the weather is hot.

Top tips for rabbit owners

  • Consider getting a second rabbit for company to ease your rabbit's loneliness. The best combination is a desexed male and a desexed female. Make sure you follow guidelines on safely introducing a new rabbit to your existing pet to prevent aggression.
  • Check your rabbit’s hutch. Is it three hops long? A hutch needs to be big enough to lie down and stretch in all directions, as well as high enough for it to stand up on its back legs without its ears touching the roof. Make sure your rabbit has a secure exercise area they can access for at least four hours a day.
  • Make some simple toys for your rabbit. You can find most of the things you need already around the house. For example, cardboard boxes with two or three rabbit sized entrance holes cut in the sides. Rabbits should chew, dig, forage and run every day.
  • Check your rabbit’s diet — your rabbit needs to eat their own bodyweight in grass hay daily. This is essential for dental and digestive health. Rabbits need to chew continuously throughout the day. Make sure to leave enough hay for your rabbit when you are not home. Your rabbit also needs a handful of fresh greens morning and night. Vary the greens offered.
  • Good food choices include spinach, bok choy, cauliflower leaves, cabbage and brussel sprout leaves. Carrots and fruit should only be fed occasionally and in small quantities as treats. Don’t feed rabbits muesli — this causes dental decay and nutrient deficiencies.
  • Book your rabbit in for a check-up with your vet. Your vet can advise on vaccinations, desexing, internal and external parasite control, dental health and grooming.
  • Plan ahead for next summer. When temperatures get above 28°C, you will need to move your rabbit to a cool, shaded and well-ventilated area. You can also provide frozen water bottles for rabbits to rest against or bring rabbits inside the house.

Doing just one of these things today could make a big difference to your rabbit's life.

Reference

Bennett, P.C., Mornement, K., & Howell, T. (2013). Pet-care practices in Victoria, 2013: a survey of bird, cat, dog and rabbit owners. Unpublished report, La Trobe University, Australia.

Page last updated: 05 Jul 2021