What is this behaviour?
Rabbits hide when they perceive a potential threat or when they want to perform a behaviour where they feel more vulnerable to a potential threat. For example, a rabbit may hide when it hears a noise that is unfamiliar or is approached by a stranger, but they may also choose to hide when they are resting or eating caecotrophs. Additionally, rabbits kept outside may choose to hide to control their temperature – to keep warm or to shelter in the shade.
Why is it important?
Hiding reduces the chance that a rabbit will be eaten. This means that rabbits are very motivated to hide to reduce stress. If rabbits don’t have the opportunity to hide when they want to, this will make them feel very stressed. Having multiple places to hide is important for the rabbits’ welfare.
Rabbits may choose different places to hide depending on the threat that they perceive. If they see a bird of prey, they will find somewhere to hide that is under cover. If they see a fox or a dog, they will find somewhere where they can’t be seen by a predator on the ground. In the wild, these hiding places will usually be underground in the rabbit’s burrow, where the opening of the burrow is too small to allow predators to easily get in.
How can we enable rabbits to show this behaviour?
Most of us can’t provide extensive underground burrows for our pets, so we have to provide a variety of hiding places that meet the rabbits’ requirements.
We need to provide lots of different places for rabbits to hide. When rabbits can hide when they want, they feel more confident to explore their environment because they know that they can escape and hide when they feel scared.
Good hiding places include objects that the rabbits can hide underneath, such as low stools or cardboard boxes, and objects that the rabbits can hide inside, like tunnels. Rabbits prefer to hide in objects with multiple entrances and exits so they don’t feel cornered.
You can buy various objects from pet shops that provide suitable hiding places, but also use your imagination. Unwanted cable tubing from building sites can provide good tunnels, cardboard boxes can be cut up in various different ways and thrown away when soiled, and unwanted children’s toys such as old Wendy houses can also provide good places to shelter.
Rabbits that hide all of the time are probably stressed. To reduce this behaviour, try to reduce the rabbit’s stress. Make sure that it is kept with a bonded companion. Make sure it has access to sufficient space, toys, and a natural diet. Try training it to come to you for food rewards. Don’t deprive it of places to hide – this will just make the fear behaviour worse.
Providing hiding places for rabbits is essential for their welfare, and there are many simple things we can do to help them perform this behaviour.