As part of our A Hutch is Not Enough campaign, we give information to owners to allow them to give their rabbits what they need to lead healthy and contented lives. It is heartening to know that ensuring the welfare of animals is protected by law, under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The act sets out 5 basic welfare needs:
- Need for a suitable environment
- Need for a suitable diet
- Need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
- Need to be housed with, or apart, from other animals
- Need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
Keeping rabbits in a hutch would never enable an owner to meet these welfare needs. That’s why we always say… A Hutch is Not Enough.
Here’s how you can meet your legal obligation to provide your rabbits’ welfare needs.
A suitable environment
Rabbits should be housed in a safe and enclosed area of 3m x 2m x 1m high. The hutch, or sleeping area, forms a part of this total space, which should also include items of enrichment such as a digging tray, tunnels etc. The hutch should never be the sole accommodation for rabbits, they need constant (and that means 24/7) access to the wider overall space to allow them to exercise at will. Giving your rabbits access to all or part of a secure garden for “free running” sessions is great but this is in addition to our minimum size recommendations, not instead of.
A suitable diet
Rabbits’ diets should be made up of 85% hay or grass, 10% greens, and 5% pellets or nuggets (not muesli mix).
To be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
Rabbits should be able to do what they would do in the wild.
They need enough space in their permanent accommodation to run and jump, whether that is indoors or outside. They also need to be able to dig, chew and forage, as well as hide somewhere safe whenever they choose, so will need the right enrichment items in their enclosure. Rearing up to their full height is another behaviour that rabbits display, it allows them to observe their surroundings and feel secure that they are not under threat from predators.
To be housed with, or apart, from other animals
Their enclosure should be predator proof and care should be taken with other pets in the household.
To be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease
As prey animals, rabbits will only show signs of ill-health when it is serious, so if your rabbit is showing signs of distress you must take it to a vet immediately. The same is true for a rabbit that stops eating for any reason.
Rabbits need to have the protection of suitable housing that is secure enough to prevent them escaping into dangerous situations, and to stop predators getting in. If rabbits are allowed to run free-range outdoors they must be constantly supervised. Be aware of the dangers of foxes, stoats, weasels, domestic dogs and cats, and also of birds of prey.
It is illegal, and cruel, to set a rabbit loose to fend for itself.