Greenwich Rabbit Rescue





Codes of Practice

Feeding Stress Transport Aquisition/Sale The Five Freedoms


1. The most common form of accommodation is a hutch.

2. Most fanciers now keep their hutches in sheds; however there may still be fanciers who continue to keep their stock outside.

3. If rabbits are kept outside it is essential that:-

  • The hutch is properly constructed to ensure that it is fully weatherproof.
  • The hutch should have a slanted roof and be covered with roofing felt as ideally should be the sides.
  • The hutch should be secure from predators.
  • The hutch should be sheltered from the elements, not facing the prevailing wind or the strong midday sun.
  • The hutch should be raised off the ground in a safe manner to avoid rising damp.
  • Door catches should be secure.
  • The front of the hutch should be constructed of a strong twill mesh.
  • Consideration should be given to covering the front of hutches at night, thus protecting stock from the worst of the weather but still allowing adequate ventilation.

4. If rabbits are kept in a shed there are other considerations.

  • Hutches will need to be of a proper and adequate construction.
  • There needs to be an adequate circulation of fresh air.
  • In the summer months it is essential to avoid excessively high temperatures building up in the shed.
  • Waste materials should be swept up regularly and every effort made to ensure that the atmosphere in the shed remains "fresh"
  • The practice of good hygiene practice will avoid the build up of ammonia fumes in the air, it will also discourage flies and other insects so helping in the prevention of other conditions such as "fly strike".

5. Whether rabbits are kept outdoors or in sheds there are some considerations relevant to both circumstances.

  • Hutch size will be dependent on the breed of rabbit.
  • The hutch must always be large enough for the rabbit to move around, stretch out full length or make the minimum of three consecutive hops.
  • The height of the hutch must allow the rabbit to sit up on its hind legs.
  • A hutch may be partitioned into two compartments one providing a resting area and the other an exercise area.
  • Breeding hutches should always be large enough to comfortably house the doe with her young for the anticipated period prior to weaning.

6. Lighting

Rabbits should be exposed to natural light as far as possible.


  • Feeding the correct diet to rabbits is fundamental to maintaining health, particularly of the dental and gastrointestinal systems.
  • Correct feeding is also an essential requirement for successful breeding and is equally important in the preparation of show rabbits.
  • It has been argued that the most appropriate diet is the one that resembles as closely as possible the natural grass based diet in the wild. Grass is approximately 20-25% crude fibre, 15% crude protein and 2-3% fat.
  • Whatever feeding regime is followed the diet should contain grass (fresh or dried) and either good meadow or timothy hay.
  • Green foods are important for rabbits of all ages, their introduction, in small amounts, should commence at weaning and can be increased slowly. Most green foods and root crops are suitable foods.
  • Wild plants are useful, but care should be taken to ensure they are clean and unpolluted. Raspberry, blackberry and strawberry leaves are all beneficial.
  • Commercial concentrate rabbit foods have become popular, however some may be too low in fibre but too high in fat, carbohydrate and protein. Concentrates should never be the sole source of food, grass or hay should provide the bulk of the diet. Some authorities claim that overfeeding of concentrates can be a factor in gastrointestinal and dental disease, which may predispose a rabbit to other conditions such as fly strike and arthritis.
  • Frosted or mouldy food and grass clippings should be avoided.
  • If a balanced diet is fed, dietary and vitamin supplements should not usually be required.
  • WATER IS ESSENTIAL AND MUST BE AVAILABLE AT ALL TIMES. Bottles are generally preferred to bowls as they are easier to keep clean and avoid the spillage associated with bowls.
  • Sudden changes in diet are to be avoided. Changes in diet should be made gradually over several days. When acquiring a new rabbit written details of its feeding regime should be obtained and if concentrates have been feed a supply of these should also be acquired so that any changes can be gradual. Likewise when a rabbit is passed to a new owner written details of its diet and a supply of its current food should go with it.



The term stress is usually used to describe a situation in which environmental conditions are having an adverse effect on an individual. Stress is a state, the environmental factors that lead to stress are stressors and the individuals under stress show stress responses.

There are many factors that influence the response of an individual to stress; these include previous experience and/or familiarity of the stressor, genetic predisposition and individual vulnerability.

Stressful situations are usually associated with a lack of control and can be particularly severe if the individual is unable to predict events. The most stressful situations are often those that would be most diligently avoided in the wild.

Stressors can be categorised as emotional or physical.

Examples of stressors that may affect rabbits:

  • Novelty - examples include the first trip in a car, the first visit to a show, handling by a stranger
  • Fear inducing stimuli - examples include sudden noises, other animals or poor handling.
  • Social stress - examples include a lack of social contact or interactions with many individuals in a limited space.
  • Inability to perform normal behaviour patterns - examples include a lack of social contact, exercise or an inability to retreat from a stressor.
  • Pain, discomfort or illness
  • Anticipation of pain or discomfort - examples include poor or excessive handling.
  • Inability to control environmental factors - examples includes poor ventilation, temperatures at shows, travelling in a car on a hot day, and poorly lit shed.
  • Lack of space - examples include hutches and show pens.
  • Withdrawal of food or water.

Behaviour pattern occurring in response to various stressors:

  • Fear related behaviour - As a prey species, rabbits are likely to freeze when a fear-inducing stimulus is encountered. This may be associated with a decrease in heart rate and an increase in rapid breathing. If they have space, rabbits will also try to hide or flee from the stressor. If there appears little option they will use aggression. Occasionally displacement activities are used to deal with stress - for example chewing of novel items.
  • Anxiety related behaviour - anxiety lasts longer than fear and is usually associated with anticipation of an event or interaction. Behavioural signs include jumpiness, frequent urination and defecation.
  • Behaviour pattern due to frustration - barren environments are associated with abnormal behaviour patterns such as excessive destruction, over-grooming and self directed aggression.
  • Behaviour patters due to position in social order - where rabbits are living in groups but have limited space and reduced access to food and water certain animals may become the target of aggression from other individuals.
  • Separation behaviour - female rabbits and youngsters may display an increase in apathy and a decrease in social behaviours associated with the suddenness of weaning.
  • Apathy of depressed behaviour - rabbits in barren environments with no social contact can appear relatively unresponsive or lethargic.