Rabbits: Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock (PB0080)



  1. Advice on welfare aspects should be sought when new buildings are to be constructed or existing buildings modified.
  2. Problems can arise if total air space in the rabbitry is either inadequate or excessive and the building is not correctly ventilated, and therefore careful attention should be paid to these aspects of welfare during planning.
  3. Internal surfaces of housing, pens, hutches or cages should be of materials which can be effectively cleaned and disinfected, or easily replaced when necessary.
  4. Ventilation, heating, lighting, feeding and watering equipment, electrical installation and all other equipment should be designed, sited and installed so as to avoid risk of injuring the rabbits.
  5. Material containing paint and wood preservatives which may be toxic to rabbits should not be used on surfaces accessible to them. Particular care is necessary to guard against the risk of poisoning from old paintwork in any part of the building or when second-hand building materials are used.

Fire and other emergency precautions

  1. Farmers should make advance plans for dealing with emergencies such as fire, flood or disruption of supplies, and should ensure that all staff are familiar with the appropriate emergency action. At least one responsible member of the staff should always be available to take the necessary action.
  2. Fire precautions should be a major priority for all stockmen. The provisions of Section 1.3 of British Standard BS5502 relating to fire precautions should therefore be followed. Expert advice on all fire precautions is obtainable from fire prevention officers of local fire brigades and from the Fire Prevention Association.
  3. In the design of new buildings, or alteration of existing ones, there should be provision for livestock to be released and evacuated quickly in the case of an emergency. Materials used in construction should have sufficient fire resistance and adequate doors and other escape routes be provided to enable an emergency procedure to be followed in the event of a fire. Where possible straw storage should be separated from livestock accommodation to reduce the risk of stock from fire and smoke.
  4. All electrical, gas and oil services should be planned and fitted so that if there is overheating or flame is generated, the risk of flame spreading to equipment, litter or straw (where used) or to the fabric of the building is minimal. It is advisable to site main power on/off controls outside buildings. Consideration should be given to installing fire alarm systems which can be heard and acted upon at any time of the day or night.
  5. In case a 999 call has to be made, notices should be prominently displayed in rabbit houses stating where the nearest phone is located. Each phone should have fixed by it a notice giving instructions to the Fire Brigade on how to reach the rabbit houses.
  6. There is usually some warning if interruptions in the supply of feedingstuffs and, so far as possible, arrangements should be made to lay in adequate stocks of feed or water to offset the worst effects of such a contingency.


  1. Accommodation should be designed and maintained so as to avoid injury or distress to the rabbits.
  2. The type and arrangement of accommodation should allow for efficient working and for each rabbit to be properly inspected.
  3. In open-sided buildings or other enclosures which are exposed to the weather, rabbits in cages should be provided with adequate protection from the elements.


  1. All floors on which rabbits are kept should be designed, constructed and maintained so as to avoid injury or distress to the rabbits. For welded wire floors, mesh of suitable size should be used. Square mesh should not exceed 19 mm x 19 mm and rectangular mesh should not exceed 75 mm x 12.5 mm. Wire of not less than 2.64 mm diameter is recommended and should not in any case be less than 2.032 mm. The mesh should be flat and any rough spots arising during manufacture or from wear during subsequent use should be smoothed off.
  2. The adults of some strains, particularly of the larger breeds, may need to be kept on solid floors. Wherever solid floors are used an ample supply of clean bedding should be provided to ensure a dry lying area. Likewise, in other systems, the use of straw or similar material in the lying area is strongly recommended.

Ventilation and temperature

  1. Ventilation rates and house conditions should at all times be adequate to provide sufficient fresh air for the rabbits. In particular accumulations of ammonia, hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and dust should be avoided. (2) Care should be taken to ensure that the ventilation system allows adequate air flow below cages, and dwarf walls or solid sides should be avoided wherever possible. There should be an alarm system to warn the stockman of failure of any automated equipment. Expert advice may be necessary to ensure correct temperature, airflow and humidity.
  2. Care should be taken to protect confined rabbits from draughts in cold conditions.
  3. Extremes of temperature should be avoided. Excessive heat loss should be prevented by the structural insulation of external walls and roof of the building, or by the provision of adequate bedding. It is essential to avoid conditions which could cause chilling in young rabbits just leaving the nest. Appropriate measures should be taken to prevent temperatures rising to the point where heat stress, indicated by prolonged panting, occurs. As a general guide the aim should be to achieve a temperature range of 10C - 20C.


  1. During the hours of daylight the level of indoor lighting, natural or artificial, should be such that all rabbits can be seen clearly. However it may be advantageous to cover the nest box at the time of kindling. There should be a period of darkness in each 24 hour cycle. In addition, adequate lighting should be available for satisfactory inspection at any time.

Mechanical equipment and services

  1. All equipment and services including feed hoppers, drinkers, ventilating fans, heating and lighting units, fire extinguishers and alarm systems should be cleaned and inspected regularly and kept in good working order. (3) All automated equipment should incorporate a fail-safe device and, where the rabbits' welfare is dependent upon such equipment, an alarm system to warn the stockman of failure. Defects should be rectified immediately or alternative measures taken to safeguard the health and welfare of the rabbits. Alternative ways of feeding and of maintaining a satisfactory environment should therefore be ready for use.
  2. All electrical installations at mains voltage should be inaccessible to rabbits and properly earthed. (4)

Space allowances

  1. When planning new accommodation or modifying existing buildings account should be taken of the size of the breed and natural behaviour of the animals, which includes hopping, sitting with ears erect and play.
  2. The total floor area should be sufficient to enable the rabbits to move around and to feed and drink without difficulty. Accommodation should allow sufficient area so that all rabbits can lie on their sides other than at times when nesting boxes are used. The following space allowances, which are in use commercially, should be regarded as absolute minimum:

In cages  
Doe and litter to 5 weeks of age 0.56 m2 total area
Doe and litter to 8 weeks of age 0.74 m2 total area
Rabbits 5 to 12 weeks of age 0.07 m2 per rabbit
Rabbits 12 weeks and over
(other than those used for breeding)
(multiple occupation cages)
0.18 m2 per rabbit
Adult does and bucks for breeding 0.56 m2 per rabbit
In hutches  
Doe and litter to 5 weeks of age 0.75 m2 total area
Doe and litter to 8 weeks of age 0.93 m2 total area
Rabbits 5 to 12 weeks of age 0.009 m2 per rabbit
Adults does and bucks for breeding 0.75 m2 per rabbit

  1. Accommodation for rabbits over 12 weeks of age should be not less than 45 cm high, or of sufficient height to allow rabbits to sit upright with ears fully erect.
  2. The nest box should be large enough to enable the doe to get into and out of it to feed the young without injuring them. As a guide, the nest box should be a minimum length of 30 cm and have a minimum floor area of 0.08 m2 but a larger area should be allowed for giant breeds.
  3. The lowest side or end of an open-topped nest should be low enough to enable the doe to enter or leave the nest without risk of injury to herself or her litter, but sufficiently high to prevent the young from leaving the nest prematurely. As a guide, for most breeds of rabbits the height of the lowest side or end of the nest box should not be less than 15 cm. The nest should have an entrance of not less than 0.023 m2 in area and be sufficiently large for the doe to pass through without difficulty or risk of injury. Sunken nests have the advantage that very small rabbits can find their way back to the nest.
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