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Are rabbits nocturnal? – What your rabbits do at night

Are rabbits nocturnal? A brown rabbit at night
(Image credit: Getty)

The answer to the question “are rabbits nocturnal?” is technically a “no”. Rabbits are actually most active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk, so by definition are crepuscular and not classed as nocturnal; this is true of both wild and pet rabbits. The term ‘nocturnal’ refers to animals that are most active at night.

Understanding when rabbits are most active is important when thinking about what may be the best rabbit hutches and best rabbit runs to purchase. Rabbits need to have access to a large enclosure 24 hours per day, and have the freedom to choose where to spend their time. Rabbit hutches can be used in the rabbits’ enclosure, or attached to a run, but rabbits must never be shut in a hutch for any length of time.

Should I let my bunny out at night?

When housing rabbits it is important to consider safety, as well as the environment offered.

Rabbits should have access to a large enclosure, which should measure a minimum of 3m x 2m x 1m high, 24 hours per day – including the night. As a minimum, the enclosure must allow them to take 3 consecutive hops, and must be secure, to prevent the rabbits from escaping, and predators from gaining access. The enclosure should allow the rabbits space to run, hop, dig, forage, explore and hide. 

Shutting rabbits in hutches, or a smaller area at night, means they do not have the means to exercise and exhibit the natural behaviours that are important for their physical and mental health; during the winter months, when daylight hours are dramatically reduced, this means for a large proportion of their time they will be shut away. This compromises their welfare, which is why it is important their enclosure is safe and secure, day and night, and they have constant access to this area.

Allowing your rabbit to run loose in your garden is not safe; your garden may seem safe, but by the time you discover it isn’t, it is often too late. You may think that foxes, cats or birds of prey will not be able to gain access to your garden, but this is sadly untrue. Never leave your rabbits unattended in your garden, day or night, even if you believe it is 100% safe.

A rabbit lying asleep on the lounge floor

(Image credit: Getty)

What do rabbits do at night?

If you have ever watched your rabbits at night, you will have seen that they spend a large amount of time sleeping, involving short naps, rather than long periods of time spent sleeping. This is a common sleeping pattern for prey animals, as when asleep they are at greater risk from a predator attack. Having a companion rabbit means that whilst one rabbit sleeps, the other can be on the lookout for potential dangers. Rabbits will often sleep on their side, lying flat out when sleeping, which can worry some owners. This is totally normal and a sign they feel safe and happy. They will eat frequently, and must have constant access to fresh, clean hay which is scattered around their environment. Sitting and grooming a companion rabbit, and making frequent trips to their litter trays, are other activities that they perform at night.

During their most active time of the day, at dawn and dusk, they will often run, skip and jump around and perform ‘binky’ behaviour, whereby they run at full speed, leaping and twisting high in the air. This behaviour shows the rabbits are happy and feel safe in their environment and is their way of letting off steam.

Indoor rabbits at night

Depending upon where your rabbits live in your house, their night-time antics may keep you awake!

Keeping rabbits indoors, much like dogs and cats are kept, is common, and rabbits can make wonderful household companions, as long as thought is given to how to care for them correctly. They still require a large area to live in; at least the same as that recommended for outdoor rabbits, with lots of mental and physical stimulation, a diet mainly hay and grass based, and another neutered rabbit companion. When thinking about housing your rabbits indoors Five tips for owners of indoor rabbits can help you decide if this is the right choice for you and your rabbits.

If your rabbits live close to where you sleep, they may wake you during the night, so this is a consideration you need to think about; some rabbits are noisier than others when moving around at night.

Conclusion

Although rabbits are not nocturnal, they are still fairly active during the night, and perform behaviours which require ample space and enrichment. Their environment must not be restricted overnight, but must be safe so they cannot escape, and any potential predators cannot enter.

Claire currently works in Kettering as a Head Nurse in a practice with a high rabbit caseload, as well as frequently lecturing and writing on rabbits to both veterinary professionals and owners.