Leaving a light on for your rabbit may seem like a helpful idea as rabbits are neither nocturnal nor diurnal creatures. Oddly, they seem most active at dawn and dusk, making the job of building them an appropriate habitat a little more complicated. Altering the natural cycle of day and night will have effects on their behavior.
Domesticated rabbits do not face the same dangers as their wild counterparts, however, they have maintained some of the instinctual survival behaviors. By being most active at dawn and dusk, they use the dim light to avoid predators at both ends of the spectrum. Nocturnal predators, those that can see best in complete darkness struggle with too much light at dusk, while diurnal predators need just a little more daylight than dawn provides in order to hunt.
The Rabbit Habit
Rabbits spend most of the daylight hours in burrows, resting. Once the light dims, they become more active foraging, providing for young, maintaining their dens or socializing. As the morning light comes up, they will return to their burrows. Rabbits are very sensitive to stress and excessive light or darkness can have significant negative health effects. It's best to consult with a veterinarian about maintaining the proper crepuscular schedule rabbits need.
Excessive Light as a Stressor
While humans generally maintain a diurnal schedule, if our homes are shared with rabbits, it's important to be aware of their altered schedule and have their kennels in an environment that provides natural light and darkness. Studies have shown that rabbits kept in constant light, or dark environments do not show outward signs of disease, but those in constant light gain significant extra weight and both groups did display post-mortem brain lesions which might indicate a heightened stress level. In addition, excessive light may cause retinal damage and potential fertility issues.
Keeping a Rabbit Healthy
When setting up a rabbit habitat, remember these domesticated critters have wild relatives. Simulating their natural habitat as closely as possible, will help them stay happy and relaxed. A veterinarian focusing on exotic animals will have useful advice on appropriate burrows, toys, light sources and high quality feed for the little guy.
Working with both small animals and exotics, Pamela Meadors has devoted more than 15 years to the veterinary field. She possesses a bachelor's degree in biological sciences and is the proud mom of a blind hedgehog.