Primary Author: House Rabbit Society
The pleasures of being outdoors include fresh air, sunshine, and freedom to run, chew and dig. For a prey animal such as a rabbit, your garden can also be a place of danger from:
Theft, teasing or worse by humans
Moldy or poisonous plants
Toxic pesticides or fertilizers
Exposure to sun, heat, wind, or humidity
Parasite propagates in soil
Diseases spread by flies and mosquitoes
What is the greatest outdoor risk for rabbits?
The greatest threat is attack by predators. These occur primarily at night, but also can happen occasionally in the daytime. Hutches or cages do not provide enough protection to make it safe to leave the rabbit outdoors 24 hours a day. The House Rabbit Society receives many calls every week from baffled people whose rabbit died during the night while confined in a hutch. “I don’t understand! The hutch wasn’t even unlocked, and the rabbit didn’t have a mark on him. What happened?” With her acute vision, hearing, and smell, a rabbit can sense the presence of a predator such as a raccoon or cat, even in your neighbor’s yard. She may panic and injure herself, or she may die of shock. Many raccoons can open hutches, and others have been known to grab a rabbit’s toe from below and sequentially pull it through, mutilating or even killing the rabbit in the process. Other predators include coyotes, owls, hawks, possums, cats and dogs. There is no such thing as a predator-proof hutch.
I live in the city. Do I still need to worry about predators?
Don’t think your yard is free of predators just because you haven’t seen them. Raccoons commonly travel through storm drains and come up in very urbanized areas. They are generally most active long after you’ve gone to bed, so you’re not likely to even know they’re around. These agile animals can climb trees, fences, and building walls that have even the smallest toeholds. Many have learned how to open doors. A wire cage offers no protection for your bunny.
If for some reason your bunny absolutely cannot stay in your house at night, make sure that she’s enclosed within solid walls and behind a solid door with comfortable bedding and all her supplies in a climate-controlled garage, shed, or basement with a good lock.
IMPORTANT NOTE: A rabbit should never be kept in a shed, basement, garage or any enclosed space lacking climate control. Temperature extremes, especially heat, can reach deadly levels very quickly in such poorly ventilated areas, and they are absolutely not safe for rabbits, who can quickly succumb to heat shock or heat stroke. If you don’t have a climate controlled shed, garage or basement, DO NOT keep your bunny there. The safest place for your bunny is inside.
My rabbit has lived outside for a long time without harm from predators. Why should I consider bringing her inside now?
Maybe some outdoor rabbits have not been killed by the dangers mentioned. It's time to ask yourself, what quality of life am I providing for a social animal living outdoors all the time in a confined place? What sort of relationship can you build if your bunny is outside alone (or with a fellow rabbit with no security) and you are inside living your life without them? What is the point of your being involved at all. A life spent confined to a hutch is exactly what it would be to any human...boring, depressing, and extremely stressful for any intelligent creature. In the same thought, what if you were forced to live a life outdoors without any known safe boundaries...it would be exhausting. By domesticating rabbits, humans deprived them of whatever natural ability they had for survival on their own. We owe them our protection.
If your rabbit currently lives outdoors, we strongly urge you to bring her in, at very least, during the night, when predators are most commonly hunting. Even if she’s temporarily confined to a smaller cage, a bathroom, or utility room, she’s safe, and she knows it. There’s no magic in turning an “outdoor rabbit” into a house rabbit. They are the same being.
What kinds of safe daytime exercise can I provide outdoors?
In reality, there is no truly safe way to exercise your rabbit outdoors. Considering that rabbits can easily overheat in temperatures that humans can tolerate, can contract parasitic infestations through contact with grass, can be poisoned from runoff from a neighboring yard treated with pesticides or fertilizers, can easily be overpowered by predators, can quickly dehydrate in hot or dry conditions as well as in cold weather (frozen water), and can burrow under an enclosure in a matter of minutes, we strongly suggest domestic rabbits stay inside at all times.
Through years of experience, we have realized that best practice for rabbits is to provide a safe, consistent, and climate controlled environment for them to exercise. We strongly encourage everyone to do the same.
If you do ever decide to take your rabbit outside for SHORT periods of time, please be sure to provide at minimum:
A sturdy wired-framed pen (with a side opening door) that cannot be pushed over or folded inward/outward. This will help protect the rabbit from predators who could approach from the sides.
A solid bottom layer connected to the frame to secure the edges of the pen in an effort to reinforce the sides, prevent the rabbit from burrowing out, as well as provide a "safer" distance from parasites harbored in grasses. This also helps to decrease direct contact with fertilizers/pesticides. (Please keep in mind that there is nothing that can protect them from airborne fumes and there are minimal options to help protect from flying parasites such as mosquitoes or flies while outside.)
A secure, solid top that is safely connected to the sides of the wired frame to prevent injury to the rabbit. This will help protect your rabbit from predators from above. This will hopefully make the rabbit more comfortable as well.
Plentiful hay and water.
Be sure to also pay attention to the weather (make sure it is not too warm or cold for your rabbit and do not take your rabbit outside when it is raining) and keep it short (15 minutes) and always make sure it is supervised.
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