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 wet
Parasite propagules 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 live in the city and 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, a horrible way to die. If you don’t have climate control in your shed, garage or basement, DO NOT keep your bunny there. As always, the safest place for your bunny is indoors, with the family!
My rabbit has lived outside for a long time without harm from predators. Why should I consider bringing her inside now?
Some outdoor hutch rabbits are not killed by predators or the other risks mentioned. But what is the quality of life for an animal living outdoors all the time? And what sort of relationship can you build if your bunny is out there and you’re indoors? A life spent confined to a hutch is boring, depressing, and stressful for a sensitive creature such as a rabbit. A life spent unconfined outdoors is simply very dangerous for domestic animals. By domesticating them, we have 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 least during the night, when predators are most common. Even if she’s temporarily confined to a smaller cage, or a bathroom or utility room, she’s safe, and she’s making a first step towards being part of your family. There’s no magic in turning an “outdoor rabbit” into a house rabbit. It can begin in a single evening.
What kinds of safe daytime exercise can I provide outdoors?
For safe daytime exercise, we suggest a pen within your fenced yard, one with a top and bottom as well as sides, to keep the rabbit from digging out and unwelcome visitors from climbing or jumping in. A plan from the House Rabbit Handbook (Drollery Press, 1996) describes an 8’L X 32″W X 32″H made from a frame of pine 2 X 4’s and 1″ welded wire. A plywood top gives shelter and shade, and a wire floor covered with clean straw provides the rabbit with safe material in which to burrow.