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 or teasing by humans
- Moldy or poisonous plants
- Toxic pesticides or fertilizers
- Exposure to sun, heat, wind, or wet
- Bacteria contained in dirt
- Diseases spread by fleas, flies, and mosquitoes
- Diseases spread by raccoon, skunk, or opossum feces
What is the greatest outdoor risk for rabbits?
The greatest threat is attack by predators. These occur primarily at night, but can also 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 even in your neighbor’s yard. She may panic and injure herself, or she may die of shock. Many raccoons can open hutches. Other predators include coyotes, owls, hawks, opossums, cats and dogs.
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. Raccoons come up through storm drains and arrive in very urban areas. These agile animals can climb tress and open doors. Wire cages are no protection for your bunny. If your bunny cannot stay in your house at night, make sure that he’s enclosed within solid walls and behind a solid door – a garage, shed, or basement – with a good lock.
My rabbit has lived outside for a long time without harm from predators – why should I consider bringing her inside now?
Some outdoor rabbits avoid death by predator 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 but outdoors is simply too dangerous for domestic animals. By domesticating them, we have deprived them of whatever natural ability they had for survival on their own. 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 confined to a smaller cage, or a bathroom or utility room, she’s safe, and she’s making a first step to 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. The House Rabbit Handbook (Drollery Press, 2013) describes portable pens and stationary runs. Find more examples in Great Outdoor Exercise Set-Ups.
Primary Author(s): House Rabbit Society
Sources: HRH, various articles from the HRJ, RHN