Are you thinking about getting a pet rabbit?
Traditionally, rabbits were always kept outdoors, in hutches or sheds. This is, in fact, still one of the most popular housing options among bunny owners.
Yet, as house bunnies become more common among the rabbit owner community, a debate has arisen.
Is the outside safe for rabbits? Do they prefer to live indoors? Will my rabbit be safe in the garden?
To answer the original question – yes, rabbits can live outside. The conditions in which you keep your rabbit will shape their quality of life. Further, the needs of an outdoor rabbit will differ significantly to that of an indoor bunny.
But the bottom line remains the same. So long as their needs are met on both a physical and social level, you can keep your rabbit outdoors.
That said, keeping bunnies isn’t a part-time commitment. As well as time to dedicate to them, make sure you have ample space for them to eat, sleep and play.
If you are still set on adopting a bunny, this what you need to know about caring for outdoor rabbits:
The common dangers to outdoor rabbits
As prey animals, rabbits are a vulnerable species. They may be fast on their feet, but pet rabbits aren’t as equipped as wild rabbits to protect themselves. Cats, dogs, foxes, stoats, weasels, polecats, raccoons or even large birds can all pose a threat to your bunny.
Critically, a healthy rabbit can die of fright. Loud sounds and sudden shocks can startle a rabbit and put stress on their hearts. Similarly, a close encounter with a predator is enough to cause a fatal scare. Be mindful of this when bringing your rabbit home if you own dogs or cats.
Flies will naturally be attracted to smells of damp fur, urine, faeces or food. Should they land on your rabbit, they might lay their eggs around the rear-end. This is known as flystrike, a severe condition that can be fatal if not treated immediately. To protect outdoor rabbits from flies, regular cleaning of their hutch is essential. Try to keep a close eye during the summer months when insects thrive.
Rabbits do not fare well in intense heat, nor icy temperatures and wet weather. Hot summers, rainy springs and cold winters call for extra protection. Special arrangements to their hutch are essential in protecting them from extreme weather.
Rabbits are natural grazers – meaning that they eat little and often. When allowed to roam free in a garden enclosure, they will chew vegetation as a healthy snack. Of course, not all plants are safe for a bunny to eat. Look here for a list of vegetation that can be toxic to rabbits.
The great escape
Rabbits are keen diggers. If you intend to keep your bunny at ground level, it won’t be difficult for your rabbit to burrow out and escape. Buying a hutch that is raised from the ground or a mesh wire hutch should prevent them from gnawing to freedom. Supervision when playing is critical no matter the type of hutch.
As social creatures, rabbits can get lonely if they don’t have much interaction. If keeping them outside is more convenient, set frequent reminders to go and play with them. With lots of love and attention, they will be perfectly happy outside.
Rabbits can live happily in your garden in a hutch or shed. The necessary precautions must be taken to ensure their comfort and security. To build the best environment for your bunny to thrive, you should consider the following:
First of all, you’ll need a hutch to house your rabbit. With a myriad of options, finding the best hutch for a pet rabbit can be a minefield. It should also provide shelter from the weather and be strong enough to prevent escape.
You should always provide the largest living space you can for your pets. Smaller hutches won’t offer the protection needed, we recommend large heavy hutches.
In the wild Rabbits use burrows to hide from predators so they can sleep safely. Your hutch recreates this by having a large sleeping area. Your pets will, with lots of provided bedding, create a secluded area hidden from view.
Living outside, this is the best prevention along with a study, heavy hutch from preditors.
Another critical consideration is the thickness of the wire. According to the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund, 1.2mm (16g) is the minimum. Their site also recommends using wire mesh with holes at the largest size of 13mm.
The wire mesh should be fixed to the wood frame of a hutch or enclosure with industrial staples. This should be checked regularly for points of weakness.
A spacious enclosure is essential to give your bunny room to grow and play. Rabbits only need space to make at least three hops and lie stretched out. In practice, that means a minimum of 6ft x 2ft. While this should be an adequate size, their hutch should only ever serve as a shelter.
As well as a place to eat, sleep and hide, your rabbit needs space to exercise. If permanently confined, they are at risk of developing skeletal problems. If the hutch is around the 6ft x 2 ft mark, we recommend a run that is at least three times bigger than their hutch.
A playpen or run will help with keeping your rabbit healthy. Bunnies need toys, chews and boredom busters to keep them entertained when you aren’t around.
Food and water
Rabbits can lead happy lives outdoors, providing that you ensure they have a healthy diet. Fresh hay should make up 80% of your rabbits’ food, the other 20% should comprise of pellets fresh veg. On that note, see here for a list of rabbit-safe veg.
When keeping a rabbit outside, topping up their water may not be on your mind 24/7. Fortunately, there are several options for dispensers available depending on your set up. Still, it’s best to keep a close eye on their water and refill on a daily basis.
Bedding is essential to both indoor and outdoor rabbits in providing comfort. Options range from good quality wood shavings and paper-based bedding to straw and hay. You will soon find that your rabbit has preferences about how this should be arranged in their hutch.
Changing your rabbits’ bedding is essential in maintaining a hygienic environment.
Rabbits can be perfectly safe outdoors all year round. That said, the changing of the seasons will call for adaptations to their environment. Extra precautions are essential in protecting their welfare all year round.
In the wild, the burrow will shield rabbits from adverse weather. As such, the temperature will not change too drastically. In a hutch in your garden, it’s a different story.
Rabbits will adapt to exposure to the elements, but they still need help to make a safe habitat all year round.
Keeping your rabbit warm in winter
According to RabbitScout.com, rabbits cannot withstand temperatures lower than 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit. (That’s 7-10 degrees Celsius).
Anything colder than this and you might want to consider bringing them indoors.
That said, rabbits are far more comfortable in winter than they are summer. Their thick fur coats keep their body temperature at a reasonable level, and the cold weather makes it easier to sleep.
Wild rabbits may be well-versed with the torrential downpour and cold winds that arise in winter. Pet rabbits, on the other hand, need extra protection from wet and stormy weather. Covering the cage with a water-resistant and insulated layer during adverse weather is essential.
On that note, providing plenty of bedding is critical in keeping them cosy when the temperature drops.
Regardless of the season, the hutch should be kept covered at night as this is when predators tend to strike.
Keeping your rabbit cool in summer
During the summer months, hydration and cover are your key priorities for rabbit care.
Considering their dense coats, the temperature can be challenging to regulate. Rabbits will shed to cool themselves down, but there are still steps you can take to help them out.
When buying a rabbit hutch, try to keep all seasons and the challenges they bring in mind. In summer, the shade will be essential in preventing overheating.
A hutch that provides a covered area with ventilation will keep your bunny from getting too hot. If you can, place your hutch in a shaded area of your garden.
Ice pods can also make a huge difference when the temperatures start to climb. If not, a spare ceramic tile can be great for filing their claws as well as providing a smooth, cold surface to relax on.
In summer, the smells that come from your rabbit’s hutch can attract flies. During this time, try to keep a close eye on their house and clean their hutch more frequently. This will help promote cleanliness and prevent fly-strike during long hot summers.
In hot temperatures, rabbits are more susceptible to dehydration. Providing them with a steady supply of fresh, cold water is important in preventing this.
Moving an indoor rabbit outdoors
Moving house can often prompt rabbit owners to rethink how to house their bunny. If this sounds familiar, you may be wondering whether it’s okay to keep your house rabbits in the garden.
In short, the answer is yes: it’s perfectly safe to keep a rabbit outdoors. Of course, domesticated rabbits will take some time to get used to their new environment.
Preparing in advance is key to a smooth transition. If in doubt, this video can help shed light on the dos and don’ts of relocating your rabbit.
Remember to take extra care to ensure the rabbit has enough shelter should they feel scared at any time. We recommend outside hutches that provide a covered area for rabbits to hide and feel safe.
When moving a house rabbit outdoors, you may have been advised to get another rabbit for company.
Though beneficial in cases where two rabbits form a tight bond, not all rabbits will get along. If they aren’t used to sharing an enclosure, take caution when introducing them.
We recommend watching this short guide to help you make up your mind on getting another rabbit.
Key takeaways on outdoor rabbit care
With a safe environment and plenty of room, you have laid the foundation of the best forever home for your bunny.
But don’t forget: rabbits are social creatures who thrive on and crave company. Being able to commit your time and attention to bunny care is paramount to their wellbeing.
As delicate creatures, rabbits have complex physical and behavioural needs. When keeping them outdoors, tending to these needs daily will help your rabbit feel cared and loved.
We hope this guide answered all your questions on this topic. If you have any thoughts to add to this guide, don’t hesitate to comment below or drop us an email.