Wild rabbits live outdoors in the wild, but are domestic rabbits that we keep and love as pets the same? Can our pet bunnies live outside in our yards, with our care and protection, and be ok?
Rabbits can live outside, provided the environment is safe. Your pet rabbit needs to be protected from the elements, predators, toxic chemical solutions, dog or cat food, poisonous plants, and loneliness. Outdoors, your rabbit needs to have a safe hutch, be able to eat and drink, exercise, and play.
So how can you make your outdoor area safe for your rabbit? And are there any benefits to keeping your rabbit outside versus inside?
Let’s have a look.
Can Rabbits Live Outside?
Traditionally, rabbits have always been kept outdoors. Since rabbits have become more popular to be kept as pets, the debate on whether your rabbit should live outdoors or indoors has become heated.
Whether you breed rabbits professionally or want to keep rabbits as pets, they can live outside all year, safely and happily.
Outdoor rabbits have different needs than indoor rabbits. As long as you meet your outdoor rabbit’s needs from a safety, physical, and social perspective, your rabbit can live happily and healthily outside.
One key consideration for keeping rabbits outside is whether they can survive throughout winter, and do you need to bring your bunny inside during the cold months?
If you do bring your rabbit inside, you need to slowly acclimate them to the change in temperature from outside to inside.
Rabbits actually prefer colder temperatures and can comfortably survive temperatures as low as 15℉—if their coat is dry and there is no cold wind. However, bunnies are most comfortable in a temperature range of 50-70℉.
During winter, there are extra precautions to take to ensure your rabbit is warm enough and their coat remains dry:
- Winter-proof the hutch
- Get a nesting box
- Add extra bedding
- Add a heating pad
- Check that their drinking water hasn’t frozen
Plus, if your rabbit is too cold, check your rabbit’s internal temperature, whether their ears are cold, and if your bunny is low on energy or in a bunny loaf position.
Your rabbit should be fine outside in summer provided your rabbit doesn’t overheat.
If you live in an area where the summer months are extra hot or there is a heatwave, you should check on your rabbit regularly and help them cool down if necessary.
You should also ensure your rabbit doesn’t dehydrate.
In general, rabbits can tolerate warm temperatures up to 75℉.
If your area’s temperature reaches 80-85℉, you need to see if your short-haired rabbit is overheating.
If you have a long-haired bunny, then they may start showing signs of overheating when the temperature reaches 75℉.
If your rabbit is overheating, its ears may be hot and its nose will be wet. Your rabbit may also be hyperventilating or breathing shallowly, salivating, be disoriented or lethargic, or have seizures.
In summer, keep your rabbit cool by:
- Spraying their ears
- Placing ice bottles in the hutch
- Ensuring your rabbit has plenty of drinking water
- Ensuring they have a shady spot to spend time in when it gets too hot
During fall and spring, your rabbit should be fine outside – provided the temperature doesn’t suddenly drop or there isn’t a heatwave.
If your area is prone to spring rains, ensure the hutch is weather-proofed so your rabbit’s thick coat remains dry. You don’t want your bunny to sicken and die from hypothermia.
If you move your rabbit from inside to outside to protect them from extreme temperatures, then spring is the best time to transition your rabbit to living outside. Fall is ideal for transitioning your rabbit to live inside.
What to Consider When Keeping Your Rabbit Outside
To keep your rabbit safe when they live in your backyard or garden, keep these factors in mind:
Rabbits are vulnerable animals with a long list of potential predators, whether you live in a house in the suburbs or out in the country.
Wild rabbits are equipped to deal with predators but domestic rabbits aren’t.
Large birds of prey, large breed dogs, cats, snakes, raccoons, weasels, and more pose a threat to your beloved bunny.
If your rabbit has free access to your garden, your rabbit may easily ingest poisonous plants and potentially die.
Some common plants a rabbit should not eat are:
Rabbits are highly social animals, and they need companionship to fulfill their emotional and social needs.
Keeping your pet bunny alone outside means that they don’t see you often, and as a result, loneliness and depression can set in. Unmet social needs can also lead to a rabbit’s sickening.
Rabbits don’t thrive in extreme weather conditions like intense heat, rain, cold winds, or icy temperatures.
Your rabbit can easily dehydrate and overheat when it is too hot, die of hyperthermia if their coat gets soaked, or die if they get too cold.
Rabbits are natural diggers. Wild rabbits dig their underground burrows, dig for food, and does dig before they kindle.
Pet rabbits don’t necessarily dig for the same reasons, but they do dig for fun, to shorten their nails, and a few other reasons. If you keep your rabbit at ground level, they can dig and escape underneath wire walls, so you will need a walled property or hutch.
If your rabbit’s fur is wet, it attracts flies that will lay their eggs in your rabbit’s coat. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae eat your rabbit’s skin.
This is a serious health threat to your rabbit, which can be fatal.
How to Keep Rabbits Safe Outdoors
There are numerous ways you can keep your rabbits safe when they stay outdoors:
Step 1: Make Their Shelter Safe
The rabbit hutch needs to protect your bunny from:
- Harsh weather
The hutch should be large enough for all the rabbits you house together. It also needs to be sturdy with safe sleeping space.
Any openings that a predator can access should be closed with a fine and strong mesh wire.
The hutch should also be weather-proof—no rain should make its way inside. It should also be well-ventilated.
Ensuring the hutch is elevated helps to keep your rabbit protected.
Regularly check the hutch to ensure it is still a safe space for your rabbits and make repairs to the hutch when needed.
Step 2: Exercise Space
Your rabbits need sufficient space to play and exercise. It is recommended that the exercise run, which can be next to the hutch or have access to the hutch, be at least 3 times bigger than the rabbit hutch.
Step 3: A Rabbit Friend
To ensure your rabbit isn’t lonely, consider bonding another rabbit with your bunny so they always have company.
Otherwise, you could consider having your rabbit(s) stay with your chickens so they can have some friends.
Step 4: Bedding and Litter Boxes
The hutch needs bedding so your rabbit can sleep comfortably. Straw is a good choice for outdoor rabbits. Straw is warm, absorbent, and traps warm air.
You can also opt for aspen wood shavings, newspaper or paper shavings, or non-toxic wood pellets.
If you’ve litter trained your rabbit, add a litter box with litter to the hutch so your rabbit can potty there.
Step 5: Food and Water
Rabbits need all-day access to hay and water.
They also need to be fed twice a day—a minimum of 3 kinds of fresh leafy greens, herbs, and pellets.
You can treat your rabbit with fruit or higher-carb veggies once a day or during training.
During winter, make sure your rabbit’s water hasn’t frozen. When frozen, it means they can’t drink the water and they can dehydrate.
In summer, the water warms quickly, so add some ice cubes to the water to keep it cooler for longer. Or you can swap out the water bowl with fresh water more often.
Step 6: Keep Your Rabbit Away From Toxins and Poisonous Objects
It’s important to keep your rabbit away from poisonous plants, garden chemicals, and other pet food.
Alternatively, ensure there are no poisonous plants in your garden where your rabbit can roam freely.
Step 7: Keep the Hutch and Litter Box Clean
Keeping the rabbit’s environment clean ensures your rabbit stays healthy. Clean the litter box once to twice daily and fill it up with litter.
Do a spot clean of the outdoor enclosure every day and a deep clean once a week.
Step 8: Check Your Rabbit
Keeping an eye on your rabbit to ensure it is healthy, drinking and eating as it should, and playing gives you peace of mind that your rabbit is doing well in an outdoor environment.
Benefits of Keeping Your Rabbits Outside
There are benefits to keeping your rabbits outside:
- Provide a bigger area for your rabbit to exercise and play
- Rabbits prefer colder temperatures but do well in 50-70℉
- The outdoors is a rabbit’s natural environment
- Rabbits have the freedom to dig and chew—depending on the housing environment you set up for them
Last Bunny Thoughts
Protecting your rabbits when they are living outdoors is essential for your bunnies to thrive. Rabbits get scared easily and can die of heart attacks. Plus, there are all the threats that predators, the weather, toxins, and poisonous plants pose.
Regularly check on your pet rabbit and ensure all their physical, safety, intellectual, emotional, and social needs are met.