As a long-time pet rabbit owner, I have kept rabbits in all sorts of living conditions. I made mistakes, learnt from my mistakes and tips from other pet rabbit owners. Should rabbits live indoors or outdoors? It’s not a straightforward answer. It really depends on where you live and what you are able to provide for your pet rabbits.
Should Rabbits Live Outdoors?
Rabbits are generally happy outdoors as that’s where they live in the wild. They love frolicking on grass, munching away occasionally as they hop around. They are able to get a good grip on the ground and therefore, able to hop around quickly. This will provide them with a good work out and exercise. Sunlight is also good for them to prevent Vitamin D deficiency and the associated health issues.
How to Safeguard Outdoor Rabbits
Rabbits handle being cold better than being warm. In the wild, they hide in burrows to regulate temperature and to escape from predators. Therefore, if you choose to keep your rabbit outdoors, it is important to ensure that its housing protects it against the elements and predators and provides sufficient space at all times. A small backyard hutch is not suitable due to the limited space for a rabbit to hide from the sight of predators and inadequate shelter from the elements.
In Australia, rabbits may be exposed to myxomatosis which can be transmitted by mosquitoes or calicivirus which is formite-transmitted. Unfortunately, there isn’t a vaccine for myxomatosis in Australia. While there are 3 strains of calicivirus, the calicivirus vaccine available in Australia only covers one of the strains. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your rabbit does not have contact with wild rabbits while being outdoors in your garden. Attaching fly screens to your rabbit’s accommodation will also reduce the risk of mosquitoes getting to them.
Should Rabbits Live Indoors?
Rabbits are sociable creatures and can easily be house-trained and toilet-trained like dogs and cats. When rabbits live indoors with you, you are able to monitor their health condition and behaviour more easily than if they were outdoors.
You can also protect them from predators and reduce risk of catching myxomatosis or calicivirus.
How to Safeguard Indoor Rabbits
If your rabbit is free to roam around your home, it is important to ensure that your house is rabbit-proofed (just as you would child-proof your house). In the wild, rabbits chew on plant roots as they create burrows underground. A hanging cord or electrical cable lying on the ground looks like a plant root, which a rabbit will chew on instinctively. There are cord protectors that you can purchase from any hardware store which will do the trick of keeping your rabbit safe from the risk of electrocution. These will also save you the expense of replacing your expensive charging cables!
If you opt to confine your rabbit to a space within your home, it is important to ensure that their indoor living accommodation is large enough for them to hop around and stand on their hind legs. Small cages and hutches are usually not suitable. We highly recommend play pens, furnished with toys and suitable hide-outs besides having access to food and water.
It is also important to ensure that your rabbit has access to sunlight to prevent Vitamin D deficiency. You could also provide dietary supplements to help with this, eg. Burgess Excel Indoor Rabbit Pellets.
If you have slippery floors (eg. tiles or timber flooring), it would be a good idea to place some thick blankets (weighed down with other objects or furniture) or carpet tiles in your rabbit’s accommodation, so that they get a grip when hopping around. This will reduce the risk of injuries and splayed legs.
So what’s the conclusion to the question of whether rabbits should live outdoors or indoors?
Our answer is a combination of both. If you are unable to provide suitable outdoor housing that provides shelter from the elements (wind, rain and harsh sunlight) and protection from predators and mosquitoes, then it is better to keep rabbits indoors while giving them regular, supervised excess to your garden where they can exercise on the lawn and get exposure to sunlight.