Are you considering keeping a rabbit outside? Can rabbits live outside all year round? Yes, they can! Wild rabbits live outside in underground burrows all year round. But they have the freedom, space, and ability to create their own habitat.
However, your pet rabbit will need you to supply suitable and safe accommodation to live a happy, healthy life. So, in this article, I will explain your bunny’s needs for life outside and how to support them.
Keeping Rabbits outside
What age can rabbits live outside? There is no recommended age for keeping rabbits outside because, they can and do live outside from birth. However, wild rabbits’ breed during spring and summer while food is plentiful, and the weather is warm.
So, as rabbits acclimatise naturally towards autumn and winter. Introducing one to life during spring and summer should not be a problem. However, moving an indoor rabbit outdoors in the autumn and winter, may cause suffering, unless it is are acclimatised first.
Rabbits Require Adequate Space.
The minimum well-drained area needed to confine one or two rabbits is 6 square metres, including the habitat. But with a height of only 600mm, will they be contented living at this recommended minimum? Sorry, but no!
Rabbits are long jump experts easily clearing 2.75m in one bound. They also have a cruising speed of 18mph and can reach up to 30mph. But rarely reach top speed, preferring cruising speed and their agility to escape from predators.
So, keeping rabbits outside confined to the minimum space, is like locking Usain Bolt in a prison cell for life. Expecting him to stay physically and mentally healthy, therefore totally contented with his existence.
rabbits outdoor housing and run
Therefore, before buying rabbits, you should ensure they will have the space to use their agility, run, jump, and play. So, the more space you give them, the happier they will be. But if only the minimum area is available, what about the height?
There is potential to increase the available area to supply the tunnels and hideaways essential to stimulate their playful nature. Just by housing your rabbits in a 2 x 1.244M garden shed with a 2M high run.
Then, get creative and use the increased height to add platforms in the shed and run, accessed via non-slip ramps.
However, rabbits will be inclined to jump up and down between levels. Therefore, to avoid the risk of injury, the vertical gap between them should be a maximum of 450 mm. If you add multiple platforms, you must ensure rabbits can only jump up or down one level.
Keeping pet rabbits outside increases the risk of attack from all their predators, including birds of prey. Therefore, their enclosure must give adequate protection from them.
It must also supply shelter from rain and shade while allowing them to exercise.
Their habitat should be: –
• Raised off the ground to prevent rotting and rising damp.
• Dry with high-level ventilation.
• Positioned with the rabbit’s access opposite the direction of the prevailing winter wind.
Rabbits like to dig, and you should let them. But they must not be able to tunnel their way out of the enclosure. I recommend using the same method as rabbit proofing a fence. However, if the pen is on concrete, you should supply a sand pit to enable them to dig.
rabbits living outside Need Support
Keeping rabbits outside does not alter the fact they like routine and will require daily maintenance. Rabbits enjoy human company, and I suggest you and your family members bond with your new pet(s).
Then create a daily routine, a time for cleaning, feeding, grooming and play, then keep to it. Bonding makes caring for rabbits rewarding for both you and them.
Keeping rabbits outdoors requires: –
- Cleaning the habitat, remove soiled wet bedding daily and clear the run from droppings weekly.
- Fresh food and water daily, regularly checked, because rabbits need a constant source of food and clean water available.
- Daily grooming and playing help you check your rabbit’s health and support bonding. Can you bring an outside rabbit inside to play? Yes, your bunnies will love visiting your home for this. But if the area is not rabbit safe will need constant close supervision!
However, when keeping rabbits outside, these tasks are often irregular or forgotten entirely, to the detriment of your pet’s well-being.
Giving your rabbits some free time in a fully enclosed garden will stimulate its natural behaviour. Rabbits are very inquisitive, and nothing makes them happier than being free to explore, forage and run.
But, unless your garden is predator proof, your rabbits will need closely supervising and never left in the garden alone. However, if you made your garden escape proof and safe from predators. You could consider keeping free range outdoor rabbits.
Greater freedom can improve your rabbits’ diet, health and happiness, while strengthening the bond between you and your family. However, while out with the rabbit in the garden take care not to accidently kick or tread on them.
keeping rabbits warm in winter
Keeping rabbits indoors during the winter, if possible, makes managing and keeping them warm so much easier. However, their indoor environment should be rabbit safe and provide enough room for exercise and play.
But once moved indoors and acclimatised, rabbits cannot return to life outside until spring. Because they will have lost their thick coat, therefore will suffer in the low outdoor temperatures.
Can rabbits stay outside in winter? Yes, they can, but rabbits living outside in a habitat above ground, lose the stable climate of a burrow. So, healthy adult rabbits will suffer in a draughty, damp habitat and will be at risk as temperatures drop below 10C.
However, young, old, solitary rabbits that cannot share body heat or thin-coated rabbits will be even more vulnerable. Therefore, will need extra support as the temperature drops.
So, before the onset of winter, you should check: –
- Their habitat is in the correct position.
- Their housing is dry with no rain penetration or dampness and free from low-level draughts.
- Your rabbit is, acclimatised to living outside and has a thick winter coat
You have or access to: –
- Hutch covers. Fitting a suitable cover or covering the habitat with a tarpaulin without blocking the ventilation. Will add extra weather/draught proofing and help your rabbits stay warm.
- Moisture-absorbent small animal bedding or newspaper
- A supply of dust-free dry stored bedding hay or straw
- Microwaveable heat pads that are suitable for use with rabbits
preparing and maitaining the winter bed
Start the bed with a base layer (small animal bedding or newspaper) to absorb the moisture and insulate the floor. Then, cover it with a layer of hay or, preferably, straw for its insulating qualities. This top layer must be sufficient for the rabbits to nest without disturbing the base layer.
When keeping rabbits outside in winter you should: –
- Clean their toilet area daily.
- Frequently check their drinking water has not frozen.
- Consider supplying warmth using microwaveable heat pads (essential for vulnerable rabbits). After heating, place the pads between the moisture-absorbent layer and the bedding, to avoid burning your bunny.
- Ensure their habitat is still dry and draught-proof and replace wet bedding daily.
Finally, it’s essential not to neglect your pets and keep to your established routine. However, you will need to check them more often in cold and wet weather.
I hope the information I have provided in this post proves helpful in deciding if keeping rabbits outside is right for you. It is how I had planned to keep my rabbits.
That is until they convinced me there were easier, more humane ways to keep these lovable pets happy. I am glad they did! Now I enjoy their company 24/7, with far less time and energy spent caring for them.
Keeping rabbits outside is the most expensive, time-consuming, and least rewarding way to keep them. For me, the cons far outweigh the only pro, a little less mess to clean up in my home.
Pet rabbits should be, and feel, part of your family, which is not easy when it’s the lodger at the bottom of your garden.
However, if keeping rabbits outside is your only choice. Please support them daily with your company and free time in your home or garden, especially during cold wet weather.