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I’ve kept house rabbits for over a decade. When I first got a rabbit, I had no choice. There was no outside space whatsoever. The house only had one door to the outside and that opened right onto the street.
No one, (read: my mother) really questioned it*. I mean, what other option did I have?
*I mean, they questioned my decision to get a rabbit in the first place, but nothing beyond that.
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And then we moved. To a house with a lovely garden. Yet still my bunny remained in the house.
Sure, I’d take Isobel out into the garden on a sunny day, but by that point, she was 11 and was more confused than anything.
Oh, and excited. Can you imagine being taken to a strange new world where you could literally eat the ground? Her tiny mind was blown. BLOWN.
But yeah. I would never keep a rabbit outdoors.
Plenty of people do, and that’s their business.
I really don’t want to hate on the way other people do things, I just want to explain why I like my bunnies being inside with me.
I love having my rabbits close to me, and I live in the UK, so I have no desire to go tramping down to the bottom of the garden on a cold November morning to feed them.
Especially not when they could so easily be in the living room.
Why I would never keep a rabbit outdoors
An outside rabbit is vulnerable to predators
Rabbits are prey animals. If you don’t keep rabbits you may think that this is obvious, but after you’ve been chased, bitten, and growled at as many times as I have, you kind of forget that.
Interesting fact: pet rabbits have evolved to be less fearful than their wild counterparts.
Their brains have physically changed to be less afraid.
That’s probably why so many rabbits can happily co-exist with dogs. It’s also why it’s practically impossible to keep a wild rabbit in captivity, even if they’re raised from a baby. They easily die from fright.
Why am I boring you with this crap?
Well, if you keep your rabbit outside, it may not have the same fear response a wild rabbit would have from a predator.
I mean, the poor thing is a sitting duck anyway if the predator can get into the pen, but it could thump, and generally be on the defensive sooner if it realises there’s a threat.
An outside rabbit is more vulnerable to external parasites
The most likely external parasite your outside bunny can pick up is fleas. Fleas are fairly easy to treat in rabbits – I know Revolution is safe for rabbits (for those of you living in the US and in the UK beaphar do a treatment.
Don’t use Frontline, or anything containing Fipronil on rabbits, because it’s toxic and can kill them.
Outside rabbits can also pick up ticks – wild rabbits are extremely likely to have ticks, and if any visit your bunny they could pass them on.
Sure, indoor rabbits could get fleas and ticks from dogs or cats in the house, but you’re more likely to notice symptoms before their health is compromised.
An outside rabbit is more exposed to the elements
I know that rabbits in the wild live out in the elements, but…they’re underground. Their lifespans are also a good five times shorter than that of a domestic bunny. A 2 year old wild bunny is practically Methuselah – that’s just a baby house rabbit.
Cold, heat, wind, snow, hail, and thunderstorms all have the potential to harm your bunny.
If you’re hell-bent on keeping an outside bunny, at least make sure they’re in a space that’s well-protected from the weather. Better yet, let them chill inside with you.
An outside rabbit is more vulnerable to being stolen
A fox or rat might not be able to open to the door to your rabbit, but a human sure can.
Is that really a risk you’re willing to take? You never know what kind of nefarious individuals have their eye on your precious Flopsy.
An outside rabbit has a shorter lifespan
And not just by a little bit.
Remember when five was old for a rabbit? When I was a kid that was certainly the case, and I’m not that old.
It’s because back when almost all rabbits were kept outside, the average lifespan was 3-5 years.
Factoring in those that were predated on and died prematurely from overheating and freezing, that’s still a pretty short natural lifespan, compared to house rabbits.
There’s also issues with disease.
Whilst I would advise vaccinating inside rabbits, you MUST vaccinate outside rabbits because they are so much more like likely to come into contact with outside rabbits that have come into contact with myxomatosis and Rabbit (Viral) Haemorrhaggic Disease (RVHD).
Currently vaccination is only common in UK, probably because some idiot accidentally-on-purpose introduced Myxomatosis.
People accepted that five was a good age for a rabbit because five years was waaaaay longer than the 1-2 year lifespan afforded by their wild cousins.
But then we started keeping rabbits inside with us and it became common for rabbits to exceed ten years of age with no health issues.
This number will go up as more and more people choose to keep their rabbit indoors and veterinary care improves for them.
So, why do indoor rabbits live longer than those that live outside?
You’re better able to observe changes in your rabbit’s behaviour
As I mentioned, rabbit are prey animals. They can’t afford to look ill. If a wild rabbit shows any sign of weakness it’ll get snapped up by a fox or weasel or whatever.
Dogs and cats, on the other hand, are predators (cats more so, biologically speaking).
They have no problem limping around with an injured paw. My mum’s whippet went so far as picking up her paw and looking sad whenever she fancied a bit of sympathy.
It’s extremely difficult to notice changes in your rabbit’s behaviour if you don’t witness their everyday behaviour.
You need to remember that if you’re going to visit your outside bunny twice a day to feed it, they’ll change their behaviour – for example, to greet you, because they’re hungry, want to play etc.
It’s different when you can just observe your bunny’s behaviour when you’re just watching TV and your bunny is just doing their thing.
You naturally spend more time with your rabbit
If you keep your rabbit outside, realistically, how much time do you spend with them?
Even if you spend four hours every day with them, it’s not the same as coexisting in the same space as them.
You’ll notice those subtle changes in behaviour that I mentioned above – maybe they’re eating a bit less, not eating their hay, can’t hop as easily into the litter box.
One of my rabbits was sensitive to kale (a lot of rabbits are).
It caused gas to build up in her system and cause her pain (read more about GI stasis here).
We would never have noticed had she lived outside, and she probably would have died.
It was only because she was a little bit more withdrawn than usual that we noticed something was wrong. We had to stop with the kale, which was a shame because she LOVED it, but she was right as rain overnight and it stopped a far bigger problem, i.e GI stasis.
Because we were so in tune with her behaviour, we nipped the issue in the bud without so much as a vet visit.
Oh, speaking of which, the same rabbit also used to get very down in the dumps during her spring and fall moulting sessions.
She was still eating and pooping fine so it didn’t warrant a vet visit, but she was less inclined to move from the safety of the TV cabinet she lived in.
It took a couple of years of this until we realised what brought on this change in mood.
Once we realised we knew not to worry unduly, but to keep a closer eye on her and to be extra kind – no nail clipping, ear checks and extra (non-sugary) treats.
It shortened her ‘Izzy sad times’ from a couple of weeks to a week or so.
Your rabbit is part of the family
There’s this awful stigma around rabbits that they’re not ‘proper’ pets or they’re ‘starter pets’ or worse of all, kid’s pets.
Let me tell you now that I’ve cared for ONE bunny that liked kids.
The others all hated them, were scared of them, or flat out ignored them. And I’ve never had a rabbit that liked being picked up.
By the way, the one that loved kids actually got rehomed to a lady that ran a kid’s nursery.
Molly was brought into our local vets and had been living wild – we loved her but didn’t have the space to keep her (we had three others at the time) so we fostered her until she was adopted.
On the day we took her she raced straight over to a pile of kids and barrelled into them.
It’s not that she likes being handled particularly, she’s more that she’s extremely confident, loves to be chased (rabbits are extremely polarised with chase games – they either love it or it terrifies them) and loves to be cuddled (on her terms).
Kids screaming didn’t bother her in the least, and she loves gently terrorising the other rabbit that lives there.
I’ve heard that that’s pretty common in rex rabbits, so they might be a good choice if you have kids.
You can deal with emergencies right away
Since rabbits are extremely good at covering up illness, they go downhill fast.
Things like GI stasis, ear mites, and head tilt are far easier to diagnose if you’re in a lot of contact with your bunny and notice a subtle change in behaviour.
Your rabbit enjoys your company
Rabbits are extremely social animals.
Whilst they may not like you to pick them up and cuddle them, they like it when you’re there. A lot of them love to be petted and fussed over.
They feel safe in your presence and that’s when they start to exhibit their natural behaviour.
If you thought dog zoomies were funny, they have NOTHING on bunny zoomies. NOTHING.
We’ve recently adopted two bunnies from a rescue – I’m not sure why they were surrendered, and they’re very nervous but are slowly coming out of their respective shells.
The less confident one is actually quicker on the zoomies and it’s joyful to watch. The younger one (they’re mother and daughter) has head tilt and I think that’s why she was slower to zoom.
I imagine if your vision is compromised like that you wouldn’t zoom unless you were 100% sure where you were going.
A week or so ago (4 weeks after we got them) Daisy started doing little zooms in the safety of the cabinet.
This morning for the first time she was doing proper big zooms around the pen. It was amazing! And a nice change from her previous form of exercise, which was humping her mother. Ah, rabbits.
House rabbits are more convenient to care for
You may be happy to go outside to feed your bunnies on a dark, cold morning, but I much prefer it when they’re waiting for me downstairs. Sure, you get sick of vacuuming up hay, but at least you can clean out the litter tray in your pjs.
But it’s not just giving them food. There’s also hay and water to change, poop to pick up, and sometimes medication to give. It must be a ballache to have to go out and do that twice a day.
I am an extremely lazy person though, hence getting a pet that doesn’t need walking.
Final thoughts on keeping rabbits indoors rather than outdoors
To be perfectly honest, if I had to keep a rabbit outside, I wouldn’t get one in the first place. What’s the point? I love seeing zoomies, and watching them flop and sploot, knowing that I won’t go over and grab them.
I LOVE rabbits because of their personalities. I love how quickly Daisy let me pet her when she learned it preceded being fed, and when Holly rolled over on her side on the second day we got her (she had a little pink square on her belly from being spayed) because she felt safe.
I love how quickly they learn that the sound of the toaster means late-night treats (they LOVE toast but it’s not good for them so we reserve it for birthdays – we tend to treat with herbs).
I even love when there’s an almighty racket at 4 am and I go downstairs and they’re sat innocently eating hay.
For whatever reason, some people have to keep their rabbits outside, but if you can bing them into your home, I swear you won’t regret it.