Is it cruel to keep rabbits inside?

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Many people still find it weird that I keep rabbits inside. It used to be fine, since I lived in a tiny house with no outside space – what option did I have?

But now that I live in a (slightly) bigger house with a decent-sized garden, my status as weirdo is now concrete. Why would you keep rabbits inside? They should be outside, in a hutch at the bottom of the garden.

Since no one wants to labelled as cruel, the hutch is huge, with a big run. For the vast majority of people, that’s the ‘right’ way to keep rabbits.

But no. We don’t think like that here. Whilst I’m sure that many people would argue that it is cruel to keep bunnies inside, I firmly believe that it’s in the best interests of all parties concerned that rabbits are kept inside, like dogs and cats.

It can be cruel to keep rabbits outside

I go into more detail in this post about why I wouldn’t keep rabbits outside. There are many reasons that rabbits could be at risk outside, such as:

  • Predators – owls, foxes, and stray cats and dogs could all pose a risk to rabbits that are kept outside at night
  • Humans – I’ve read too many reports of outside pets being stolen to ever risk leaving mine outside for very long
  • Diseases and parasites – Whilst it’s important for those of us in the UK to vaccinate our rabbits whether they live indoors or out, the fact remains that rabbits that live outside are more likely to come into contact with diseases transmitted by other rabbits, as well as external parasites like fleas and ticks.

Rabbits are social animals that like being with their family

Single rabbits definitely shouldn’t be kept outside on their own. The majority of rabbits are happiest if they have a bonded mate, but there are the occasionally instance when rabbits simply don’t like other rabbits.

This is especially the case when the rabbit has been taken away from their mother too early – they may not even realise that they’re rabbits.

Rabbits are prey animals, and are hardwired to be wary of other animals, including humans. The best way to make sure that your rabbit isn’t scared of you, and actually enjoys spending time with you, is to spend as much time with them as possible.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible to spend a lot of time with your rabbit if you keep them outside. It’s just easier if you’re all inside together.

When I first brought Holly and Daisy home they were terrified of us (well, Holly was, Daisy’s fear evaporated if treats were involved). They soon learned that we weren’t a threat to them because they were used to us all being together.

The fact we were in lockdown didn’t hurt either – the four of us spent a good 12 hours a day together. This process of easing a rabbit’s nerves around you can be significantly longer if you’re only spending a couple of hours a day with them.

Rabbits are very curious and nosey

VERY. Luckily, our most timid bun BURNS with curiosity, so when they’re free-roaming, she’s happy to come up to us. Of course, we have to stay totally still, because it’s early days.

We pretend that she’s not sniffing our feet (each to their own) and she pretends that she thinks we can’t see her.

Maybe if you have an outside run with all the bells, and whistles, then this should fulfil all of your rabbit’s curiosity, but please don’t think a hutch with a run is enough.

If you let your rabbit have at least some time roaming around your living room, you get to see the ever-cute baby walking, where they creep around the the room very slowly, whiskers twitching and head bobbing up and down.

We sometimes encourage the baby walking by moving the furniture around in the living room. Yes, it’s that cute.

Some rabbits actually refuse to move their back legs when they’re in familiar territory (especially if you’ve put down different flooring), so stretch their bodies out as far as they’ll go and just use their front feet to move in a semi-circle.

Rabbits are prey animals and can be frightened outside

Rabbits are very delicate, easily-stressed animals, and it can be especially frightening for them if they’re kept outside at night. You don’t know if there are foxes sniffing around, cats fighting in your garden, or even just wild rabbits coming into your rabbit’s territory.

There have been multiple incidents of rabbits literally dying of fright, though if you keep your rabbits secure and have walls separating them from the outside world, rather than just chcickenwire, this shouldn’t be an issue.

I don’t want to scare you, I just want to encourage you to think of the world from the perspective of a small prey animal. If you’re insisting on keeping your rabbits outdoors because you think it’s cruel to keep them indoors, think about the dangers they face outdoors.

Rabbits are prey animals and hide illness

This is the main reason I wouldn’t keep rabbits outside. When you see a rabbit everyday for extended periods of time, you’re more likely to notice when they’re feeling a little…off.

Sure, you may spend a couple of hours with your rabbits if they’re outside, but their behaviour will change when you’re there, because it’s the only time they see you, so they’ll be excited.

When your rabbits are inside with you, and you’re both just going about your everyday life, you’re more likely to notice that they’re not eating as much hay, or they’re walking funny, or sitting in a different way.

Problems such as GI stasis can send a rabbit downhill quickly – early diagnosis is the best chance your rabbit will have. In order to diagnose though, you need to be observing your rabbits behaviour as soon as they start shoeing symptoms. If your rabbit is inside with you, you’re more likely to catch it.

Rabbits can have more space to run and play inside

The main argument I’ve heard against keeping rabbits inside is that it’s ‘unnatural’ and your rabbit needs wide open spaces.

For a start, keeping a rabbit anywhere other than in a hole in the ground is unnatural, and for another, wild rabbits live for less than a tenth of the average lifespan of a house rabbit.

This links of thinking suggests that outside rabbits have the run of the garden, and this simply isn’t the case in a lot of cases. I had outside rabbits when I was a kid, and my dad built them big, beautiful runs, that were still nowhere near as big as my house. They weren’t even as big as the pen that my bunnies sleep in.

Final thoughts on keeping rabbits indoors

Obviously I would prefer it if you kept your rabbits indoors, but I appreciate that people will probably always keep rabbits outside, like some people will always keep dogs outside.

But please don’t think that keeping rabbits indoors is cruel. It isn’t. Indoor rabbits live longer and are generally more sociable than rabbits that live outside. It;s also easier for the owners – who wants to go out and feed their outside bunnies when there’s snow on the ground? It’s more convenient (and warmer for the bunnies) if they’re just chilling in the living room.

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