House Rabbits: Why It’s Best To Keep Rabbits Inside


rabbit with a mini couch

When I say rabbits are my pet of choice (always an interesting position in the cats vs. dogs debate) people often make the assumption that my rabbits must live in a hutch outside. Until recent decades, that had been the traditional way to keep rabbits, and many people still have rabbits as outdoor pets. People assume that rabbits are smelly (they’re not!), and that they’re not the kind of family pet that you can hang out with in your living room. But I’ve lived with indoor rabbits all my life, and I can assure you that bunnies are amazing companion pets with the whole range of personalities.

Rabbits belong inside. The outdoors come with predators, parasites, and temperatures that can be harmful to your rabbits health. But most importantly, Rabbits are amazing and social pets. If you take the time to include them in your family, you will have an adorable and loving companion.

I absolutely advocate for keeping rabbits indoors, but there are also some unique challenges that indoor rabbits bring with them. You’ll need to have an appropriate enclosure, and work to rabbit-proof your house so your rabbit won’t get into any trouble. But in the end, you will have a happy, healthy new member of the family.


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The dangers of the outdoors

Outside can be a pretty scary place for a little bunny. In fact, keeping a rabbit outdoors can significantly cut into their lifespan. It used to be believed that a rabbit would only live about 5 to 7 years. Now, as people are learning how to better care for their pets, we know that the average lifespan of a domestic rabbit is around 10 years. 

This increase in life expectancy is correlated with the increase of rabbit owners who are choosing to keep their rabbits inside. And it makes a lot of sense. The outdoors can be a really dangerous and stressful place to live for a little defenseless bunny.

What are the main dangers that threaten rabbits outside?

  • Predators
  • Parasites
  • Extreme weather

These are the main three dangers your rabbit has to face. But on top of these overt dangers, rabbits will also be more anxious and stressed, and rabbits that sit outside alone all day often suffer from depression or loneliness.

Predators

Rabbits are prey animals. On top of that, most domestic rabbits have been bred to have friendly, non-aggressive personalities. They don’t have the biology to stand a chance against the predators that you see outside. A rabbit’s instinct when they are faced with predators is to run away and hide. But when they’re stuck in a hutch, there is nowhere to run and few places to hide.

Often outdoor hutches don’t offer very much protection for rabbits. Outdoor rabbits can be attacked by persistent raccoons, dogs, foxes, cats, hawks or even coyotes in some areas who manage to break into the hutch or bend the wires of a cage. 

Even in a well built hutch that predators can’t enter, the rabbit has to deal with all the scary sights, smells, and sounds. Inevitably there will be predators that an outdoor rabbit sees on a daily basis. Even if the rabbit isn’t directly attacked, that causes the rabbit to be afraid and anxious. Sadly, it’s even possible for a rabbit to have a heart attack or go into shock when confronted with a predator.

But indoor rabbits don’t have to be so afraid. There are still some scary sounds inside (like the vacuum cleaner), but over time your rabbit will learn to be brave and trust you. And there is a much thicker barrier between your rabbit and the outside world. Those sounds won’t be quite as scary, and the sights and smells will hardly ever penetrate through the wall. Inside, your rabbit will know they’re safe.

rabbit bottom check
Tip: Check your rabbit’s bottom on a daily basis to be sure it’s not dirty. That way it won’t attract any flies.

Parasites

The outdoors are crawling with parasites just waiting to latch onto someone’s unsuspecting rabbit. By parasites, I mean bugs. And I’m not exaggerating. Ticks can transmit diseases, fleas can leave a rabbit feeling sick from flea anemia, and mosquitoes can spread myxomatosis. Not to mention ear mites that can cause a painful crusting on your rabbits ears.

Worst of all is the deadly fly strike. This is when a fly lays eggs in your rabbits skin. When the eggs hatch, the maggots start to eat the poor rabbit alive. It becomes a very dangerous situation very quickly, and if it goes undetected it will result in death within 24-48 hours. This is especially a problem for rabbits with wet fur and rabbits who cannot clean themselves properly (such as elderly, disabled, or obese rabbits). 

Indoor rabbits are generally much healthier. Your home is clean and not welcoming to all those bugs that would try to feed off of your rabbit. Keeping your rabbit inside also means that you can keep a close eye on your bunny. You’ll be able to make sure they’re staying clean and notice right away if they’re acting sick. Because rabbits are prey animals, they won’t show signs of sickness until they are very sick. So you’ll want to keep an eye on the symptoms of common diseases, and get help for your rabbit quickly if you ever believe they are sick.

Temperature

Rabbits do best in cool temperatures. Even mildly hot temperatures can be dangerous for rabbits, but extreme cold is not easy to handle either. The wild rabbits that our pets descended from would dig burrows. They would huddle up underneath the ground to escape from the changing weather.

Domestic rabbits have thick coats that were not made for hot weather. Even when their coats shed and get a little thinner for the summer months, rabbits can easily get heat stroke at temperatures above 80 degrees. In more humid weather, or if they’re stuck in direct sunlight, they could be in danger of heat stroke at temperatures as low as 75ºF. The worst part is, the signs of this illness often come on too late to save their lives. 

Rabbits don’t do too well with temperatures below freezing either. Rabbits left out in freezing temperatures for long periods of time can end up getting hypothermia, especially if they also get wet from the rain or snow. Rabbit fur does not dry very easily. They can also get frostbite on their ears and feet. In bad cases of frostbite a rabbits ears will completely fall off.

So especially in extreme temperatures, you need to bring your rabbit inside where you can regulate the temperature. You won’t have to worry about whether or not your rabbit is overheating outside. And you can snuggle up with your rabbit on those cold winter days, knowing that they are safe and healthy right next to you.

The benefits of having a house rabbit

Just like cats and dogs, pet rabbits should be part of the family. They are very social animals and will love to zoom around the living room and relax next to you on the couch. Rabbits are intelligent and trainable, and they will always be a bright spot in your day. With an outdoor rabbit, you would miss out on a playful and gentle addition to the family. Rabbits are very social animals, and will thrive in your company. 

bunny sitting by a couch
Spend time with your rabbit and they will become a part of your family. Just like a cat or a dog!

A cure for loneliness

Rabbits are very social, so when they get left all alone outside in a hutch, they get lonely. Outdoor rabbits are more likely to be forgotten and neglected by their people. Even those rabbits who’s owners take very good care of them, can get very depressed. They miss out on the companionship they could get when they spend time with you inside every day. Like with humans, loneliness in rabbits leads to a shorter lifespan. If you want your rabbit to live the best life possible, you need to spend time with them. 

Spending time with your bunny might just cure your own loneliness too. I know my rabbits always find a way to lift me up out of a bad day. Rabbits are just so cute and silly. It’s impossible to spend time with them and not feel a little better.

You can keep track of your rabbit’s health

Because rabbits are prey animals, they have evolved to hide their weaknesses. It is very difficult to know if a rabbit isn’t feeling well until they are very, very sick. The earliest indicators of sickness are typically slight changes in the rabbit’s behavior. And these changes are so much easier to detect when you spend a lot of time with your rabbit and know their personality. Being able to detect any health problems early could save your rabbit’s life.

Keeping indoor rabbits also makes it much easier to keep an eye on your rabbit’s appetite and pooping habits. Checking that your rabbit’s poop is normal should be a daily habit since this is another early indicator of health problems. Their poop should be consistent, hard, round balls that look a little like cocoa puffs. If their poops are too small or deformed, there is a good chance your rabbit may be suffering from some illness. This check is so much easier to accomplish when you have a litter trained indoor rabbit.

Rabbits are intelligent

Being inside as part of the family is great for a rabbit’s mental stimulation. You can hide treats and watch them play with some fun puzzle toys (check out the toys I recommend). Rabbits can be litter box trained like cats, or you could teach them to do tricks like dogs. Rabbits are smart, and to have good mental health, they’ll need people and toys to stimulate their minds.

You can also learn about rabbit body language much faster if you can watch your rabbit explore your house. Rabbit body language is unique and difficult to compare to a pet dog or cat. But rabbits do try to communicate with us and let us know what they’re thinking. If you’re not used to rabbit behavior, it may take some time observing them to really understand them. But if you make sure your rabbit is a part of your daily life, you’ll have ample opportunity to learn.

Rabbits are quiet

Rabbits are actually great indoor pets for anyone who lives in an apartment or area with close-knit housing because they are very quiet pets. They can make sounds, but those noises are mostly very quiet and gentle. You won’t have to worry about bothering your neighbors. You just might have to deal with the occasional thumping when they get scared or upset.

Okay, but does this mean you should never bring your rabbit outside?

As long as you are supervising your rabbit, it is absolutely okay to bring them outside. You will need to check your rabbit over for parasites around their bottom when you bring them back inside, and make sure you keep an eye out for any predators while they are outside (including birds, like hawks). You also want to avoid taking your rabbit out on days when it’s very hot.

Outside exercise run

There are many rabbit enthusiasts that set up an outdoor exercise area for their rabbit in the backyard. You can create a safe, fenced-in area where your rabbit is free to zoom around and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. 

Make sure you don’t use and pesticides or fertilizers that are poisonous for rabbits, your rabbit will be doing a lot of munching during their time outside. Check over the yard to be sure all the plants your rabbit has access to are okay to eat. You could even consider planting a little rabbit garden with safe plants your rabbit will love (herbs are a good place to start).

rabbit on a leash
You can get a harness and leash for your rabbit to take them on a walk.

Leash walking

Rabbits can also be trained to walk on leashes! Do not use a collar, instead get a harness for your rabbit. A good harness is one that will not tighten around a rabbits neck, but instead goes around the chest. H-harnesses, made for cats, are often a good fit for rabbits. It will take a lot of practice getting your rabbit into a harness, and you want to get them used to leash walking inside at first, so you know they won’t be able to slip out of the harness or hurt themselves.

With a leash, you can bring your rabbit out many places you wouldn’t be able to explore otherwise. Like going for a simple hike, or even going to the beach! Just make sure to never leave your rabbit unattended when they are on a leash. The little bunny could chew through the leash, get tangled up in it, or come into contact with a predator. And, of course, pay attention to what they eat, because rabbits love to chew on things they shouldn’t.

How to keep indoor rabbits

Like with any pet, you need to make sure you prepare your home for a successful rabbit integration. This means setting up an appropriate enclosure, bunny-proofing your home, litter training your rabbit, and making careful introductions with any other pets.

rabbit playpen
I like using a pet exercise pen for an enclosure best. It gives the rabbit a lot of space and it’s easy to clean.

Enclosure 

While it is possible to free-range a rabbit and let them roam your house freely like a cat or dog, that’s not always a viable option. Most of the time you will need some type of enclosure to keep your rabbit in when you cannot keep an eye on them. I have a full post dedicated to helping you find the best enclosure for your rabbit and living situation.

Cage size

A correctly sized cage will give your rabbit room for three to four hops along the length of their enclosure.The width should be at least one hop length, and the rabbit should be able to stand all the way up on their hind legs without bumping their head against the top.

So how do you estimate the hop length of your rabbit? Measure the full length of your rabbit when they are sprawled out on the floor. For an average sized five pound rabbit, this will probably be somewhere around one to one and a half feet. So for an average sized rabbit you want to have an enclosure that is at least 4ft long by 2ft wide by 2 ft tall.

Plus exercise space

Your rabbit should have at least one to two hours of exercise a day, but more is definitely better.  I try to make sure my bun has time outside of the enclosure whenever I am home. Rabbits are most active in the morning around dawn and in the evening around dusk, so it’s best if you can let them out to exercise around one of these times.

For most rabbit owners, you won’t need any additional fencing to create an exercise enclosure for your rabbit. A room in your house will do just fine. But you will want to make sure you bunny-proof the exercise area thoroughly, so your rabbit can’t get at any wires or chew on anything dangerous. If you haven’t fully bunny-proofed the room, make sure to supervise your rabbit closely. These little fluffers can be quite the troublemakers.

Lighting 

When choosing a spot for your rabbits inside, you want to give them a little bit of natural lighting. Direct sunlight helps the rabbit’s body create vitamin D, and many rabbits that are kept indoors end up having a vitamin D deficiency because of the lack of sufficient natural lighting.

But you also want to make sure your rabbit has access to shade. If a rabbit is stuck it direct sunlight with no way of moving to the shade when they get too hot, the rabbit can potentially develop heat stroke. This is more of a danger for outdoor rabbits, but it’s something to keep in mind when picking a spot for your rabbit’s enclosure.

bunny proof your home
Rabbits love to chew on wires, so make sure yours are covered or blocked off.

Bunny-proofing your home

As much as I would like to deny it, there is one downside to bringing a rabbit into your home, but it’s worth it!  Rabbits are chewers and diggers and that means we need to bunny-proof our homes to keep them from getting into trouble. When bringing your rabbit inside, you need to make some changes to any areas where you will allow your rabbit to roam.

Wires

Rabbits love to chew through wires. This is very dangerous for our rabbits because if a rabbit bites into a wire while it’s plugged in, they could end up getting shocked. Not to mention, you now have a couple useless pieces of wire.

You will need to cover your wires or move them out of our rabbit’s reach. This could mean keeping wires behind a fenced off area, or lifting wires off the ground so your rabbit doesn’t find them. You can cover wires with thick plastic tubing to discourage your rabbit from going after the wire. Just make sure to check the wire covers occasionally to make sure your rabbit hasn’t started to chew through them.

Cover rugs and baseboards

Rabbits, especially female rabbits, will often have an instinct to dig into the corners of rugs and chew on baseboards. This is because in nature rabbits are burrowers. They dig and use their teeth to make tunnels to live in. At home, however, this can be a very destructive behavior.

Protect your rugs by putting down a plastic mat (like the ones you would use under a desk chair) in the corners or other areas your rabbit has a tendency to dig into. If your rabbit tries to chew on the baseboards, you can position furniture to block the baseboards, or keep a fence around the perimeter of the room to keep your rabbit away. 

Keep dangerous objects out of reach

Rabbits are a lot like children. They are curious about everything, especially the things they really shouldn’t be getting into. So you’ll need to take some precautions to make sure you keep your rabbit away from anything you don’t want him to get into.

This means you want to place houseplants (especially houseplants that are toxic for rabbits) and dangerous objects on high shelves or window sills. You could install baby gates to keep your rabbit out of areas of the house that aren’t bunny-proofed.

Enrichment 

Providing your rabbit with appropriate toys is necessary for your rabbit’s mental stimulation and they are useful in deterring your rabbit from chewing on other objects. You’ll want to give your rabbit an assortment of puzzle toys and chew toys, so they can pick their favorites. If you don’t know where to start, check out my article all about how to find toys your rabbit will love to play with!

rabbit in a litter box next to a hay feeder
Tip: Moving the hay near the litter box can encourage your rabbit to use the litter box more.

Litter box training 

When you keep your rabbit inside, you will want to litter train them. It will help keep your house from smelling, and make cleaning out their enclosure much easier. If your rabbit is not already litter box trained, use this step-by-step guide to help. It’s not quite as easy as litter training a cat, but most rabbits prefer to be clean and will learn very quickly.

Spaying or neutering your rabbit will be very helpful in successful litter box training. These procedures will reduce the territorial instincts of your rabbit so they won’t spray pee around the house. 

introducing cat and rabbit
When you first introduce a cat and a rabbit, make sure there is a fence or barrier between them.

Other house pets

Some people may worry about the relationship a rabbit would have with their other house pets. And this is a valid concern. Rabbits are prey animals, while cats and dogs are predators. Depending on the personalities of your pets, it is not always a wise decision to keep rabbits in the same living area as cats or dogs.

Rabbits and house cats will usually get along just fine. You’ll want to watch them closely when you  introduce the two animals to each other, but most of the time rabbits are too big for a cat to take an interest in as prey. They will probably still take some time getting used to each other, so give each of your pets private areas where they can feel safe in the meantime.

Dogs and rabbits are a little trickier. Many dogs have a natural instinct to chase after rabbits, so you need to be very careful when introducing the two animals. You definitely want to make sure the dog is trained and obeys your commands. And if the two don’t get along, you will have to consider keeping the two animals separate. For example, keeping your rabbit in a room that the dog is not allowed into.

It is possible for dogs and rabbits to get along though. I know someone who’s rabbit quickly became the queen of the household. The dog had to think twice before ever crossing paths with Ms. Rabbit.

Sources:

  1. Harding, Kelli. “How a Study on Rabbits Revealed the Secret to Living a Longer Life.” New York Post. Aug. 24, 2019. nypost.com/2019/08/24/how-a-study-on-rabbits-revealed-the-secret-to-living-a-longer-life/?fbclid=IwAR3OuqsoSsYLDzMatiiofHmr6wjmmCU3FuxiDJu6oGIxsya9inoxeWQ4pvI.
  2. “Rabbits for All Seasons: Summer.” Long Island Rabbit Rescue Group. www.longislandrabbitrescue.org/summer.

Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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