Here at the Bunny Lady, I advocate for keeping rabbits as indoor pets. Overall, rabbits are much safer indoors and it’s easier to form a bond with them and treat them as companion animals. However, that doesn’t mean you can never take your rabbit outside. With precautions and supervision, time outside can be beneficial for rabbits.
The safest way to let a rabbit have time outdoors is by setting up a rabbit run. This can be a simple pet playpen as long as you supervise your rabbit. It will give your rabbit space to run around, while also keeping them safe from predators and preventing them from getting lost.
However, it is important to take a lot of precautions before letting your rabbits hop into the garden. You need to make sure your lawn is safe, and your rabbits won’t be too skittish. You also need to pay attention to the temperature and familiarize yourself with signs of heat stroke and stress so that you can help your rabbit if they need it.
Is it okay to take house rabbits outside?
As long as the weather outside is a reasonable temperature (50º to 75ºF), it is okay to take house rabbits outside to play. As long as you take some safety precautions (see below), you can allow your rabbit to play outside for as many hours as you can supervise them.
At lower temperatures, it’s still okay to let rabbits go outside, but you’ll want to keep it to shorter periods of time and pay attention to your rabbit’s body language so you can spot signs of hypothermia (see more about how to safely let rabbits play in the snow).
It’s best to keep rabbits inside when the temperature is about 75º to 80ºF out. Rabbits have a risk of heat stroke in hot temperatures since their coats are quite thick and insulating. If it’s a hot day, it’s best to keep the rabbit in an air-conditioned room (or a cool basement).
However, if you have a rabbit with any major health problems, it’s best to keep them indoors. The new environment outside can be stressful and there is a greater chance of parasitic infection (such as flystrike) which leaves rabbits who are elderly, obese, or otherwise sick in a vulnerable position.
The benefits of outdoor time for indoor rabbits
Not only is it okay to bring rabbits outside, but in many cases, it’s a benefit to the rabbit’s well-being. For safety and health reasons, I don’t recommend keeping rabbits outside full time, but supervised time outdoors is great for these reasons:
- Good for mental health. Rabbits love having new places to forage and dig and use their natural bunny behaviors.
- Good for exercise. If rabbits have an outdoor play area, it can give them some space to zoom around and exercise.
- Grass is good for rabbits. As long as your rabbit’s digestion is used to fresh leafy foods and the grass is untreated, then eating this high-fiber plant is good for rabbits.
- Sunlight is good for rabbits. Studies suggest that many indoor rabbits are deficient in vitamin D and could use more of the UVB light provided by the sun’s rays.
Is it okay to keep rabbits indoors all the time?
If you have a house rabbit, it’s okay to keep them inside. Outdoor playtime is great for many rabbits, but not everyone has a yard or space to let their rabbit outside. You also may not have time to supervise your rabbit outside, or your rabbit might be too skittish to enjoy their time outdoors because of all the new, scary sights and smells.
It might still be useful to occasionally open a window to let sunlight in for the rabbit to enjoy. Most brands of rabbit pellets are fortified with vitamin D nowadays, and you can arrange your rabbit’s indoor habitat and hide treats to give them plenty of exploration and foraging opportunities.
Safety precautions for giving rabbits playtime outside
As I mentioned earlier, bringing rabbits outdoors does include some dangers. There are predators, parasites, and poisons (pesticides) that can seriously harm a rabbit. That’s why I advocate for keeping rabbits inside your home rather than in a hutch outside. However, by taking these precautions, you can let your rabbit enjoy an afternoon in the sun:
- Let your rabbit get used to outdoor sounds and scents first. Before letting your rabbit outside, test them to see how they react to the sounds and scents of the outdoors. Place your rabbit in a pen just inside an open door to see if they seem interested or scared of all the sights, scents, and sounds from outside. If your rabbit is scared at first, you can try this a couple of times to see if they start to get used to it before trying to bring your rabbit outside.
- Introduce fresh grass into your rabbit’s diet first. While grass is healthy for rabbits, it can be a shock to their digestive system if they suddenly eat a whole lot of it. Start clipping your grass and bringing it inside for your rabbit to eat a week or two before you let them out on the lawn. This way they’ll already be used to eating fresh grass.
- Set up a rabbit run. It’s best to keep your rabbit in an enclosed area when they are outside even if your rabbit is well behaved and comes to you when you call their name. This keeps your rabbit safer from predators and keeps your rabbit from wandering away and getting lost. If you have the time and space, you can build a permanent outdoor run for your rabbit. Otherwise, a good option is setting up a pet playpen. Be sure to keep an eye on your rabbit so they don’t dig through the bottom, and it’s a good idea to add a sheet over the top to prevent large bird predators from getting to the rabbit.
- Consider the weather. As mentioned earlier, you always want to keep an eye on the temperature. Keep your rabbit inside on days when there is extreme weather. A little bit of a drizzle is okay as long as your rabbit has a covered area they can go to if they want to get out of the rain.
- Supervise your rabbit. Make sure your rabbit doesn’t dig a hole under the fenced area. You also want to keep an eye out for signs that your rabbit is getting stressed out, or feeling sick (such as early signs of a heat stroke).
- Make sure the garden and lawn are pesticide-free. Rabbits cannot regurgitate, so if they eat something that’s been treated with a chemical pesticide, it can be very dangerous for rabbits. If you’re not sure, then don’t let your rabbit eat anything. Instead, consider putting a blanket down on the pavement or a patio so your rabbit cannot accidentally eat something with poisonous pesticides.
- Keep an eye out for predators. Wherever you live, there are going to be predators for rabbits. Whether it’s neighborhood dogs, raccoons, foxes, hawks, or anything else.
- Do a bug check when re-entering the house. Always check for ticks, fly eggs, and other bugs when coming back inside. Be especially careful to check around your rabbit’s bottom, since this is a common place for flies to lay eggs.
- Make sure all your plants are rabbit-safe. Most plants are not going to be toxic enough to kill rabbits, but it’s a good idea to be familiar with the plants in your yard and know what you need to keep away from your rabbit. Learn more about plants that are poisonous to rabbits.
- Give your rabbit shade and water. Rabbits should always have water available and a place they can hide under. This will serve as a cooling spot if your rabbit is feeling hot, but it’s also a hiding spot if your rabbit gets a little nervous.
- How skittish is your rabbit? If your rabbit is highly skittish or quick to dash away when they get scared, you might want to reconsider letting your rabbit outside.
- Is your rabbit vaccinated? There have not been vaccinations available for rabbits in the US in the past, but with the spread of the RHDV2 rabbit virus there is now a vaccine available. I highly recommend getting this before letting your rabbit outside for playtime. Learn more about RHDV from the House Rabbit Society.
Can you take your rabbit for a walk on a leash?
Some rabbits can be harness trained and taken outside on a leash. This is best for confident rabbits who like to explore, and rabbits that have a more chilled-out personality. You should not get a collar for a rabbit, since that can lead to injury, instead use a harness that wraps under the belly and around the chest.
It’s also important to mention that rabbit walks are usually not going to look a lot like dog walks. Rather than you leading a dog around, you should allow the rabbit to lead the way and follow them around while your rabbit explores. This will often include some long periods of standing in one spot while your rabbit munches on grass or yummy plants.
Before ever taking your rabbit outside, you should always practice putting on the harness and leash inside first. After your rabbit gets used to it and hops around normally, then you can start taking them out for walks.
Is your rabbit a candidate for harness walks?
Just because some rabbits can be harness trained, doesn’t mean all can. In fact, probably the majority of rabbits are not great candidates for harness walks. For one, many rabbits are highly agitated when you try to put any kind of ‘costume’ on them, and that includes a harness. Other rabbits are chewers and will quickly chew through the leash and try to escape.
You also want to avoid taking any highly timid or skittish rabbits on a leash. They are much more likely to get scared and try to bolt away, which can lead to injury.
If you want to go for a walk with your rabbit, but a harness just is not right for them, consider taking them in a covered pet stroller instead. This can give your rabbit some experience outside without worrying that they will run away or hurt themselves.
- Hess, Laurie DVM Ph.D. “Should My Pet Rabbit Spend Time Outdoors?” VetStreet. June 2015. http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/should-my-pet-rabbit-spend-time-outdoors.
- Jessica A. Emerson, DVM; Julia K. Whittington, DVM; Matthew C. Allender, DVM, Ph.D.; Mark A. Mitchell, DVM, Ph.D. “Effects of Ultraviolet Radiation Produced From Artificial Lights on Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D Concentration in Captive Domestic Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculi).” American Journal of Veterinary Research. April 2014. https://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/abs/10.2460/ajvr.75.4.380.
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Recommended Products and Brands
Important: These are Affiliate links. As an associate to Amazon, Small Pet Select, and Chewy.com, I may receive a small commission from qualifying purchases.
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- Hay: Second Cutting Timothy Hay from Small Pet Select
- Pellets: Oxbow Garden Select Food for Rabbits
- Treats: Oxbow Simple Rewards
- Toys: Small Pet Select Natural Toys
- Enclosure/cage: A rabbit exercise pen
- Rabbit carrier: SleepyPod Mobile Pet Bed