As weather improves while summer fades into fall, we field questions about rabbits and the outdoors. Some people with house rabbits, especially those with new buns, are concerned that their rabbits are missing something if they do not get time outdoors.
Truth is, domesticated rabbits are safest inside your home. (That's the one hand; see below for the other!) You should make a point to position play areas and housing in areas that receive indirect sunshine. Access to sunshine is an important part of mental well being for pets as well as people! Beware direct sunshine as it can cause heat buildup which is difficult for rabbits to manage. If the sun should hit a portion of a rabbit's indoor home for a portion of the day that is likely fine; use common sense and check the temperature in areas of concern with an indoor thermometer. This will help your bun be happy and healthy.
But the outdoors can be a dangerous place. We all are well aware of the dangers of housing rabbits outside permanently, including inclement weather, emotional neglect and real mortal danger from predators.
I'll be blunt: we've heard of many stories of things that people never thought possible actually happening. Rabbits have been snatched away permanently by large predatory birds; they have become spooked and run from the area, slipping through a hole in a fence or into the woods, never to be found again; they have been the mortal victim of attack by neighboring dogs who prior to the attack had never jumped a fence or attacked an animal before.
I don't mean to be sensational; it's just important to realize what the real dangers are. However, outdoor recreation with your bun is possible, if you carefully consider the following:
- Choose a secure area.
Think hard about the area you want to take your rabbit. Imagine what would happen if your rabbit gets spooked and jets off at top speed, such as some do when a large bird flies overhead. You must think defensively as well. Think not only of what your bun might do, but what a hundred things OUTSIDE of the secure area might do. You must think of POSSIBILITIES, not just what has happened before in the past. Dangers can come from below ground, from the yard next door or even out of the sky. Never take an untethered bun to an open area. If visiting an event in an open, unfenced or unsecured area, fit your rabbit properly with an H-style harness and lead. A rabbit on the loose and running in fear can run into dangerous situations (such as traffic) or draw predators (from domestic dogs to wild birds). You can make an open area secure by using an x-pen such as the ones we offer. These configurable, portable exercise pens are useful in cases of emergency, too.
- The area must be clear of dangers.
In the secure area, you need to make sure there are no dangers within. Areas where the bun will play and forage should be chemical free (no use of yard or garden fertilizers, bug sprays, etc.). Check for not only dangers you can readily see, but things you might not see but your bun will, such as that small broken opening in the garden shed that they could just barely wiggle through...
- Provide total supervision.
To reduce dangers, be present and attentive to your bun while outdoors together. If you must go inside for something, take them with you. Your presence will not only ward off other predators, but enhance your buns sense of safety and security.
- Know your bun!
Step back from what YOU want, or what you THINK your bun would want, and really consider your rabbit's personality. If you have a shy bun that runs from new things, or one that prefers to spend most of his time lounging under/behind the couch, the outdoors will likely be more frightening than interesting.
The last tip is really important. KNOW YOUR BUN. In addition to questions and stories of woe, we also receive lovely stories from those who have assessed the dangers, put effort into minimizing them, and as a result enjoy fun times in the crisp air and warm sun with their buns. A romp in a small back yard gives a bun the chance to forage, leap, run, nibble flowers, dig, and do all the things a bunny loves to do.