In Australia rabbits are have been traditionally housed outside, but there is now an increase in popularity of house rabbits. Rabbits make great inside pets. Rabbits are easily toilet trained and they make fabulous indoor companions, and keeping them inside ensures they are safe from predators and disease.
Regardless of housing it is best to ensure your bunny has at least two to three hours of human-rabbit interaction a day. This will help your rabbit feel comfortable around you and others. Any less and they may think of you as a predator and hide, scratch, run or bite.
Caution: Myxomatosis Risk!!! Rabbits outside have an increased chance of contracting Myxomatosis from an infected mosquito bite. While housing rabbits is a personal choice we strongly recommend taking steps to protect against this disease. Many people choose to keep their rabbits entirely inside to limit the risk of this deadly disease from biting insects. Some limit their pets’ outside access to the middle of the day only (as dawn and dusk are active times for mosquitoes) or grow mosquito-repelling plants and put flyscreen around outdoor rabbit enclosures.
Possible housing arrangements:
Indoor bunnies are able to spend large amounts of time around their owners, and therefore feel safe around humans and make excellent companions. Some options for house bunnies are:
- Free range inside. Remember that you do need to bunny-proof the rooms they are allowed in; covering up any electrical cords (an effective way to bunny-proof cords is to thread them through polypipe or garden hose). It is a good idea to provide your rabbit with its own bunny bedroom to hide and have some ‘me’ time
- Dividing the house into bunny-friendly and bunny-free zones with baby gates and play pens
- Rabbit enclosures inside. Remember that all rabbits need 4 hours of free roaming exercise on the ground (construct a playground so that bunnies can have fun in their play time)
Some rabbits have the best of both (inside and outdoor) worlds. Some outside time is appreciated by house rabbits, though there are increased risks with having bunnies outside (see below for more details). Some indoor-outdoor options are:
- Access through a cat door for free-roaming rabbits
- A outdoor enclosure or hutch system for your rabbit to play in safely during the day. Make sure any enclosure is predator proof and insect proof
Many people feel that rabbits need to be housed outside, as this is closer to their natural conditions in the wild. While this is true it does reduce their exposure to humans, making them more independent and potentially more anxious when handled, and increases their risk of natural dangers. There are also many ways to simulate their wild behaviours in a safe and interactive way. Some backyard options are:
- Free range outside. This does leave them vulnerable to predators (dogs, cats, foxes). If your yard is not predator proof you may run the risk of animal attacks. A secure night time enclosure is highly recommended to prevent any attacks. Free ranging bunnies may also eat harmful plants in the backyard, and be susceptible to heat stroke, flystrike and insect-borne viruses like Myxomatosis and Calicivirus
- Outside hutch rabbits. Though this means that rabbits are secure, be careful that there is enough room for your rabbit to have a good run around (at least two metres in length). Many commercial hutches are too small.
Recommendations for hutches
- Minimum three square metres enclosure with enough height for your rabbit to stretch up and jump onto a small box.
- Make sure the enclosure is fully insect-proofed for rabbits
- Make sure they have a hidey hole to have some ‘me’ time
- DO NOT use metal runs or hutches as they heat up significantly in summer
- Move your outside rabbits inside when temperatures are predicted to reach over 28 degrees. Heat stress can be fatal and it is very common