Keeping rabbits safe outside
Rabbits can live happily inside or outside, as long as they are housed in an adequate environment which meets all their species-specific needs. If you decide to keep your rabbits outside, it is important to ensure that they are safe from all the potential dangers that can occur.
How can I protect my rabbit against predators?
Nowadays urban foxes and other predators who will attack rabbits are widespread in towns. These animals do not just hunt at night but will attack in broad daylight. Many people allow their rabbit’s free access to their garden. Whilst this is a nice idea there are very few gardens which are truly predator-proof. A 6ft fence is no challenge to local cats or foxes, which you may be totally oblivious to.
As well as cats and foxes, there is also the risk of attacks from above. Buzzards, Red Kites and some types of hawk are all capable of attacking and killing rabbits, even just from the shock of an attempted attack.
To help keep your rabbits safe from predators it is recommended to place your rabbits in a secure run to allow them to exercise. Ensure the rabbit can’t dig out and equally that nothing can dig in. A solid roof is a must to stop predators jumping in or rabbits jumping out. Make sure the rabbit has access to somewhere to hide so they don’t feel exposed all the time, which will cause stress. Rabbits need places to hide, tunnels to run through, toys to play with and to fulfil their natural instincts for chewing and digging. It is preferred that there is more than one entrance and exit, this will help them feel more secure. The run should ideally be permanently accessible, so the rabbits can come and go as they please, and should measure a minimum of 8ft x 6ft x 3ft (RWAF website recommendations), the bigger the better.
Wire on enclosures must be galvanised or welded steel of 19 gauge or below. Chicken wire is not suitable as it will not withstand an attack by a determined predator. Ensure that you check enclosures regularly for any wear and tear or damage.
Rats are often attracted to food that is left in rabbit enclosures. Rabbits should not have access to pellets all the time. Instead, their daily portion should take them no longer than 30 minutes to eat, with the remainder of the time spent eating grass and hay. This will help lessen the likelihood of rats being attracted to your rabbit’s enclosure. If you notice any sign of rats or mice then it is best to seek professional advice on how to get rid of them, since they can, especially rats, cause injuries and even kill rabbits.
How do I protect my rabbits from being stolen?
Sadly, the theft of rabbits from gardens is on the increase. Horrifyingly, some rabbits are stolen and distressingly some are killed, whilst others are deliberately released from their hutches/enclosures by malicious individuals.
Never keep your rabbits in a front garden or one that is accessed by members of the public.
Back gardens must be as secure as possible with locked gates and the rabbit’s enclosure should also be padlocked with a large and secure padlock. You can also consider getting motion security lighting around your rabbit’s home, an alarm or CCTV on your rabbit’s enclosure.
Placing gravel on the outside of your rabbit’s enclosure may also alert you to someone walking around their enclosure.
Be mindful about what steps you can take to help prevent your rabbits from being stolen and take precautions.
Should I microchip my rabbits?
Yes, this is a very wise idea. Rabbits can be microchipped in the same way that dogs and cats are. If your rabbit ever escapes or is stolen, then it gives you the best chance of getting them back. A small microchip (smaller than a grain of rice) is implanted with a needle at your vets. This can be done conscious or if you are having your rabbit neutered, can be done whilst they are under anaesthetic. It is relatively painless and is a permanent way to identify your rabbit. The microchip is inserted into the skin in the scruff of the neck, and the chip is read by a scanner.
If your rabbit ever ends up at a vets or rescue centre, they can scan for a microchip and contact the microchip company for your details, so you can be reunited. Please make sure you always keep your details up to date. If you move to a new house or change your telephone numbers or email address you must let the microchip company know.
Do I need to protect my rabbit against the cold and heat?
In the wild rabbits keep their environmental temperature at a constant level. Living underground means that in the cold weather they are kept warm, in the warmer weather the temperature remains cool underground. Rabbits struggle to cope with extremes of low and high temperatures. Rabbits are fully furred and cannot sweat to reduce their body temperature effectively. They are obligate nose breathers and mouth breathing is a sign of respiratory distress, so they cannot pant like dogs do to reduce their body temperature. It is therefore important to keep them cool in summer and warm in winter.
Hutches and enclosures must be out of direct sunlight, wind and driving rain. Be aware of any weather warnings regarding storms, strong winds and floods and take the necessary precautions. Move the rabbits indoors or into a secure shed or unused garage should any warnings be issued.
During cold weather ensure extra bedding is provided and you may want to invest in a heat pad to place inside the rabbit’s enclosure, which stays warm for up to 10 hours. Hutches can be covered over with blankets and covers, but these must be removed first thing in the morning. Ensure adequate ventilation at all times. Even in winter rabbits must still have daily exercise, they still need access to their run and exercise can be one of the best ways to raise body temperature. Check water bowls and bottles (including the spout) several times a day to ensure they haven’t frozen. Bottles can be protected with a thick sock or cover to help stop them freezing.
The best way for a rabbit to stay warm is to have a companion to snuggle up to; always keep your rabbits in compatible pairs or groups.
During hot weather make sure that the rabbits have access to constant shade. If the rabbits are used to drinking from a bottle, also supply them with a water bowl. Freeze special cooling packs or fill plastic drinks bottles with water and freeze, wrap them in a towel and allow the rabbits to lie next to them. Some rabbits appreciate a fan, but ensure the cable is not accessible.
Never leave rabbits in hutches on hot days. Apart from the fact that rabbits should have free access to a large and secure enclosure at all times, rabbits that are left in hutches during hot weather are likely to overheat, since the hutch will act as insulation, making it an oven.
Care needs to be taken to think about our rabbits needs not only on a day-to-day basis, but also during weather extremes, to ensure that they stay safe and happy.
Are some plants dangerous?
It is important to know what you are feeding and what your rabbit has access to in your garden. As has already been said, it is best to keep your rabbit in a secure enclosure to protect them from predators, rather than allow them free access in your garden. Doing this also means they aren’t potentially eating plants that could be dangerous.
You should familiarise yourself with what common plants are safe for rabbits and which ones should be avoided. This can also allow you to be able to forage for plants to safely feed your rabbits.
Not all toxic plants are fatal, and some are toxic in much smaller quantities than others. Reactions can vary from an allergic skin or anaphylactic reactions, hypersalivation, gastrointestinal upset or may prove to be fatal. Generally anything that grows from a bulb is toxic and must be avoided. Other known toxic plants include buttercups, laburnum, foxglove, false parsley, poison ivy, mushrooms, plum and peach trees and many more.