Is it better to have indoor or outdoor rabbits?

Rabbits can thrive both inside and out – as long as they live in a warm, comfortable hutch, sleep in good bedding and have a cosy companion to snuggle up to.

During winter, some rabbit owners may think about bringing their rabbits indoors. They might even be wondering whether it’s best to keep their rabbits indoors or outdoors altogether. But what is best for their pets?

When considering the options, it’s important to remember that having rabbits is a long-term commitment – they can live for up to 10 years, and have complex care and nutritional requirements. They also need specific equipment and attention, and plenty of space and companionship, to keep them safe and healthy. Let’s take a look at what both indoor and outdoor rabbits need to thrive.

When they live inside with humans, house rabbits are more likely to receive regular love and attention. That’s important, because they are very sociable creatures that can easily become subdued if left alone for long periods. Being surrounded by people and activity may help their mental wellbeing. It can also mean they are better socialised and therefore easier to handle

There’s also no threat from predators inside, and being under your watchful eye means any illness can be noticed more quickly. If you see any signs of poor health, be sure to seek vet attention straight away, since rabbit health can rapidly deteriorate. Being prey animals, they tend to hide their illnesses as long as possible

If you keep your rabbits indoors, you may need to make adjustments to accommodate their needs. There are a lot of noises, smells and sounds in a common household – like the washing machine, smoke alarm or TV – that might stress rabbits out.

To help them, you’ll need to ensure they have a hiding place. This is “somewhere the rabbits feel is a safe bolthole where they won’t be disturbed”, says Rae Walters of the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF), which has guidelines for rabbits’ minimum indoor living requirements.

Likewise, there can be issues with introducing rabbits to a place that other animals call home – especially cats and dogs. While they can develop friendships if introduced carefully, cats and dogs are natural predators and might not take too kindly to the new residents. You should never leave rabbits unsupervised with other animals.

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When living outdoors, rabbits need protection from predators such as foxes and owls, as well as regular cleaning and socialising. A good variety of grasses (apart from bamboo) are essential to keep bunnies healthy, although not all plants are safe.

Outdoor accommodation will expose your rabbits to various parasites and viral diseases, such as myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease, so you’ll need to keep their vaccinations up to date.

Flystrike is a danger, regardless of whether your rabbits live indoors or outdoors. This condition arises when flies lay eggs on a bunny’s skin, which then hatch into maggots and eat away the rabbit’s flesh.

The RWAF’s Rae says that rabbits should be housed where owners can provide the “best area that fits with their lifestyle”, keeping issues like allergies in mind.

Inside, rabbits need to be safe from:

  • Other pets
  • House plants that may be poisonous
  • Electric wires
  • Being trodden on
  • "Escaping" into a dangerous outside environment

Also, as rabbits chew things, your door frames, furniture and carpet might not remain intact unless you take precautions.

Outside rabbits might be safe from electric wires, but they still need protection. Ensure their living quarters are secure while remembering that bunnies like to burrow, dig, jump, run and hide.

A hutch should only ever be a shelter, never the sole or main accommodation for your rabbits. The RWAF has guidelines for outside accommodation.

Try not to move your rabbits around by the season. According to the RWAF, it’s best to leave your rabbits where they are and be consistent.

Make sure your winter outdoor accommodation has good bedding materials and permanent insulation. The whole enclosure should be protected from wind and rain wherever possible – a tarpaulin can be a good, inexpensive option. Also, follow our tips on winter care for rabbits.

Finally, make sure your rabbit has a companion – that way they’ll have a permanent bunny-shaped, furry hot water bottle beside them, ensuring they keep warm all night

Do your rabbits live inside or out? Tell us why on social media using the tag #PethoodStories

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