Last Updated: 5/2/06
Cages and Inside versus Outside
Flooring and Why Wire Bottoms are Bad
Winter and Summer Care for Outdoor Rabbits
You can either keep rabbits inside or outside. The benefits of being inside include more time with the bunnies, the option of letting them run free in the house, 100% protection from the elements, and protection from potential predators. Benefits living outside include larger hutches, fresh air and circulation, sun, and being outside (visual, auditory, and olfactory stimulation; not a plus in non-natural settings like cities). The downsides include the weather and potential predators (including humans in cities who can and do snatch bunnies).
Living in a rural area with cats and dogs inside (so cannot let rabbits run in the house), I chose to keep my rabbits outside (or rather, my parents would not allow them to come inside). This does not mean that I love them any less. If the hutch is built with strong wood, a good roof, a warm nest box, strong locks on the doors, and is at least 3-4 feet off of the ground, the rabbits should be fine in rural areas. The worst threats comes from dogs, raccoons, or any native large predators. Be sure the door locks are spring loaded. If you can punch your way into the cage, so can a predator. Of course, if you keep the rabbits inside, you need not worry about these things. Most House Rabbit Society members will urge you to keep your rabbits inside.
Picture of Izzy in the left room of the hutch, 4/12/98.
My rabbits have a nice hutch. The first room is 4'2" x 3'2". The second room is 3'1" x 3'2". Both have a shared sloping roof that goes from 20-27" high, tallest in the center. It is all wood except for the windows which are rabbit wire. The wood on the outside must be treated or it will fall apart. Inside wood should not be treated because the rabbits will chew it. The plywood floors and roof should be treated since they suffer the most water damage, and rabbits rarely eat them. We had to replace the roof once since it was indoor plywood with shingles and rotted out. The hutch has three windowed doors, two additional windows, and four vents in the eves.
During cold weather, the eves are stuffed with styrofoam, one window and two doors have wood stuck over them, and one window and one door have plexiglass over them to allow light in but keep cold out. Gaps at the doors and windows allow some circulation to continue. During warm weather, all openings are open for maximum ventilation.
Photos of my rabbit hutch:
A few people asked for photos of my hutch so here they are, taken on 7/11/04.
All of the hutch from the front
Front of hutch, left side with Isabella
Front of hutch, right side with Sweetie
Inside the left side with Isabella
Inside the right side with Sweetie
Back of the hutch
Back iris garden - I put this photo here because the rabbit hutch is in the back corner of the photo. This was taken on 4/26/06. You can see Sweetie in the left window and Mr. Tiny in the right window.
The floor is plywood in our hutch. I do not believe in wire bottoms (also called hardware cloth, metal mesh, rabbit wire, etc.). They hurt and often deform rabbits' feet (especially young ones). All my rabbits have litter pans and put most of their urine and a majority of their feces in the pan. Because they do not get all of it in the right place, I scrub down the hutch every five weeks with a dilute solution of bleach and water. I use a putty knife to scrape on any night feces that were left. Another reason that wire bottoms are not ideal outside is that during the winter, it is much harder to keep the rabbits warm because heat will always be lost out of the bottom. Also, predators will have an easier time breaking into a hutch with wire bottoms, and the rabbits will not feel secure. Imagine a dog jumping at you from below. You can see him but have no where to go. Such events can cause rabbits to die from stress.
Inside, however, wire bottoms may be preferred by some; just be sure to provide a solid area so the bunny's feet do not have to always be on wire. It is much easier to clean a litter pan than to try to get caked on night feces out of a wire bottom. Over time, urine will also eat through the wire as well as make it look unsightly. Years ago, our rabbits lived on wire and believe me, it was filthy!
In the winter, I cover the windows with wood, styrofoam, and plexi-glass. There are still cracks above the windows to provide some fresh air. If the weather goes below 10-15 degrees F, I bring the rabbits inside. Since rabbits are quite durable in the cold, the largest problem is keeping their water unfrozen. If rabbits do not have access to liquid water, they will stop eating and then not generate enough body warmth to survive. Be sure to replace frozen water a few times a day with liquid cold water (warm water freezes faster and could shock the rabbit's system). Rabbits do not tolerate drafts or dampness. So, outside in the winter, they must be protected from all directions while still allowing some natural light to enter and having small openings for ventilation. If you have access to electricity, you can use heat lamps (with wire cages over them so the rabbit does not touch them) during the winter. There are also microwaveable heat disks but I found those to be too hot at first and to lose the heat too quickly.
Just a note: Geoffrey read above where I said warm water freezes faster than cold and questioned it. Then, he did some research that shows that is correct. The phenomena is called "the Mpemba Effect." Possible reasons that warmer water may freeze faster than cold include: higher gas content in the cold water, evaporation, supercooling, convection in the water, and convection in the gas surrounding the water. I kind of think of it this way: If the water is warm and very active, a lot will come off as steam right away, thereby lowering the overall volume making the water easier to freeze up. Colder water, being less active, will lose less volume as it cools.
When the temperature is between 80 and 95 degrees F, I give the rabbits plastic bottles full of frozen water to lay next to. If you have access to electricity, run fans to cool the air during the summer. I bring the rabbits in when the temperature goes above 90 to 95 degrees F.
At least once a week, my rabbits get a chance to hop in the old dog pen (about 1/8 acre) together. I never leave them at this time. The more often you can let your rabbits hop, the better. They need exercise. Once a day is best. They make leashes if you do not have a pen or run. The rabbit will not like the leash. Do not let the rabbit hop un-contained; even old or sick rabbits can get away from you fast. In the dog pen, it took me 20 minutes to catch my doe once I put her down. I could never catch her if she were not contained. Be sure there are not any poisonous plants in the pen. If you cannot rabbit-sit your bunny, be sure all six sides (that means underground and skyward too) are bunny-escape-proof and dogs, etc. cannot get in. Also, provide water and a place to hide if a predator shows up. Hawks in our area are just waiting for a "free" meal so we never leave out buns alone and put them up if the hawks start squawking.
Of course, if you have a house rabbit, you must keep an eye on them until you feel confident that they will not get into trouble. Free house rabbits get constant exercise which is great for them. But, they can also get into trouble, eating electrical wires and wallpaper to name a few. I tried one rabbit in a bathroom once, and she ate the wallpaper off.
Do not use untreated pine or cedar shavings. They can cause respiratory problems. There is controversy over whether heat-treated pine or cedar shavings are okay to use. Corncob litter, CareFresh, similar products, and hay are all other choices. Temporarily, 100% clay litter can be used in a litter pan. I used to use this but learned that the dust can harm their respiratory tract as well. Now, I only use CareFresh in my rabbits' litter pans. CareFresh is made from unused wood pulp. It is better because it is safe to eat (although compaction is always a concern if they eat a lot), does not have much smell or dust, absorbs liquids and odors well, is very light, and is environmental friendly. There is a FAQ on bedding , including why shavings are bad and why CareFresh is good. They list ways to contact these companies too.
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