As winter approaches in northern Ohio, I often think about animals that face life dealing with the elements on a daily basis. Wild animals know how to seek shelter and find warmth where they can, whether by digging burrows, holing up in hollowed out logs, or snoring away in caves during the long winter nights.
But what about domestic rabbits? Are they better housed indoors or out? As the word "domestic" implies, these are not wild rabbits or hares who are in tune with their more basic instincts of seeking proper shelter at the right time. Some argue that a pet rabbit has the ability to grow a heavy winter coat and will spend the winter quite happily when housed outdoors in a cage or hutch. There is truth in the notion that rabbits do prefer colder weather over hot, but does that mean a rabbit can be safely housed outdoors any time of year because it will just adapt? It takes months for that heavy winter coat to grow in, so timing is a serious consideration. Those in favor of indoor housing will point to protection from the elements and predators as chief reasons to keep pet rabbits in the home.
If you look at a list of the pros and cons of both sides of the indoor/outdoor debate, it might look something like this:
Indoor Housing Pros:
Safety from predators
Protection from extreme heat/cold
Convenience in feeding, watering, cleaning cage
Bunny receives lots of attention due to convenient location
Less opportunity for parasite infestation
Don't have to bundle up to care for rabbit in the winter
Don't have to deal with rain to care for outdoor rabbit
Less opportunity for neglect
Bunny has greater possibility of becoming beloved member of the family
Indoor Housing Cons:
Cage takes up space
Possible urine odors if cage isn't cleaned frequently enough
Bunny can be messy with stray poo balls, food pellets, hay, urine accidents
House must be rabbit proofed to avoid bunny chewing on furniture, wires, dangerous houseplants, etc.
May trigger allergies
Disposing of used bunny litter in garden, compost pile, or garbage
Outdoor Housing Pros:
House stays cleaner
More convenient for disposing of bunny waste
Allergy sufferer can enjoy the bunny
Outdoor Housing Cons:
Have to care for bunny during extreme weather conditions (rain, snow, sleet, hail, heat)
Increased incidence of parasites (mites, fleas, ticks)
Hazards of rabbit escaping from cage
Possible death from predation
Increased possibility for neglect due to rabbit being out of sight, out of mind
Water bottles/crocks freeze and need to be thawed frequently
Rabbits can die from heat exposure
Increased rodent activity as they search for food
I witnessed the worst possible treatment of two rabbits as a child in southwestern PA. Our next door neighbors had two rabbits. Each was in a wire cage, propped up on two cinderblocks for legs. They had a water bottle and a food bowl. Period. No shelter, no burrow, no box or bedding for warmth. Those poor rabbits were fed when someone remembered to do it, were seldom given fresh water, and never had hay. They were plagued by flies in the summer because no one ever cleared the manure away from under their cages. They were living in filth, had bald patches from parasite infestation, had sore hocks. They received no love or attention. They finally died from neglect.
Would you want to see a rabbit treated like this? Neither would we. We do understand that some families need to house their rabbits in a barn or shed and they take wonderful care of their barn-housed bunnies. While housing in a shed or barn is definitely preferable to an unsheltered cage, we are always going to prefer having bunnies housed indoors where they can interact with their families. Indoor bunnies almost always live longer, healthier, happier lives, and that is what we want for our precious bunnies and their families.
We welcome your questions. Please contact us here.
Hot Cross Buns Holland Lops is a small-scale, family-run breeder located in Oberlin, Ohio. ARBA & HLRSC members.