How to keep rabbits safe outdoors from predators and poisonous plants, providing the right shelter, and what health warning signs to watch out for...
As spring approaches and the weather warms up, it is beneficial to give both house rabbits and rabbits kept in sheds or outbuildings access to a secure outdoor area where possible. Rabbits receive Vitamin D through their correct diet of fresh hay and dark leafy vegetables but also, like us, from direct sunlight.
Some house rabbit owners may move their pair or group of rabbits outdoors permanently to a ‘summer house’ – a purpose built enclosure or shed. Single house rabbits should remain indoors overnight to receive enough companionship.
Whether your rabbit has permanent access to an outdoor space, or just let out for supervised exercise, there are several things to be aware of.
Safety from predators
First and foremost, your rabbit must be kept completely safe from predators. This includes danger from above such as hawks, so always ensure the exercise run is covered at the top as well as sides. If your rabbit has free run of your garden, you must supervise it constantly.
Rabbits do not have an instinct for which plants are safe to eat and as a general rule of thumb should be kept away from anything grown from bulb and evergreen shrubs and trees. Often the safest thing to do is fence off all flowerbeds etc and check frequently for signs of your rabbit digging their way in, or out of its exercise run.
Rabbits have a natural fear of wide open spaces and need a ‘bolt hole’ to hide in when they feel threatened. This can be a tunnel or wooden box and you may well find it more suitable to use a small dog kennel or cat carrier if your rabbit is fairly large. If you have a pair or group of rabbits, ensure their hideaway is big enough that they can all fit in.
Rabbits are more likely to pick up ticks, fleas and mites outdoors and it is important to check them over thoroughly for any signs of these. If your rabbit is prone to ‘sticky bottom’ syndrome, be particularly vigilant and check its bottom daily for signs of fly strike, a potentially fatal disease where flies lay maggots in the caked on faeces which eat then into the rabbit’s flesh.
Rabbits suffer from temperature extremes and it is advisable not to let your rabbit out on very hot days, unless it is cooler outside than indoors. Keep rabbits cool by providing shade, fresh water and frozen bottles of water for them to lean against. Watch out for signs of heat exhaustion such as panting, shaking and trembling and when in doubt consult a vet as this condition can be fatal.