Why an Indoor Bunny?

by Dana M. Krempels, Ph.D.

Every year, thousands of "Easter bunnies" are taken home, played with for a few hours and then dumped in a hutch to be forgotten for most of the rest of their lives. Not all hutch bunnies get proper care, and many of those "Easter bunnies" die before they reach the age of one year. Here are some ways you can avoid the health problems so often seen in bunnies forced to live outdoors in Florida or other areas where summer temperatures are very high.


A rabbit needs at least four hours per day of running time inside the house or in a fenced yard, supervised by a human to prevent attack by predators. Our house rabbits are often never caged, but if you find it necessary to keep your rabbit confined while you are away, then be sure the cage is at least 3' x 4' on the floor dimensions, and at least 2' high, so the rabbit can comfortably stand on her haunches to look around. Large breeds (more than 6 lbs.) need an even larger hutch to be comfortable and healthy.


Here in Miami where the summer weather often means 95+ (Farenheit) and 95%+ humidity, rabbits in outdoor hutches die in droves. The domestic rabbit is the same species as the European rabbit; it is not related to our wild rabbits. Domestic rabbits are not physiologically equipped to handle temperatures any higher than about 78 degrees Farenheit. When it gets hotter than that, the bunny *must* be brought indoors where there is air conditioning.

Placing a fan near the bunny will not help. Since rabbits cannot sweat, they cannot benefit from the evaporation cooling that humans enjoy when the wind blows on their sweat.

If the rabbit absolutely *cannot* come indoors, you must place the hutch in a very shaded area where the sun *never* shines directly on the bunny. Even a half hour in the direct Florida sun can be fatal. When the temperature rises above 78 degrees Farenheit, place a plastic milk jug filled with frozen water (keep a few of these in the freezer and rotate them into the cage) in the hutch so that the bunny can rest against it to keep cool, and also be able to get away from it if he feels cool enough.


Most people don't realize that there is *no such thing* as a hutch that is safe from predators. No matter how sturdy the cage may be, a tenacious raccoon can grab an exposed toe and proceed to chew off a foot or leg of the rabbit trapped inside.

Sometimes, even the *sight* of a predator can stress a rabbit so badly that she dies of a heart attack, since she knows she has no where to run or escape.

It is thus vitally important to keep the bunny indoors, safe from predators, *especially at night* when most predators are active.


The sad truth is that rabbits living outdoors simply can't be constantly monitored for the small changes in behavior that can signal health problems. Being prey items, rabbits tend to hide their symptoms until they are very sick, indeed. If they live indoors with you, you can monitor them very well, and because you become familiar with their behavior patterns, you will notice if they are the slightest bit "off." Even not eating for one day or hunching quietly in an unusual resting place can signify that something is terribly wrong with your rabbit. If this happens, do NOT WAIT for the condition to get worse. If a rabbit does not eat for 24 hours, it should be considered an emergency, and you should get her to your rabbit-experienced veterinarian immediately.

We receive far too many messages from people who write to ask why they found their hutch bunny dead, for no apparent reason. They want to know what happened, and how they can prevent this in the future.

Unfortunately, if the bunny was living alone in an outdoor hutch, the owner usually has no idea of what symptoms of illness the bunny was showing prior to death. Without this information, we cannot even begin to guess at the multitude of possible causes of death. This would be far less likely to happen if the bunny were living indoors with the family. The signs of illness could be detected before the problem became an emergency.

Leaving a bunny alone in a hutch (or even inside) is not necessarily cruel in the sense that a hutch bunny is in physical discomfort. However, having lived with rabbits indoors for over 15 years now, I can say with certainty that most of them crave social interaction and affection from their humans. They are, by nature, very social and loving. Being stuck outside in a hutch all alone is NOT a fun life. I would no sooner stick a bunny in an outdoor hutch all day than I would do that to a Golden Retriever.

Rabbits deserve love and interaction with their human families. They are not just giant gerbils or hamsters. (In fact, they are not rodents at all!) Rabbits intelligent, sensitive and have delightfully strong personalities. What a tragic waste of a spirit to put one in a cage.

Give your bunny a chance to show you what a wonderful member of the family s/he can become. Bring him/her indoors where s/he belongs.

You'll wonder how you ever went so long without a HOUSE rabbit!

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