Rabbits are highly entertaining and social animals who deserve to fully feel part of any family. However, as much fun as living with a rabbit might be, there are plenty of reasons why you might find that keeping them inside your home isn’t possible. If you’ve always kept a bunny outside then your unlikely to have any problems if you suddenly decide to bring him indoors (if it’s a particularly cold winter it will likely appreciate the warmth) but what happens when you want to put a house rabbit outdoors? Is it possible?
House rabbits can adjust to living outdoors, however, care should be taken to ensure the rabbit has time to adjust to any temperature difference. The new home also needs to be protected from the elements, kept warm and dry, especially during the winter, and secure from predators.
We always encourage rabbit owners to share their homes completely with rabbits and choosing not to confine them to a hutch should be applauded. It’s no secret that we’re not a big fan of rabbit hutches as keeping a rabbit cooped up in a hutch is often a fate much worse than death.
Rabbits bought on a whim and quickly forgotten about while they rot in a small hutch at the end of a yard live a terribly lonely and sad existence. Lack of activity often coupled with poor diet can lead to all sorts of health problems (obesity and all its associated issues being just one example).
Lack of room to move and exhibit normal rabbit behaviors including exploration, binkying, telegraphing, running, jumping and general playing is torture for a rabbit. This inevitably leads to boredom, frustration, and potentially aggressive behavior.
This is one of the main reasons that we think it’s essential for those interested in becoming a rabbit mum or dad to do adequate research on the realities of keeping a rabbit before jumping in. A rabbit is a misleadingly complex pet.
Personally speaking, we were happy to keep a couple of rabbits in the house, that was until we recently learned that we were to become parents for the first time. On discovering this happy news we (my wife!) decided that as much as we love them, we needed the space in our rather small home so our house rabbits would have to be put outdoors.
Of course, I wasn’t happy about losing my bunny house companions however keeping rabbits indoors is not without problems.
Take your eye off your bunny and you can probably kiss goodbye to your phone charger. Turn your back for a few minutes and table or chair legs, even carpet can be chewed and if your bunny gets the taste for them, you may find holes in your dresses, handbags, and shoes! (I’ve been on the receiving end of an angry wife myself for this very reason!).
Also, rabbits are not always the cleanliest of house companions. Although litter training is quite a straightforward process, a rabbit’s normal behavior and anatomy mean it’s a given that you will occasionally find droppings dotted around your home.
A rabbit may decide that your living room rug is now his favorite peeing spot (as happened with our own house buns) and although spaying and neutering will go some way to reducing this behavior, there’s no guarantee of it stopping completely.
With a baby on the way hygiene inside the house was even more important so I eventually if somewhat reluctantly agreed to my wife’s request.
I wasn’t very keen on moving the house rabbits into anything but a similarly spacious dwelling so in order to do this I needed to do a bit of research and redesign our outside space. This would also be a great opportunity to give the homes of our current outdoor bunnies a long overdue ‘refresh’.
Here are the steps we took to make our house bunnies into outdoor bunnies.
Finding a hutch alternative
I was keen to keep the rabbits out of any standard hutch, even the largest ones available are completely unsuitable for anything other than a young or dwarf rabbit species. Other issues I’ve had with hutches are that they rarely have room for a bunny to even stand up and they include unsuitable sometimes narrow ladders (more suited to guinea pigs). I wanted to give our house bunnies an ‘equivalent space’ to the one they used inside our home and hutches just would not cut it.
Having observed my house rabbits’ behavior over a number of years, I had noticed that the majority of their time was spent underneath the bed sleeping (and grooming). The rest was made up of trips in and out of the living room for the odd lounge on the rug (the pee rug mentioned earlier) and of course following me into the kitchen every time I opened the fridge for their morning kale or greens.
Our garden is quite small so the number one issue when planning this project was space. Even four rabbits having sufficient space outside was a stretch so providing enough space for six would definitely be challenging.
I decided that a few well-placed children’s ‘playhouses’ would make a larger more spacious alternatives to unsuitable pet shop hutches, especially if I could use my woodworking skills to place a couple of shelves at different levels within them.
I also wanted each rabbit pair to have access to an outside space. This would be available to the bunnies 24/7. Supervised access to the new improved ‘bunny garden’ as I called the project would also be provided when I was at home.
Once I had drawn a rough design of my ‘vision’ I decided to use Microsoft Excel to put together a scale drawing of how the finished garden might look. Being able to look at the size and space in more detail was useful and I decided that 5 feet X 5 Feet playhouses were the maximum amount of space I could give each rabbit pair and still have adequate space for runs and a nice path.
After researching a number of playhouses and narrowing down the options based on cost, space available, and ease of working on the houses to turn them into suitable rabbit homes, I made my choice ( I had even taken a look online to see what they would look like painted).
Here is the playhouse we chose and bought from Amazon.
With a little adaptation including air vents and an openable window, we were sure these would make suitable bunny homes.
A quick tip for anyone thinking of undertaking a similar project is that second-hand playhouses can be bought relatively cheap, in fact, I bought one myself, however, it did take a lot of work to scrub the chalk and pen from the inside and it was a little run down. Overall I found the new ones a lot easier to put together (and they included the instructions).
Once we had our playhouses, the first thing we had to do was construct them. The instructions provided with our chosen playhouses were very clear and putting them together was a fairly painless process. The instructions advised that it would take two people to put it together however any person with a fairly basic practical knowledge of DIY would probably be able to manage it themselves as I did.
Once constructed the playhouses were put onto shed base kits, these are molded plastic floorings that click together before being filled with gravel. Shed base kits ensure that the ground is stable and level, perfect if you have uneven ground, and great for keeping the houses nice and level for the rabbits so no spilled water bowl.
We had previously had issues with rats getting into the garden and underneath the shed too so I was concerned about them getting underneath and chewing into the rabbits new houses, a shed base kit stops rats or anything else from being able to do this.
Adapting the playhouse for rabbits
While the floor space of each playhouse was 25 cubic feet, I still wanted to use as much space within the playhouse as I could. I created a number of shelves within the playhouses in order to create upper levels that the bunnies would be able to use as a feeding level.
Shelves were created simply by cutting up some small timber blocks and fixing them in a few key points that would support a wooden board. I positioned one of the shelves level with the window so that the bunnies would be able to have a view of the garden and created a lower shelf with a whole as a ‘hop up’ as an alternative to a ramp as seen in the photos below.
I found the video below really useful in learning how to do this!
Finally, I added a short length of land drainage pipe which I had found on eBay as another way for rabbits to reach the upper level.
Although wild bunnies do gain a coat of thicker winter fur which helps them through the colder months, they also rely on underground burrows to provide a cozy home. During the cold burrows stay warm and dry by keeping in the body heat of the bunny residents and in the summer months, they offer bunnies a cool secure place to escape out of direct sunlight.
For domestic rabbits temperature is also important rabbits have very small sweat glands located inside the mouth which are mostly ineffective at reducing their temperature so they rely on the large blood vessels located in their ears to cool blood traveling around the body.
The playhouse that we chose included two fixed windows and no air vents as and having spent time in a similar playhouse on a moderately warm day in a previous experience, I could understand the requirement for some ventilation and cooling.
I started with the fixed window and used some 2″ X 1″ timber and used waterproof wood glue and panel pins in order to create a fixing point for some 3″ hinges (see photo). The new window opening would also be a potential escape point so I used the same method to build a frame around the inside of the window and fixed some galvanized 1″ wire mesh using staples.
Once the hinges were in place and I had tested that the window opened as required, I added a hook and eye in order to hold it shut. The intention was to keep the windows open for ventilation during the daytime and close them to keep the warmth in as the temperature dropped in the evenings.
I also carried out some research into the best way to fit air vents and learned that fitting a low vent on one wall and a high vent at the opposite wall would draw in cool air through the lower vent.
Here are the air vents I ordered from Amazon as they were wooden and matched the wood of the playhouse however in hindsight, plastic ones would have worked just as well (and wouldn’t have had have painted them).
These were simple to fit as they came with a template, I found that cutting the holes for these was easiest with a reciprocating saw rather than a jigsaw as I could just stick the template in place using masking tape and cut along the outside edges. Once the ventilation was in place it was time for painting.
I was completely redesigning the garden space so I had a theme in mind but painting either in varnish or outdoor paint for weather protection is important. If your considering this project yourself painting a playhouse in a light color means it will reflect heat rather than absorb it. This helps to keep the temperature inside the playhouse cooler during warm weather.
Adding fixtures and fittings
I wanted the playhouses to remain secure so I added a hasp and staple to the door which enables the door to be padlocked. Having had a large rabbit enclosure in my yard before one of the main problems I had was trying to get the rabbits back into the enclosure whenever they had been playing in the yard so for ease of putting the bunnies away after playtime I decided to add 4-way cat flaps to the doors of the playhouses. These are useful as they can be set so that a cat (rabbit in our case) can go through but is unable to come straight back out, extremely handy when it comes to putting a bunny away.
These were the best ones I could find on Amazon, in fact, I brought 6 of them (one for each playhouse and another to provide access to each run). The one modification I did make to these cat flaps was to remove the magnetic strip from the inside edge (it is not fixed and easily removable) of the hatch. A rabbit isn’t quite strong or heavy enough to push it open with this left in.
The cat flaps were easily fitted using the same method described for the air vents.
Adding a durable surface
There are plenty of things you can use as a surface for a rabbits home however when you own six you spend quite a sufficient amount of time cleaning. I wanted to choose a surface that was durable, long-lasting and easy to clean. Having tested various bedding surfaces (you can learn more about different bedding surfaces in our article here).
We decided on artificial grass (or astroturf as its sometimes referred to) as it met all of our requirements, in particular, it is very easy to clean using a powerful outdoor wet and dry vacuum such as the one linked here.
Another useful property of artificial grass is that it can be cut easily into removable mats for even easier cleaning.
The final thing that I had to consider was safety, this meant having a good clean of all tools, removal of any screws left around during the construction process, and ensuring that there is nothing that might be a danger to the rabbit. The interior design of our playhouse did have a fairly high drop from the top shelf so I used a little scrap wood in order to create a safety rail.
Building a run
The last part of our project was to provide the rabbit pairs with an outside run space. We built a basic run using some lengths of 2” X 4” timber and used screws to fix the structure firmly to the playhouse. Once the structure was in place we used some green coated steel chicken wire and stapled it in place to form a secure run.
Our run was finished off with some trellis in order to match it to the fence panels. This added some extra strength and security from predators to the structure but If you are undertaking a similar project yourself and are not using a trellis or similar you may decide on a heavier gauge mesh, especially if you also intend to give your bunny 24-hour access to the run.
Temperature and cooling
Although ventilation had been added to the playhouses on one particular day I noticed that the house was still uncomfortably warm. It was a fairly sunny day and the sun had shone directly through the open window. Although Snowball and Nery’s were acclimatized to warmer temperatures (having lived inside the house) before putting them in the new home, I needed to ensure they wouldn’t be TOO warm.
I decided to invest in some portable air conditioning units for each playhouse and tested two portable USB air conditioners from Amazon, both of which were great and fairly cheap (a full review of the best air conditioners for rabbit homes we’ll cover in a future post).
Both did a great job of keeping the rabbits cool, they were also simple to set up – just add ice cubes and water and they are ready to go. In the end, we opted for the smaller of the two, here is the link to that unit (on Amazon). I also purchased a portable power bank for each.
Tip – use with very short power cables which can be hidden from the rabbits and minimize the risk of chewing.
That took care of the warm temperatures but what about the cold?
Well, it’s not quite winter yet, however, having already had four bunnies living outside through multiple winters there are a few methods I’ve used to keep them warm in cold conditions.
Firstly there are fleece blankets. Bunnies love fleece blankets and have little interest in ingesting large portions of them they are cheap, washable, and make great sleeping and stretching areas for relaxing rabbits. (you can read all about blankets here).
Microwaveable heat pads
These are also excellent for rabbits, and once microwaved stay warm for up to 8 hours (meaning they last pretty much the whole night).
They come with a fabric cover however this does tend to get covered in straw and we have had a couple of the covers also rip on us. This isn’t really a problem though as the heat pad itself can be wrapped within a fleece blanket.
USB powered heat pads
These are advertised for pets however some considerations should be made when using these due to a rabbit’s penchant for nibbling. Like air conditioners, these run on a supply from a power pack via a usb so choosing small cables and keeping them out of the rabbit’s reach is essential.
This can be achieved by putting the heat pad and the supply power pack safely within the folds of a fleece blanket. The heat will, of course, radiate through the blanket and provide warmth to the bunny.
In an ideal world, every domestic rabbit would be kept as a house bunny however situations and personal circumstances can change so much that unfortunately and as much as we love them it’s no longer possible to keep a rabbit inside the house.
Although we would never suggest putting a single companion-less rabbit outside alone, we think that with careful planning adequate space provision and protection from the elements (and predators), rabbit pairs can live a perfectly happy and enriching life outside the house.