Rabbits are commonly imagined as playful creatures running around in the wild, but they are also potential prey animals. Wild hares and rabbits may thrive in the wild, but pet rabbits do not have the inherent ability to survive outdoors.
Rabbits are small, fragile, and often defenseless against larger outdoor threats. Therefore, they need to be cared for accordingly. Keeping a rabbit outdoors can decrease its life span by several years.
The average life span of an indoor rabbit is about 8 to 12 years, when cared for properly with a balanced diet and regular exercise. On the other hand, the life span of a wild rabbit is about 2 years, owing to predators and harsh climatic conditions.
Simply put: Pet rabbits are safer indoors. Below are various threats that a pet rabbit may encounter if kept outdoors.
Many birds and animals prey on rabbits. Domestic rabbits are slower and less adept at fleeing or defending themselves. This makes them easy prey to any larger carnivore, including foxes, coyotes, raccoons, cats, and dogs. Even snakes, owls, hawks, and eagles have been known to prey on rabbits.
Pet owners might assume that rabbits kept in hutches or cages outdoors or in their backyards are safe from predators. But consider that animals like raccoons and possums can easily pry open latches barring the hutches or cages. Larger animals like coyotes can simply knock over and break some hutches to get to a rabbit. Birds of prey can swoop down and grab your rabbit in a flash if a hutch has no protection from above.
Besides being directly attacked and killed, rabbits are known to have weak hearts. They are easily shocked and frightened by unfamiliar smells or noises. The sound or stalking of a predator outside the door can be fatal enough for your bunny. Therefore, it is very important to make your rabbits feel safe and secure by keeping them indoors and close to you.
Rabbits are very sensitive animals and don’t fare well in extreme weather conditions (above 80 or below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual). In the wild, they dig deep burrows in the ground to seek shelter from the harsh elements.
High heat and humidity are especially dangerous for rabbits because their thick coats can cause overheating. Rabbits can only dissipate heat through their ears; panting only gives minimal relief. They can easily get heatstroke if left in direct sunlight or high temperatures. Heatstroke can be fatal in as little time as 2 hours.
Although rabbits cope better in cool temperatures, they can get hypothermia if left outdoors in freezing temperatures. They can even get frostbite and, in severe cases, they can lose their ears or feet to it.
Rabbits must be kept indoors where the temperature can be regulated, instead of leaving them at the mercy of the elements. Plus, some rabbits are cuddly and great to snuggle with on wintry days.
When outdoors, rabbits have little or no protection against bugs and parasites. Though most insects are harmless, bees, wasps, and scorpions may sting your rabbit and cause considerable pain. Fleas and ticks transmit several diseases, and some diseases caused by insects can be deadly.
One such disease endemic to the West Coast of the United States is myxomatosis. It is a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, fleas, biting flies, and direct contact.
Rabbits that are bitten by an insect carrying the virus show signs such as swelling around the eyes, lips, ears, and genitals. These are accompanied by a high fever, lethargy, and poor appetite. With no cure and treatment that rarely works, myxomatosis has a 50 to 99% mortality rate.
Another terrifying disease is the fly strike, which occurs when a fly lays eggs under your rabbit’s skin. Once the eggs hatch, the maggots start to eat the rabbit’s flesh from the inside. This dangerous disease can go undetected long enough to cause death.
4) Loneliness And Boredom
Rabbits are social animals who need company and mental stimulation. They seek companionship and can get very lonely if kept alone. Rabbits kept outdoors will not form a bond with you. They may even suffer from depression and loneliness and become anxious and stressed.
The only way to protect your pet rabbit from these conditions is by keeping your rabbit indoors. Rabbits living inside the house are much healthier, because it is easier for owners to monitor them. It is also easier to spot signs of illness and treat them in time.
Visit The Outdoors Safely
Keeping your rabbit safe doesn’t mean you can never let them out of the house. Rabbits love the outdoors, and running around provides exercise essential for their well-being. You may create a covered play area in your yard or take them out for walks on a leash.
However, they should never be left outside unsupervised. Left unsupervised, rabbits may wander off toward danger or chew on toxic plants. It is also important to carefully check them for parasites after every outing.