Should Bunnies Live Outdoors?
This is a question many people ask me at the shelter where I volunteer.
They come in to adopt a bunny and want it to live in a hutch in the backyard.
The bottom line is this: Bunnies should not live outdoors in the world the way it is today. But I'll explain that below.
I would rather a bunny have a loving home in a SAFE outdoor environment than be put to sleep.
It can work sometimes IF done correctly.
There are numerous reasons* that a bunny shouldn't live outside and I could write a horror story-book of all the people I know that have lost bunnies to horrible things in their back yards.
First let me go back in time a little bit.
Rabbits that are considered domestic rabbits today all basically come from a species that originated on the Iberian peninsula in Southern Europe. They were domesticated centuries ago. They are not the same species as our cottontails here in America.
Before they were domesticated, and since Paradise was lost (and the first animal was killed by God to make skin coverings for the sin of Adam and Eve) bunnies have been a food chain animal. That means that they are a food for another animal (anything from a coyote, wolf, owl, hawk, etc). Their life span was about 6 months to 2 years and that was it! Very rarely did a rabbit live longer.
Once we domesticated them, their life span increased to about 6-8 years, living outdoors in a backyard or such.
And about 30 years ago, when the House Rabbit Society started to introduce them as indoor animals/pets only, their life span was noted to last 8-12 years. The oldest rabbits in the world hail from Australia and Tasmania and were 15 and 18 years old! A friend of mine's rabbit, here in California, died at 16.5 years old. I have one now that is 12 and still going!
The exciting thing is that humans CAN do what God asked them to do, "take care of the animals" He created us to enjoy them, and even increase their lifespan! Isn't that amazing and wonderful? But the negative, is that just like with people, the longer we live, the more likely we are to get illnesses, like cancer etc.
For bunnies, what we have discovered in the last 30 years is that when they live longer, they are almost always.....
(75%(males)-90% (females) .....likely to develop either uterine or testicular cancer. Not all of them, but many many of them. Once again, the amazing thing is that we humans are so smart that we have figured out that if we spay and neuter them, not only do we help the bunny population stay down, but we STOP the cancer from developing. What a great thing! If we all spayed and neutered our buns, we would stop the cancer in it's tracks literally completely! So please, spay and neuter! Not only does it stop the cancer, it removes the hormones that make your bunny spray and/or act aggressive at times and when you spay and neuter, they will almost automatically become easily litter box trained. These are all good reasons for spaying and neutering our buns. Girls should be spayed between 6 months and one year old! Rabbits as young as 13 months have been seen with uterine cancer. It is best to spay and neuter at around 4-8 months, depending on the situation.
Boys can be neutered as soon as their testicles have fully descended!
It is important to understand the spay and neuter process, and why it can be more expensive and less expensive at different vets.
One of the reasons it is so expensive to spay and neuter bunnies is because they are very tiny animals, and they have very sensitive hearts and body systems, quite different from other animals that we often have as pets. Also, veterinary schools do not offer a lot of information on dealing with rabbits medically because they didn't use to be house-pets. More often than not they were farmed, for meat and furs. Usually a vet school would offer a summer course on "exotics" which included an amazing amount of different animals all with very different systems (from guinea pigs to lizards to birds) and you might not even see a rabbit during the course.
Therefore, when vets had to start spaying and neutering rabbits, they were not well-versed in how to do it, nor did they want to, because a rabbit's heart has a natural weakness which makes it a big liability under anesthesia. For example, when a vet spays and neuters dogs and cats, the anesthesia can be given and the surgeries can be done anytime in the next hours, but with a bunny, that same amount of anesthesia would kill the bunny. A bunny can only tolerate a tiny bit of anesthesia at a time, and it is just enough to be out for say 15-20 minutes. So, during the surgery; and a spay (as opposed to neuter) takes longer than 15 minutes, the bunny is going to wake up in the middle of the surgery, unless a very good vet tech is there to watch for that exact moment and administer the next tiny bit of anesthesia. This is scary for the vet, so why would they want to do this. Today there are some better anesthetics that last a little bit longer, but it is more expensive, and of course that expense gets past on to the consumer, rightfully so. As the consumer, we should understand that the costs to the vet must be passed onto us. But the more we spay and neuter bunnies, the better the vets get at doing them, and the sooner the costs might come down.
So, why shouldn't we leave our buns in the back yard?
1. First of all, the predators are all out to get the bunnies, or their food. And because the buns have that weak heart, a big scare can kill them. Bunnies have been known to have a heart attack from things like a big barking dog running through the yard and barking at them. Bunnies have been known to die from a possum or raccoon trying to get into their hutch. These animals won't necessarily kill the bunny, they just want the bunnies food and they know they can get in to the hutch to get the food. If the bunnies fight for the food, raccoons WILL kill the bunny to get the food. Raccoons have been known to pry open hutch latches and kill bunnies! A coyote, mountain lion or large animal can knock over a hutch and break it, and get the bunny from underneath.......the fear from this alone can kill your bunny.
2. Secondly, if you let your bun run free in the yard, owls and hawks and other large birds can VERY quickly swoop down and grab a bunny and off they go with it to eat it elsewhere, or if the bun struggles, they might drop it from high up and break all it's fragile bones! Being free in a yard also makes them easy targets for any big animals, like dogs, cats, coyotes, or whatever the native predator in your area is.
3. Thirdly, there are illnesses that bunnies get outside from insect bites (flies etc) that are deadly. The newest one to arrive in America is Myxomatosis. And also RHVD! (Rabbit Hemoraghic Viral Disease) The signs of Myxo are sometimes swollen head, eyes, nose etc.... and a very quick death. RHVD also is extremely contagious to bunnies (only). Signs of an RHVD death can be blood coming from mouth and nose (sign of inner hemoraghing) America does not have nor allow the vaccine for Myxomatosis yet so you have no way to protect or save your bunny from this painful awful disease. For RHVD the vaccine is finally available in states that have had the disease appear.
Fly-strike is another horrible disease. Flies love bunny poop, and will attach themselves to the groin of a bunny and inject eggs under the skin, which hatch into larvae that become maggots. These will eat your bunnies flesh from the inside, and unless you groom your bunny daily and fastidiously, you won't even realize until he is dead. I wouldn't want to die like that and your bunny doesn't want to either...I can assure you!
Heatstroke can kill them in 2 hours. Bunnies can only sweat through their ears. If its 80F and they cannot find shade they will die quickly, first panting quickly, then unable to breath. Bunnies must have shade in the heat, but even in shade they can die of heatstroke. They have very very dense fur that is super super good at keeping them warm.......or hot. If its 80 degrees outside.......PLEASE! take them inside to an air conditioned place...a bathroom is perfect as it often has a cool tile floor and plenty of water and isn't difficult to clean if they have an accident. If you don't have an inside..give them a frozen bottle to lean again, go to a grocery store and buy a big bag of ice and put a dishtowel over it and let them sit on it...or get them the large blue ice packs and put them in a pillowcase or wrap in a kitchen towel and put it near them. There are many ways you can help your rabbit under hot conditions.
So please, consider in this day and age............though bunnies do love the outdoors, that they are safer, much safer, indoors. This is not something I like, but in our world today, we have destroyed safety in the outdoors, and therefore we are responsible for protecting our animals.
Please protect all the animals!