Because it has been traditional to keep rabbits in outside hutches, some people do it without thinking – not intending to be cruel. The facts are:
- Rabbits are intelligent creatures. Keeping them where they receive little mental stimulation is cruel.
- Rabbits are one of the world’s most social creatures. Allowing them little interaction with a live companion is cruel.
- Rabbits are delicate in some respects. Keeping them where multiple dangers abound is cruel.
People get little pleasure from rabbits in hutches. Feeding and caring for them soon becomes a chore with no reward. Many people, realizing they made a mistake getting rabbits, dump their responsibility onto shelters or other people. Some simply forget to feed and water them regularly, whether accidentally or more or less deliberately.
On the other hand, when people who have gotten information about how successfully live with rabbits in the house, they find them to be among the most delightful companion animals they’ve ever had. Unfortunately, people who bring them into the house without good information may encounter a variety of problems and find rabbits to be destructive and possibly uncontrollable.
In general, before getting any kind of house companion, you should learn what behaviors to expect (e.g., puppies chew, cats claw upholstery) and make a commitment:
- to meet the animal’s needs (rabbits can be given chew-toys; dogs can be given bones; cats can be given scratching posts)
- to learn the training techniques unique to the species of animal you are getting
- to spend the necessary time and effort training the animal so your needs are also met
Our article “Training Rabbits” can help you with this. Besides being here on the site, this article is included in our “Adoption Packet”.
High Risk The reason many people offer when they keep a rabbit outside is, “They love being outside!” or “They really don’t like being in the house.” A two-year old may love playing in the street, or may not like taking a nap, but that doesn’t mean that we let him have his way, with no regard for his safety and well-being.
We’re great fans of rabbits having time outdoors. However, an adult should be with them every minute that they there! When you adopt from the Colorado House Rabbit Society, you sign a legal contract, promising that they will not be left outside without an adult present. We take this contract very seriously and expect our adopters to do so, too.
We have kept a record of how outdoor rabbits died, based on the calls received from the people who lost them. Some of these rabbits were kept in hutches or pens only during the day for fresh air. Others resided in them permanently. From the following list, you can see for yourself the many, many dangers:
- a dog scratched determinedly at the hutch, causing the rabbits to go into shock and die
- a dog (or some other predator) broke into the hutch, killing one rabbit and maiming another
- a raccoon reached through the wire of a hutch and tore a rabbit apart (raccoons are everywhere, including downtown Denver – you may never see them
- because they are nocturnal)
- a neighbor sprayed insecticide which then drifted into the rabbits’ hutch
- a rabbit cut her foot and no one noticed until blood poisoning occurred – it was too late to save the rabbit
- a rabbit chewed and clawed his way out of a hutch; his body was found three blocks away
- a woman was delayed by a minor car accident – when she returned, she found the pen was no longer in the shade and the rabbits had died from heat stroke
- a rabbit suffered fly-strike (maggots burrow through the skin and eat the flesh) and no one noticed until it was too late
- a rabbit was sacrificed one night by someone apparently associated with the occult
- neighbor children accidentally let a rabbit escape when they opened the hutch door to visit the bunny – he was never seen again
- a rabbit allowed to run in a fenced yard apparently became ill and went underground where no one could get to him to treat him
- another rabbit allowed to run in a fenced yard was degloved (skin pulled over the head) by a “friendly” neighborhood cat
- a hawk landed on an unsuspecting rabbit, although the hawk couldn’t carry the rabbit away, he tore him to shreds and ate him on the ground
An additional danger is outdoor rabbits are likely to be infested with either maggots or cuterebra. Flies (any fly – the larval stage of which is a maggot) lay eggs on the droppings in litter boxes or on any wound on a rabbit, including a surgical incision. Maggots hatch, dig through the rabbit’s skin, and proceed to eat the flesh. They also produce a neuro-toxin which paralyzes the rabbit.
The cuterebra fly, common in Colorado, has an unusual life cycle, but the larvae end up under the skin of the rabbit (in a nostril, or even in the brain in some cases, where it is deadly). Under the skin, it creates a small breathing hole which then that becomes crusted with the waste from the larva. The larva absorbs nourishment without destroying it’s host and eventually leaves through the breathing hole. There are three dangers from the cuterebra:
- the larva may work it’s way into the brain
- infections can occur in the pocket the cuterebra larva created
- the rabbit may go into anaphylactic shock if the larva’s body is damaged
As you can see, there are an incredible number of very serious or fatal dangers to rabbits outdoors. As caretaker to any rabbits you bring into your life, it is your responsibilty to protect them and to ensure their emotional needs are met.