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How to Keep a Free-Range Outdoor Rabbit

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I have kept bunnies for years and know they can be a handful. I enjoy sharing what I've learned about rabbit care with others.

Wicket, my pet rabbit, does not enjoy being cooped up in her hutch.

Wicket, my pet rabbit, does not enjoy being cooped up in her hutch.

Rabbits Were Meant to Roam Free

One of the greatest tragedies of the rabbit-keeping pet craze is the way that rabbits, who were designed by nature to roam free over wide tracts of land, end up barely being able to hop a few feet in either direction in their cages. Though most people wouldn't consider keeping a cat or dog in a cage, the sight of a rabbit in a cage barely raises an eyebrow—even though it really should. Rabbits are just as smart as the average cat and can even be litter trained.

So how does one go about getting one's rabbit out of their cage and letting them live a full, happy, and active life? Well, there are several ways to go about this, and each of these methods come with its own drawbacks, risks, and rewards.

Rabbits are becoming very popular house pets, and it is possible to have them loose indoors as long as you a) bunny proof the room(s) they're allowed in; and b) make sure you get them litter trained before you give them the run of the place. Once a bunny decides where it is going to poop, it is quite difficult to convince them that they're wrong.

How to Keep an Outdoor Bunny

Though hardcore house bunny keepers will tell you that you're mad and cruel for keeping a rabbit outdoors, there are many advantages to keeping your bunny outdoors. For one, your house won't smell like rabbit waste. No matter how clean you keep a bunny's litter box, there will be some odor.

Outdoor Cage With Frequent Daytime Lawn Outings

The secret of keeping a rabbit outside in a healthy way is to provide them with a clean, secure cage with a run, and also to let them out of that run as often as possible to roam about in your backyard, which of course, should have high fences and not be populated by bunny-killing predators. Cats are usually okay with rabbits, especially cats that have been subjected to a thorough bunny beating. (Yes, that cute little fuzzy creature in my profile picture has handed out beatings to not one, but two cats simultaneously.)

Fencing and Supervision Are Important

Fencing is important, as is supervision. Make sure that your fences are actually secure. If there is a glimmer of light under the fence line, it will not take long for your rabbit to dig their way out. Supervision doesn't mean you always have to keep an eye on the bunny, but do go out periodically to make sure it is still in one piece and also to make sure that it hasn't found any escape routes. For the first few weeks you try this free-ranging approach to bunny keeping, make sure you supervise your bunny often.

Sequester Your Flowers and Vegetables

If you keep flowers or a vegetable garden, you'll need to fence them off. Not only will bunny raze your precious plants to the ground, she'll probably make herself extremely sick doing so. Not all plants are good for bunnies, but if you simply have a plain lawn, you should be okay.

Return to the Cage at Night

I would recommend putting your rabbit back into his or her cage at night. That will protect them from nocturnal predators. Don't be surprised if your bunny doesn't want to go back into the cage, once they've tasted sweet, sweet freedom, even the largest bunny cage can seem like a prison.

What Does a Good Outdoor Rabbit Cage Look Like?

For an idea as to an appropriate bunny cage, I've included a photo of mine below. It is 2 meters long by 1 meter wide (about 6 foot by 3 foot), and it gives her a secure place to run and sleep in when she's not roaming the lawn. We made this at home ourselves, and I cannot recommend doing this enough. You get to save money and actually give your rabbit enough space to live comfortably in.

Why am I going on so much about cages when we're talking about free-range bunnies? Because free range is not a substitute for no cage. Your rabbit will still need a well sheltered home, even if you let her out in the morning and don't put her away at night, or even if you make the decidedly more risky decision of letting your bunny roam your section 24/7.

Wicket's Favorite Set-Up

Having lived with Wicket in everything from a small one-roomed apartment to a workshop to a house with a yard, I have to say that the most convenient and mutually pleasing situation I've found for the two of us is for Wicket to live outside and have the run of the lawn on nice days. It gives her exercise and a break from living in a cage and it allows her to socialize on her own terms. It also allows me to enjoy her company without being constantly assailed by the scent of her urine. Win!

The outdoor run. A sleeping box is added in colder temperatures.

The outdoor run. A sleeping box is added in colder temperatures.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Comments

gailmdelaney on April 26, 2020:

I am trying to keep a wild rabbit nest safe from predators this year:

There is a hole/nest in the ground in a garden next to my home where a rabbit likes to nest. However, there are also neighborhood cats around that know about the nest. So, this year I am thinking about building some protection around it.

So, today I bought 4' tall galvanized chicken wire,19 gauge, 1/2 mesh. I also bought some 4' metal driving stakes to secure the wire around. I plan to drive the stakes into the ground a few inches outside/around the hole (around the nest), and secure the wire to the stakes. I can bend the wire either out or in at the top for extra security. I added a "ramp-like" entrance to one end of the nest that comes up at the other side of the chicken wire. Will this work?

Matthew Myers on November 04, 2018:

We have had 3 bunnies for almost 2 years now. Like many others we were told all were male. About this time last year we found a litter of kits that didnt make it. We were trying to find out who was male and who was female when we discovered 2 more litters of kits. We separated the male but ended up with a 3rd litter shortly after neutering him. At one point we had 17 healthy bunnies hopping around our yard but quickly gave them away to loving homes. Here in utah everyone has basements with window wells. We covered one window well with plywood with a hole for them to get out of the weather. Last winter we had quite a bit of snow with temperatures around 10 degrees and they loved it. The kits were born in early november and had zero issues outside in the cold. Its amazing how dangerous heat is to rabbits but they can survive with zero issues in freezing temperatures. We originally built a hutch for our first rabbit but wanted him to have a friend. We ended up letting them out after a week or two and would never put a rabbit in a hutch again. We lost the first rabbit due to an injury it had. His friend Thumper was incredibly depressed afterwards which led to 2 more rabbits. The 3 of them are as happy as can be.

Shelly on October 22, 2018:

I have a Flemish not quite a year and he has a huge hutch and huge run and toilet trained. I started recently letting him out during day and caged at night and now we just can’t catch him so we decided to let him be free ranged with the chickens. He has two nights out and very happy. He has access to his cage but won’t go in it even for food so I’ve started putting his food in his hole he dug at the back of the chicken house. He has a huge mound of dirt he sleeps in from the hole he dug. I will maybe put hay in a metal barrel as well for him on rainy days. I do worry but he looks happy and must be up all night cause he’s sleeping all day.

Peta Robinson on August 12, 2018:

My 2 rabbits roam free but 3 days ago kne of the rabbits had to have her eye removed my question is will she be Ok to run free in the garden again she's 5 years old and all she's known is 2 in the garden she also has a buddy but I think will actually help her please can you give me some advice

gleamglo on July 26, 2018:

This may not be a popular post but it is a true and happy situation. Our neighbors rabbits bred out of control so we took two and were assured that they were both females. They had a large safe pen but we often let them out for the day, eventually they caught on and dug a series of burrows under our playhouse.They now live free range and happy. Buns and Judy were living the life when I noticed a group of babies happily hopping around the yard. We caught the babies, sent Judy off to the vet's to get neutered and the couple has been happily reunited for 4 years. Bunnies weren't meant to live in tiny hutches, and nobody out in nature is telling the what is okay and safe to eat they just know. Ours are fat and happy and still tame! It is very nice to see them have the run of a 1/2 acre backyard.

TellGRBill on January 28, 2018:

About 40 years ago, when our sons were little kids, we lived on a farm in northern Michigan adjacent to the national forest. We bought a couple rabbits and let them "free range" around the house and barn. After a couple months we began to see an interesting variation of rabbits of different colors. I'm sure that they "mixed" with wild rabbits. It didn't take long and we had some rather large "wild" colorful rabbits in and around our farm. We're not aware of any negative results except that we heard that a neighbor preferred to hunt "wild" rabbits near and on our farm land. We're considering doing this again and that is why I visited this discussion to learn from others experience before we try it again, and commented.

Darla on January 03, 2018:

We have neighborhood bunnies that someone has let go. Iv left them food for a couple of years well one sticks close to our house & now that is below 0 at night what can I do to help it stay warm? I don't want to catch it as there are several around he just knows where the food is. It hangs under my car I thought maybe a tub upside down with the lid open a few inches & whatever grassy stuff they likeinside & of course it's food. Any suggestions welcome

Cj on October 22, 2017:

Looking for a good free range rabbit because one of my chickens have died recently

Kathy R on October 15, 2017:

I love this! I've posted in a bunny group on Facebook and gotten some not so nice comments about my two bunnies. They are free range, indoor/outdoor bunnies. One of mine has learned to use the doggy door and comes and goes as she pleases. Our newer bunny has yet to figure it out, and only has limited access outside, which works better for him as he isn't naturally as cautious as our female. They are so happy and actually spend more time inside than out as they seem to prefer sleeping in the house (their den). I love that they run, bink and play all day. =D

Angie Blomfield on April 26, 2017:

Well good news, I really thought I lost him, then this morning next to me in my room he was chomping his favourite food :)

Angie Blomfield on April 26, 2017:

My little Rabbit free ranges, but hasn't come in tonight, I've walked around the street calling him, I'm wondering if he could be lost. The cat chases him sometimes but he normally hides or stays near me. Sometimes when I'm on the back garden looking for him, he will appear because he knows I'm around, he's only 12.5 weeks old.. does anyone have any ideas? I left my doors open for quite a while but it's freezing and he can still get in under the floor, he's done that several times before.. just miss him, he normally licks my head when I'm in bed. I tried to get him in before tonight but couldn't find him and thought he'd already be inside because he is sometimes and hides so well, but now it's getting on and there is no sign of him.

Angie Blomfield on April 26, 2017:

I have a free range bunny and usually find him on my bed or about, tonight though i can't find him although he's good at hiding.. he can come in himself underneath a hole in the floor, does anyone know if they just take off and not come back though? He usually licks my head in bed at night it's really cute, but he's not about at the moment. There are no real predators against him although the cats chase him sometimes. He's young, 12.5 weeks old.. could he be out looking for a Mrs Bunny?

Ash on December 13, 2016:

My beloved rabbit Rascal lived for five years. He played soccer with the ball and when we thought our dog was attacking him, as he was free range, we found he was attacking our dog. He could play dead and use the dog door to sneak inside. He passed away last two months ago but he was my best friend. Rabbits as pets can't be outmatched in my opinion. If you want a rabbit but don't want it to be eaten by a cat or something, just get a Flemish Giant and the rabbit will probably eat the cat. We had one guinea pig with our rabbit and he mostly ignored her but sometimes letting her hide in his fur as she is timid.

DoralisM33 on August 11, 2016:

My baby rabbit Nilla of 3 months passed away 6 days ago and it was the most TRAUMATIC thing I had experienced. She jerked and twitched and seems to be having seizures. She pissed herself and had a little bit of soft poop left under her bottom. I am not sure if she died from eating from a bunch of weeds/leaves I had picked up from the neighborhood or if she ate one too many pellets from the cat food but i feel GUILTY for letting her roam free. I hope she is in bunny heaven; I held her in my arms til her last breath. I pray that we always keep our buns safe when other pets are roaming about. Perhaps she was stressed out or bit an electrical cord or had digestive issue from eating something bad?? I am full of DOUBTS and Tears :(

guinea on May 30, 2015:

my neighbour had a guinea pig that got loose. In the year it took to catch it the thing trebled in size. Once caged again it died a few weeks later.

bunnymommy72 on May 13, 2014:

I have a dwarf lionhead that has been free range in my fenced in backyard for 2 years...she is 6. Recently I mis-sexed a rescue sable rabbit and now we may have a litter under my shed. The shed is their shelter-with the cage in it. I have separated the male and female but my question is should I be doing anything special to help care for the kits or just monitor her and double up on her fresh veggies and fruits? I don't know how I would get the kits out of the hole but I am worried that she may not take care of them...since she hasn't had a litter before.

belleart from Ireland on August 26, 2012:

So true. I had my cocoa for a year in a hutch and run out the back before I realized how happy she was inside. We don't have a cage at all now for her, she sleeps on a cat mat, has a litter tray and spends hours sitting up on the couch with us...and she gets to roam free in the garden ( with our supervision). She is definitely happier inside than outside. :)

Madi on July 09, 2012:

I had a free range holland lop mix rabbit. She was the best rabbit I ever had. I would put her in her hutch, and she could open the door and get out (keep in mind it was a pretty tricky door!) we would get calls from our neighbors saying "did you know there is a rabbi in your front yard?" and sure enough it was her! Sadly she passed away and I have no idea what caused it.

KittyFluffyninja on May 17, 2012:

Honestly, I don't know how to start this. I'm a rabbit breeder that has a large shed-type structure I keep my rabbits in (usually just called 'the rabbit barn') and a much, much larger chicken wire pen that I place the rabbit(s) in during the day. I live in a very rural area, basically the middle of nowhere, and yet none of my rabbits have been killed by wild animals. Though a linx almost got one (my father ran out in his socks in the winter to save her from it). I agree that rabbits will live longer if kept inside, but mine cannot get enough of running free. One even climbed out of the pen each time I put him in. This was winter, and back then we did not have an extra cage for him, so when we went for vacation he of course climbed out and was free. He went missing for three weeks (two of which I was at home) and finally reappeared perfectly fine. He is literarily my free-range rabbit. He always hangs around the yard, follows me around (right at my feet most of the time, and if I stop he circles me) and is almost always there. We have five amazing hunters of cats, that commonly pull in Snowshoe Hares about their size, and yet when it comes to my free range rabbit, they don't touch him. He hangs out with them and kinda bullies them too. I have incredible experiences with my rabbits everyday and I have no doubt having them to run outside would make the experiences far more mundane. I've got so many stories, actually (even one miracle) that I could write a book on them. Haha, I mean no offense to anyone with my opinions, but they're so amazing. I just love then so much.

Sarah on April 04, 2012:

We had a virtually free range rabbit. She had the free run of the garden in the day and was put away in the shed at night (she had an open hutch). I loved seeing her running around the garden and lying in the sun. She lived for 9 years until last summer when a fox caught her and although we rescued her she must have had a heart attack. It was heart breaking but am still glad we let her live freely

ann on April 01, 2012:

I had "free range" bunnies as a kid. They would run around during the day and we would cage them at night. Unfortuatly all but one were killed by predetors, and had very, very short lives. They would figure out, despite our best efforts how to get out of their cages as night, and the neighbors cat killed most of them, and a minx took up residence in our wood pile and took out the rest, at night by slinking into their cage under the door and killing an eating them there. Although I love bunnies I would never have them as pets again. Their too stinking, high maintenance and destructive for indoors.

Rabbit Breeders on May 24, 2011:

The one bad thing about keeping rabbits in cages is the fact that they loose their freedom. Many domestic rabbit breeds however would find a hard time functioning in the wild anyway.