Photo: Herman's Sylvia & her litter - Standard Chinchillas

Outdoor Housing for Rabbits

by Franco Rios
May 2005
Keeping rabbits outdoors is a common practice. Provided you use the
proper housing and siting of the housing, it is not only humane, it is
a healthy way to keep rabbits.

Indoor housing can expose rabbits to concentrations of indoor
pollutants like dust, outgassing from building materials, and stale
air. Rabbit respiratory system are more sensitive than ours and they
are affected more quickly by indoor pollutants than we are.

Consider that your nose is a few feet in distance above the carpet.
The rabbits' nose is inches above the carpet. This can lead to
respiratory ailments.

Human housing can be too warm for rabbits, who are wearing fur coats
all the time, especially when we heat our homes in the winter.

Rabbits like to chew. Human housing can contain hazards such as
electrical cords, wood furniture with chemical finishes, plastics to
chew and splinter.

Human housing can also contain holes where an exploring rabbit can
find itself trapped.

We once had a bunny find a gap in our kitchen cabinets and it was
hiding in a corner where we could not see it or reach it. After four
hours of trying to coax it out of the cabinet with fruit and other
treats, I wound up tearing out a section of cabinet drawers and
cutting through the side panel so I could reach in to grab the bunny.
Rabbits can be hazardous to your cabinetry.

Then there is the waste issue. Rabbit poop that is concentrated in a
small room can become very foul smelling in a short time. That ammonia
is hazardous to the rabbit respiratory system.

Properly planned outdoor housing will eliminate these problems.
Outdoor sheds with a running area are actually a luxury. I've seen
some beautiful rabbit pens with multiple levels for the rabbits to
climb and sleep on. It provides a safe area for the rabbit to live
free from electrical cords, indoor pollutants, and overheating in the

Outdoor housing is usually larger than we can have indoors too!

Our rabbits do come indoors for play time with our boys. If the
rabbits poop on the carpet or the beds, that's okay as long as the
boys clean up the poop and wash the bed sheets and covers.

Our rabbits get toys in their cages outdoors to amuse themselves with.
We try to move the rabbits from one cage to another periodically to
change their scenery.

It can get warm in the summer, but most rabbits can adapt to the heat.
You can help the outdoor bunny be comfortable by putting a frozen
water bottle in the cage for the rabbit to lean against. I take one
liter plastic soda bottles, fill it 3/4 full of water, leaving a gap
for the water to expand as it freezes, and put it in the freezer.

When the temp starts to get over 80F degrees we use fans and swamp
coolers (evaporative coolers) to cool the rabbits. We have Angora
rabbits with long wool who really appreciate this. You can also use
spray misters setup in front of fans. You can even add air
conditioning to your rabbit enclosure.

We put the frozen bottles in with the rabbits on hot days which would
be over 90F degrees. When the ice melts and the bottle is warm, we
pull another bottle out of the freezer and put the warm bottle in to
freeze again. We keep several bottles in the freezer.

A lot of rabbits can manage outdoors in shady areas even when the temp
is over 100F. Some of our normal (short) furred rabbits manage in the
summer with no special treatment. Some rabbits will heat stress at this
temp. Signs of heat stress are breathing heavy (panting) and wet nose.
We will bring those rabbits indoors to the air conditioning in our house
for the day.

But a hutch in a shady area can be a nice way to keep a rabbit. I've
seen pictures of some beautiful hutches and sheds for rabbits.
Outdoors in a shady area is a good location for a hutch or shed. Try
to locate in an area secure from wandering dogs and other predators.
Housing must provide protection from rain and wind, but still have
good ventilation.

A wire cage with wire mesh floor over a drop tray is good also. With
free standing legs and a roof this makes good compact housing solution
that will fit on a patio. Clean the drop tray regularly, every day if
possible. Use a plastic dust pan to scoop the poop into a plastic
trash bag. Tie it off and put into garbage can for pickup. No flies
this way. Put some wood shavings or absorbent in the tray. Helps keep
the urine smell down.

Rabbits can handle winter temperatures better than they can handle
summer temperatures. Unless you are experiencing freezing
temperatures, there is no special action to take. Be sure sure the
rabbit stays dry and out of drafts. Resist the urge to cover the cage
with a tarp because you are trapping waste smells when you do. You may
want to cover one side of the hutch to cut down the wind from hitting
the rabbit.

Water bottles with steel tubes and balls can freeze up in cold weather
depriving the rabbit of water. You may want to switch to crocks for
water. Plastic water crocks seem to resist freezing a little longer
than other materials. You want to have two sets of crocks so you can
put a crock in with lukewarm water and take out the frozen one to thaw
for later. Try to change frozen water twice a day. The rabbits will
learn to "fill the tank" before the crocks freeze.

A board like a piece of pine or plywood on the wire for the rabbit to
sit on can help the rabbit stay comfortable. Or you can use a piece of
plain drywall. Throw these sitting boards away when they get soiled.

Also remember that when rabbits are outdoors, they have more chances
to get worms and ear mites. Check regularly for signs of these and
treat accordingly.

Anyway, that's my input. Your mileage may vary. Void where prohibited.

In the exotic land of North Dakota USA, the ND State University has compiled a list of building plans. Look in the Miscellaneous group, search for the word "rabbit." You will find sketches and plans for cages, hutches, and small buildings. Many thanks to Greg H. of the Meatrabbits group on yahoogroups (Aug 24 2006)

Have a good day!
Franco Rios
Sacramento, Calif.

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