Can houserabbits play in the garden?

We are sometimes asked about letting houserabbits play in the garden, especially in cold or wet weather.

Our Specialist Veterinary Adviser Dr Richard Saunders has provided this advice

General: I would say that all rabbits outside in runs should have a hide box area with at least 2 exits, to retreat into if feeling insecure, as well as for protection from extremes of cold or wind.

Low temperatures: assuming they are healthy rabbits in social groups or pairings, with no significant areas of missing fur etc, if they are able to move around freely and are protected from rain and wind, they should be OK in runs down to about 5C. Below that, access to a well insulated indoor area, whether attached to or within the run, or both, must be provided. Rabbits in poor body condition, or with missing fur, or sole animals, must be provided with shelter before temperatures get down to 5C.

High temperatures: OK, assuming the rabbits are not obese, and do not have respiratory disease, and have shade and plenty of places to keep cool.”

Storms and fireworks

Rabbits are prey animals, and often kept outside, and so its worth seeing what you can do to prevent stress, fear and worse occurring as a result of thunder and lightning during storms, as well as fireworks and other loud noises etc. Their behaviour is often to huddle up and get through it, without drawing attention to themselves, rather than the way dogs tend to respond by showing overt fear and excitement, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t scared.

Options to reduce stress may include:

1. Bringing them inside into the house or at least a shed, the thicker and more sound insulated, the better. This may or may not be a possibility, and it may be more dangerous to them to radically change their environmental temperature by bringing them in, and more unsettling to them to change their environment.

2. Providing as much sound deadening insulation as possible, such as lots of straw and hay to burrow into.

3. Providing boxes within their enclosure to hide in, particularly those with more than one exit, to give them the feeling of having escape options

4. Pre-emptively habittuating them to scary noises. However, both summer and winter storms occur, and fireworks may be let off all year round, making this tricky. Starting with low volume noises, reassuring them throughout, and building the volume up MIGHT reduce the eventual stress, but at the cost of some stress during the desensitisation process, which must therefore be gradual, and be kept below the fear threshold throughout.

5. Inhaled anti-stress products. Pet Remedy may be helpful in reducing stress, although more work is needed.

6. Medications to reduce stress may be used on the advice of your vet, should your rabbits respond badly to stressful storms etc.

7. Having companion rabbits to huddle up to, another reason why it is always best to keep rabbits in social groupings.