Some rabbit owners choose to house their rabbits in outdoor rabbit hutches. This obviates the need for rabbit-proofing the interior of the house, prevents rabbits from soiling the home, and provides them with a more natural environment. Many owners are totally successful in raising happy, healthy rabbits in outdoor hutches, but doing so requires some special consideration.
The most obvious concern is the effects of the elements on an outdoor hutch. Cheaply-made outdoor hutches will degrade rapidly. At best, you’ll have to replace or repair it frequently. At worst, it may break or collapse in a way that will injure your rabbits. Make sure that your outdoor hutch is sturdy enough to resist wind and rain. It should also have a tiled or asphalted roof, as providing a shaded area is absolutely essential. Treated wood will better resist the elements, as well as repelling rabbit waste, but be absolutely sure that the stain or treatment is non-toxic, as your rabbits are sure to gnaw on exposed wood.
Rabbits require both ventilation and cooling. If there is insufficient airflow through the rabbit hutch, it will quickly become a septic environment, and may become dangerously hot, depending on local conditions. At the same time, rabbits in an outdoor hutch need to be able to get out of the wind if they so choose. Ideally, an outdoor hutch should have one or two sides of open wire mesh, with a fully enclosed nesting area inside for refuge from the elements. Temperature-wise, rabbits will be healthiest in temperature ranges between 45 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. As long as they have plenty of bedding material to snuggle into, they can resist the cold quite well, but they are extremely sensitive to heat. Outdoor hutches must have a shaded area, and if the ambient temperature is likely to rise over 85 degrees, you should consider putting a bottle of icewater covered by a piece of cloth into the nesting area for extra cooling. Rabbits can survive in an outdoor hutch at freezing temperatures, but it is important that they have plenty of insulation. Remember that if it is below freezing, the rabbit’s water supply is probably frozen, and you’ll need to change it out for liquid water several times a day.
Security is another important concern. Rabbits in the wild are prey animals, whose survival depends on powerful instincts to flee predators. These emotions of fear and anxiety are so strong that rabbits can die simply from the stress of encountering a predator, even if they are actually “safe”. Aside from using an outdoor hutch that will not permit clever predators like raccoons from entering or knocking down the hutch, include a hiding space of some kind, preferably with two exits. This will give rabbits housed in an outdoor hutch a greater sense of security, which may be a matter of life and death for these sensitive animals. Even if you do allow your outdoor rabbits to roam free during the day, you must secure them inside their outdoor hutch at night if you don’t want them being picked off by predators.
When all of these essential requirements are fulfilled, you can start thinking about your own convenience. Many outdoor hutches have wire floors to allow waste to simply allow waste to fall through, which goes a long way toward keeping the enclosure clean. This is fine so long as the rabbits have some space- a third or so of the outdoor hutch is good- with a solid floor. Being forced to stand and walk on wire mesh all day is likely to irritate their feet, and may lead to infection. Outdoor hutches with multiple access points will be easier to clean, and make it easier to reach your rabbits.
As long as these guidelines are followed, along with all the other requirements that come along with housing a rabbit, you should have no problem keeping rabbits happy and healthy in an outdoor hutch. We wish you success and great fun in your outdoor hutch project.