Updated: Oct 25, 2018
Today sees the start of Rabbit Awareness Week - the biggest campaign about rabbit care and welfare in the UK. Those of you who have pet rabbits like us, will already know that they can be a lot of hard work and desperately need time, love and patience - just as all animals do. They are not a pet for the fickle-minded as well-cared-for rabbits can live 7-10 years - some can even live into their teens! In fact, resident bunny, Miles, is going on 8 this year!
If you're taking on a rabbit then you need to dedicate the time and energy to caring for them. You need to consider if you have the space for their cage, the time to look after them and whether you've got the room to get a second bunny if needed, as rabbits like to live in pairs.
You also have to decide whether they'll be an indoor or outdoor bunny. This particular topic is debated a lot at the moment. Back in the 90s when I was a child, I didn't know of one person who had an indoor rabbit. I don't even remember there being indoor cages in pet shops. When my brother and I were growing up, our rabbits were always outdoors in a wooden hutch.
Today, however, it's much different - we are in a wonderful age where the welfare of animals is being considered more and more. You can buy quality food like Lily's Kitchen in Sainsbury's, dangerous rawhide is slowly being removed from pet shops and luxury treats & quality nuggets are available to buy for rabbits so they can eat just as they do in the wild. Plus, nowadays it seems more and more rabbits are living indoors. But which is better: indoors or outdoors?
Now, avid WildPaws fans will know that we have two resident bunnies - Lily (pictured above) and Miles (pictured on his first day at home below). They are both indoor rabbits and always have been since the day we brought them home. In fact, we got Miles when we were in our last year of university (yes, we've had him since then!) and asked our landlord for permission to keep a bunny inside. He was more than happy for us to but if he wasn't then I don't think we would have got one.
There are so many benefits to having an indoor rabbit: they are known to live longer, you can interact with them more, create an extremely strong bond with them and they get plenty of companionship. When Miles lived in our university house, he used to act like a little dog - following us everywhere, jumping up on the sofa and laying in his basket. He even knows the word 'bedtime' and what the treat tin sounds like. Who said rabbits weren't intelligent?!
Of course, in addition to the daily interaction with them - you also have peace of mind that they are safe from predators, the elements and are more protected from contracting any diseases. Foxes are prevalent in our area so I have no idea how I'd sleep at night knowing that our bunnies were outside. You'd think that living with two Jack Russells (who are bred to chase small animals) would be worrisome - far from it! Wilbur & Paisley are soft as anything and regularly go in to say hello, lick the bunnies on the nose and Paisley even sits in front of their cage doing her best bunny impression whilst waiting for her turn for one of their treats.
Believe it or not though, the biggest challenge we found with having our rabbits indoors was protecting our stuff! If you have an indoor rabbit then you probably let it have free roam around the house (or parts of it) to ensure it gets enough exercise. Miles was a little demon when we first got him - chewing on everything! First, he nibbled through our DVD player so we had to start using our PlayStation to watch movies instead. He wasn't happy with that so he proceeded to chew through one PlayStation controller cable and then the other plus the internet. Little hint - keep them away from wires! We think he secretly wanted all the attention on him and not on the TV. Oh, and keep treat bags out of sight too - that is, if you don't want them demolished. Lily has been known to steal (and consequently run away with) a treat bag or two...
If you have an indoor rabbit then it's a good idea to make sure you have a room or two that you're happy to let them have free roam in. In our old house, the bunnies had their very own room where their cage was and we let them out every day to ensure they got enough exercise and playtime. Now they have their cage in a small room and we let them out daily to have a run around the kitchen. If you're worried about them making mess then don't be! Rabbits are very intelligent and are easily toilet trained. We have a toilet tray and both Miles and Lily always go in there. They haven't gone to the toilet on the floor once!
Having a bunny indoors can be extremely rewarding - they are fun to watch, play with and often become extremely comfortable with you making your bond that much stronger. We've noticed in the last few months since moving that Lily has become a lot more social and comfortable with my parents. The bunny room now connects to the kitchen so we're often passing through - giving them a treat along the way. We've caught her lying down, sleeping and even grooming Miles as she's got more and more used to her surroundings. It's lovely to see her so happy.
Of course, there are plenty of pros to having a rabbit outdoors too. You can connect their cage to a bigger enclosure much more easily so they have lots more space to run around and grass to nibble on. You don't get the hay and bedding trodden around the house - this is probably the only real con for us as the hay just gets everywhere! The bunnies are worth it though, and if you have dutiful bunnies like ours then they might just have a nibble on it and tidy it up for you. Obviously, you do not get the smell in the house either - which is not too much of a problem if you regularly clean them out as needed.
When we moved into our second home after finishing university, our new landlady had agreed for us to keep our small animals (just Miles and our old guinea pigs, Penny and Orson, at the time) in the house. Sadly, when it came to moving in day, the husband of the landlady disagreed and asked us to move them in the shed. Reluctantly, we did so. I felt awful - Miles had gone from living the life of luxury to being banished to a shed. In fact, we felt so bad that we decided to get him a mate. Cue Lily...
Although it was not our primary choice, having our bunnies outside did have some benefits. Miles had the companionship he got from us with Lily - and to this day they are best friends. Now he lives back inside, he gets the best of both worlds! It was so much easier to clean them out as you could let them have a run in the garden and tip the soiled bedding into a rubbish bin without worrying about making any mess on the carpet. Obviously, alongside that, it was easier to keep the house clean! They were also safe from predators in the shed and we could keep all their hay and food in there with them.
There are always going to be advantages and disadvantages to keeping your bunnies indoors vs outdoors. For us, the pros of keeping a rabbit indoors definitely outweighs the cons but it's completely down to your indvidual circumstances. You may have cats or dogs who just won't leave them alone or perhaps you're allergic to hay? Either way, you need to do what's best for yourself and your rabbit. There is no right or wrong here.
Before we go, it is worth mentioning that this year's RAW campaign title is 'Move Away from Muesli'. The aim to is raise awareness around the dangers of selective feeding and to encourage owners to move their bunnies on to a high-quality, hay based diet. You probably remember that muesli-style food we all used to feed our rabbits 20 years ago? As awareness of rabbit welfare has grown, we have realised that it's no good for them. They pick and choose their favourite bits (it was usually the dried pea for our old bunnies) and leave the rest. This means they're not getting the nutrition they need.
Fear not, there are plenty of great, healthy options on the market today. From nuggets with cranberry & ginseng to herb and hay based, cold pressed and even grain free options. We personally use Science Selective which the bunnies love and we have seen massive improvements from it since we swapped them over. One of which is that, as the nuggets are predominantly made out of hay, they have now become addicted to it! Great news as their diet should be made up of 90% hay.
There are also lots of great treat options now on the market. Our favourite are the brand new rabbit nibbles from the ever-popular The Innocent Hound. If you're a dog owner, we're sure you've already heard of them. Their range of venison sausages and the likes are extremely popular. You can check them out on our website here if you haven't seen them before.
Great news for rabbit (and guinea pig) owners! Last year they launched their very first treats for small animals. The Innocent Rabbit (and The Innocent Guinea) keep to the same amazing standards of the dog and cat ranges. They come in lovely little resealable packs and are made using banana, carrot, coriander and fenugreek. Quite possibly, four of Miles & Lily's favourite things so we always knew they were going to go down a treat...
They are gently air-dried to retain their nutrients, fragrant flavour and are high in fibre. Made from grass, soya bean hulls, oat and herbs - there are no nasties in these so you can be sure that your bunny can happily enjoy them guilt-free! These are a real favourite for Miles and Lily - they always come running as soon as they hear the bag.
If you'd like to order any for your bunny, then you can do so on our website here. At just £2.50 per 60g bag they are an absolute bargain. We also have the guinea pig, cat and dog treats available too!
Thanks for taking the time to read our blog for RAW! If you'd like to sign and support the aim to move away from muesli then you can do so here.
We'd love to hear your thoughts on keeping rabbits indoors vs outdoors, do drop us a comment below to let us know what you think...
Love Miss WildPaws