Many, many people are more than happy to keep their rabbits outside. After all, keeping a rabbit outdoors is much closer to their natural environment and it provides opportunities for your rabbit that it may not get to experience otherwise, such as being able to enjoy some of the wild grasses in addition to its food.
As you can imagine though, housing your rabbit outside poses its own unique dangers that keeping a rabbit indoors does not. The biggest danger is that keeping your rabbit outside also exposes it to predators, such as coyotes, foxes, and birds of prey.
To keep your rabbit as safe as possible outside, you will want to learn about its natural predators and what you can do to keep your outdoor environment as protected as it can be.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you know there are predators lurking dangerously close to houses, it may be worth moving your rabbit inside until you know that the threat is gone.
For example, there are times when coyotes or foxes may tread far closer than they should to urban environments, whether exploring or in search of food, and often in these cases the local animal control or similar service will move the predator back into the wild so that the urban environment can be safe.
When you are looking at predators of rabbits, you will come across many of the expected animals, such as bears, foxes, coyotes, wolves, birds of prey, and dogs and cats that are allowed to roam freely. There will also be animals that you may not expect to see on such a list, like raccoons.
Being aware of these threats, while unlikely to happen, is a key component in keeping your outdoor rabbit safe.
The Relationship Between Rabbits and Raccoons
In short, raccoons are not natural predators of rabbits, but if a situation is dire enough for a raccoon, it may turn to whatever is closest and most accessible for it, which may end up being your rabbit.
Healthy raccoons are more likely to hunt down trash and food scraps if they are hungry, but a starving or sick raccoon is more likely to go after live prey if it sees it.
A raccoon can be considered an opportunistic omnivore, with its main diet being heavily determined by the environment around it. Raccoons that have found their way into cities likely subsist off anything they can find in the garbage, while raccoons in more rural areas will eat plants, insects, eggs, and small animals.
Raccoons will go after whatever is easiest for them to get their hands on and will also sustain them, and as such, chasing down fast prey that will fight back (and fight hard) is not in the raccoon’s best interest. When it comes down to it, raccoons generally prefer foraging for their food rather than truly hunting down prey.
With that being said, if a raccoon is starving, cannot find food, or suffering from a condition that impairs the raccoon’s judgment (such as rabies), it will see rabbits as its prey. Rabbits are small, compared to raccoons, and are a good source of meat for them.
Keep in mind that hunting rabbits is absolutely not in a raccoon’s best interest, and it is often far more work than reward for healthy raccoons to try and go after a rabbit. For instance, raccoons have a top speed of about 15 miles per hour, compared to rabbits easily reaching 30 miles per hour while having the capability to go even faster when their life depends on it.
Rabbits have strong kicks and bites to deter a raccoon that may have managed to sneak up on it (as raccoons are not necessarily sneaky either), and in terms of fighting, rabbits are strong enough to disorient raccoons enough for rabbits to get the kill. This is, again, in an optimal situation where the rabbit has the advantage.
This goes to show that most raccoons will not want to go after rabbits, especially healthy raccoons. There is still the danger of a deranged or starving raccoon getting the upper hand on your rabbit and things going bad, but it is important to keep in mind that this is not likely.
There are other predators of rabbits that are far more likely to go after one than a raccoon would be. Knowing what these predators are and how they can get into your rabbit’s enclosure is an important step in keeping your rabbit safe.
An Outdoor Rabbit’s Natural Predators
As mentioned earlier, apex predators are always going to be dangers for a rabbit that lives outdoors, but many of these predators will not be inclined to get too close to a house or a human establishment, especially in suburbs or a city. These predators are the ones that most people know, including bears, wolves, coyotes, snakes, and foxes.
There are also some other animals that you should be mindful of that would be more likely to get onto your property and may not be as afraid of getting close to people. These include cats and dogs (both owned but roaming free and strays) and birds of prey (hawks, falcons, and so on).
Rabbits, by their nature, are prey animals. Many aspects of the rabbit have evolved specifically because they are prey animals that need to defend themselves, including their speed, kicking power, and strong teeth.
This means that they have a lot of natural predators that you need to be aware of. It is possible to build a robust and predator-safe enclosure for your rabbits, but there are things to be considered.
These things include making sure that there are no openings at the top that a bird of prey could use to grab the rabbit from, keeping the enclosure close to your house to prevent wild animals from approaching, and making sure that the enclosure is strongly built so that any animals that do approach your rabbit will not find it easy to get inside, buying you time to hear them attacking to get them to leave.
There are some animals that may attack your rabbit out of desperation for food. These are very rare and unlikely, but it is still a danger that needs to be noted when you are weighing the risks of keeping a rabbit inside versus keeping it outside.
Raccoons fall into this category as well as other scavenging animals. Opossums are another example.
Opossums are even less likely to physically attack a rabbit than raccoons are, since they heavily prefer scavenging compared to hunting and they are not well-equipped for a fight, but there are instances of opossums going after rabbits.
This is one of the things that you need to keep in mind if you are planning on keeping a rabbit outside. You will have to invest time and money into the enclosure to ensure that it is safe against predators, and even then, there will always be a small risk of the unexpected happening.
Protecting a Rabbit Against Predators
When keeping rabbits outside, your first priority should always be to make sure that you are providing a predator-safe enclosure.
There is no enclosure that could withstand the worst of the worst, such as multiple large and hungry dogs, but making the efforts necessary will reduce the risk that animals will go after your rabbit, and having a tough enclosure will mean that you will hear if an animal is trying to get into it, which may buy you the time necessary to protect your rabbit.
You will need to keep your rabbit safe from all angles, especially above. Birds of prey are everywhere and will not fear people when it comes to hunting rabbits, meaning that the enclosure for your rabbit should have covering on it in all areas so birds cannot swoop down to snatch your rabbit up.
Keeping your rabbit safe from other angles will include using strong materials to build the hutch with, or if you are buying one that is premade, purchasing a hutch that is reputable and made from durable materials that can withstand the weather and won’t degrade over a couple storm’s worth of rain.
Ideally, you should have the hutch built from solid wood that has been treated to withstand weather, especially if you live in an area that is prone to rain. Areas that are not built with that wood would be built with a strong wire mesh that is bolted and cannot be easily torn or cut through by a predator’s claws or talons.
You should also make sure that there is a floor to the hutch, or at least in the areas where the rabbit sleeps, as foxes and dogs will attempt to dig underneath the enclosure to get to the rabbits.
The flooring does not have to be made from a sturdy material, but if you are purchasing the materials for a strong hutch anyway, it may be worth purchasing a good wood for the flooring.
In addition to providing a secure and solid hutch for your rabbit to live in, you will also want to employ protective practices for your yard to dissuade predators from entering.
There are some rules to keep in mind, such as never letting your rabbit run around unsupervised, as a fair few predators will not go near it if they see a human standing there (since humans can be considered apex predators themselves).
Humans, however, are not enough to deter some predators, such as birds of prey, so it is important to employ these practices to keep your yard as predator-free as possible.
You will always want to keep your yard tidy with the grass cut short, as this removes hiding areas for smaller predators (snakes, weasels, stoats) to hide and stalk your rabbit. You may want to consider putting up fencing around the yard as well to deter roaming dogs, wolves, coyotes, and other similar animals, though foxes, cats, and birds will not be stopped by a fence.
You will also want to remove standing water in the yard, as this attracts animals to the location, as well as food scraps that you may have tossed out to decompose. You will want to keep your trash bins covered, especially if your area is prone to raccoons and other opportunistic feeders.
To prevent nocturnal threats, motion-activated lights are a wonderful way to scare them off. They will often be scared away by the light, thinking that there is a predator or that they have been discovered, thus keeping them away from your rabbit.
You should also consider planting things that most animals do not appreciate the scent of. This is especially effective against cats, if your area is known for its roaming felines.
If you know that there is a canine and canid problem in the area where you keep your rabbit, you can make use of vinegar as a deterrent. Spraying undiluted vinegar both around the yard itself and outside the hutch will make the area unappealing, leading these animals to not want to go near the hutch at all or investigate it, helping to keep your rabbit safe.
One thing to keep in mind is that rabbits are prone to dying from shock, far more than most animals are. This means that your rabbit can be scared to death, quite literally, from the sight of predators that have snuck up on the rabbit, even if they cannot actually get to the rabbit or harm it.
Because of this fact, it becomes even more important for you to make your backyard as unappealing to predators as possible, so that they will not even want to get close. This ensures that your rabbit can live a peaceful lifestyle without the threat of being scared to death looming over its head quite as much.
If you ever have any doubts about whether you can provide this kind of protection for a rabbit that is housed outdoors, you will absolutely want to reconsider the idea to keep them outside. Housing a rabbit indoors is the number one safest way to protect your rabbit from predators.