Letting your bunnies loose to explore and forage around your garden will be much appreciated by your nose-twitching pals. However, creating and maintaining a rabbit-safe garden is not an easy task and there are lots of things to think about. In particular:
- How to prevent a great escape
- Providing plenty of things for them to do
- Identifying and removing hazards
- Protecting your bunnies against predators
How to prevent a great escape
Rabbits are excellent escape artists and can tunnel, gnaw and wriggle their way through all manner of cracks and crevices. What’s needed is a secure environment with plenty for your buns to do so they don’t get bored and decide it will be much more fun to tunnel out.
To keep them safe, make sure there are no gaps around your garden fence they can escape from. You’ll also need to patrol the perimeter regularly for signs of burrowing. Ideally, fencing should be buried slightly or have a ‘skirt’ to prevent your rabbits from digging their way out. Always monitor your buns when they have the run of the garden and, when you’re not able to watch them, they’ll still need a large, escape-proof run that they have constant access to as well their own bunny house.
Giving your bunnies a happy home
Rabbits need plenty of space – think garden shed, rather than cramped hutch – in housing that’s protected from the elements and is safe from predators or loud noises that could scare them. They also need a spacious, secure exercise area permanently attached to it. Their home needs to be tall enough for them to be able to stand up fully without their ears touching the roof and to lie fully outstretched in any direction, to take a number of consecutive hops, and to run, jump, explore and forage and do all the things that come naturally to bunnies. Check out these fun interactive graphics on creating the perfect rabbit environment here >>
Lots of things to do
To deter your rabbits from looking for new adventures on the other side of the garden fence, give them plenty of things to do and places to explore.
- Put out activity tunnels to run through and low wicker fences to hop over, and some cardboard boxes with holes cut into them for them to explore.
- Lookout spots are great fun for rabbits as they can leap on and off them and survey their manor. You can create platforms from straw bales, wooden crates or tree stumps (from fruit trees not treated with chemicals).
- To enable your buns to enjoy some safe digging activity, add a sandpit filled with child-friendly sand.
- As a prey species, bunnies must have constant access to safe hiding places where they can conceal themselves if they feel afraid. These should be provided in addition to their main shelter and positioned in quiet areas free from the sights and smells of potential predators. Wooden houses, in the style of a small kennel, can make excellent hides – search online for ‘hop in hideouts’ and ‘hideaway boxes’ – but make sure they’re big enough for your rabbits to be able to stretch out comfortably. You can find some great ideas for runs and hideaways at Runaround.
- Curious and intelligent, rabbits love to play with toys. Cardboard tubes can be stuffed with feeding hay to bat about and chew on, and you can also try untreated straw or wicker baskets and balls and gnaw sticks. Different rabbits enjoy different types of toys, so provide a variety of items until you find out which ones your rabbits like best.
Identifying and removing hazards
- Have a scout around your garden to make sure there’s nothing – such as gardening equipment propped up against fences or heavy plant pots – that could fall on them.
- Survey your plants – are there any that are dangerous to rabbits? Lots of plants can be harmful, especially anything growing from a bulb (snowdrops, daffodils etc) and evergreen trees and shrubs. PDSA has a comprehensive list here >>
- Rabbit-friendly plants you can put in your garden include camomile, lavender, yarrow and sunflowers. Many common garden ‘weeds’ are also great for buns to munch on, including clover, brambles, nettles, dock, daisies and dandelions.
- Rabbits will enjoying grazing on grass, but will prefer a mixed variety of grasses, so you might have to ditch the idea of having a picture-perfect lawn – think more wildlife meadow.
- Always keep bunnies safely away from the mower and the lawnmower cuttings – these can cause dangerous stomach upsets in rabbits.
- It’s also time to ditch the use of garden chemicals – pesticides, fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides, slug pellets, rat poisons, and other garden treatments can all be fatal to bunnies. The Wildlife Trusts has lots of great tips and advice on creating a chemical-free garden.
Protecting against predators
A challenging part of giving your rabbits the run of the garden is keeping them safe from predators.
- Think about how you will stop cats and foxes (for example, with tall, secure fencing with an angled section at the top) as well as birds of prey (such as using netting to prevent them from diving into your garden).
- It’s always best to be in the garden with your rabbits when they’re out – your presence can deter any would-be predators. When you can’t supervise them, it’s best to pop them back into their enclosure.
- You’ll also need to make sure wild rabbits can’t get too close as they can carry harmful diseases that can be passed to pet bunnies. If you have mesh fences where rabbits could have nose-to-nose contact, build another fence half a metre beyond it to make sure wild rabbits keep their distance. And, always make sure your buns are fully vaccinated against myxomatosis, rabbit haemorrhagic disease 1 (RHD-1), rabbit haemorrhagic disease 2 (RHD-2). Find out more here >>
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Sources: pdsa.org.uk, rabbitawarenessweek.co.uk