Taking your rabbit outdoors and exposing them to the world can feel like a treat — for both of you. If you’ve ever felt the urge to put them on a leash and take a stroll around town, you’re not alone. People do it all the time.
That being said, rabbits aren’t dogs. If you envision yourself going out for a morning walk around the park with your rabbit every day, you might be disappointed. Not only are rabbits’ personalities far different than a dog’s, but also their bodies are not equipped for the same activities.
If you’re determined to get your rabbit on a leash and outside, though, learn how to keep them safe, sound and out of harm’s way.
Rabbits are naturally a prey animal. They’re wired to go into defense mode when they’re confronted by larger animals or loud noises. Because of their delicate anatomy, if they happen to react quickly while on a leash, they can easily injure themselves.
Before taking your rabbit outside, get them comfortable with a leash and harness indoors. Some rabbits won’t mind wearing a harness. Others will fight the idea with everything they have. If yours fits into the latter category, whatever you do, don’t force it.
Follow these steps to get your rabbit comfortable with a leash:
- Gently place a harness around your rabbit’s torso. If they fight you, back off and slowly try again. Use treats while introducing them to it and try to make the experience as pleasant as possible. If your rabbit continues to resist, stop the process and try again the next day. This might continue for several days, which is fine. Be patient.
- Once they’re comfortable with the harness, clip a thin leash to it. Let the leash drag behind them, and allow your rabbit to roam free inside a pet-safe area of your home.
- Repeat the process for several days before taking them outdoors. Get them as comfortable with a leash as possible before introducing all the sights, noises and smells they’ll encounter once they’re out of the home.
First and foremost, don’t expect your rabbit to walk behind or beside you. Instead, plan on following them around everywhere they want to go. Pulling or leading them can easily cause injury.
If your rabbit isn’t used to being outside, think of all the new things they’ll be experiencing at once:
- Loud noises, like planes, cars or barking dogs
- Other animals seeing them as prey
- Smells from other animals and people
- Gravel or grass under their feet
If your rabbit happens to react quickly to a new experience, they could choke themselves on their harness. Take it slowly, go where they go and constantly be on the lookout for panic triggers.
If your rabbit wants to investigate a tree for 10 minutes, let them. If they want to hop around in a circle for 10 minutes, let them. Most importantly, try not to think of this process as “walking” your rabbit. Instead, use it as a time to let them explore.
Choosing a Harness
You’ll see various harness styles at your pet store or online. Some are safe — and others aren’t.
The bones in your rabbit’s neck can’t withstand a sharp pull or jerk, which is why you should never choose a thin harness. It should be more like a jacket, where the weight of any pulls will be distributed evenly throughout their body.
Choose a harness that’s soft and looks like a sideways “H” when laid out flat. The neck/chest and torso sections should be wide to help distribute any force if they pull. The leash should be thin and light. Remember, your rabbit should be able to easily drag it around on the floor while getting used to it, so a heavy dog’s leash won’t do the trick. Instead, try looking in the cat or toy dog section.
Some rabbit-specific leashes are elastic and softly extend when your rabbit pulls. They’re created to minimize any jerking motion on your rabbit’s harness and are also worth considering.
Watch this happy rabbit frolic on a leash:
Dangers to Avoid
As a domesticated, indoor animal, your rabbit will be exposed to a host of new things when you take them outside. If they’ve never come into contact with certain plants or bugs, for example, they could react negatively.
Be aware of things that can harm your rabbit, like:
- Pesticides or weedkillers
- Mosquitos and other bugs
- Dogs or other animals
- Poisonous plants
By staying vigilant and patient, you and your rabbit can have a great time outside. However, their safety and comfort are top priority. If they aren’t enjoying the experience, don’t force it. Let them be the boss on this one.