Why you shouldn’t put a harness on your rabbit: understanding the risks and alternatives

A harness and lead are go-to tools for many to allow their dogs time outside safely. Harnesses can be safely used to provide other species time outside to explore. However, harnesses can be very dangerous for rabbits for a variety of reasons.

The first issue is it restricts the normal behaviour of the rabbit. If you own a rabbit, then you know a rabbit can move very fast, very quickly, zooming around and binkying when they feel happy or running and hiding when they are spooked. A harness with a lead attached does not allow a rabbit to do those movements, so it will not allow them to express these natural behaviours.

Secondly, a harness will punish escape behaviour. If a rabbit is spooked, whilst wearing a harness, not only will it restrict movement, but it can punish any escape behaviours by adding unpleasant pressure when your rabbit tries to escape, which will only worsen the fear.

Another issue is an increased risk of contracting parasites or diseases. Taking your rabbit out to places can increase the risk of them coming into contact with parasites and diseases, which can be bad for their health and even deadly. Especially if the areas you are taking your rabbit to have wild rabbit populations are present. It is especially risky if your rabbit has not had their vaccinations or boosters that protect against myxomatosis, RHDV1 and RHDV2.

The final risk of using a harness for your rabbit is that there is a risk of injury. A rabbit that is spooked can easily become tangled, which could lead to strangulation or broken limbs. If the rabbit darts forward and reaches the end of the leash, this could cause a broken back or neck, as a rabbit’s skeleton is extremely fragile.

There are better ways to allow your rabbit to spend time outside that are safe, such as allowing them supervised time in a playpen in the garden or allowing them access to a predator-proof run when unsupervised.

While it can be beneficial for your rabbit to spend time outside, it is important this is done in a way that is safe for your rabbit. A harness is not a safe way to do this, if you want to give your rabbit time outside in a way that is safe consider using a rabbit run or playpen instead.