Despite those thick and fluffy coats, our little rabbits can be very susceptible to the colder weather in winter. So, how can we best help our furry friends through all the extremes the season can throw at them, especially those that live outdoors?
While none of us can predict the weather, there are a few simple steps we can take to make sure our rabbits are safe, warm, happy and healthy as the colder weather descends.
How can you care for your rabbits in winter?
Provide shelter from the wind and rain
This is the main consideration for your rabbits in winter. Use a see-through plastic cover to protect the wire meshed front of the hutch from wind and rain. Attach it in such a way that it can be rolled up on pleasant days.
Prepare the hutch
Make sure the hutch is good and sturdy, without any gaps for the weather to creep in, and keep it waterproofed to keep the rain out. It’s worth getting a hutch cover that fits snugly as a way to keep out the elements and provide insulation. Try to keep the hutch elevated to reduce the risk of water seeping in.
Offer burrowing options
Wild rabbits do well during winter by burrowing, but that option isn’t available to many domestic rabbits. Consider creating sub-compartments within the hutch so they can nestle in, or provide suitably-sized open-ended tubes or pipes that allow them to shelter without getting stuck.
Give lots of food and drink
As the weather cools, your rabbit’s appetite is likely to increase. Give them access to lots of leafy greens and hay – hay, especially, can help them to build up insulating fat. But remember that frosty or frozen food can harm them, so find a way to keep it thawed. You’ll also need to make sure their water bottles don’t freeze. Try wrapping them in a sock or bottle cover.
Do health checks
Rabbits are increasingly prone to illness as the temperature drops so keep a close eye on them, including any behavioural changes. Encourage lots of exercise by making sure they have enough space to explore to their heart’s content.
If your bunny is old or not in the best of health, consider moving their hutch indoors or into a shed. Some people move their rabbits indoors at the start of winter, before the first cold snap comes along.
Invest in heating
Heat pads are a good idea and likely to be welcomed by your rabbits. You can buy bunny-safe, non-chewable ones that you can quickly heat up in the microwave. These are a great idea if the temperature is dipping below 5℃ in the daytime. Wrap the pad in a blanket before placing it in the hutch to protect your VIPs from scorching themselves.
Straw is typically warmer than hay, so provide lots of it so that your bunny can burrow for warmth. After all, that’s what they would do in the wild. Make sure the straw stays dry since damp can cause illness. Heated lamps can help here, but must be placed in a safe and secure position.
Move your rabbit indoors
You could consider moving your rabbits into your home. If you’re doing this, bear in mind there are lots of unfamiliar noises and smells, which could be disconcerting to your rabbit. Start by letting them spend more and more time inside, and make it a gradual process. Depending on the layout of your home, you might be able to find a quiet room for them to get accustomed to life indoors, away from noisy TVs and washing machines.
A word on coats
Rabbits shed their coats twice a year, and yours will grow a winter coat. If you do move your rabbits indoors, their coat will likely start to shed as it’s not needed. This does mean that you’ll need to keep them inside until spring because they will have lost that lovely warm winter coat.
Do house rabbits need different preparations?
House bunnies are the lucky ones in the colder weather, and they’ll need less manual preparation of space than hutch-living rabbits. Health and coats should still be checked regularly, however.
Wherever you’re housing your rabbits for winter, make sure they have access to heat. If they’re in a shed, add a low-wattage heater – though be sure to insulate the cable to prevent damage by curious teeth.
Find out more about getting your hutch and run ready for winter. Also, remember to keep an eye on your VIPs for any subtle changes in behaviour that could signal a bigger problem.
What’s your top advice for keeping your rabbit warm during the colder months? Send us a snap of your rabbit snuggled up for winter!