How to prepare your rabbit for winter
As winter draws closer, we spend a lot more time indoors with the central heating on, safe from the wind and rain. But how do outdoor pets like rabbits cope when it’s cold outside?
Petplan takes a look at how you can ensure your rabbit is prepared for winter.
Rabbit care in winter
Although this may be a surprise to some, rabbits do not hibernate. In the wild, rabbits stay warm over winter by digging burrows and sheltering underground in groups. They also naturally eat more in colder months, and their fur will get thicker to increase their insulation.
However, pet rabbits who live in an outdoor hutch are not always properly protected from the cold. Unlike cats or dogs, rabbits cannot vocalise distress. It is therefore vital to ensure that your rabbit’s hutch either has extra protection during winter or is moved indoors until it warms up again outside.
Keeping rabbits outside
If you want to keep your rabbit outside, you must make sure their hutch is protected against bad weather. A waterproof covering will provide shelter from rain, while switching straw for hay will offer extra insulation against the cold. You can also buy your rabbit a special heat pad to sit on; they are made from bite resistant plastic so are safe in the hutch. Just make sure you have a cover for it or wrap it in a towel to protect your rabbit.
Bedding should always be clean and dry, as sitting on wet or dirty bedding can make rabbits unwell and cause infection. If the hutch is on the floor, you can raise it off the ground using bricks. This will ensure that damp or frost from the ground will not touch the bottom of the hutch.
Check that the hutch is in good condition, and that there are no gaps in the walls or roof for wind or rain to get through. If the weather becomes more extreme, you may wish to move the hutch to a well-ventilated, warm shed or garage, particularly if your rabbit is very young, old, or particularly thin.
Protecting food and drink
Your rabbit’s appetite will probably increase as the weather outside gets colder. Make sure they are still able to access lots of fresh, leafy greens, as well as grass. You can grow grass seeds indoors if the weather is poor outside. Never feed your rabbit frosty or frozen vegetables, as this can be potentially harmful.
As mentioned earlier, your rabbit will need access to lots of hay – this will help them gain more fat to help them keep warm in colder weather.
Rabbits will also need plenty of fresh water to drink. If your rabbit lives outside, check that their water bottle is not frozen – you can wrap it in bubble wrap, a sock, or a bottle cover to prevent this.
Rabbit health in winter
Exercise should still be encouraged in winter, so it’s important that your rabbit has enough space to run and jump and explore. Rabbits also like companionship, and huddle together to share body warmth in winter, so if you only have one rabbit, it’s worth looking into getting a second.
In cold weather, get into the habit of regularly checking your rabbit for signs of illness. These could include symptoms like breathing heavily, not eating as much, or lethargy.
Rabbits are particularly susceptible to pneumonia and arthritis, conditions which can be made worse by damp or cold.
Make sure to check your rabbit’s health regularly, and always seek veterinary advice if you are worried about anything.
Do you keep your rabbit indoors or outdoors in winter? Do you have any winter care tips for rabbit owners? Let us know in the comments below...