Preparing your rabbit for winter
Wild rabbits huddle underground to share body heat in winter, but pet rabbits are put at risk if their owners fail to take the necessary steps to protect them. Karen Cornish looks at how to keep them safe
Celia Haddon, author of One Hundred Ways to a Happy Bunny, says, ‘The most important thing is to have a really sturdy house for your rabbits. Hutches should always be waterproof, kept away from draughts and include a run. Lots of extra straw should be put in if it gets damp. In really bad weather, you should be ready to move the hutch inside.’
If your rabbits are old, thin or young, they may be particularly susceptible to the cold and you might want to move them indoors for the winter. Minimise stress by putting familiar smelling items in the new environment, such as toys and used but unsoiled bedding. Outdoor rabbits can also be encouraged to use a litter tray indoors.
During cold spells, check on your rabbits more often than you would normally. If your rabbits are showing any signs of distress due to the cold – having laboured breathing, eating less or not moving as much, for example – warm them up and seek medical attention. Rabbits can’t make a noise if they are distressed, unlike cats or dogs, so it is up to the owner to be vigilant.
Rabbits are athletic and sociable, so during the winter it is vitally important that they are still able to behave naturally. This includes being able to run, dig, jump and forage, so they need daily access to a safe exercise area.
It is important to provide rabbits with safe, fresh leafy greens every day. Grass seeds can be grown in trays so that grass can still be included in their diet. Never feed greens or vegetables that are frosty or frozen as these can harm rabbits. Also, be aware that rabbits may drink more in the winter if their access to grass is limited.
TEN TIPS FOR WINTER RABBIT CARE
1. Start planning now for a safe, protected exercise area your rabbits can use daily.
2. Put a cardboard box filled with straw in the hutch for warmth.
3. Use a Snugglesafe heat pad overnight during freezing conditions. Wrap it in something first.
4. Straw is warmer than hay, so better to use as bedding during winter.
5. Make sure sheds or garages used for hutches are well ventilated and bright.
6. Wrap bottles with bubble wrap and an old sock to reduce the risk of freezing.
7. Keep spare water bottles so you can change them if frozen.
8. Attach a tarpaulin with eyelets to the exercise run to provide protection.
9. Wrap hutches with blankets and cover with something waterproof. Keep well ventilated.
10. Check hutches are draught-proof and free of damp.
For more information on winter care, visit the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF) website at www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk.