We asked three experts for their top tips on keeping your bunnies warm and well throughout the colder months. Read on for their recommendations.
3 ways to winter-proof your rabbit hutch
1. Cover up
Claire Stallard, an animal behaviourist for the Blue Cross and the proud owner of a pair of rabbits, recommends a good-quality hutch cover. Her pick is the Hutch Hugger from Scratch & Newton (from £30), which comes in a range of sizes or can be made to measure.
But no matter what brand you choose, she has some great tips for ensuring the cover keeps your rabbits warm and healthy. ‘Hutch covers must fit snugly. They should also have a waterproof roof, back and sides made of good-quality material to keep out wind, rain and snow, and add insulation to the hutch,’ she explains. ‘Those that have a roll-down transparent plastic section over the front of the hutch are ideal. They can be used for added warmth on a cold night, but can be rolled up to let in the sun on a bright day.
Claire checks her hutch cover frequently to make sure water doesn’t build up on or under the cover, making it damp and prone to mildew. ‘It helps to keep it in good nick and prolong the life of the hutch, as well as keeping my rabbits snug,’ she says.
2. Add in heat pads
Miriam Battye, Small Animal Supervisor at the Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare in East Sussex, is part of a team responsible for the care of around twenty rabbits that are waiting to be rehomed at any one time.
‘Our hutches all meet the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund’s specifications, and are waterproof and well insulated,’ she says. ‘But if the temperature drops to around 5°C during the day, and below zero at night, I think about giving our bunnies a bit of extra warmth with heat pads.’
She recommends the SnuggleSafe Heat Pad (from £13), a small non-chewable plastic disc you simply pop in the microwave for about six minutes to warm up to the perfect rabbit-comforting temperature. ‘It’s so simple to use, comes with a washable, fleecy cover to stop your rabbit getting too hot, and stays warm for up to 10 hours. It feels very cosy to snuggle up to, and it’s the perfect size for a pair of rabbits to sit on or near so they both benefit from the extra warmth,’ she says. ‘I put the heat pads in our rabbits’ favourite places to sit, or lay a small cardboard box on its side and add an old blanket so they can make a warm nest.’
3. Invest in a hutch heater
If you have a rabbit that’s very thin, has been unwell or is elderly, a heater can help to provide extra warmth during colder weather.
‘Have a word with your vet first about your rabbit’s general health, and whether they’ll benefit from extra help to stay warm,’ advises Richard Saunders, veterinary spokesperson for the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund. Putting the hutch in a well-ventilated shed or garage is a good first step but, if your vet agrees that extra heat could still help, then the Petnap Flexiguard 33 heater (from £37) is a safe, short-term addition. It’s a slim, metal, chew- and water-proof heat pad, with a metal armoured chew-proof cable. It also has very low wattage and can be safely set to your rabbit’s average body temperature of 38-40°C. (To be doubly safe, consult with a qualified electrician to ensure it’s properly connected to an outside socket with an RCD, which will automatically turn off the current if there’s a fault.)
‘You need to be extremely careful putting anything in your rabbit’s hutch to help heat it,’ Richard cautions. ‘Rabbits will potentially chew on anything they come into contact with, so a device with a normal electrical lead could cause electrocution or pose a fire risk. And any free-standing heating source, such as those fuelled by gas or paraffin, would obviously be unsuitable as they could be knocked over.’ Trust your common sense but, if in doubt, play it safe and check with your vet first.