Caring for Your Rabbit Over Winter Months
Caring for your rabbit over winter months
As winter approaches and we begin to warm our houses, let’s not forget about our pet rabbits that live outside. In the wild, rabbits escape the cold and wet weather by hiding in their warrens underground - protecting them from freezing temperatures. Our pet rabbits need the same protection from wind, rain and cold temperatures when in their hutches.
Preparing the hutch
Healthy rabbits can generally manage the colder temperatures of winter as long as they have a warm, cosy and secure home.
Start by ensuring your rabbit's hutch is in good repair. Ensure the roof is waterproof, the floor is damp proof and that no water can get inside the hutch. Ensure the walls are in good condition and are varnished suitably. Get all repairs done now before the weather deteriorates.
Moisture and damp will rise into a hutch that is placed on the ground. Raise the hutch off the floor using bricks or a table frame to allow the circulation of air and prevent the base from becoming damp and rotten.
Insulating the hutch
You can buy a specially made hutch cover to place across the front of the mesh on your rabbit's home — or make your own DIY version using plastic covers or Perspex — allowing your bunny to see outside but preventing wind and rain entering. Remember to leave a gap of several inches to allow for ventilation.
Position the hutch carefully and, if possible, move away from the wind and rain or consider building something around the hutch or use windbreakers for added protection. If possible, move into a garage or shed (not one where a car is kept). Hutches moved into sheds or garages still require insulating through the winter.
Adding extra bedding is really important to help your bunny stay warm. Line the bottom with newspaper and provide a layer of straw (a better insulator than hay). Cover this with hay for your rabbit to eat as straw is not sufficient. Provide a cardboard box with an entrance hole and line it with bedding materials; a smaller area will warm up quicker and be ideal for your bunny to sleep in.
Regular cleaning is essential as wet bedding will not keep your bunny warm. If the weather becomes very cold then you can use pet-safe heated sleep pads (ensure these are well-wrapped to avoid burns and scolds, and always monitor your rabbit when using them). Do not use any mains-powered heating pads or hot water bottles, as your rabbit may chew the wires.
Rabbits still need to run, jump, play and stretch during the winter months. It is fine for them to have access to an outdoor run as long as they still have somewhere to retreat to should they choose. Ensure the run is covered to protect it from rain as you don’t want your bunny getting wet. Providing areas in the run for your rabbit to rest and hide in is also important.
Food and water
Rabbits who live outdoors will require more calories through the winter months as they will use more energy trying to keep themselves warm. Ensure they have access to plenty of clean, dry hay and monitor their weight regularly.
If using a water bottle check it several times a day as it may freeze or become too cold. Very often the metal ball in the spout becomes frozen — preventing water being dispensed. Insulating the bottle can help; specific covers can be purchased, or you can use items found at home such as bubble wrap and socks. If possible, keep a spare bottle in case the other freezes, cracks or breaks. It can also be moved inside the hutch.
Observe your rabbits daily — especially if older, underweight or very young — as they are particularly prone to cold-related health problems. Rabbits do not hibernate, so it’s important to monitor the amount they are eating, drinking, toileting, and moving about. If anything changes, make them an appointment to see your Veterinary Surgeon. Rabbits are prey animals, which means they tend to hide illness to avoid becoming a target for predators, so you will need to react quickly.