As the temperature drops and the weather starts to get a bit more extreme, we need to give some thought to our outdoor rabbits.
In the wild, they live underground away from the elements and sleep together in groups for warmth. They can’t always replicate that environment when they’re kept as pets, so it’s up to us to make sure their needs are met in other ways.
If your bunny doesn’t have a companion then it might be worth thinking about getting one in advance of winter. Rabbits are very sociable animals who are much happier with company. As the days get shorter we naturally spend less time outside and your rabbit is left on their own more often. It’s a dark, cold and lonely time out there with no friends. If you’d like to get a companion rabbit then do have a quick chat with us about how to best introduce them to give bonding the best start.
Check that your hutch is waterproof and sturdy. If it’s in an exposed area, move it near a fence to protect it from wind whilst making sure it’s still well ventilated. You can buy ‘bunny warren’ tubes and microwavable snugglepads to keep your outdoor rabbits warm at night, or you could put a cardboard box stuffed with straw in for them to nestle in to for extra warmth. Straw is warmer than hay so is better as bedding during the winter, but make sure whatever you use is cleaned out regularly as damp can quickly turn to mould when its cold and wet outside all the time.
It is possible to buy covers for hutches, but it’s really important that air can still circulate so make sure it has adequate ventilation. This not only means your rabbit has some fresh air, but also reduces the risk of mould and mildew appearing. You could also fit some Perspex to the wire mesh of the cage, but if you do this make sure there is a ventilation gap around it or at least at the top.
If it’s getting to freezing point, consider moving your rabbit into a well-lit shed or garage, but not if vehicles will be driving in and out of a garage as the fumes will be too much.
If an out-building isn’t available, then it is possible to move your rabbit in to the house but be very careful about this. Rabbits are highly sensitive to temperature changes and wouldn’t cope well with suddenly moving from outside to central heating. Ideally they should be kept in a non heated room, but otherwise you should keep them in a cool place for a while before then moving to a warmer room if need be.
During the winter, check your outdoor rabbits more often than you do at other times of the year. Many animals can signal distress by making a noise but rabbits can’t, so it’s vital that we keep an eye on them. Look for any changes in behavior like moving around less, loss of appetite, weight loss and changes to their breathing. Check their teeth and their claws as they might not be wearing them down as quickly.
Rabbits need exercise all year round regardless of the weather, so make sure they have access to this daily. To stay happy and keep their muscles strong they need to be able to run, jump and dig around. You could put a tarpaulin over the run to stop the rain and snow. To make sure it stays on tie it securely if there are eyelets or just weigh it down. If they don’t have access to a run outside during the winter, then some time running around inside a shed or garage would do as long as it was safe for them.
Wrap their water bottles in bubble wrap or socks to stop them freezing and check them twice a day to make sure they have free-flowing water. If your rabbit is used to running around and eating grass during other seasons, then they may well want to drink more during times of dry food in order to compensate. It’s a good idea to have spare water bottles so you can quickly swap them if they freeze.
Your rabbit will still need fresh leafy greens every day. You can keep some in the fridge to give them, and can grow grass from seed in a tray so this can still be a part of their diet in the winter.
Rabbit advice guide:
Why the right diet is essential to you rabbit’s health
This is an essential advice guide for rabbit owners. The FREE download is packed full of advice on what you should be feeding your rabbit. This pet advice guide is supplied courtesy of the veterinary staff at Castle Vets in Launceston.