Keeping rabbits warm outside in winter
It is important rabbit owners do whatever they can to ensure their pets are safe and warm during cold weather snaps, as domesticated rabbits are not as efficient at keeping themselves warm as their wild counterparts.
In the wild, rabbits live in burrows underground, usually in groups to keep themselves warm. Wild rabbits are also better equipped to deal with lower temperatures due to having thicker fur.
Hutches don’t offer the same level of insulation or protection as burrows as they’re above ground and are often vulnerable to wind and rain. If a rabbit’s home is exposed to the elements in winter, rabbits can and do suffer from potentially fatal hypothermia.
Making a rabbit hutch winter proof
Rabbits can usually withstand wintry weather as long as they have a well-insulated, weatherproof hutch.
However, in extreme temperatures, it is worth considering moving the hutch to a shed or garage — providing the garage isn’t in use, as toxic car fumes can seriously harm your rabbit’s health.
Four tips to make your rabbit hutch winter ready
● Check the roof of the hutch is in good condition and 100% waterproof. Any wooden panels or joints inside the hutch should be dry and show no sign of mould or water stains.
● Check the back and sides of the hutch are in good condition and painted or varnished to protect them from the elements, as these areas can allow rain or moisture to seep through. Check these areas carefully for damp patches or rotten wood.
● Keeping a rabbit hutch close to the ground can not only allow predators easier access to your rabbit’s home but also puts your pet in danger of water damage or frost. Raise your hutch off the ground on tall legs to prevent the bottom from freezing or being damaged by water, as well as making it more difficult for predators to get into the hutch.
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How to keep your rabbits warm
It’s important to ensure your rabbit hutch is free from draughts, but at the same time well ventilated.
Placing the hutch in an area sheltered from the elements is the best way to keep your rabbits warm and safe. You should also insulate the hutch with newspaper and hay and remember to change this regularly.
Feeding and watering rabbits
Falling temperatures can lead to your rabbit’s water bottle freezing, preventing them from re-hydrating. Check your rabbit’s water supply regularly to ensure that it is not frozen.
Rabbits tend to eat more food in winter to keep their body temperature at a stable level.
Make sure to increase your rabbit’s food and hay in the colder months, so they have enough energy to stay warm.
Exercising rabbits in winter
It’s important that rabbits are still exercised and allowed to run about during the colder months. Let your rabbit out to exercise in the middle of the day rather than in the early morning or evening to avoid them becoming too cold.
It may also be worth allowing your rabbit to exercise indoors during cold spells. However, just be aware that rabbits grow a thicker fur for winter, so make sure the room they are exercising in isn’t too warm.
Do rabbits hibernate?
Rabbits do not hibernate in the winter months. If your rabbit appears extremely tired or limp, he is not going into hibernation. He may, however, be suffering from hypothermia.
Rabbit body temperature
Hypothermia is a risk for rabbits in winter. It occurs when the body temperature falls below normal (38.5-40°C). This can be even more dangerous than a fever.
Rabbits suffering from hypothermia will become lethargic and their extremities, such as their ears and paws, will look pale and feel cool to the touch. In advanced stages, the rabbit will appear as if in a stupor. If untreated, hypothermia can be fatal.
If you’re worried your rabbit is suffering from hypothermia, or if they become unresponsive, you should loosely wrap the rabbit in warm towels, and contact your vet or out of hours your nearest Vets Now, right away.