A Winter Bunderland
The days of sitting in the garden and watching the rabbits frolic while we sit and relax in the sun are over for another year. It’s important to remember that pet rabbits do need extra help from us in the colder months to stay warm and dry, and to make sure that they still get enough exercise. The burrows that wild rabbits live in don’t vary in temperature very much at all throughout the year, so we need to give our outdoor pets a helping hand. These are our top tips for keeping your bunnies warm and healthy this winter.
A Hutch Is Not Enough
Hands up everyone who likes getting up early every Sunday morning and exercising? Not me – but pet bunnies do! Rabbits are very active, athletic animals and we need to make sure that they can keep fit all winter. We recommend a minimum area of 10ft x 6ft for a pair of bunnies (a single bunny needs this much space too, but they should be kept in neutered pairs or groups). Outdoor rabbits do need to be able to exercise outside of their hutch or shed every day. Ideally their hutch or shed will have a safe exercise run attached all year round, so that they can exercise or rest when they please.
Photo credit F Rabbitt
We know that ‘free range’ time is dramatically reduced during the Autumn and Winter months; because of the dark nights and cold weather people don’t spend as much time in the garden. A safe attached exercise area will make it possible for the rabbits to exercise when they want, without having to rely on you – and so you can have a lie in guilt free! It’s a good idea give the run some extra cover, use a strong tarpaulin, or even some clear Perspex (make sure it is still well ventilated!). Sheds make great bunny houses and also make it much easier for us to interact with our outdoor pets in the awful weather and dark nights.
Keep Warm and Dry
Make sure that their outdoor accommodation is not going to leak or just fall apart in the winter weather. We have heard many tales of hutch lids blowing off, exposing the rabbit inside to torrential rain all night. A traditional hutch offers very little in the way of protection against the elements. The ‘bedroom’ is often the only covered and sheltered area. Not only is this too small to live in for extended periods of time during awful weather, but they usually use it as a toilet so it’s not dry. It’s really important that we create extra protection for them by using a custom made hutch cover (lift the front up during warm days of course) or a strong tarpaulin.
Photo credit S Hibbert
Give everything a check over now, do any repairs, and invest in a hutch and run cover, or similar. Straw is warmer than hay, but make sure that it’s dust free. Look for brands advertised as dust free as this should mean that they are free of parasites too. Use a deep layer of absorbent bedding underneath (not sawdust) and lots of straw. A cardboard box filled with straw offers extra insulation too.
Many people bring hutches into unused garages or sheds. This is a good idea and does give them more warmth and protection. Make sure they are well ventilated, have natural light and plenty of space to run around. They will still need lots of clean fresh hay to munch on.
Shall I Bring My Rabbit Indoors During Winter?
Some owners prefer to bring their rabbits indoors for the winter. This is an especially good idea if the rabbits are old or unwell. If you do embark upon this, remember that you will need to leave them inside until Spring. They will not develop a winter coat and will get accustomed to the warm indoors, so they will not be able to cope with the cold outdoors if you change your mind. Be sure that you can accommodate them inside for up to 6 months if needed. You will then be entering the realm of bunny proofing! See our website for more information on this by clicking here.
Remember that they will still need to exercise outside of their indoor cage every day. XL Puppy panels can make great enclosures for indoor bunnies, and aim for an area of 10ft x 6 ft for them.
Top tip: If bringing rabbits indoors do it gradually over a period of weeks. First of all bring them into a cold quiet room and give them plenty of places to hide. Use their own litter tray and toys so that they have a familiar smell.
A Watchful Eye
Understandably we are going to spend less time with outdoor bunnies during the winter, so we need to be extra vigilant. Make sure you check on them at least 3 times a day and not only check that the rabbits are alert and interested, but also that there are no leaks or draughts in their home. Every day give your rabbits a quick MOT and check that they are fit and well. Clean bottom, clean eyes, dry mouth, and eating well.
Water bottles can freeze, covers can blow off and we can’t see a thing in the garden after 4pm! Make sure you have spares where possible and a good torch so that you can do your last check before bed. Snugglesafe heat pads are a great idea (make sure there is room for the bunnies to get away from them if they don’t want to sit on them) and can also be used to stop water bowls freezing.
We hope you found this guide by RWAF on how to keep your rabbit cosy this winter helpful! If you are thinking it is about time you started stocking up on some winter essentials, or you replaced your rabbit’s hutch, don’t forget to check through the hundreds of ads for second hand rabbit hutches in our second hand pet accessories category.
If you would like more information check out our Top Tips for Winter Care information over on our site. The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF) is the largest charity in the UK dedicated to the welfare of pet rabbits. If you love rabbit you will love “Rabbiting On”, which is our fantastic quarterly magazine – why not join us?