As rabbit owners we have a responsibility to look after the needs of our bunnies ensuring that they have a suitable diet, good accommodation, and companionship.
Ensuring that they are healthy and are able to live a happy and normal life is a priority.
Although rabbits will naturally prepare themselves for the start of the dark and colder months, we do have a responsibility to to give our bunnies that much more attention at this time of year.
There are many different factors to consider when keeping rabbits happy and healthy during winter time so we thought it would a good idea to write a post with some things to think about for your rabbit over winter time.
There are a number of things to check on and to ensure are in place to ensure your rabbits accommodation is well set up for them.
So here are 15 key factors we think are important to consider for bunnies over the winter time for rabbit winter care
Bringing your rabbit indoors
If the temperature outside starts to fall to freezing then the first thing to think about is moving your rabbit inside your home.
It gives them the shelter and warmth that they need and means that that you don’t have to worry about the harshness of winter that can really affect your rabbit.
What about if there is no space for a rabbit in your home?
However, for many owners, we understand that this is not an option at the moment.
If you do not have the space in your home then there are other alternatives.
If you have a shed, outhouse, barn, car-free garage then these types of places can also provide more protection for them over winter time.
If you are thinking of doing this, then this is a really good thing to do.
But before you do, there are some things to think about before you take your rabbits indoors.
5 things to consider before moving your rabbit inside
- Make sure that where ever you put your rabbit, that the area has been properly rabbit-proofed so that it is free from wires and anything you don’t want chewed.
- It is important that it is free of toxic fumes and chemical spills, as well as any plants that are poisonous and any cables which may cause them an electric shock.
- It isn’t a good idea to keep a rabbit in a greenhouse mainly because of the range of temperatures that greenhouses have. Conservatories are also not good for them.
- Its important that any area where a rabbit is kept has a good temperature for them and that it is ventilated.
- Make sure your rabbits accomodation is away from any kind of heater which may cause your rabbits to overheat.
Make winter more interesting for rabbits
Winter can be a boring time for rabbits as quite often they are unable to get outside and do the activities they can do in the lighter and warmer months. So providing your rabbit with interesting activities can really help them during this time.
Here are some things you can do for your rabbit;
Whether they are inside or outside, any areas where you keep your rabbits must be large, safe and secure enough.
They need access to an area to exercise in, so ensure they are not cooped up in a hytch all day and night.
Ensure your bunnies have enough space in their shelter for toys, hiding places, and platforms that will keep life interesting for your rabbit. It will make all the difference for them and ensure that they aren’t bored.
In this aspect, the size of the hutch and run is important so that they get the exercise they need.
The minimum hutch size that the RWAF recommends is a hutch size of 6′ x 2′ x 2′, which means that;
- the rabbits have space to move around, they need space for 3 hops which is the equivalent of 6-7 feet around their run.
- it allows the rabbit to stand on its hind legs
- it allows for its food, shelter and toilet areas to be separated and kept apart from each other.
Give rabbits space to play
Playtime is important all year round so make sure you give your rabbits company, including attention from you in a way that they enjoy, and provide them with toys and boredom breakers to entertain them.
Toys such as paper, tunnels, cardboard and objects to grow and manipulate are great for rabbits to enjoy. In particular;
- Paper – such as handle-less paper bags, shredded newspaper, old books and telephone directories. Hiding treats inside wrapped paper is a good and fun exercise for them.
- Cardboard – toilet roll tubes, empty breakfast boxes make great play toys for rabbits. Stuffing them full of hay makes them more fun as rabbits just live hay. Also cardboard boxes with holes cut out make very good hiding places for them.
- Tubes and tunnels – can be purchased either in plastic or fabric form or you can choose to make your own. Rabbits love to run up and down tubes.
- Objects to throw and manipulate – these objects such as plastic plant pots and other containers, wicker balls, tennis balls, and robust solid plastic baby toys. Make sure that there are no small parts that can be swallowed by the rabbit.
There are many other different boredom breakers that you can purchase from any good pet store as well.
One more thing….
As opportunities to go out onto grass are limited, you might like to try growing grass in trays to allow your rabbits the chance to graze and dig.
Protecting your rabbits from the elements
If your rabbit’s home is outside, ensure that their home is waterproof, draught proof, dry and is well ventilated.
The thing is, when winter comes so does the weather that is associated with winter, which is not the kind of weather that rabbits appreciate.
Inclement weather such as high winds, rain, snow, and hail can batter a rabbits hutch.
What temperatures can a rabbit tolerate?
Rabbits are easily about to tolerate temperatures at 0 degrees celcius/32 degrees fahrenheit. As long as they have shelter from the wind, rain and snow they are very tolerant.
The kinds of weather your rabbit hates
Wind – Rabbits hate high winds and will retreat from them.
You may find that strong winds effect your rabbits home. They may effect your rabbits bedding and food not to mention the structure of the rabbits home.
It is well worth moving the hutch to a more sheltered place to protect the rabbit from strong winds.
It is worth cladding the hutch with carpet off cuts covering the the sides, top and back of the hutch which will help to insulate the hutch from high winds and cold.
Then place protective sheeting over the carpet to keep it dry.
You can also stop wind from getting into the hutch by turning the hutch against the wind or even just putting a blockade in front of the hutch to act as a wind break.
When the wind is low then leave the front open for ventilation and then at night cover it up leaving a small area open for air to get in.
Another way to keep them put of the wind is to move the accommodation into a shed, outhouse, barn, or garage which isn’t being used for a car. You can still add insulation to the walls to help keep the warmth in
Rain, snow and hail – Unfortunately many rabbit hutches are not made from strong materials which means that they allow rain to get into the structure of the hutch.
A hutch can only be only give protection to a rabbit if its in a good condition.
So it’s worth checking if your rabbits hutch requires repairing before winter comes around to make sure it is water resistant.
Make repairs to your rabbit’s home before winter sets in
If the roof has some damage or is leaking then this can be repairable, however if the roof is beyond repair them it may need completely replacing.
A lot of hutch roofs are constructed with poor timber such as plywood which is covered in roofing felt.
This will only protect the wood for so long.
Also, beware of flat roofs as they will not hold standing water for long, before they start to leak. Sloping roofs will have a much longer lifespan, and are more leak proof.
If you have mesh doors they can be covered partially with clear plastic or perspex which means that your rabbit can still have visibility and light is still able to get in.
However, ventilation is still important so try to leave a gap of at least a few inches.
Consider the diet of your rabbit
It’s good for a rabbit to have good nutrition. Onne of the key benefits of this, is that it ensures the growth of a thick fur coat for insulation against the cold.
Have good quality hay
The most important part of your rabbits diet is always good quality hay and you should always feed this to your rabbits, along with suitable fresh greens much like you would throughout the year.
Try not to over feed your rabbits as this could lead to obesity and don’t make any sudden changes to their diet as this may cause upsets to their digestive system.
Beware of frozen grass
Frozen grass is not good for rabbits at all.
If they ingest frozen grass, this can lead to stomach upsets. So because of this, it will be necessary to find somewhere else for them to exercise such as on concrete.
Check they are eating and drinking normally everyday
It is worth checking that your rabbit is eating and drinking normally everyday and if you have any concerns about their dietary requirements over winter then speak to your vet.
Treat the outside of the hutch/run/shelter with pet safe wood preservative
If you are keeping your rabbit outside then ensuring the hutch is in good repair is important. Treating a rabbit’s home is something that many don’t consider doing. But it is a really good thing to do because of how much it increases the longevity of the hutch.
Treating your shelter with wood preservative will stop damp from entering the hutch and prevent the wood from rotting.
The wood preservative will need to be applied every two to three years at a minimum and applied both outside and inside to ensure that the whole hutch is protected.
Wood preservatives that are pet friendly can be purchased from pet stores or DIY stores. This is because the fumes from normal wood preservative can be toxic and can make your rabbit ill. They could even kill them if they ingest the preservative.
Pet friendly wood preservatives that rabbit owners have found that work well are Cuprinol Garden Shades, Wilkinsons High Performance Timbercare, Protek wood stain and Good for Wood.
But do seek advice before purchasing and ensure that wood preservative that you do use is pet friendly.
Ensure an outside rabbit hutch is raised off the ground
If you have ever wondered why rabbit hutches need to be raised off the ground (like I have) then there is one reason for this:
Damp can get into a hutch very easily if the wooden base is one the ground.
Make sure the shelter is raised off the ground by at least 20cm so as to prevent the base from becoming rotten.
If your hutch does not have legs then just placing a brick on each corner will do the job well and will mean that air can get under the hutch and reduce any damp intake.
Another reason to ensure your hutch is raised off the ground is if your area is at risk of flooding.
If this is the case, then consider how far water has come up in the past and adapt your hutch accordingly to more than that height.
Beware of snow drifts
Snow drifts can be a problem if your home is in an area which has problems with them.
If this is the case, as mentioned preciously, then it is worth moving your rabbits to a safer place.
What about Rabbits with mobility problems?
If your rabbits have mobility problems, the housing will need to be at ground level so as to avoid inconvenience for them in using ramps to access their shelter.
In cases such as these, it is better to place their housing inside the home or outhouse to prevent the accomodation from getting damp.
Older rabbits often have problems getting around, and these issues will vary depending on the rabbit.
Rabbits that are used to being outside will need rubber mats laid down for them placed over any laminate or stone tiled flooring which can become slippery. This is so they are able to get a better grip of the flooring when the hop around.
You may need to put out low-sided litter trays to enable them to access the litter tray with ease.
Any bedding which is perched in places where they might need to climb may need to be moved to a lower place where they can access it without any problems.
Consider the location of your rabbit’s hutch
If you are keeping a rabbit outside, the place where you put your rabbit’s housing is very important during winter time.
Where they are situated can have a big effect in the health and well being so care needs to be taken to ensure that their home is in the right place.
For accommodation which is located in areas which are prone to flooding or heavy snow drifts, their housing will need to be moved to a better location out of the way of these hazards so there is no potential of being affected.
If the hutch is located on the side of your house, then make sure you weather proof it against frost as it tends to build up a foot away from the exterior walls of the house.
A good place to put a hutch is halfway in the sun and halfway in the shade so the rabbit has the best of both worlds.
During winter time, it is better for them to live away from grass away from frosted grass which will give them stomach upsets, as preciously mentioned.
Your rabbit will still need access to grass or hay at the very least if you haven’t got access to grass.
Think about putting them in a place where they get shelter and respite from cold winds and is less open. They will benefit from not being in exposed areas.
What about covering your hutch?
Covering your hutch is a must during winter time.
By covering your rabbit’s hutch you give them protection and insulation against the cold, rain and snow.
Using a hutch snuggle
A great option to use during this time is to use a hutch snuggle will help to regulate the temperature of the hutch. This will help keep your rabbit’s housing warm in winter and cooler in summer.
Methods of insulation
Another way to cover the whole hutch is to use an old blanket or a carpet over all areas of the hutch and then cover it with a tarpaulin.
This will help to keep the heat in and the elements such as rain, snow, sleet, hail and winds out. It is also a more economical way of insulating your rabbit’s home.
You can leave the front open during the day and then during the night cover the majority of the hutch leaving just a small opening enough for ventilation.
Keep your rabbits straw topped up
Make sure your rabbit has plenty of hay and straw not only to eat but to make their bed on within their shelter.
This needs to be topped up daily and unfortunately your expenditure for hay will increase substantially during this time. But your rabbit will thank you for it.
In their bedding areas, rabbits do need the area to be snug and warm.
This space needs to be the size of a medium sized box with an entrance.
If it’s a smaller box then that is fine, as long as the rabbit can sit comfortably in it. In fact, it will keep the heat in much better.
You can then line the walls and floors with newspaper which can be placed underneath the bedding.
Again keep the shelter full of hay. They will then form their bed on it.
Keep a regular cleaning schedule
It is worth cleaning out your rabbit’s home every day to get rid of excrement and to keep it clean for them.
Don’t go for too long without cleaning out the shelter as it can become uncomfortable for them.
Beware of freezing drinking water
Rabbits always need a good and consistent supply of fresh water. However, over winter this can be jeopardised by low temperatures which can then freeze up the water.
This can have a detrimental effect on the rabbits diet and overall health and will lead to them becoming dehydrated.
This is why it is vital that their water supply is checked at least twice a day and topped up to ensure it is kept moving and doesn’t freeze up.
During your checks make sure that water is flowing through the spout and that you leave some air in the bottle because water expands when it is frozen.
Keep jug of water at room temperature
Don’t refill from an outside tap, but have a jug of water which is kept in your home at room-temperature which is used to top up their water bottle.
You can also use some drops of medicinal glycerine that can be added to the water bottle to stop it from freezing.
A good purchase is also a bottle snug which is a wrap for your water bottle which ensures that it doesn’t freeze up and also has the benefit of ensuring your bottle stays algae free during the summer as well.
Check your rabbit’s health regularly
Its important to take your rabbit’s for regular check ups with your vet throughout the year.
You may want to consider doing this before and during the winter to make sure you don’t have to make any further adjustments so as to help make your rabbit’s more comfortable.
Your vet will also be able to advise you on when your pets vaccinations are due and if they need any treatment for fleas or internal parasites.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on your rabbits teeth and nails too to make sure that they are not becoming overgrown – your vet will be able to help you out with advice for this.
If you notice any change in your rabbits’ eating, drinking, toileting or behaviour at any time, seek veterinary advice.
Get ready for springtime
If you are preparing to take your rabbits back outside after winter, then do wait until temperatures have risen and bring them out gradually.
It is not a good idea to make the transition immediate as it will be too much of a shock to them.
Take your time with moving them outside
So take your time and introduce them over shorter time spans which can then gradually increase until they are ready to be outside all of the time.
If temperatures are low at night then it is a good idea to keep them inside during the night and then bring them out during the day when temperatures warm up.
Looking after new rabbits during winter
If you have a new rabbit which has been living inside (which most purchased rabbits do) then extra care must be taken.
If you get your new rabbit in autumn or winter time then it becomes more important to place your rabbits housing in a sheltered location, as previously mentioned.
Places like sheds or outhouses are great for this.
Only use a garage if it is not used for storing a car because of the fumes.
Your new rabbit may have difficulty adjusting to the extreme cold temperatures.
Additionally, be careful about bringing rabbits’s that are used to being kept outside into your home for short amounts of time as they may have difficulty in adjusting to the change in temperature.
Be extra wary of predators
If you rabbits are outside, ask yourself a few simple questions to establish if your rabbits are in the most suitable place in your garden to make sure that they are warm and dry.
- If your rabbits home is in an exposed area, then move it so that it’s sheltered from draughts and bad weather.
- A suitable cover will protect them from the wind and the rain and keep their home warm and dry as well. However, do leave the front of their shelter uncovered during the day for ventilation.
- As always, make sure your rabbits home is safe and secure. Providing a fence around your garden will discourage predators from entering as their food supply will be scarce and they will be on he look out for more food. So make sure your bunnies are well protected.
Just by knowing they have a predator checking them out, can cause a lot of stress for a rabbit.