Do Rabbits Get Cold Outside? How Cold is Too Cold?

Bitter winds howl as icy temperatures plunge below freezing. Your rabbit’s long ears and paws are built for digging, not enduring harsh winter weather. As their trusted caretaker, it’s up to you to protect your bunnies from frigid conditions. When the mercury begins its downward spiral into bitter cold, your rabbits need you to spring into action. Transform their outdoor housing into a winter haven, move them to indoor comfort, or find ways to share your warmth. With some creative tips and modification, you can outwit old man winter and keep your rabbits cozy despite the chilling cold snaps ahead. Read on to discover how you can be your bunny’s hero this winter!

How Cold Is Too Cold for a Rabbit?

Rabbits are quite hardy animals that can tolerate cold temperatures remarkably well, but there are limits. In general, once temperatures start approaching freezing (32°F or 0°C), special precautions need to be taken to keep rabbits comfortable and prevent health issues.

Rabbits are most comfortable in temperatures between 45-75°F (7-24°C). Once temps start dropping into the 30s Fahrenheit, they will need extra protection from the elements. Temperatures below 20°F (-7°C) can be dangerous for rabbits if they are exposed for any length of time. Their large ears lose heat rapidly, putting them at risk for frostbite. Extreme cold is also very stressful on a rabbit's body.

Some specific signs that it's too cold for a rabbit include:

  • Shivering or trembling. Rabbits shake themselves in an effort to generate warmth. This is one of the first indicators they are getting chilled. Provide shelter immediately.

  • Lethargy or stillness. A rabbit that is immobilized, has droopy eyes, and is not active is likely suffering from hypothermia as their body temperature drops dangerously low. Bring them indoors to warm up right away.

  • Loss of appetite. Cold stressed rabbits often go off their feed. Make sure ample fresh hay is available at all times.

  • Huddling. Rabbits will hunker down tight against each other or in corners of their hutch to conserve body heat. Add bedding or cover the hutch.

  • Fur puffed out. The coat stands on end to try to trap insulating air. Add wind protection.

Pay close attention to the most vulnerable rabbits such as young kits, short-haired breeds, elderly, or sick rabbits. Give them extra protection before cold sets in. Know the overnight lows and take action once freezing temps are forecast. Rabbits need to be in a sheltered, insulated space once it drops down into the 20s F (-7 to -1 C).

Types of Winter Housing for Rabbits

If you keep your rabbits primarily outdoors, you'll need to make some adjustments to their housing in winter. There are several winter housing options to keep pet rabbits comfortable and healthy when the mercury plummets.

Indoor Housing

Bringing rabbits inside is ideal to protect them from extreme cold, snow, and ice. House rabbits are commonly kept indoors year-round. If your outdoor rabbits are used to coming inside for periods of time, winter is the perfect opportunity to bring them into climate-controlled comfort.

Provide an exercise pen or a rabbit-proofed room during the day and return them to a cage or pen at night. Be sure to rabbit-proof any exposed electrical wires. Bringing outdoor rabbits indoors full-time for the winter has many health benefits too. They will be protected from harsh weather, predators, and respiratory illnesses.

Make the indoor adjustment gradual if they aren't already accustomed to being inside. Start with short periods indoors and increase the time incrementally. Supervise initial indoor excursions until you are sure they won't chew baseboards or cords.

Outdoor Building Housing

For rabbits that cannot be brought entirely indoors, providing an insulated outdoor building or barn structure will allow them protection from wind, rain, and snow.

Choose a draft-free area of your garage, shed, or barn to situate their housing. Place it up off cold concrete floors if possible. Make sure the building is waterproof and windproof. Close any gaps around doors or windows that could allow in snow or cold air. Run a space heater to maintain temperatures above 45°F (7°C).

Install thick wooden nesting boxes stuffed with straw for sleeping quarters. Provide ample fresh timothy or other hay for bedding material. Place bricks wrapped in towel around the enclosure for warmth. Check rabbits frequently for signs of discomfort. If they appear cold, move them indoors until temperatures increase.

Outdoor-Only Housing

For rabbits that must remain outside full-time in winter, their hutch requires weather protection and insulation upgrades. Double layer the walls with waterproof barrier material like tarps or plywood. Pack straw or Styrofoam between the layers. Wrap or enclose the hutch partially with insulated barrier material to provide a wind shelter.

Place the hutch in a protected area out of the wind, rain, and sun. Provide a covered top and partial sides. Utilize the radiant heat from the ground by keeping the hutch low to the floor. Elevate the hutch up off cold ground with bricks or pallets to prevent freezing.

Turn the hutch to face away from the direction of winter winds and precipitation. Cover the ground around the hutch enclosure with straw to insulate the earth. Surround the hutch with bales of straw or windbreaks made of wood, tarps, etc. to further protect from wind.

Winter Care for Rabbits

Caring for rabbits in winter requires some special accommodations. Here are tips for keeping rabbits healthy and comfortable when the temperature plummets:

Consider Moving Their Shelter to A New Location

If the current hutch location is exposed and drafty, look for areas around structures or trees that offer more shielding. Even moving the enclosure a few feet can sometimes provide better protection. Place hutches near (but not touching) the house, barn or other buildings. The radiant heat from the structures will provide subtle warming.

A Quick Retouch to Fix It All

Go over the hutch enclosure and make any needed repairs before cold sets in. Fix loose panels, gaps, hooks, etc. to ensure the housing is draft-free and secure. Make sure latches and doors close tightly so wind and snow cannot blow inside. Fill any openings with caulk or weather stripping. Reinforce the roof to prevent snow build up or collapse.

Hutch Coverings

Cover hutches withtarps, old blankets, burlap sacks, etc. These provide an extra insulating layer and wind break. Avoid plastic sheeting as it can trap moisture inside. Check coverings daily to ensure they have not blown loose or collapsed from snow buildup.

Cover the floor of the hutch enclosure with a deep layer of straw, shredded newspaper, old clothing, or other material to insulate the floor. Provide plenty of extra bedding inside nest boxes so rabbits can burrow in.

Sharing is Caring

Consider pairing up rabbits, or adding companions to unpaired rabbits for winter. Rabbits will huddle together for warmth and companionship. Bonded rabbits provide mutual comfort and body heat. Just be certain both are spayed/neutered to prevent unwanted litters.

Purchasing a Heater Pad

Heated pet mats or microwavable heat packs made specifically for animals provide gentle warming without risk of burns. Place these pads underneath the bedding in nesting boxes, not directly in contact with the rabbit. Always follow directions carefully and monitor the temperature.

Some Additional Tips to Ensure Their Comfort

  • Check water bottles twice daily to ensure they have not frozen. Switch to bowls that are easier to keep thawed.

  • Switch to a heavier pelleted feed to increase calories. Ensure unlimited access to hay at all times.

  • Brush rabbits frequently to remove loose fur and prevent matting.

  • Talk to your vet about health concerns like arthritis that could be aggravated by cold.

  • Bring delicate rabbits indoors if they seem to be having difficulty managing the cold.

With proper housing adjustments and attentive care, rabbits can safely and comfortably weather the harshest winter conditions. A few modifications will go a long way in keeping them healthy, active and thriving despite the cold!


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