As summer is now over, we need to now start planning on how we are going to keep our rabbits warm during the colder, winter months. It isn’t really a concern if you keep your rabbit indoors as your house will be at a perfect temperature for them. But for the ones that are outside we need to think about how we can keep them warm and cosy.
Can rabbits live outside during the winter?
The answer is yes, they can. Rabbits that always live outdoors do adapt to the temperatures. They do this by moulting during the summer and having a shorter coat. And then, as the temperatures begin to drop, they will grow a thicker coat to keep them warm. Although this is great as they are adjusting, it doesn’t mean we can just leave them to it! The ideal temperatures for an outdoor rabbit are 12-21 degrees Celsius, assuming they’re dry. Remember, wild rabbits have a warm, dry, sheltered burrow to retreat to when it’s really nasty outside.
So how can we help them?
It is important to always make sure they are on dry bedding. Bedding that is wet or damp isn’t going to dry, and as the rabbit is sitting on it, they will always feel cold. If they have shavings as bedding, add more in, give them a thicker bed. It is also good to give them more hay so they have something to snuggle into. If you use vet bedding in the hutch this is great during the winter as it can be thick and fluffy for them to lie on. It also absorbs any water or urine to the bottom of it; so this means the rabbit will not be sitting on any wet bedding. They may still require something to snuggle into; you can purchase soft dome beds that they can sleep in, these can be found in pet shops and online.
Protect them from the elements
It is ideal to assess the location of the hutch: is the hutch in a sheltered area, or when it’s raining and windy will it blow straight into the hutch? If this is the case then ideally it needs to be moved. To make sure they are protected from the elements, you can purchase hutch covers, shower proof ones and thermal ones. They hopefully fit most hutch sizes. They are great as they have a clear front so the rabbit can still see out and have some day light. Other ways to protect them is to use a tarpaulin sheet, just to stop the rain and wind blowing in. The downside is that they can’t see out of this as most of the time it isn’t a clear sheet.
Provide plenty of food
So, we want to make sure they have plenty of food as calories keep them warm, whilst not over feeding, ensure they have plenty to nibble on, especially hay. It is also important to ensure they have fresh water, during the winter it is common for water bottles to freeze over. This can be prevented by protecting the bottle, thermal covers can be purchased to stop this from happening. It may also be worth providing a bowl of water, hopefully this is less likely to freeze as you could put warm bedding around it.
Rabbits also keep warm by moving around, it is still important for them to have time out of the hutch, obviously not on the very cold nights but still let them have a roam around in an outdoor run. It is also great to keep them exercised to keep any extra weight off them, and it’s also really important for their mental health.
Rabbits that are kept together in the same hutch will keep each other warm. And no rabbit should ever live alone: they’re social animals who need other rabbits for company!
Should I bring my rabbit indoors?
This is entirely up to you, if you have the correct size cage, or are happy for a free roaming rabbit then you can bring your rabbit indoors. If your rabbit is used to being outside, though, consider if they would get stressed about being brought inside. Would they tolerate it, do you have other pets inside that may worry the rabbit? Sometimes it is better to leave them outside where you can also keep them warm rather than cause distress by having them indoors.
A good “middle path” is to get their hutch or house into a sheltered shed, porch or outbuilding in the worst of the winter weather. That way they are protected from the worst of the weather without being stressed by proximity to dogs and cats and other threats.