As the weather across much of the country is turning to snow, the thought of leaving my nice warm house out into the freezing cold temperatures to feed the rabbits, de-freeze their water and clean out their hutch & run isn’t overly appealing, even for a rabbit enthusiast like me. I still drag myself out there though, as I know how important it is to keep looking after your pet rabbits. As the temperature’s plummeted even further I decided it was time for some of my rabbits to become house rabbits for a few days.
Please always check your local weather forecast as pet rabbits in outdoor hutches will NOT usually survive temperatures below -10 degrees (centigrade). Bring your rabbits indoors if necessary. Wild rabbits do survive the cold temperatures, but only because they burrow deep into the warmth of the ground.
I have space in my garage for a hutch that’s large enough for my Netherland Dwarf Cross with adequate space for exercise, but currently don’t have a safe enclosure for my 2 British Giants in the garage, so my options for them are the large hutch & run they usually stay in in the garden, or in the house. Thankfully, they do make excellent house pets and are well used to our home. They sleep in a large dog cage in the utility, and are more than comfortable using a litter tray. That said, they have outgrown the litter tray because of their size now, so we need to replace the litter tray with a dog basket (thanks to our friend Kenny for that suggestion!).
When it’s cold and dark, it’s easy to put off feeding and cleaning out the pet rabbit, please take your responsibilities as an owner and do the right thing for the rabbit and make sure it has plenty of food, water and lots and lots of hay – even if it means getting numb fingers in the process. In fact, in weather like this it’s worth getting outside and checking even more than you would normally, so if your rabbit is showing signs of distress due to the cold (eating less, immobile, laboured breathing) then you can get it the medical attention it needs, starting with getting it warm!
For the average outdoor pet rabbit many owners are not aware of the dangers that the cold winter weather can bring. Here are a few hints & tips to make caring for your pet rabbit in the winter easier for both you and your pet.
- If you can, bring your rabbit into the house for winter. They’ll need out in a room in your house for regular exercise. This’ll keep them warm and safe and you’ll enjoy your pet more than ever before, without you having to risk the winter cold yourself. If your bun has health problems then it really won’t stand a chance outside in this weather, so please bring it indoors at least until it warms up.
- Even moving your pet’s hutch into a garage or shed can make a difference, particularly from protecting them from frost, freezing water and blistering winds. Do keep an eye on the temperature inside your garage/shed though as it’s still possible it will get too cold in extreme conditions.
- Most modern hutches do have covers available. These are usually insulated covers that attempt to keep the cold out, and will often have clear “”window”” covers to protect the caged area of a huitch from the winds.
- Some hutches are fully insulated, just like your house. A layer of full insualtion is placed between the outer and inner walls of the hutch within the sleeping area. This not only helps keep the cold out in winter, but can also prevent the hutch from overheating in summer (not usually an issue for us in the UK mind you).
- Put a tarpaulin, plastic sheet, or even an old or cheap duvet over the hutch, particularly at night, keep it out of the wind.
- Check their water regularly through the day to check it hasn’t frozen over, and replace it with a fresh bottle if necessary. You might find it useful to have a few bottles to rotate, keeping the spares indoors to thaw whilst a fresh one keeps the water supply flowing.
- Line the hutch with plenty of newspapers or old towels, and then fill with lots and lots of hay. Put a cover on the water bottle to stop it freezing, these can be bought in pet shops, along with hutch covers.
- Consider investing in the Snuggle Safe heat pads – small pads you can heat using the microwave and place in the rabbits hutch which can then provide your rabbit with up to 10 hours of warmth. Your bunny will simply sit or sleep on the pad.
Rabbits can’t make a noise like a dog or a cat when they are in distress so they can only suffer in silence. Please do everything you can to keep your rabbit warm in this bitter weather.