As the winter months approach and temperatures drop, rabbit owners may wonder how to best keep their pets warm. The good news is, whether your rabbit’s home is outdoors or inside, it’s not hard to keep them safe and warm. You just need to know how to go about caring for outdoor rabbits in winter.
How Do Wild Rabbits Stay Warm?
In the wild, rabbits have a number of ways of preparing for the cold winter months.
First, they will stop shedding and will grow a thick winter coat.
Rabbits will also switch to a winter diet, which includes more grains and fatty foods. These foods help a bunny to build up a layer of protective fat that will help to keep them warm.
Many wild rabbits also live in groups, in cosy underground burrows. As winter approaches, they build nests in their burrows out of straw and grass. Rabbits that don’t burrow will find other ways to take shelter, such as in thickets of dried vegetation.
Winter is also a time of inactivity for rabbits. They don’t hibernate, but they won’t travel far from their burrows to search for food, and they will be out and about a lot less. This helps them to conserve both heat and energy.
There are a lot of ways to keep a wild rabbit warm.
Can Pet Rabbits Live Outside?
Of course! Many rabbit owners believe that rabbits are happiest living outside, close to nature. And many pet rabbits live happily outside, even in cold weather.
You can also keep domesticated rabbits indoors. Indoor rabbits can live quite happily in rabbit hutches or rabbit-proofed indoor areas.
Some people will also bring their bunnies inside during exceptionally hot or cold weather. It’s important, however, to avoid fast, drastic changes in temperature. We’ll talk about this in a bit.
Whether you keep your rabbits indoors or outside, however, it’s important that they have enough space for both living and exercise, and that they are well protected from predators, temperature extremes, and other dangers.
How to Set Up Your Rabbit Enclosure for Winter
Domesticated rabbits, as well as wild ones, prefer cooler temperatures to warmer ones. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to prepare your rabbit hutch for winter. This is especially true if your area has very cold winters.
When it comes to preparing for cold weather, there are two main concerns: winterising your rabbit hutch, and providing accessories to help keep your pet rabbits warm.
Weatherproofing Your Outdoor Rabbit Hutch
The main weather concerns in winter are cold, wind, and precipitation. We’ll talk about temperatures in a bit. The great news is, when it comes to protecting your hutch from moisture and wind, the solutions is pretty easy.
First, you need a hutch insulator. A hutch insulator attaches to the outside of the hutch, and helps to regulate the temperature inside. Our hutch insulators are made from a NASA-designed fabric that creates a micro-climate inside the hutch that’s comfy for your bunnies.
You can also use carpet or thick blankets to insulate the outside of your hutch.
A hutch insulator won’t protect from wind or precipitation, however. Once you’ve attached the insulator, a sturdy plastic hutch cover will keep out wind, rain, and snow. A plastic tarpaulin can also help to protect your bunnies from moisture.
Together, these products, which are made to pair with our spacious rabbit hutches, can help to keep your bunnies cosy and warm.
Dampness is a concern in any weather, which is why we always recommend a raised rabbit hutch. If your hutch sits on the ground, however, you can raise it using bricks or cement blocks.
Accessories to Help Keep Your Bunnies Warm
Inside the hutch, make sure your rabbits have plenty of straw to bed down in. You can fill a cardboard box with straw to provide a snuggle area that will help them to conserve their body heat. You can also create an artificial, hay-filled “burrow” out of a large plastic container or a wide PVC tube.
A self-heating heating pad is a safe way to increase the heat inside your bunny’s hutch. Our self-heating pads use no electricity or outside power. Rather, they gather and reflect a pet rabbit’s body heat. It’s similar to how a sleeping bag keeps you warm. It’s machine washable, too.
Fleece blankets are also a popular choice for bedding in all weather.
If temperatures drop low enough, your rabbit’s water may freeze. Our water bottle snuggler can reduce the chances of this happening. It’s still important, though, to check your bunny’s water a few times a day to make sure that there’s enough, and that it’s in a drinkable condition.
Animal welfare organisations agree: most rabbits are happier when there’s more than one. Two rabbits means double the body heat, and double the fun for your bun.
A Winter Diet for Your Pet Rabbit
Wild bunnies change their diet in preparation for winter. Your pet rabbit can, too.
First, staying warm uses additional energy, so your rabbits will need to eat a bit more. The first order of business is to make sure that they have unlimited feeding hay available at all times.
High quality pellet food can give your bunnies an extra bit of nutrition to help them build up their fat stores. Just don’t overdo it. The majority of their diet should still consist of hay, and you definitely don’t want to push your bunny into obesity.
Because bunnies are prone to a host of painful and potentially serious digestive problems, never make sudden drastic changes to your rabbit’s diet. Rather, add new and additional foods slowly over time, and in small amounts.
Winter Exercise for Your Rabbit
You might think that rabbits are more interested in snuggling in their warm, winterized hutches during the cold months, than in getting their exercise. You’d be wrong!
The truth is, rabbits do great in cold weather, and they not only want but need to exercise. Make sure your rabbit has all-day access to its exercise space, just like in warmer months. Your bunny will want to do all of those natural bunny things like running, hopping, digging, and foraging.
Many rabbits, in fact, love the snow. Check out these happy winter buns!
Wintertime Rabbit Health Concerns
Rabbits do not hibernate. Listlessness and loss of appetite are signs of many potentially serious health problems. So if your bunny’s activity level has noticeably decreased, if it’s refusing to eat, or if it’s acting “off,” it’s time to call the vet sooner rather than later.
If you have an elderly bunny, or one with pre-existing health concerns, you might consider moving them inside before the first cold snap.
When Cold is Too Cold
Many rabbits love the cold, but in some places it can get too cold for rabbits.
How cold is too cold for rabbits?
The ideal temperature for a rabbit is between 13 and 21 degrees Celsius (55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit). Anything over 29 degrees Celsius (85 degrees Fahrenheit) can put your rabbit in danger of heatstroke. Temperatures below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit) can be dangerous, too.
How to Tell If Your Rabbit is Cold
Rabbits regulate their body temperature with their ears. If your rabbit’s ears feel cold, there’s a chance that your bunny is cold. Other signs of a cold bunny include:
- Breathing through the mouth
- Pale lips
Rabbit body temperature is slightly warmer than ours, by the way. Normal rabbit body temperature is 38.3 to 39.4 degrees Celsius (103 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit). If your rabbit’s body temperature is below this, you can help it to warm up by holding it inside your coat, or even against your skin, or by using warm, dry towels.
Safely Moving an Outdoor Rabbit Inside
If you know that cold weather is coming, don’t wait for it to happen before you make the move. Quickly switching between temperature extremes can be very harmful to your rabbits. Keep an eye on the weather forecast. If you’re intending to bring your bunnies inside, do so before temperatures plunge.
If you’re moving your bunny indoors for the winter, you can bring them into the house, or you can move their hutch and enclosure into a protected area like a garage.
Either way, make sure that they have full access to a protected exercise space. Also, keep them safe from indoor hazards like poisons, cords, cables, toxic plants, and so forth. If you’ve moved them inside your house, keep the radiator in their room off or on low, as dry radiator heat can cause them health problems, and a hot radiator can be a burn hazard to a curious bun.
When it’s time to move them outside again, be mindful of switching between temperature extremes.
Are Your Rabbits Ready for Winter?
Rabbits are better suited to cold temperatures than to hot ones. And many rabbits even love to play in the snow. But winter safety is paramount.
Winterise your rabbit enclosure. Make sure that it’s safe from wind, moisture, and cold. Give your bunnies hay-filled snuggle boxes, and check their water several times a day to make sure it hasn’t frozen.
It’s fine to move your rabbits indoors for the winter, especially if they’re old or have health concerns. But make sure to do this before temperatures drop, in order to protect your buns from the dangers of swinging between temperature extremes.
Do your rabbits love the winter? How do you prepare? We’d love to hear about it!