Winter can affect both outdoor and indoor rabbits, so have a look at these winter tips to help keep your rabbits happy during the winter months.
By Veterinary Surgeon Lisa Butwell
Keeping outdoor rabbits warm during winter
Give your rabbits plenty of hay and straw to make a bed with and replace any damp or wet bedding daily. In wet weather bedding can get soiled quickly, so be prepared to be changing the bedding regularly. Wet or mouldy bedding and forage can make rabbits cold and may even make them unwell.
Use a cover (e.g. tarpaulin or blanket) over any meshed sections in your rabbits living area to offer them protection from rain, wind and snow. If your cover is not waterproof then make sure it is dry each time you use it. Also, make sure that your rabbits cannot chew the cover that you use as it may not be safe for them to eat.
Does your rabbits’ living area offer them much protection from bad weather? If not, consider moving their living area to a more sheltered part of your garden. This may be against a wall or facing a different direction.
Consider insulating the outside of your rabbits’ living area, to reduce draughts. If you want a DIY option then bubble wrap can be a good alternative to commercial products. Ensure that your rabbit is not able to chew the insulating material.
Bonded rabbits will snuggle together to keep each other warm. Alternatively, some people will bring their rabbits inside over winter to offer them protection from winter weather. Further in this blog you can read our tips on moving your rabbit for winter and find out how to do this safely.
Make sure your rabbits are fed enough forage
Forage is an important part of every rabbit’s diet, no matter whether they are kept indoors or outside. We need to ensure that our rabbits have access to sufficient forage throughout the year to keep them healthy.
During winter any grass your rabbits have access to will stop growing, so they may struggle to get enough forage in their diet. Offer good quality hay ad lib. There are a number of feeding hays available that contain a variety of plants and herbs to help encourage reluctant rabbits to eat forage.
Remove any soiled or wet hay daily and replace with fresh forage to keep your rabbit eating. Mouldy and wet hay can make your rabbits’ unwell if eaten.
Avoid large temperature changes
Outdoor rabbits will get hot really quickly if brought inside, as they are not used to the central heating. When taken back outside there is a risk of them getting cold because of the large temperature difference. If you do need to bring your rabbit indoors during winter, maybe to health check them or clip their nails, then use an unheated room and make sure the time they spend indoors is kept as short as possible.
Rabbits kept indoors through winter will become acclimatised to the warm temperature inside. This means that they can get cold if they are suddenly taken outside for long periods. Keep any outside exercise time to 15 mins at a time.
Try to keep your rabbits environment indoors at a consistent temperature to keep them comfortable. Keep their living area away from areas with direct heat. Turn any radiators that are right near to their home off or down to a low heat.
Considerations when moving your rabbit’s home
When moving your rabbits living accommodation it can put them at risk of gastrointestinal stasis, especially during the first 14 days of the move. This is because rabbits find any changes to their routine and diet stressful. However, there are steps that you can take to minimise this risk.
Sudden changes to your rabbit’s diet can cause gastrointestinal stasis. Any diet changes should always be done gradually.
Avoid making any changes to the diet during the first 14 days of moving, so keep their concentrate and fresh food the same.
Make sure rabbits are eating their hay well before moving them indoors at the start of winter. When reintroducing your rabbits to grass in spring do it gradually over 14 days, to try to prevent any stomach upsets.
Keep any other stressful situations to a minimum during the first 14 days of moving your rabbit. For example, avoid transporting your rabbits during this time and avoid any unnecessary handling.
If your rabbits are due their vaccinations around the time of moving them, try to do them a couple of weeks before they move.
Rabbits that have been moved indoors for the winter should not be put back outside until the weather has properly warmed up, ideally the middle of Spring.
If your bunnies like to play in the snow…
Make sure it is crisp, dry snow and not slush. Dry your bunnies as much as you can afterwards. If your bunny is kept indoors, keep outside fun to 15 mins at a time.
We do not fully understand the effect that low vitamin D levels can have on rabbits but indoor rabbits are at risk of not getting enough vitamin D through lack of exposure to sunlight. However, rabbits can also absorb vitamin D through their diet, so you should make sure that indoor rabbits are fed a good quality pelleted food.