Winter is fast approaching. The days are getting shorter and there is a coldness in the air. Humans are lucky – they have warm coats and central heating, but many rabbits are forgotten about as the cold air draws in. Rabbits can cope in the colder weather, as long as steps are taken to ensure the hutch is kept warm and dry. In the wild, rabbits live underground in warrens that are insulated, preventing their body temperature from dropping below freezing. Hutches are obviously above the ground, so you will need to help your rabbits stay warm. Here are some tips to make sure your bunnies are kept warm this winter.
Get them a heat pad
These pads are really useful and a must have for any rabbit owner. Brands, such as the snuggle safe heat pad are made out of hard plastic so cannot be chewed and all you need to do is put them in the microwave to warm them up. The pads comes with a fleece cover to make it a bit comfier for your rabbit. The heat pads are really good for all rabbits, particularly young and elderly rabbits.
Use extra bedding
Sounds obvious, but it’s sometimes forgotten. A thick layer of newspaper will help keep the heat in, as well as packing in as much straw as you can into the closed side of the hutch. By doing this, the rabbits can dig in and bury themselves. You could place a box in the hutch and add extra bedding inside of it as a smaller area will help them warm up faster.
Invest in a hutch hugger or find a way to insulate the hutch
You can purchase “Hutch Huggers” along with “Hutch Snuggles” which are specially made to protect your pets from the elements. For my own rabbits, I have the Scratch and Newton Hutch Snuggle which I have been using for two years now. I keep my rabbits outside all year round, and it really does make a difference and keep them warm. It’s made with material designed by NASA for the purpose of using it on space shuttles, and it helps to regulate the temperature within the hutch. It can be left on all year round, as in the winter, it creates a microclimate to keep your rabbits warm, and in the summer it keeps the temperature inside cool. Please make sure you check any other products are safe to leave on all year round if you decide to go with a different brand.
If you cannot get a Hutch Hugger, don’t worry as there are other options. Thick blankets can be placed over the hutch, with some tarpaulin draped over the blankets which will keep the coldness out and the heat in. You can cover the front of the hutch overnight, but make sure you leave a gap to allow ventilation.
You can add more permanent insulation if your rabbit lives in a shed or playhouse, which will create a barrier – keeping the heat from your rabbits trapped inside therefore warming the inside on cold days, and blocking out the heat from the sun on warm days. Be sure to use non-toxic materials, in case your rabbit comes into contact with it. Good options are;
- Foil bubble wrap – light and easy to work with.
- Polystyrene sheets – can be cut to size and available in different thicknesses.
All you need to do then is attach the insulation between the boards of the Wendy house or shed, making sure the insulation is covered over to prevent your rabbit from chewing it. Make sure you insulate the roof too, as heat rises, a lot of the warmth will be lost through the roof otherwise.
Another option is to move the hutch into a garage, however, this will not be safe if you use the garage to keep your car in, as the fumes can harm rabbits.
This is a Hutch Snuggle, designed to keep rabbits warm in cold weather, and cool in hot weather.
The Hutch Hugger goes on top of the Hutch Snuggle, and gives further protection from rainy conditions.
Give Them Things To Do
Not only will encouraging movement help keep them warm, but many rabbits will get bored over Winter as the darker evenings means you may not be able to interact with them as much. Encouraging foraging behaviour is a good way to keep that bunny brain busy. You can hide their pellet food in treat balls to encourage them to roll the ball around to dispense the food. Another option is to put the food inside a cardboard box and pack it with hay, so they can pull the box apart and scrape through the hay to get to the food.
Don’t forget to check the water bottle as they will freeze over winter. It’s a good idea to have a few spare bottles just in case a water bottle breaks, and also so you can allow one to defrost and have a fresh one to give to your rabbits. You can get bottle insulators to stop the water from freezing, but please make sure you check the spout, as this will also freeze.
Rabbits should still be allowed time out of the hutch in the winter, just like they are in spring and summer. You can cover the run with tarpaulin or corrugated plastic to keep them warmer. In the run, make sure they have shelter to retreat to if they need it. If the ground is wet, you could invest in paving slabs to stand the run on so the rabbits aren’t running on boggy, wet grass.
Turn the hutch away from the wind and rain to prevent them getting wet and cold through the wire mesh on the front of the hutch. If you cannot move the hutch, put a barrier in front of the hutch to stop the wind blowing in. Large mesh doors can be covered with perspex, as this will allow light into the hutch, but prevent draughts. Always make sure there is adequate ventilation for your rabbits, so leave a gap of a few inches.
Check the hutch is ready for the winter
Now is the time to check that your rabbit’s hutch is ready for the winter. Some things to check for are;
Ensure the roof is solid and covered with roofing felt to protect it. Sometimes, the roofs of rabbit hutches are made with cheap material which won’t last, so it’s worth checking before Winter sets in. If your hutch does have a poor quality roof, it can be replaced, so don’t worry too much. Sloping roofs are better than flat roofs and will last longer. The reason is the rain can run off of a sloped roof but will pool on top of a flat roof, damaging it.
Raise the hutch height
Raising the height of the hutch by adding legs, and then standing the hutch on paving slabs or bricks will prolong its life. Damp rises, so if the bottom of the hutch gets wet, it will rot. Raising the hutch will allow air to circulate, reducing damp.
Treat the hutch with pet safe wood treatment
Even if you’ve purchased a hutch with treated wood, it will need redoing every few years as it does wear off. This preserve will protect the wood and stop it the damp and prevent the wood from rotting. Before retreating the wood, make sure it is safe to use around pets. Firstly, brush off any dirt on the outside of the hutch with a stiff brush, and then lightly sand the outside. It can now be treated with wood treatment. I would also recommend removing your rabbits from their hutch whilst you do this and do not put them back in the hutch for a few hours as the fumes can affect them.
Taking these steps will help keep your rabbits warmer over winter. Remember, rabbits do not hibernate, so if your rabbit becomes lethargic and goes off of its food, it needs to see your vet as soon as possible.
Don’t forget, it’s really important to give your rabbits daily health checks.