Rabbits do not cope well with extreme weather temperatures so you need to ensure their home stays warm, comfortable and protects them from the weather. Rabbits do not hibernate, so if your rabbit looks limp or sleepy and isn’t really reacting to anything, you need to go to the vet. If you have just got a rabbit and he previously lived indoors, or is a baby, don’t put him outside until the weather gets warmer, as the sharp change in weather can be fatal for rabbits.
Rabbits will naturally eat more in the winter months as they think food sources will become scarce. Giving them extra food will also provide fat insulation to keep them warm. Their fur coat will also get a bit thicker, but this isn’t enough, you need to keep them safe and dry. Remember rabbits in the wild would live underground in dry, draught-free burrows, snuggled up with other rabbits for warmth.
Hutch location and care:
Move their hutch inside if possible, or into a shed or garage, however if you park your cars in the garage do not put them in there as exhaust fumes are dangerous. If you have no shed or garage, move the hutch to somewhere sheltered such as by some trees, facing away from the wind. If you have moved your rabbit inside, they cannot go outside until the weather gets warmer again, the sudden change in temperature can send them into shock which could be fatal.
- Look for gaps in the hutch walls: Check there are no gaps through which rain and wind can get in. Make sure the wood isn’t rotting or damp, you could also line the inside walls with newspaper.
- Check the roof: Re-cover the hutch roof every few years to ensure it stays dry and cover with a plastic sheet or tarpaulin to stop the rain from getting in. Put sheets of newspaper and a warm blanket between the roof and plastic sheet for added insulation, and let it hang down the sides and back as well as covering the roof.
- Make the inside of the rabbit hutch warm: Line the floor with layers of newspaper and add lots of extra hay and straw for your rabbits to bury themselves into. Blankets and fleeces are also useful for warmth, but ensure they aren’t fraying.
- Partially cover the front of the hutch: You can use a plastic sheet over the main part of the front of the hutch but make sure your rabbits can still see out and the light will come in, but wind and rain can’t enter.
- Raise the hutch off the floor: Raise your hutch by placing bricks underneath, or by attaching long legs. This will stop the bottom of the hutch from rotting or freezing, ideally rabbit hutches should always be off the floor to avoid predators.
- Check your rabbit’s water isn’t frozen: Check a few times a day that your rabbits’ water bottle or dish of water hasn’t frozen over. Using a bottle cover or thick socks over the bottle may prevent this.
- Toilet area: It’s very important to keep this area clean as their urine can freeze and be very uncomfortable if left there. Bedding needs to be kept clean and dry and checked daily. Sitting on wet bedding can make them ill.
- Exercise: Rabbits still need exercise in winter so whether indoors or outside, make sure they get a chance to have a run about.
Remember that rabbits cannot tell you when something is wrong so always check on your rabbit regularly and monitor their behaviour.