Ideas for keeping your bunnies warm, and how to move indoor bunnies outdoors or outdoor bunnies inside:
Sometimes the weather gets cold. Like, really cold. As you know, rabbits love to go out whether it’s rainy, sunny, snowy, windy or foggy. Rabbits just love to play. Pet rabbits are different to wild rabbits because they do not have the same ability to keep warm in the cold – particularly if they don’t have a very large run. Wild rabbits keep warm by running fast over entire fields and by snuggling up underground in big groups for warmth. They sleep during the day when it is warmest and they come out at night when it is coldest so they can keep themselves warm in the chilliest time of day. Domesticated rabbits lack a lot of these instincts, and can become uncomfortable in the cold, so you need to help them out a bit. Also, older rabbits can get arthritis so it’s essential for any bunnies over 6 years of age to be kept toasty warm in winter.
Here are some ways you can keep your bunnies warm during cold weather:
1. Heat up a brick: Get half a house-brick and put it in the bottom of your oven after you’ve finished cooking dinner, while the oven cools. When the brick is warm, put it in the rabbit’s housing. I never put bricks directly in the hutch, but in the shed where the hutch is kept, to warm the air and so they have the option of snuggling up with it but aren’t forced to keep going past it every time they want to leave the hutch. If you only have a hutch and no shed, however, put the brick in one corner of the hutch, moving the food bowl if necessary so they can lie next to it. Don’t put it in the private sleeping area as this should remain undisturbed as much as possible (see below).
2. Give them extra straw: During winter, rabbits like to build a big snuggly nest in part of their hutch. Females especially love to do this. Make sure they’ve got lots of straw available to do this (but don’t put it directly in the nest – they like to build it themselves), and try not to disturb that part of the hutch – they probably won’t poo in there until Spring.
3. Fill their water bottles or bowls with warm (not hot) water: This will mean that if temperatures go sub-zero, their water will take much longer to freeze, because there’s more temperature to go down. Team this with a thermal bottle cover and it will take an extremely low temperature to make ice out of their water.
4. Give them extra food: Only a bit, mind – you don’t want fat bunnies! Extra food gives the bunnies more energy which they will need to keep themselves warm. Staying warm burns extra calories – just ask any mountaineers – so the extra food is very important.
5. If it’s really cold, or if it’s snowed heavily, bring your bunnies in periodically to warm them up – at least once per day. This will enable them to fight the cold and you will get a chance to check them over and make sure they’re healthy.
6. When you check your bunnies, check their bottom for mud build up. Rabbits who have been playing outside in the mud sometimes get a shell like coating of mud around their bum and back legs that needs cleaning off ASAP to avoid skin and fur problems, especially if they’re old and can’t or won’t clean themselves.
7. Cover their hutch with a blanket: even if their hutch is in a shed or conservatory, covering it with a blanket will ensure they don’t get too cold. Make sure they still have ventilation, though, otherwise carbon dioxide will build up which can kill them.
8. Protect the hutch from the wind. Either situate it so it’s touching the house (but not where any guttering might leak onto it) or so it’s touching a fence. Ideally, make a double-skinned hutch by getting a small shed and putting their hutch in it, take the hutch doors off and improve the shed with some extra platforms. This would keep them warmest of all, if you can’t have them in your house. It also means they have lots of play space for days when they want to stay in their indoors.
Katie and Fifer used to be one of our two pairs of houserabbits, and used to play outdoors about six to ten hours a day, but one day we expanded their outdoor play space and they’ve refused to come indoors since (they literally hide under their wendy house – although they do also love playing in the whole garden when we let them out of their run). All the photos taken are of them in their run, which is pretty huge.
They didn’t like being cooped up in the living room without a constant supply of fresh grass, so even though we have read lots of articles about how rabbits are best suited to living indoors, we have decided it was the right decision for this particular pair of bunnies to move them outdoors. We repurposed a brick outdoor shed and took the downstairs doors off their two storey hutch so they had 24/7 indoor outdoor access. They have been a lot happier since then, since they don’t have to wait to be put outside anymore and if it rains they can go into their hutch now instead of under their wendy house. Banacek and Cleo, on the other hand, hate outdoors and run straight back inside when we try to get them to go out into the garden, so we would never move them out permanently and certainly not in winter.
I have been told and read from a number of sources that if a bunny was kept indoors last winter, they should not be put outside the next winter, and vice versa. This is not true, you just have to make it a sensible, managed move that takes their needs into consideration. Cleo used to be an outdoor bunny and lives indoors now, and Katie and Fifer moved out in September. You can’t just throw them out in a 3 foot hutch and expect them to cope. Be aware that they may be surprised at the temperature difference, make sure their hutch is snuggly warm and cosy, and that they have a constant supply of hay and fresh water (especially when it snows as this covers up the grass and plants). If they are coming indoors, they might honk, circle and generally display sexual behaviour (even if they’re neutered) as bunnies think it’s spring when their temperature suddenly and prolonged increases, and their hormones all come out in their behaviour. It passes after a couple of weeks. Make sure indoor bunnies have a cooler part of the house to retreat to for those times when they get too hot as rabbits don’t cope well with heat either and don’t adjust very quickly. The main thing is to ensure your bunny is happy. If they’re happier outdoors, put them out. If they’re happier indoors, bring them in. If they like both, get a cat flap and show them how to use it.
What do you do to keep your rabbits warm and toasty in winter? Do you move them indoors or let them get accustomed to the weather?