Winter Care for Rabbits
As the nights get longer and the weather colder its important to prepare for the winter. The majority of this advice is for outdoor rabbits, however indoor bunnies will still need somewhere warm to sleep if the temperature in your house drops low at night.
Its important to make any repairs to your rabbits home and make sure its water tight. Check the inside of you hutch for water stains on the roof or sides. You can buy roof sealant from DIY stores to patch any leaks you find.
The sides of hutches also need to be water proofed. Coating will wear and needs to be reapplied every few years, more if necessary. This will stop the damp entering the hutch and also protect the wood from rotting. If you are treating the inside of the accommodation it needs to be with a stain or varnish that is safe for pets. The DIY store or product manufacturer should be able to advise you on which products are suitable.
Hutches should be raised up of the floor to prevent the base becoming damp. A brick a each corner will sufice if it doesn't have legs.
Large mesh doors can be partially covered with clear perspex, allowing your rabbit to see out and the sun to come in but preventing wind and rain. Ventilation is still important though so leave serval inches gap for this.
Covering the whole hutch will old blanket/carpet and the a tarpaulin will help keep the heat in an the weather out. During the day leave the front open to ventilate and at night cover the majority of the hutch leaving a smaller area to ventilate.
Rabbits need a warm, snug bed area. This should be the equivalent of a box with an entrance hole. Often hutches have a bed area divided from the main hutch. If a sleeping section isn't available or its very large provide a smaller box as well, a smaller area will warm up around you bunny and keep them snug. This is only for sleeping you rabbit will still need plenty of space for exercise.
Provide extra bedding, and a thicker layer of the litter you usually use for the floor. Newspaper can be used to line the floors/walls underneath the bedding.
Entrances should face south, away from the wind. If its not possible to turn it around put something just in front to block direct wind and rain.
If your in an area that is at risk of flooding, you will need to ensure the accommodation is sufficiently high of the ground not to cause a risk to your rabbits.
If possible moving the hutch into a shed or garage will help keep it warm. Do not put it in a garage that you also use for your car as the fumes pose a health hazard.
Food & Water
Outdoor rabbits will need more food during the winter months, they use more energy heating themselves so need to take in more energy through their food.
Water bottles/bowls will freeze and need checking regularly. Even if the main bottle is unfrozen its important to check the spout as this can freeze solid and block. Insulating the bottle can help, wrapping it up with an old towel and plastic or using insulators designed for wine bottles.
Specially designed water bottle covers are available from Scratch & Newton.
Its helpful to have spare bottle(s) to use whilst ice defrosts, and also because plastic become brittle in the cold and is more likely to crack or shatter.
Rabbits moult out their summer coats and get new thick winter ones, they will need brushing to prevent mats especially underneath if they are out in the wet.
Rabbits don't hibernate, if your rabbit becomes limp or sleepy its ill not hibernating for the winter, take it to the vet.
Rabbits will need cleaning just as regularly in the winter as summer, so wrap up warm and give the hutch regular cleaning. Bedding and litter thrown out into runs by 'decorating' rabbits will quickly become damp as will outside litter trays, and may need cleaning more frequently than usual. Outdoor litter trays need drainage holes to prevent them becoming pools of water and covered litter trays are a good idea.
Your bunny will also need company, many rabbits are neglected over the winter when the weather isn't nice for sitting outside playing with them. If your play times are usually outside consider moving them inside, rabbits can learn to be house trained.
It is ok to bring your rabbit inside for play times during winter, or let it out for play times if he/she is usually an inside bunny. However remember an inside rabbit won't have developed the same thick winter coat of an outside bunny so keep playtimes to the warmest parts of the day. If your outdoor bunny spends lengthy amounts of time inside they may start loosing their winter coat in response to the warm temperature.
Keep a look out for winter respiratory problems, symptoms include discharge from the nose, which might appear as 'dirt' around the nose and on the front paws due to washing, discharge from the eyes and nosy breathing.
Finally, don't forget you bunny this Christmas, carrots, brussel sprouts, brocoli and parsnip are all yummy bunny foods, so spare some for you friend too.