Are you keeping rabbits for the season as either pet or for profit? Then making sure that they survive the winter is an element that you will want to make sure you are familiar with on the needs of a rabbit in winter.
Basic Rabbit Needs
For most folks who have been rasing rabbits for awhile you know that the average internal temperature of a rabbit is 102F which often means that they do rather well in tempertures between 30 – 60F outside. Which means while they an deal with the colder temps. the cold wind and rain is what much of the focus will need to be on. However, if you are reaching even colder temps making sure that you also keep their water and food at reasonable temps that the rabbits will utilize. Remember, rabbits don’t hibernate so if they are limp or sleepy, take them into the vet right away.
Dealing with the Wind and Wet
For most making sure that you have some level of covering over the hutch is a key factor to keeping things nice and dry for your furry folks. Tarps are often a great option to have stapled and draped as long as there is still good airflow through the hutch in some way. Having legs on your hutch and doing any roof repairs are also a vital aspects of ensuring health throughout the winter season and beyond.
Ideas on Preparing the Outside of Hutch
- Put old blankets or carpets over the hutch and run, but under the tarpaulin for extra insulation. Make sure the rabbits cannot chew on these as this could result in an intestinal blockage.
- Put windbreaks up around the hutch and run.
- Line your shed to create a double wall and an extra layer of insulation.
- Add clear sheeting; plastic, plexiglass, or perspex sheets to the front of hutches and runs to keep them weather proof. Keeping the sheeting clear helps the rabbits to see out. If you do this make sure there is still good ventilation; perhaps leave a small gap along the top.
- Entrances should face south, away from the wind. If this is not possible, turn it around and put something in front to block the direct wind and rain.
Ideas on Preparing the Inside of Hutch
- Use some cheap carpet samples for the rabbits to lay or sit on (make sure the edges aren’t fraying). Keep an eye on the samples to make sure the rabbits are not chewing on them.
- Add a cardboard box with a small hole to the sleeping area and fill it with dry straw, hay or food grade bedding. If your rabbit urinates in the sleeping area, get a litter tray which fits inside the cardboard box, this will help by making it easier for you to clean out and it’ll make the box last longer.
- Buy a ‘Snugglesafe Heatpad’. You warm it up in the microwave and it releases heat for a few hours, so you’ll need to reheat it a couple of times a day.
- Add a low wattage heater to your shed, but make sure the rabbits cannot get to the electrical cord.
Still Needs Exercise
Rabbits still need daily exercise in the winter. It is fine to allow your rabbit access to an exercise run as long as they have the option to retreat to a warm sheltered area if they choose. The ideal option is linking your hutch and run so your rabbit can move between them freely. If your hutch and run are not attached then you need to place a shelter in the run such as a small hutch or wooden box. You can offer some protection by covering the run roof in plastic e.g. a tarpaulin or corrugated roofing plastic or part covering some panels with plywood.
Watering and Feeding in the Winter
Outdoor rabbits may need more food during the winter months; they use more energy heating themselves so need to take in more energy through their food. The best way to manage this is to monitor your rabbits weight, to see if they are maintaining a healthy body weight.
Stopping Water Bottles Freezing
Water bottles/bowls will freeze and need checking regularly. Even if the main bottle is unfrozen, it’s important to check the spout as this can freeze solid and block. Insulating the bottle can help, you can buy covers specifically for this, or DIY your own by wrapping the bottle up with bubble wrap and an old sock or using insulators designed for wine bottles.
Moving the bottle to a warmer area of the set up may help too, for example mounting it inside the hutch rather than outside on the front mesh.
If you use bottles then it’s helpful to have a spare bottle(s) so you can leave one inside whilst the ice defrosts and use the spare, it’s much easier that trying to chop the ice out. The plastic bottles tend to become brittle in the cold and are more likely to crack or shatter, so it’s handy to have a back up too.
Stopping Water Bowls Freezing
Bottles tend to be slower to freeze than a bottle but if it’s cold you may still need to take action to stop it freezing over. At milder temperatures adding a ping pong ball to the water may disturb the surface enough to stop it freezing over. If your rabbits are on soil, you could try sinking the bowl so the top is level with the ground so that the soil provides insulaton. Otherwise you maybe need to heat the bowl.