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Winter Care Tips for your Rabbit

Winter time when it’s cold can be very hard on rabbits. By cold, we mean if the temperature falls below zero. Keeping your rabbits warm is important. In the wild they would live in underground burrows where the temperature changes slightly between the summer and winter months. Raising them above ground means they are subjected to extreme temperature changes. For this reason, we need to help them stay warm and dry. Sadly, some people won’t go out in the bad weather to care for their rabbits so they get neglected. Regardless of the weather, your rabbits should be cared for. They must have fresh water and feed at all times. Their hutches must remain dry, warm and clean. Even in the cold, attention must be still be given to them.  It doesn’t take long to give your rabbits a quick health check. Here are some important things to think about on those cold and brutal days:

Water bottles get iced up making it impossible for the rabbit to get a vital drink. To stop water bottles or bowls from freezing; Cable tie a plant pot to the inside of the hutch and put the water bottle in it. The drinker of the water bottle can go through the bottom of the pot and then the pot can be insulated. Make sure the drinker is high enough. Insulation can consists of bottle covers, wool or thermal socks, cotton gloves, bubble wrap, pipe wrap, clothes etc.  Try to make sure the rabbits can not chew on the insulation if it would be harmful to them. Try to keep a spare water bottle handy (they don’t cost much) so that when one does get frozen up, you can swap it out quickly without having to wait until the original bottle defrosts. The water inside the metal nozzle of the bottle freezes quickly and often before the water inside the actual bottle does. For this reason, it may also be a good idea to put a bowl or crock of water in the run as a backup.

Bedding needs to be warm and dry. Change it as frequently as you can.  Cedar and pine shavings are not safe to use for bedding. The aromatic oils are toxic to rabbits, raising their liver enzymes, and can cause death. Straw is safe and warmer than hay but will mold quickly so it must be changed often as moldy bedding can make your rabbit sick. Aspen bedding is a very good choice. Always use extra bedding in the the winter so your rabbit can have a place to burrow in and keep warm. Wet bedding can freeze solid causing the rabbit(s) to be even more miserable. This may lead to illness and even death. Wet bedding will also cause the hutch to smell and be unsanitary. Older rabbits, when extremely cold, can also suffer dreadfully from arthritis. Rabbits that are thin, young or do not have a thick winter coat may also need special attention to ensure they keep warm and dry.

Feed needs to available at all times. It takes more energy for a rabbit to keep warm, as they are burning more calories during frigid temperatures trying to generate more body heat. Hay and feed should be slightly increased as they will need the extra calories in the winter to maintain their body weight. It is important not to overfeed! Give them enough feed for the rabbits to maintain their normal body weight. Rabbits that gain too much weight in the winter will not breed and if you do not breed in the winter they will have problems breeding in the following spring. 

Hutches need to be clean and dry. Rabbits can cope with the cold fairly well, but not dampness. Make sure you cover up your rabbit’s hutch at night to prevent any drafts. If the hutch is attached to a run, buy a waterproof cover to keep the run area dry. Use a tarpaulin with eyelets so it can be secured in place over the hutch and run. If  you don’t want to buy one, make your own by using something like plastic sheeting, tar paper or Plexiglas.

Here’s a few more ideas to keep your rabbit warm:

  • Put old blankets or carpets over the hutch and run, but under the tarpaulin for extra insulation. Make sure the rabbits can not chew on these as this could result in an
    intestinal blockage.
  • Put wind breaks up around the hutch and run.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Add a cardboard box with a small hole to the sleeping area and fill it with dry straw, hay, aspen shavings or newspaper.  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 can not get to the electrical cord.
  • 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.

 

 

 

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