Storm Damage – The Aftermath & Prevention.

Bad weather can cause serious problems for outdoor pets. High winds can easily fell trees, damage hutches, blow over fences and if severe, can even knock over sheds! Heavy rain and snow can cause flooding and all of these things are highly stressful for rabbits to endure.

Photo Courtesy of E M Tigra.

This shed was blown over by the severe winds caused by #stormdoris which reached up to 94mph in parts of the UK. Its a dramatic reminder that we can never take it for granted that an outdoor enclosure is going to be safe.

Photo Courtesy of Hopper Haven Sanctuary.

Storm Doris also caused this huge conifer to crash down on top of 3 rabbit hutches at the Hopper Haven Rabbit & Guinea Pig Sanctuary – causing significant damage to the hutches and a storage shed. Luckily no animals or staff were injured but the clean up effort and repairs are going to cost over £900! (see here if you would like to make a donation).

Photo Courtesy of L Smart.

Even if your enclosures survive intact, your garden may be severely damaged. This fallen wall could have easily caused harm to people or pets and will mean the garden is not predator proof or rabbit safe until all the repairs have been undertaken. It’s vital that you check your garden after any bad weather, to look for  breaches in security and damaged or weakened areas.

Photo Courtesy of A Anderson.

Less serious damage can happen at any time from our normal winter weather. This hutch has had its felt ripped off of the roof meaning it is no longer waterproof. Hutch covers can also become torn over time and its important to check the integrity of all enclosures and their covers on a regular basis.

Floor level enclosures are liable to flooding.

Many ‘off the shelf’ enclosures do not withstand bad weather well. For example, the above photo shows a hutch that is flush with the floor so has no protection against flooding. It also has owner reports of “leaking so badly that bathroom sealant had to be applied to all the joints”. Conversely, hutches on tall legs are not at risk from flooding BUT they can easily topple over in high winds. Tunnels (either man made or dug by rabbits) can easily flood and trap a rabbit to one part of its enclosure. Many cheap, pet store hutches and runs are badly made, easily damaged and are false economy as rarely last more than a year without needing some repairs.

Lastly, there is a huge problem with bad weather that is often over looked – STRESS! Even rabbits in secure enclosures that do not get damaged are often spooked by high winds and heavy rain. As they are a prey species, they suffer easily from stress and this often leads to Gastro Intestinal stasis. They can stop eating, stop passing faeces and become very unwell in just a few hours. It is vital that you closely monitor your rabbits both during and for a few days after bad weather. You may decide to move them into a more secure location such as a garage (not safe if a car uses it too) or utility room when there is a storm on the way. If so, make sure the temperature of the room is as close as possible to that of their normal enclosure and try to keep to their normal routine. As always, seek veterinary advice if you are concerned about your rabbits health.

So what CAN Be Done?

Prevention is always better than cure so it is important to really think long and hard about your rabbits outdoor set up before the adverse weather arrives. Take the time to think about how the enclosure will cope with extreme weather – both hot and cold, dry, wet and windy. Remember that the RWAF enclosure guidelines state that a pair of average sized rabbits need permanent access to a minimum space of 10ft x 6ft which comprises of a sleeping area and an exercising area.

The photo above has been chosen as it represents an ideal rabbit enclosure. It is made of good quality materials and is seated on a level, concrete base. It meets the RWAF minimum size guidelines and has permanent access to secure sleeping and exercising areas. The base is slightly raised off of the floor and the run has low level boarding – both of which help prevent flooding. The roof is slanted and has a wide overhang which helps prevent the rain from running down the sides of the enclosure. It also has plenty of ventilation as well as having cozy areas in the sleeping compartment. Multiple levels allow the rabbits to exhibit natural behaviors and increase their area by making use of the vertical space.

Now, this style may not be a viable option for all owners, however the principles are still valid. Make sure your enclosures follow the same points as above even if you are using a mix and match set up. Here are some more tips:

  • Anchor / screw down hutches and runs to the floor and also fix them back to a fence, wall or shed to reduce the chance of them toppling over.
  • Make sure your enclosures are raised off of the ground and attach clear perspex sheeting to the lower quarter to help prevent flooding (do not cover the whole enclosure as good ventilation is vital).
  • If you use tunnels, raise them off the ground during bad weather to reduce the risk of flooding.
  • Make sure the enclosure has a slanted roof and add some guttering to allow drainage to a safe place away from the hutch.

Lastly – buy the best you can afford as quality items really do make a difference. Don’t be fooled by price or marketing blurb, check out owner reviews that are NOT on the manufacturers website (try rabbit forums instead) to ensure you get an all round, non biased view of the product.



2 comments on “Storm Damage – The Aftermath & Prevention.

  1. Mark Cutting says:

    Hi. I read your article with interest around the protection needed for Rabbits during both warm and cold weather. We run a private (self-funded) rabbit sanctuary, and over the last 20+ years, have become willing foster parents for many unfortunate bunnies who have either been forced to live out their lives stuck in 2′ x 1′ “cages” where they cannot even stand upright, left in an alleyway where they are forgotten, given a poor diet through ignorance, or simply left out of neglect.

    We also have very sick bunnies who live indoors with us – they are too unwell to be left outside in the cold, wet weather, and need people like us to look after them. The sanctuary started life as a “one rabbit affair”, but after falling in love with these furry critters 🙂 we decided to embark on a mission to both raise awareness around well-being through proper care, and to try and save as many of these beautiful creatures as we can. My wife and I are of the firm belief that life is hard enough for all animals, and Rabbits never ask to be born (as much as no other animal does). We regularly re-home unwanted rabbits that are returned to pet shops – mostly because people do not understand (or want to) the complexities of bunnies, and the ailments that they can suffer from.

    On the subject of “re-homing” and suitable accommodation….

    We now have 24+ “outdoor” bunnies, and have decided to invest. Not an expansion as such – space is at a premium for us already, but we wanted to ensure that our fostered “children” had the best facilities, and were not freezing outside in a cage that is poorly equipped to deal with damp weather conditions, left to become squalid through lack of adequate sanitation, or left to sit in their own “mess”. This isn’t a life. Let’s change that…..

    We are now finalising the new sanctuary for our bunnies which can be seen here

    This has not been a cheap exercise to say the least – particularly as we receive no funding from external sources, and are not a charity. We do this of our own volition, and are of the firm belief that we really can make a difference to these little souls. Yes, the vet bills are horrific – we may as well have purchased the practice after the money we’ve spent over 20 years, but at least we know that those in our care are gaining access to the best possible care.

    My point ? We are not after an award, nor are we after any recognition – we are not in this business as a way of enhancing our egos. In fact, most people in our area don’t even know what we do. The reason as to why your article struck such a chord with us is that we see this all the time – it’s not just about having a weatherproof, predator proof, and secure enclosure to live in – it’s so much more than that. We see rabbits returned to the pet shop near where we live because kids have become “bored” with them, or they are ill, and people have neither the patience or the impetus to care for them, so they simply “give them back”. One of our most recent intakes used to live in a garden shed. Admittedly, it had plenty of space, but had no door !

    The message I’m trying to spread here is that it’s not expensive to own a rabbit, but without vaccinations such as RVHD2, Myxomatosis and the like (to name a few), these animals will endure unnecessary suffering which could be avoided. The message is about awareness. People looks at bunnies and say how cute they are, but really go head first into ownership without any real research into ailments such as dental, pasteurella, ear mites, walking dandruff, wry neck (head tilt), or suitable accommodation. New owners also fail to understand that rabbits are highly intelligent and social animals that without interaction, will become depressed and can die as a result.

    Please help us to raise awareness. If you never thought of a rabbit as being social or intelligent, you’ve never owned one.

    Would like to hear other views on this topic.

    Apologies for squatting on your post BTW 🙂

    • admin says:

      Hi, firstly – thank you for taking the time to look after these rabbits! Yes, weather protection is not the only thing that rabbits need. I am a supporter of the Rabbit Welfare Association and their campaign ‘A Hutch Is Not Enough’ which outlines the damage that can be done by living in unsuitable enclosures. This particular article was specifically to highlight that our weather can cause lots of issues for rabbits (and links to the hot weather article too) and that very few enclosures are ‘perfect’ for all scenarios.

      I wish you the best of luck with your rescue.

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