Keep Your Outdoor Rabbits Safe and Warm
Its been a hot year and so far Autumn has been mild – but that is likely to change. It’s important that you get your rabbits outdoor enclosures ready for winter before the weather turns really nasty. They need to be well sheltered from draughts, rain, flooding and of course kept snugly warm. It is still vital however, that they have permanent access to their exercise area so they can choose when they want to stretch their legs and explore. Remember that the MINIMUM enclosure guidelines for a bonded pair of rabbits is 10ft x 6ft x 3ft tall.
This is where a shed style ‘hutch’ with an attached aviary style walk in run attached can often be the best set up for bunnies. See the I Heart Rabbits – Housing Facebook group for more enclosure examples.
- Make sure the hutch / shed is as insulated as possible. You can use pre made hutch huggers or use off cuts of carpets with a layer of duvet over the top (in a waterproof duvet cover) and finished off with tarpaulin over the top. This can be used on the top and sides of hutches but NOT over the front as its important they still have ventilation, light and can see out. You can use a clear shower curtain over the front part of the hutch or shed windows to stop the rain but still allow light and visibility.
- Use a max/min recording thermometer in both the sleeping area and the exercise area of the rabbits enclosures. Then you will know exactly how cold it gets and can see if your heating methods are helping. Be sure to keep thermometers and wires away from nibbling teeth!
- Line the sleeping area with cardboard (as long as your rabbits are not chewers!), newspaper, SOFT straw and then a layer of bedding hay. This creates a nice cosy bed. You can also use fleece blankets and towels if your rabbit is well litter trained (and again, not a chewer!) but often the straw / hay bed is warmer. A bonded pair of bunnies will be much warmer as they can snuggle with each other. You can use a Snugglesafe microwave heat pad to add in last thing at night too. Make sure to use a lovely fleece cover on these – check out the Snugglebunnies page on Facebook as all the profits from their items go to the Rabbit Welfare Association.
- Check the water! Often water bottles can freezer and the rabbit is unable to drink. You can use pre made bottle covers or you can make your own with bubble wrap and an old woolly sock. Bowls are often better than bottles but these can freeze too. You can place these on top of a Snugglesafe head pad overnight to reduce the risk of freezing.
- Access to their exercise area is vital – so this needs to be weather proofed too. Make sure the area cannot flood and that they have areas off of the floor to perch on. Use clear shower curtains or plastic sheeting to cover 3 sides of the run. You can also use thick, clear corrugated plastic over the roof . Never enclose the whole run as this will cut own the ventilation too much.
- Lastly – YOU need to go and feed, check and play with your bunnies just as much as you do in the summer. Often, many rabbits get left to fend for themselves in winter as their owners do not want to go out in the cold and wet to see them. If you have a large shed enclosure with a walk in aviary, this makes it much easier for you to spend time with them in the nasty weather.
Be on the lookout for any change in eating habits or behavior that can show that a rabbit is unwell. Seek immediate advice from your vets if you are concerned. Very young or elderly rabbits and those with health problems will often need more care in the winter months. Make sure you are already registered with a good rabbit savvy vet.
UPDATE: 5pm 28.3.18
I am VERY pleased to see that Heathrow Airport have decided to cancel their event! Hooray – thanks to everyone that contacted them and well done Heathrow for seeing sense!
Yet again its that magical time of year when the Easter Bunny comes to visit and shares all his lovely chocolate eggs. Isnt it wonderful? No…not if you are a rabbit.
Easter is the time of year when the majority of companies believe animal exploitation is perfectly acceptable. Throughout the world, live rabbits (and chicks) will be taken to busy shopping centres, schools and even airports and forced to interact with excitable children. Not a care is given to the welfare of the live animals because a ‘wonderful experience for the children’ is often deemed far more important than the animals care.
It is vital to understand a rabbits behaviour in order to see why this thinking is wrong.
1) Rabbits are prey species. As such, they do not like loud noises, busy areas and lots of people. They do not like being hovered over (this is like a bird of prey waiting to cach them) and they do not like being picked up, held or pinned to the floor for a ‘lovely cuddle’.
2) Rabbits have specific dietary and housing needs. Their diet should be strictly controlled any many of these live animal encounters feed muesli type mix to their animals regardless of what species they are. Often, large amounts of carrots are also used at these events so that the children can feed the rabbits – a very bad thing as carrots are high in sugars and not suitable for feeding in large quantities or every day.
3) Rabbits should only live with rabbits. Many of these pop up events will have rabbits housed with other species such as guinea pigs, chicks, ducks, goats and mini horses. This is NOT acceptable and creates a hugh risk of injury and stress to all the animals involved.
For more information on caring for rabbits, please see the Rabbit Welfare Association and Funds guide.
Lets look at Heathrow Airport first…
In their wisdom they have created a ‘Bunny Cuddle Corner’ in every terminal for over the Easter period. They are very excited about this venture and have created a video to highlight how fabulous it is that they are providing a space for over excited children to get in with live rabbits before boarding their flight. They even have Dr Elizabeth Kilbey (a clinical child psychologist) in the video stating that animals have a soothing effect on children. Well, yes…but what about the effect that excitable children have on rabbits? Apparently, that does not seem to matter…She even states that “rabbits are the perfect pets to calm children”. This is an outrageous thing to promote and she clearly has NO clue about a rabbits needs.
My questions that are not currently being answered are:
- Where these rabbits are being kept overnight?
- How long do they spend in the ‘activity’ enclosure at a time and per day?
- What is the current vaccination status of each rabbit?
- How long is their journey to and from the airport?
Heathrow have stated that the rabbits are “trained for this environment” (I never knew you could get airport training for rabbits…) and they are provided by a company called Amazing Animals. I wonder if they are this company that was highlighted in the Daily Mail in 2016?
Heathrow have responded to the public outcry on their Facebook page with a couple of pretty standard cut and paste responses that frankly, are not acceptable. They claim that “The activity is being run to give people the chance to have a relaxing moment before travelling”. What on earth??? Since when did humans desperately need to stroke a rabbit before boarding a plane as the only way to calm themselves? I’m feeling anything but calm right now! Please sign this urgent petition to get this event shut down!
Moving on to The Sun newspaper.
They decided to print an Easter feature and use a Shutterstock image of a child dangling a rabbit pretty much by its neck! The Sun responded to a few comments (not all and not to any of mine) with a paltry excuse that they did not know the handling was innapropriate and they are sure the child did not mean to cause any deliberate harm to the rabbit. Well thats ok then…NOT! I would like to know how Morrisons, Smiggle, Superdrug, Poundland and Ocado feel about being promoted alongside animal cruelty?
We need to wise up about animal exploitation – as parents, as companies, as HUMANS! and treat animals with the respect they deserve. These promotions are meerly a circus by another name and should not be socially acceptable. If you are a parent, be responisble for the messages you are giving your kids and avoid anywhere that exploits animals.
These are just 2 example of the horrors that have been unveiled so far for Easter 2018. If like me, you feel that these events are cruel and should be stopped, please politely contact the companies involved by email, letter, Facebook or Twitter and share your responses. You can encourage others to share their thoughts on these, and other Easter events with live animals.
And PLEASE make sure you sign and share this urgent petition!