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.
17th – 25th June 2017
RAW is run by a collaboration of organisations: The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund, The Blue Cross, PDSA, RSPCA, Wood Green, Burgess Pet Care and Agria Pet Insurance. This team pick a new theme each year and aim to provide information to both veterinary professionals and the general public about key aspects of rabbit care.
But I feel that raising rabbit awareness should continue all year long and throughout many countries, so I urge you all to embrace RAW and continue it longer than just the suggested week.
- Veterinary practices can continue to improve their offerings for rabbits and can apply to be on the RWAF rabbit friendly vet list.
- Owners, rescues and companies can help share welfare posters from reputable organisations via social media and hold awareness events.
- and everyone can take a few minutes to report any potential welfare problems to pet stores, zoo’s, farms and shops that they may come across (by informing the companies manager, head office, via their social media or if more serious, by reporting to the RSPCA, Trading Standards and the Local Council).
So lets come together to make this the best RAW yet AND continue to share good, factual rabbit advice all year long.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Updated Dec 2016.
RVHD1 and RVHD2
This article will provide a concise overview of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Viral Disease, its characteristics, locations, testing methods and some of the preventative steps that can be taken.
Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 1 is a type of Calicivirus, has been in Europe for many decades or even centuries and affects both wild and domestic rabbits. There are a few different pathogenic strains of the virus but until recently, RVHD1 was thought to be the only type in the UK.
RVHD2 differs in a few key ways as it is unaffected by age and has a longer illness phase with different clinical symptoms. It is also thought to have a lower mortality rate. Little research has been done on RVHD2 and it is highly likely that cases are under reported.
Both viruses are potentially very easily spread and can live in the environment for a long time (RVHD2 up to 200 days in laboratory conditions) Insects, wildlife and scavengers can spread it as well as direct contact with an infected rabbit. Fomites such as bedding, wild plants, shoes and clothing can also carry the virus to new areas. It is currently unknown if biting insects can spread RVHD2.
Due to it being so easily transported, the spread of RVHD can be very quick and strict biosecurity is recommended as well as vaccination.
The current UK vaccine, Nobivac Myxo-RHD offers protection against RVHD1 but is unlikely to offer any for RVHD2 as this virus is antigenically and genetically different from RVHD1. It is recommended that a second vaccination be given to cover RVHD2 and there are a few options:
- Eravac has been licensed in the UK for use in ‘fattening’ rabbits. This is an oil based drug with no research showing the possible long term effects and there is currently no recommended vaccination schedule.
- Cunivak RHD is currently out of stock and Cunipravac can be ordered via a special import certificate however it is only available in large multi dose bottles.
- Filavac RHD K C+V is available to order from most UK wholesalers and is administered annually or 6 monthly (if considered to be a high risk patient or area). It is vital that the rabbits are still vaccinated with the Nobivac Myxo-RHD as the Filavac vaccine does not give any protection against myxomatosis, however standard immunology advice is to leave at least a 2 week gap between the different vaccinations.
It is important to research all options and discuss with your vet / client. The safety and efficacy of using any other vaccine alongside the Nobivac Myxo RHD has not been studied.
It is not recommended to carry out en-mass vaccination clinics as this could potentially increase the risk of disease spread due to the way RVHD is transmitted.
Testing and Reporting
Its important to consider RVHD2 as a differential diagnosis when dealing with a sick rabbit that doesnt seem to respond to treatment and no obvious reason for the illness is found. PCR testing is now available for live rabbits via the Batt Laboratories in Coventry. For sudden deaths, post mortem liver samples can also be sent here or to the Moredun Research Institute.
Wherever possible, please send samples to either laboratory via the methods outlined on their websites. Please also consider reporting all suspicious deaths to the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund as their Veterinary Advisor is monitoring the spread of this disease.
Good husbandry is paramount and sick rabbits should be barrier nursed. Enhanced cleaning, disinfection and quarantine protocols can be implemented in practice and with owners. Anigene HLD4V is a veterinary grade product that is believed to be effective against RVHD when used at a concentration of 1:50 for soiled conditions.
It is vital to be aware of the risks associated with attending events such as rabbit shows, petting zoos and even rescues. Environmental insect controls should also be in place as it is still unknown if RVHD2 can be spread via insects. Care should also be taken when considering feeding handpicked wild plants.
Keeping Up To Date
You can also visit the Rabbit Welfare Association’s website as they will always have the most up to date and factually correct info.
Lastly, Rabbit Specialist Vet Francis Harcourt Brown (retired) has information about the disease on her website.
Be wary of other reports and anecdotal stories doing the rounds as they may not be factually accurate. Also, please contact your own vet asap so they are fully aware of the new RVHD2 strain and that they are stocking and advertising the new vaccine to help fight this. We need owners to insist all their vets order in the vaccine to get as many rabbits as possible protected against this fatal disease.
Please know how to keep your rabbits safe and spread the word!
Sadly our gardens may not be as safe as we think they are. Many owners of small pets will be aware of potential problems from predators such as foxes, cats and dogs but are unaware of the threat from other humans.
There has been a sharp rise in incidents over the past few years where rabbits (and other small furries) have been stolen from gardens. The reasons behind this are varied and vile. Many are stolen to use as bait for dog fights, or for their fur coats. Sometimes children have been deliberately taking pets to ‘play’ with and others have been stolen out of malice.
So I urge ALL pet owners to ensure their gardens are as safe as possible, not only from the threat of natural predators, but from humans too. There are a range of things you can do:
- Secure Enclosures.
It may sound obvious, but if you have a small furry then make sure it is always INSIDE a secure environment that is fully enclosed. Its vital they have room to exercise so make sure it meets the RWAF minimum size guidelines (for rabbits). If you let your rabbits free range then please ONLY do so whilst you are also in the garden to supervise them.
Make sure that both the pets enclosures AND the garden gates are secured using heavy duty padlocks. Also make sure you have a spare set of these keys in a safe but easily accessible place in the house in case of emergency.
- Garden Fencing.
Its important that your fencing is secure and at least 6ft tall. You can add trellis on to the top of fencing to make it even higher. Then, grow thorny plants like roses or blackberries up the fence to make it more uncomfortable for people to climb over. You can also use prikka strips, which are hard rubber spikes that attach to the tops of fences. This is mainly to stop cats entering your garden but it can also help deter humans.
Although it will not physically stop anyone from entering your garden, it can be a good visual deterrent. Also, it can be useful in capturing evidence if someone does manage to get in. You can also use posters / stickers on the outside of the fence to show that CCTV is in operation.
Movement activated flood lights can be a good deterrent. have them pointed at the garden gate / back door rather than directly at the rabbits enclosure otherwise the bunnies will keep setting the light off!
- Neighborhood Watch Schemes.
Anyone can sign up to start a scheme and these can be very beneficial to the whole street. Posters and stickers can be obtained that clearly show that the houses are part of a scheme. This can act as a good deterrent for people looking for mischief.
- Rubbish Bins.
Don’t store your bins outside your garden fence as this makes it easier for someone to climb over the fence!
So make sure you are doing everything you can to keep your pets safe. Never leave them in the garden free range if they are unsupervised and take as many steps as possible to keep your garden and all its contents secure.
RVHD and Myxomatosis are diseases found throughout the UK and can be fatal to un-vaccinated rabbits. Both outdoor AND indoor rabbits are at risk. RVHD in particular is highly infectious and contagious. It is an air borne virus that can be spread by direct and indirect contact with infected rabbits, food bowls, hutches and even the soles of your shoes. For example – if you, your dog or cat has walked on ground where a VHD infected rabbit has been, you can carry it on your clothes or shoes, your other pets can carry it on fur or feet. The virus can survive in the environment for a long time and can survive cold temperatures far better than you might expect.
PLEASE SEE THE MOST UP TO DATE POST RE VACCINE OPTIONS!
After the Poundstretchers Prison campaign, that successfully saw the removal of the 2ft rabbit ‘deluxe’ hutch…I decided to check out some other retailers that feel 3ft hutches are suitable for rabbits.
A quick internet search showed that unfortunately, there are still far too many retailers that are happy to sell items that actively promote animal suffering. Here are just a few:
2) This particular company, Pet Market Online, seem extremely proud of their horror hutch! They even state ” Each and every one of our high quality bunny hutches is purposely built with a large amount of space to allow your rabbit to feel safe and have privacy when they need it the most.”Really??? (and their Facebook page)
4) This next offering, for sale by World Stores, is extraordinarily special – as it is neither a run or a hutch but some scary hybrid. Clearly ‘ALF’ doesn’t stand for Animal Liberation Front here! (and their Facebook page)
So, if like me…you are still hot under the collar about horror hutches, please consider contacting the retailers and manufacturers that are touting these prisons. As always, be polite but firm. We have seen how powerful social media is so lets continue to use it to help change lives.
All is not lost!!! Check out The Rabbit Welfare Associations ‘Retail Charter’ which highlights some fabulous manufacturers and retailers who have pledged to only sell items that promote animal welfare 🙂 All part of the ‘A Hutch Is Not Enough’ campaign.
As a good friend of mine said… “Together we can make a difference”.
Check out the latest online auction from The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund – but be quick…bidding is only open until Midnight on Sunday 3rd August 2014
There are 100 lots to view with the star prize being a fabulous bundle of gifts kindly donated by Galens Garden. There are so many different items ranging from key rings, books and clothing to money boxes, boarding vouchers and jewellery!
Even if you dont have a rabbit, please check it out as there are also vouchers that can be used in major supermarkets like Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s and more local shops like the Coop and Notcutts Garden Centres.
All the proceeds from the auction go directly to the RWAF to help them continue their vital work in raising awareness of rabbits needs through education and communication.
Where do we start…
Internet sales and ‘free’ advertising has boomed over the past few years. Unfortunately its not just old furniture and games that are on offer. Many of these sites will happily let the general public sell all sorts of animals including rabbits. Hundreds and thousands of rabbits.
Some sellers are more genuine and truly need to re home their pet. However, many ads are actually rabbit breeders that are purely making money in theonline trade of livestock. There are even ads that state they are happy to swap a puppy for a mobile phone! Many of these animals are in bred, ill and often die before their 1st birthday.
This has been a rising problem and luckily, there is now a group of individuals (with representatives from many different animal charities) who are monitoring these sites and sales. The Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) has set up a list of 18 minimum standards that are endorsed by DEFRA. These standards aim to reduce the amount of unsuitable animal adverts and weed out the ‘bad’ sellers. This does, of course, rely on the selling websites signing up to the minimum standards, monitoring and removing unsuitable posts.
So there is light at the end of the tunnel and changes are slowly being made. However, when Freeads decide to run this kind of Easter Promotion, a lot of good work is undone. The above photo shows the worst kind of message. Cheap to advertise, cheap to buy, single rabbits and very unsuitable hutch accommodation – all perfect for your kids at Easter 🙁
If you agree that pets should not be sold online without the websites and the sellers having to adhere to strict welfare guidelines, then please consider contacting DEFRA, your local council and the individual selling sites to politely point this out.
And of course…boycott the sites that will not comply!