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.
EDIT July 2018
Oxbow have re-released these and they are now available again.
For many years, rabbit owners have been giving the Oxbow Papaya Fruit Plus tablets to their rabbits to help prevent hairball build up. Although, not scientifically proven to help, the anecdotal evidence and owner testimonials are overwhelming with positive results.
These little tablets contain the active enzymes Papain and Bromelain. These enzymes are thought to break down some of the mucus in the gut. They do not break down the fur itself. It is the mucus that binds the fur together inside the gut and this causes the faeces to get clogged with too much hair. This can show as mis-shapen poops or, if particularly bad, will look like a string of pearls. These are very hard for the rabbit to pass naturally and can cause a gut slow down or blockage resulting in an emergency situation.
Unfortunately – Oxbow decided to discontinue these tablets on 1st September 2014 and they have not produced a direct replacement (There are a few still available on Amazon). They now offer the Oxbow Natural Science Digestive Support Supplement which is great…but has not active enzymes in it so is no use for hairball prevention.
But there is another way….
As always, lots of fluids are needed to help a rabbit whilst it is moulting, along with daily grooming. The best brush for rabbits is the cat zoom groom by Kong. It is soft and rubbery so does not hurt or damage the skin like slicker brushes and combs can do. Feed the rabbits their fresh greens / herbs soaking wet as this helps to get more fluids in as well.
Pro C by Vetark is a fabulous product that can be added to the drinking water daily. It contains probiotics that help the gut cope and also extra vitamin C. Rabbits metabolise more vitamin C when they are stressed and moulting is a stressful time. This helps the entire rabbits system cope a bit better during the moult. It can turn the water a shade of green so don’t worry if this happens. Use for a 5-10 day course. This is generally a product that I would always recommend to keep in the cupboard for use at any times of stress of illness.
I have searched around for an alternative enzymatic product and found something that may work. It is a Bromelain supplement called ‘Natures Own’ with no added nasties in it. Each tablet contains 100mg of Bromelain. The Oxbow tablets contained 23mg of Bromelain as well as 2.9mg of Papain and 1-2 tablets could be given daily. This means, if using these ‘new’ Bromelain tablets that are 100mg…you can cut them into quarters thus feeding 25mg per quarter. This can be given as a daily dose and increased to half a tablet (50mg) per day for when the rabbit is moulting.
I MUST stress that I have not tested these tablets in rabbits – but have been looking for an alternative that is as close to the Oxbow tablets as possible. This recommendation is purely based on the fact that these new tablets contain Bromelain in a sufficient dose that almost matches the Oxbow tablets. It is not an exact replacement. You can always discuss this with your vet before use and always stop if any tummy upsets occur.
I would be very interested to hear from anyone does choose to use these and if you notice any improvements.