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.
A hot cross bun is not a happy one!
Most of us humans cant wait for the weather to brighten up and bask in the glow of Mr Sunshine. However, imagine doing that whilst wearing a fur coat and not being able to cool down via sweating…doesn’t sound like much fun does it?
Rabbits can easily suffer from heatstroke and this can be fatal. Ideally they need to be kept in an area with a constant temperature of between 10 – 20 degrees celcius (50 – 68 degrees Fahrenheit). They do not cope well with sudden temperature changes and anything above 22 degrees celcius can cause heatstroke.
It is highly recommended that all owners purchase a thermometer that records the maximum and minimum temperatures. Place this in the rabbits main living / sleeping area (make sure its up high safely away from inquisitive bunny teeth!) and check it throughout the day. You will soon see that hutches and closed in areas become significantly hotter than the outside air.
Hutch temperatures can become dangerously high and one recent study shows that they can easily reach highs of 40 degrees celcius within just a few hours – this is like cooking your rabbit 🙁 It can even become far too hot for them when they are in the shade or on a cloudy day.
PLEASE SEEK VETERINARY ADVICE URGENTLY IF YOU SUSPECT YOUR RABBIT IS SUFFERING FROM HEATSTROKE.
Its vital that you understand the signs of distress and heatstroke in rabbits as this is an emergency condition that needs veterinary attention. If your rabbit seems lethargic, off food, is panting, wobbly when moving, dribbling or generally acting weird then CALL THE VETS! Warmer weather also brings a higher risk of Flystrike so make sure you are extra vigilant about checking your bunnies bottoms and cleaning out the enclosure more than usual.
There are quite a few ways of making sure your rabbits (and guinea pigs) stay nice and cool in warmer weather (see the poster for some top tips). The MOST important is that their whole area is in complete shade and that they have constant access to their run from their hutch / shed / cage etc. This allows them to move around and seek out cooler areas. It also allows much better ventilation of their living space.
Icepods made by Scratch and Newton are fab and provide a nice, safe way of keeping small furries cool. Simply pop them in the freezer overnight and then wrap in a tea towel. Place inside the bunnies area and it will release cold air around it. The bunnies dont tend to lay on it directly, but it helps keep the temperature a little lower in that area. You can achieve the same effect by 3/4 filling a large bottle with water and freezing. This still needs wrapping in a tea towel (to prevent any frost burns) but will defrost a lot quicker than the icepods. It is also more of a chew risk once thawed.
You can also get specialist cage fans that are battery operated and can really help keep the air flowing through the enclosure. They can be used indoors and outdoors and just need something to hang on. Never point these directly at the rabbit if it has no way of getting away from it. many rabbits will choose to come and sit in front of it for some time if they feel hot. Never place cooling items in front of, or pointing at their food, hay or water as this could prevent them wanting to eat and drink.
It is not recommended to freeze fruit or veg and feed as it is thought that the very cold temperatures of this can upset the gut by causing a mild tummy ache that in turn, can lead to stasis.
Marble / granite & Glass ceramic tiles can be placed inside the rabbits enclosures (make sure there are no sharp edges) as these stay cool for some time and the bunnies can lay on them. These can also be popped in the freezer for a couple of hours before use for an extra blast of coldness (no longer though as they may crack). And an old towel can be misted with water and frozen for another chill out mat.
Be sure to offer more water sources than usual and try to offer a water bowl as well as a bottle. Rabbits often prefer to drink from a bowl and bottles can leak / break / get stuck and then the rabbit is denied access to vital water. Always offer more than one water source as a back up and refresh twice a day.
A covered pop up tent filled with children’s play sand or untreated top soil makes a great cool area for them to dig in. make sure they are fully supervised at all times when using this & do not give them any chew toys or scattered food to avoid the risk of ingesting the sand / soil. Also make sure you check the bunny thoroughly once the playtime is over and remove all traces of sand / soil from the underside of the rabbit including genitals.
For more tips on keeping bunnies cool, check out the following website links: