As the colder nights are creeping up on us, we need to think about how we look after our rabbits during this time. Whilst it is fine for rabbits to live outside (in fact they often cope a lot better during the colder months), we do have to make some adjustments for them in order to keep them warm and happy, especially older rabbits.
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Rabbits are also typically checked less often during the colder times, as we don’t really want to ourselves be going out in the cold, but it is so important we do check them as much as possible. Older rabbits may have a range of other health conditions, which can be worsened in the cold. For example, while we might never think about it, older rabbits can get arthritic. And we know that the cold can worsen arthritis even more. Equally, frozen drinkers or even frosted food can put more stress on the gastrointestinal tract; increasing the risk of gut stasis. And finally, whilst a rabbit’s coat will change to adapt to the weather, they can still be caught out by sudden cold snaps. It is therefore important we do our best to help them stay warm and happy. So, how do we look after our rabbits during this time?
Providing plenty of bedding is a great start to keeping our rabbits warm. Extra layers of shavings and hay will help them keep warm. Rabbits like to burrow so providing plenty of bedding for them to hide in is ideal. It is important that we always check that the bedding isn’t getting damp, damp bedding means cold and mould, neither of which is good! Some owners will use “vetbed” or blankets, these are good to use to keep rabbits warm; as long as they don’t chew it, we don’t want any blockages!
Hutches and Houses
We need to look at where our rabbits’ houses are placed, are they in a sheltered area or are they out in the elements, exposed to the wind and rain? If this is the case, try to move them to a more sheltered area. We want to protect them from the weather as much as possible. It is good to always check the roofs on hutches for any leaks, we don’t want any water leaking in. To keep the wind and rain out of the hutch you can purchase insulated covers. These normally have a clear screen so they can be used during the day time. They provide some insulation and protect our rabbits from the elements. These can be purchased online or at pet stores.
Food and water
Providing plenty of hay is important to help rabbits keep warm but also provides plenty of forage. It is noticed that rabbits will want to eat more during the winter. As their bodies adjust to the temperatures, they will eat more to provide themselves with a layer of fat to keep warm. It is so easy to over feed rabbits though. So it is really important we aren’t giving them too much, but enough to keep them happy. Keeping a close eye on their body condition is invaluable. Remember, under the fluff there could be either a very fat or a very thin rabbit, you can’t tell just from looking!
Water bottles are renowned for freezing during the winter months, every day water bottles or bowls should be checked, rabbits will still need to drink water. Along with the insulated hutch cover you can also buy water bottle covers. Again, these can be purchased from pet stores and can make all the difference for outdoor bunnies.
Exercise is really important for all rabbits, but especially older ones, older rabbits can go stiff quickly just being sat there in a hutch. With older rabbits also being prone to arthritis, regular exercise is important to keep them moving. During the colder months, try to let them out in a large secure run, weather permitting. While they shouldn’t be left out for long periods during the coldest and wettest weather, it’s important to let them out a few times a day, maybe when cleaning the hutch or changing their food.
You may have already heard of a snugglesafe heat pad. If not then let me tell you about how great they are. They are a solid heat pad, that you place in the microwave and they stay warm for hours. Remember though, they do have to be covered over with a thick towel or similar, otherwise they could cause burns. But they are a great idea to provide some heat on the very coldest of days.
Even during the summer months it is vital to keep doing regular checks on our rabbits, even so during the winter months. Yes they are less likely to get flystrike, but with the weather so up and down some days flies are still about, so it is always important to do bottom checks. Check for any faeces that are stuck around the bottom. This is especially important in older rabbits; they may have a touch of arthritis which is stopping them from cleaning themselves. Checking an older rabbit’s hocks also is ideal to do during the winter months. If the hutch is getting damp and the rabbit isn’t moving around much then they can get sore hocks. Checking the overall happiness and health a few times a day is ideal.
Would the older rabbit be better inside the house?
If this is possible during the winter months then I would do this, providing the house is rabbit proof and/or you have a suitable size cage. As we have said, the older rabbit may struggle with arthritis or other health conditions which might be helped by being inside with the heat. It is important though that moving a rabbit inside doesn’t cause any distress, rabbits can get stressed, not eat etc, we don’t want this to happen, so if they are happier outside and we have provisions for keeping them nice and warm then that may also be the best option. Inside or outside, it’s down to the individual. But either way, whatever the weather, they still need regular care and attention.