As the nights draw in and the leaves start to change colour, it is a reminder to all rabbit owners to prepare for the winter months ahead. Autumn can be a beautiful season, but it can also be very damp, windy and cold. Even though extreme, snowy weather usually doesn’t hit us until after Christmas, it is a good idea to be prepared. This is especially so if your rabbits normally live outdoors.
Top tips to prepare your rabbit for autumn
The following advice is for rabbits who are generally in good health and good body condition. Keeping rabbits warm is important, because in the wild they would live in burrows where the temperature changes only slightly between summer and winter. They would huddle together in large groups, sharing body warmth. Pet rabbits rarely have that luxury and by keeping them above ground we are subjecting them to extremes of temperature and climate.
Here are some top tips to help you keep your rabbits warm, safe and content over autumn:
- Always keep rabbits in pairs. There is no better way to keep warm than snuggling up to a companion. Read our advice on introducing rabbits to each other here >
- Human companionship should be maintained as in the summer months. Naturally the dark nights make us less inclined to spend time in the garden, so we see less of our outdoor kept bunnies. Make sure you check them at least 3 times a day. Ensure their bed is dry and they always have hay and water.
- Don’t forget that water bottles can freeze easily if the temperature drops below freezing. Use a thermal sock or bubble wrap to stop this happening, but as rabbits are likely to chew these, place in a terracotta flowerpot which will give additional protection against teeth and frost! Poke the spout through the hole in the bottom and secure in place with wire or cable ties.
- Snugglesafes are invaluable as they are bunny proof heat pads that can be microwaved, like a hot water bottle. They can be used to keep water bottles from freezing or for bunnies to cuddle up to. Make sure you always follow the instructions and that it is not so hot it could burn.
- Use a tarpaulin with eyelets so it can be secured in place over the hutch and run. If it is really cold, add old duvets under the tarp for extra insulation, but make sure the bunnies can’t nibble them!
- You can also use silver backed beach mats or space blankets (from camping/ sports shops) to insulate your rabbits area.
- Put wind breaks around the run or secure Perspex sheets for a more permanent barrier, but make sure you leave enough ventilation.
- Raise beds or hutches within the run area so they do not get damp from being on the ground.
- Add cardboard boxes full of hay to the bedroom area for extra warmth and protection from draughts.
- Make sure bedding is always dry. Straw is warmer than hay so it makes better bedding but, remember nothing is warm if it’s damp!
- Make sure your cleaning schedule is scrupulous during these months, and don’t be stingy. Provide a deep layer of something like shavings or megazorb under the straw bedding.
- Even in bad weather, rabbits need to exercise every day. It is not acceptable to keep them in a small hutch because you are not able to provide a protected exercise area for them, so plan ahead.
Bring your rabbit indoors
If severe weather is forecast, or if you just want to keep your rabbit indoors over the autumn and winter months, with a bit of planning, this can be a good option. Ideally you should bring your rabbits indoors gradually. They should not be kept in temperatures of more than 20 C. If bringing a rabbit in suddenly due to snow or severe weather, you should keep the room unheated. Remember once a rabbit has lost its winter coat due to moulting, you cannot put it outside again until spring. If possible, outdoor rabbits usually prefer a garage or a shed (if this can be made warm and safe), to coming into a house full of strange smells and sounds. Check out our advice on house training your rabbit >
A last note about heaters! It is tempting to put electric heaters inside runs and this can be safe as long as the type used is suitable for outside use such as a greenhouse heater. Make sure that it is checked regularly and positioned out of reach of any little nibbling teeth!