Although rabbits are immensely adaptable in the wild, it’s a different story when they live in a confined space and can not physically move away from adverse conditions. Draughty and damp conditions are not good for humans – so imagine what it would be like to be trapped in a cold, wet hutch! It’s never too early to undertake some winter-proofing, so why not follow the ten point plan below……. Protect your rabbit from an unpredictable British winter, and make sure you keep your bunny snug and dry.
Strong winds may upset your rabbit’s essential bedding and food, not to mention your rabbit! Try to protect the hutch from the wind by moving it to a sheltered spot.
Sadly, some hutches are made from thin plywood, allowing rain to soak through. It’s easy to weatherproof the back and sides by nailing on four inch feather-edge board.
Rain, melting snow and ice can easily seep into the hutch through even the smallest of gaps, so minimise the risk by filling in any obvious cracks or holes. You can use putty or builders’ caulk. Also consider applying a water resistant sealant around all the joints on the hutch. These are typically found where the back, side and front panels meet the legs.
Driving rain can easily penetrate the hutch, making bedding, food, and your rabbit wet. Try making a simple canopy from a sheet of plywood that can be held in place by bricks or some other heavy object, but be aware that in stormy weather a canopy can easily be blown off. An alternative is to consider covering the front of the hutch with transparent plastic sheeting, but don’t forget to leave air-holes and it is vital to raise it if the sun comes out, even for a short time, because plastic sheeting magnifies the sun’s heat and can overheat your rabbit. Heatstroke in rabbits can be fatal.
Snow can be a big problem, especially if it drifts. Ensure your rabbit’s hutch is raised at least 30cm off the ground to minimise the risk of it becoming snowbound. Remember to clear snow from the roof and from around the hutch at least once a day.
Proof the hutch by relocating it against the side of your house. Frost tends to form a foot or so away from exterior walls because of heat loss from the house.
Clad the hutch with old carpet when the weather is particularly cold. A few pieces covering the roof, back and sides will insulate the hutch. Offcuts and samples should be available from your local carpet shop very cheaply.
Fresh water is vital and should be provided every morning and night. To avoid water freezing it should be changed at least twice a day. Don’t forget to check that water is flowing through the spout too. Because water expands when frozen, make sure that you remember to leave some air in the bottle to prevent it from bursting. Keeping a jug of water at room-temperature in your house to top up your rabbit’s water bottle, delays the onset of freezing. Two or three drops of medicinal glycerine can also be added to prevent water from freezing.
Provide lots of extra bedding for your rabbit, and don’t forget to clean the hutch out every day. Be generous with hay, straw and shredded paper. These are great insulators and will help keep your rabbit nice and snug.
Ensure your rabbit has extra food every day to help produce natural defences against the cold - increased fur growth and increased body mass. But don’t forget to reduce the amount when spring arrives!
Ideally, all small animals should be moved inside a shed, lean-to, outhouse or garage during the worst of winter. Shelter can make a big difference to whether or not your rabbit makes it through the cold.
This article is based on one that appeared in ‘Rabbiting On’, the quarterly magazine of the Rabbit Welfare Association. For further information please visit their website at http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/