Caring for rabbits and other rodents during the winter
It’s always best to be prepared so we thought that this would be a good time to talk about how to look after our smaller furry pets in colder Winter months. Rabbits, guinea pigs and most small rodents are social animals and should be kept as a pair. This also gives them the perfect friend to snuggle up with and keep warm. In fact, a new research study (published in May 2020) has shown that housing rabbits together reduces stress-related behaviour and helps keep them warm in winter.
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When should you bring your rabbit inside?
When wild rabbits live in burrows in the ground, the temperature underground doesn’t really alter throughout the year. And, there is always another rabbit for company so they stay cosy and warm. In domestic hutches, the air temperature fluctuates throughout the day, often dropping at night to below zero degrees during the coldest weather, which is why a companion is essential.
If you are concerned that your rabbit is not getting enough attention or that they are going to get cold, you can bring them inside. Lots of owners have their rabbits indoors through the Winter months, and out during the Summer. If you bring them indoors, you will need to commit to keeping them inside until the weather improves and the rabbits can safely go outside again. Rabbits will moult their winter coat and therefore will not be able to live comfortably outside again until the Spring brings warmer weather.
When rabbits first come into the house, they need time to acclimatise to both the change in environmental conditions and the additional noises. Ideally, place them in a cooler room with less heating to start with. Rabbits are not used to artificial light so make sure you consider how often the lights are switched on and provide places for them to hide. They are also unlikely to have heard a washing machine or TV before, so try to keep the space that they are living in quiet. Their own toys and litter trays will surround them with their own smells and provide comfort.
1. Simple hutch modifications:
- Where is the hutch? Can it come into the house, shed or the garage? Does the shed have insulation? A sheet of insulation can be used to make a protective base for the hutch. Insulation should also be placed between the hutch and the outside wall. Make sure the bunnies do not get access to the insulation and chew it!
- Hutches should be draft-free and not get wet. If the hutch can not be moved, can you put up a wind break around it? A tarpaulin can be used to keep it dry and stop the drafts as well.
- Use a survival blanket or an old duvet can be used as a heat-reflective, insulating layer around the hutch. Cover this with tarpaulin to keep everything dry.
- Provide more bedding than normal. Rabbits and guinea pigs that bury themselves in bedding will stay warmer. Ensure it stays dry; wet bedding will make the cage cold and damp. Rabbits should be cleaned out daily, and the hutch checked twice daily.
- Place a large cardboard box within the hutch. Cut a hole for the door and fill it with straw because straw is a better insulator than hay.
- Invest in a Snugglesafe. These are one of the best inventions for small furries. They stay warm for up to 10 hours, They are also bite and scratch resistant. Animals should not lie directly on them, so they must be wrapped in a protective cover or towel.
- Perspex sheets provide protection from the rain for both the hutch and the run. Even during winter, rabbits still need to be able to exercise and display their normal behaviours. If needed, consider modifying their run to make it weather-proof, or providing an area inside the shed or garage that they can use instead.
2. Food and water:
- Water bottles and bowls can freeze easily. Bubble Wrap or a reflective survival blanket can be wrapped around water bottles (make sure it won’t be chewed). Alternatively, an old thermal sock works very well! Remember to change the water daily. A raised water bowl can be placed inside the hutch as well.
- Provide extra hay. Diet is very important for rabbits and other rodents. They eat more when they are cold and there is also less fresh grass available. They might not be doing as much exercise as they do in the Summer months. In order to prevent them getting fat, access to good quality ad-lib hay is perfect for them.
- Provide extra stimulus for your pets. Put hay in feeders and give them additional toys to chew. For example, willow balls not only keep rabbits entertained, they give them something to chew on and to move around with. Rabbits love to forage and Rabbit Welfare some great tips and things that you can try at home.
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