Keeping Rabbits Warm
How to Keep Rabbits Warm in Sub Zero Weather
Rabbits are well suited for colder temperatures. Their thick coats and physical activity help keep them warm during the winter.In fact, cold weather can bring out your rabbit’s natural playfulness!However, sub-zero temperatures can be uncomfortable for your rabbit.Therefore, it is important for you to keep your rabbit warm when outside temperatures drop below zero.
Weatherproofing Your Rabbit’s Hutch
Waterproof the hutch.If your rabbit stays outside, it can tolerate extremely cold temperatures by staying warm and dry in a well-ventilated, waterproof hutch.Check the inside of the hutch for any water stains and/or dampness. If there are signs of leakage coming from the roof, either repair the roof or replace it completely.
- Roof sealant can be used to repair the roof and is available at your local home improvement store.Follow the label instructions when you apply it to the hutch’s wood.
- You can also use a wood preservative or waterproof paint. Apply the product only to theoutsideof the roof to prevent your rabbit from chewing the product and possibly ingesting harmful chemicals.
- If the sides of the hutch look leaky, patch up the leaks in those areas as well.
Elevate the hutch.If your rabbit’s hutch stays on the ground, you will need to elevate it to keep out snow and rain. Keeping the hutch off the ground can also provide extra protection from the sub-zero temperatures by keeping the bottom of the hutch away from direct contact with the ground’s coldness.How much you raise the hutch is up to you—placing 1 brick under each corner of the hutch would be sufficient.
- If you are especially crafty, you could construct legs for the hutch if it does not already have them. Visit your local home improvement store for guidance on how to add legs to the hutch.
Reposition the hutch.To protect your rabbit from cold gusts of wind, position the hutch so its front is facingawayfrom the wind. Facing the hutch away from the wind also allows warm air to enter the hutch. In addition, try to position the hutch against the side of your home to brace it against the wind.
- If you are not sure from which direction the wind is coming, stand outside near your rabbit’s hutch and wait for wind to pass by.
- Repositioning the hutch will also keep wind-whipped rain or snow from entering the hutch.
Place warm bedding inside the hutch.Plenty of warm bedding is necessary to keep your rabbit warm in sub-zero temperatures. Straw and hay are good bedding choices. Straw is the best choice, though, since it provides better insulation and your rabbit is less likely to eat it.You can either fill a nest box with straw, or place the straw directly on the hutch floor if your rabbit doesn’t like nest boxes.
- Consider placing newspaper under the bedding for extra insulation.
- Even if you don’t use hay for bedding, place plenty of it in the hutch to give your rabbit something to chew on.
Replace the bedding regularly.With sub-zero temperatures, your rabbit will likely stay in the straw to keep warm, and likely urinate and defecate in it. Replace the soiled straw with clean and dry straw about every 2 days.Soiled and damp straw is not only unhygienic, but is also less effective at keeping your rabbit warm and dry when it is cold outside.
- Consider placing wood shavings under your rabbit’s bedding to absorb wetness.Replace the wood shavings when they become damp.
Insulate your rabbit’s hutch.Fortunately, you do not have to purchase expensive insulation material for your rabbit’s hutch. Thick blankets and tarp make excellent exterior insulators. Place the blankets directly over the hutch, then place the tarp over the blankets.
- Hutch covers are commercially available, either online or at your local pet store. If the hutch has a mesh door, you could cover it with plastic to keep out drafts.
Keep the hutch well ventilated.Making sure your rabbit has fresh air is very important, even with sub-zero temperatures. Whichever type of insulation you use, leave it at least partially open during the day and close it nearly all the way at night.Adequate ventilation will prevent the accumulation of ammonia, which can be toxic to your rabbit.
- Ammonia would accumulate because of your rabbit’s urination. Replacing the bedding regularly also helps prevent high ammonia concentrations.
Feeding Your Rabbit in Sub-Zero Temperatures
Increase your rabbit’s caloric intake.Your rabbit will be using a lot more energy to stay warm in sub-zero temperatures. Extra calories will help give your rabbit that extra energy. Corn and alfalfa hay are good sources of extra calories. However, feed themonlyin small amounts —too much corn can cause digestive problems, and alfalfa hay’s high protein and mineral contents can cause health problems.
- Talk with your veterinarian before adding corn or alfalfa hay to your rabbit’s diet.
- Continue to feed your rabbit his usual diet.
Do not overfeed your rabbit.This is very important! Even with the extra calories, your rabbit needs to remain slim. Although it may be tempting to feed your rabbit a lot more when temperatures fall below zero, those extra pounds will be very difficult to lose once the weather warms up again.Weigh your rabbit periodically.
- If your rabbit has gained weight, talk with your veterinarian about the best way to reverse the weight gain. You will probably need to adjust your rabbit’s diet, but not reduce the caloric intake so much that your rabbit does not have the energy to stay warm.
Give your rabbit plenty of fresh water.Fresh water is as important when it’s cold outside as when it’s hot.Place the water in sturdy water dishes, since water bottles can freeze and crack in sub-zero temperatures. Consider having several water dishes so when the water in one dish starts to ice over, you can easily replace the dish with another one.
- To keep the water dish from freezing, you could warm up a small microwaveable heating pad and place the dish on top of the pad.Be aware, though, that your rabbit may be tempted to chew the heating pad. You may be better off replacing the water dishes regularly.
- Water helps keep your rabbit’s digestive system working properly, which is essential to making sure your rabbit gets the maximum amount of energy from the food to stay warm.
Bringing Your Rabbit Inside
Move your rabbit inside gradually.If you do not want to keep your rabbit outside when the temperature falls below zero, you can bring it inside to warmer temperatures. However, rabbits do not tolerate sudden temperature changes very well.It would be best to make the move over a few weeks.
- In general, you should move your rabbit to a warmer yet unheated area for about a week or two before moving it to a fully heated room.
- During the week in which you have moved your rabbit to this warmer area, check on it for signs of overheating, including panting, weakness, and reluctance to move.
- Heatstroke occurs when rabbits are in temperatures above 82 degrees Fahrenheit (27.8 degrees Celsius).An unheated shed or room will not become this warm, so it is unlikely that your rabbit will develop heatstroke. You should still check on it periodically, though, and provide it with plenty of fresh, cool water.
Select a draft-free area.Exposure to drafts is bad—and potentially fatal—for rabbits, even when they are not housed outside.As you transition your rabbit to heated indoor housing, choose an area that is free of drafts. A non-drafty outdoor shed or enclosed porch would be a good place for your rabbit’s hutch.
- An unheated, draft-free room of your home is another good choice.If it is not feasible to bring your rabbit's entire hutch inside, you could use a large rabbit cage or exercise pen for housing. Place his food and water bowls, along with bedding, toys, and some hay, in the area.
- Your garage may be draft free, but the fumes from your car are toxic to your rabbit.Do not place your rabbit’s hutch in your garage.
Prepare a housing area for your rabbit in a heated room.After a week or two, transition your rabbit to a heated room. If you were using a large rabbit cage or exercise pen in an unheated room, you can simply move the housing into the new room. Make sure to move your rabbit’s normal ‘creature comforts’ as well: food and water bowls, favorite toys, comfortable bedding, etc.
- Since this new room is heated, keep a close eye on your rabbit for signs of overheating. If your rabbit is overheating, cool it down by placing cool (not cold) water on its ears, feet and fur.Give your rabbit water with ice in it and call your veterinarian for further instruction on treating the overheating.
Monitoring Your Rabbit for Hypothermia
Check your rabbit for signs of hypothermia.Sub-zero temperatures can make your rabbit very susceptible to hypothermia. A rabbit’s normal body temperature is 101.5 to 103 degrees Fahrenheit (38.6 to 39.4 degrees Celsius). A body temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius) will make your rabbit hypothermic.Take your rabbit’s temperature by inserting a flexible, well-lubricated thermometer about 1 inch into the rectum.
- Lubricant is available at your local pharmacy.
- Signs of hypothermia include lethargy, cold and pale limbs and ears, shallow breathing, and a weak pulse. Stupor occurs with severe hypothermia.
- Hypothermia in rabbits is classified as either mild (temperature of 86 to 89 degrees Fahrenheit/30 to 31.7 degrees Celsius), moderate (71 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit/21.7 to 25 degrees Celsius), or severe (32 to 47 degrees Fahrenheit/0 to 8.3 degrees Celsius).
Treat your rabbit’s hypothermia.Hypothermia in rabbits must be treated promptly. Bring your rabbit into a heated room. Warm up some water bottles, wrap the bottles in towels, and position your rabbit between the towels.Continue to monitor your rabbit’s temperature until it returns to normal.You will probably need to change out the water bottles periodically as they cool down.
- To warm up the water bottles, warm some water in a pot on the stove. Fill the bottles with water and place them in the warm water.
- Alternatively, you could warm up some towels in the dryer, let them cool down a little, then wrap your rabbit in them.
- It is very important to let your rabbit warm up naturally and gradually. Rapid rewarming, particularly by vigorous rubbing, can cause your rabbit to go into shock by causing an increase in blood flow to the core and away from the extremities (e.g. ears, toes).
Take your rabbit to your veterinarian.Hypothermia that becomes severe requires immediate veterinary care.Start warming your rabbit up naturally at your home, and get it to your veterinarian as soon as possible.Continue warming your rabbit in your car.
- Do not blast the heat in your car in an effort to warm up your rabbit. The sudden temperature change could send your rabbit into shock.
- Rabbits do not hibernate in the winter. They will continue to be active to stay warm.
- In the wild, rabbits will make a den underground for protection from the extreme cold and wind.
- Most rabbits do not need a heated environment to stay warm in the winter.
- Small breed rabbits are more susceptible to extreme cold than large breed rabbits.
- A rabbit that stays outdoors in sub-zero temperatures still needs to exercise. During your rabbit’s exercise, make sure it can easily retreat to a warm area, such as a nest box with straw in the exercise run.
- Do not put a sweater on your rabbit. Your rabbit will chew it!
- If you have multiple rabbits, they will huddle close to each other to keep each other warm.
- Baby rabbits cannot tolerate sub-zero temperatures.You must bring them inside to keep them warm.
- Hypothermia can lead to coma and death in rabbits, so it is essential to treat this condition right away.
- If your rabbit looks limp or sleepy in sub-zero temperatures, take it to the veterinarian immediately.
- Do not use electric heaters to keep your rabbit warm. Your rabbit could chew on the electrical wires and get shocked. In addition, the heaters could short out or cause a fire when wet.
Video: How I Keep Outside Meat Rabbits Warm In Winter
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