Rebecca has successfully cared for orphaned rodent litters and wants to ensure others in this situation are equipped to do the same.
Take Precautions Before the Onset of Winter
Keeping rabbits outdoors comes with all manner of challenges, but most relate directly to the weather. Rabbits can easily die in hot weather from heat stroke, and they are in danger of freezing or coming down with cold-related illnesses during the cold months. With winter swiftly moving in, we will discuss some pointers for keeping a rabbit warm and comfortable during these times when, depending on where you live, temperatures can fall well below freezing, and biting wind and snow are constant considerations. Especially in northern climates, precautions must be taken before the onset of winter to keep these animals safe.
The primary concern is the location and build of your cage or hutch. The cage should be located in a sheltered area that affords protection from the wind, especially north winds. It should have a roof of some kind (many rabbit owners prefer roofing tin since it cannot be chewed) and, depending on the kind of shelter, will likely need protection on the sides.
Wooden hutches with wire bottoms and wire fronts are great for cold weather because they offer protection on the top and three sides, though these also run the risk of being chewed by a bored rabbit. For maximum protection, a heavy canvas cover can be made for the front of the cage that will be rolled up during nice weather, but that can be put into place during wind, storms, and at night.
Keeping Your Rabbits Dry
Foremost of all considerations during cold weather is to keep your pet rabbit dry. Most breeds of rabbits have thick coats which are exceptional insulators against the weather, but if water reaches their skin they will be unable to stay warm. Keeping the animal safe from precipitation will remove the largest of these risks, but there are still others.
Water dishes should be securely attached to the side of the cage so that the rabbit can not accidentally knock it over. Ideally, this dish will also be up off of the cage floor so that the rabbit does not run the risk of stepping in it.
Wire-bottomed cages that will not allow waste or spilled food and water to sit within reach of the rabbit are ideal for staying clean and dry. This allows all waste to fall straight through the bars and get completely out of the cage. Many cages are equipped with trays to catch waste, and these should be placed far enough below the cage itself that it is not at risk for filling up to a level that will reach the rabbit’s feet. Depending on how the cage is set up, this tray may need to be checked regularly to ensure that it does not fill up with snow.
It can be difficult to keep your rabbit supplied with water in freezing temperatures. Especially in the cold, it does not take rabbits long to suffer severe dehydration, and they must have access to water at all times.
While most rabbit owners prefer water bottles with a ball-activated tube so that rabbits always have clean water to drink, these can be hazardous during the winter. The thin metal tube freezes much faster than the water in the bottle, so caretakers may believe that their rabbit still has drinkable water when the tube is frozen solid. A plain dish, or a dish that uses a 20-ounce or 1-liter plastic bottle for its supply, is preferable. Of these bottles, the wide-mouthed ones do not freeze as easily. If heated dishes that the rabbit can not chew are available, the water can be kept from freezing altogether.
Place the water dish in a sheltered area inside the cage, enough above the floor to keep it from being stepped in or spilled. Fill the water every day and check it several times during the day, especially in very cold weather. The heat from the rabbit’s body inside a well-sheltered cage can often be sufficient to keep the water from freezing, or it will slow the rate of freezing.
Keep Your Rabbit's Drinking Water From Freezing
Insulation and Nesting
Finally, make sure that the rabbit has a nesting box available that is not much larger than the rabbit’s body size. This box can be lined with straw to provide greater warmth. If the box is too large, it will allow too much room for cold air to get in around the rabbit, especially to its less-protected feet. The box should allow for comfortable entrance and exit, with just enough space for the rabbit to turn around inside it. The rabbit’s body should fit snugly within the nesting materials when it curls up to sleep. This will allow the rabbit a warmer refuge during cold nights or windy days when bitter winds can easily come up through a wire bottom and freeze its feet.
Cold weather can be deadly for any animal, but with just a few precautions and a rabbit’s naturally well-insulated body, the animal can live warm and comfortable in even the coldest climates. Rabbits survive in the wild further north than most other animals, but your pet rabbit relies on you to give it the advantages that allow their wild cousins to live throughout the year.
I hope this article has been helpful. Now I would greatly appreciate anyone who has time to leave a comment below and let me know what your biggest challenge has been with keeping rabbits outdoors in your area.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Austin Bowen on March 09, 2020:
Hello thankyou for the information, the family started raising rabbits early march and it still get quite cold at night. Just looking to see if im doing it right. So far yes lol but im having issus with the water dish so i will have to come up with something. We have 3 male and 1 female by mistake. But hopefully it works out!
Caroline lockhart on November 13, 2019:
My rabbit dug out of run and is using the hedge for shelter instead of coming into hutch, i am leaving food out in bottom of hutch hoping tat he will come in, so that i can bring him in out of the cold but i can't get him is there anything i can do to catch him or will he b okay out
joyce laming on November 02, 2019:
this rabbit I,m sure was a pet of someones and they just let it go, and it comes to my yard and when it hears me I comes up to me but I haven,t been able to pick it up but I feed it all the time and I,m looking for the right shelter for it in the winter I,m afraid it well frezze, poor thing
Brianna on January 26, 2019:
Thank you! I truly rather let these animals
Go and live freely in the wild, but the kids love them and most of all, I don’t know if they can fend for themselves after being cared for so many times a day. I have a two story with the sides and back covered and the front open, except for the nesting area, which had a gap as big as our dwarf and 1/2 as big as the other my sister had dropped off without permission... it worked out, they’re in love. How can u tell if they are male or female, do nipples count? Also I want to give them room to run around outside on the ground, but fenced in (on top as well), do you recommend how deep I should go to keep them from digging their way out?
Michelle on November 20, 2018:
Good information. Thank you
Paul on June 27, 2018:
Thanks. Very helpful
Tim on March 18, 2018:
I don't have a rabbit. I'm considering the possibilities.
Donna on January 16, 2018:
Thank you. Your article was very helpful.
Carrie on January 05, 2018:
Very informative. Thank you for being one of the good ones in the world. Bless you.
Tom O on November 11, 2017:
Plastic floor inserts help keep your rabbits feet from getting sore hocks and help keep them off the cold metal cage.
bunny bunny on October 25, 2017:
what temperature is too cold for rabbits without special care?
C.fish on October 13, 2017:
Thank you for all the great advise. I purchased a rabbit safe electric heating pad for my rabbit. Do you have any advice regarding the use of heating pads? I recently adopted my rabbit from a family that no longer wanted him. This is my first bunny so thank you for sharing your knowledge . I appreciate any advise to keep my bunny healthy and happy!
BunMom on October 11, 2016:
We live in New England. Are there any products you recommend for keeping the buns warm in the winter? How about their water - like a warming bottle?
Chany on September 05, 2014:
Thanks this article is very helpful as I live in Switzerland and it can get up to -20 C here. My rabbits live in a little wooden cottage outside secure from the wind and with a window but I can get really cold in there anyway. They also only drink from pots and not bottles so thanks for the tips for keeping the water elevated.
Could you maybe write something about how to make the interior of the cottage or hutch more fun and exiting for the rabbits? Because my rabbits cage is pretty boring and I don't have a lot of space and I don't have a fenced garden.
Linda Eskey on January 27, 2014:
This was so helpful, I live in Ohio and was concerned about my outdoor rabbit. I brought him in on the last cold spell. When I put him back outside he didn't eat for 3 days, so I was afraid I did more harm to him then good. So thank you for this article .
Hiyapeeps on November 24, 2012:
Hi I'm trying to talk my parents into getting me a rabbit today and it is cold outside my dad said yes and mom said no because it will freeze outside wel I can't wait to tell her no it can't and show her this but thank u for the time you spent writing that article and also thank u for the time u spent reading this
Cathleena Beams from Tennessee on May 28, 2012:
I got a rabbit for my kids when they were about three and four years old. The boys are full grown now. Raising the bunny outside would probably have been safer for it. I didn't realize one of our two cats would knock over the rabbit's cage inside our home and we ended up having to take little Thumper (the rabbit) to the vet for a broken ear. After a round of antibiotics that we hoped would work, he succumbed to infection the last day of the regimen. The vet had told us the antibiotics don't always work, so we should have been more prepared, but it was a sad moment especially for the boys. I decided cats and rabbits weren't a good mix, so we never did get another bunny.
Hodini's Mom on January 02, 2012:
Hodini and I appreciate the tips on keeping him warm tonight when the temps drop to 21F. He actually had all of your tips already, so I was quite proud of my "natural (bunny) maternal instinct".
ber3333muda on December 31, 2011:
hey everyone. this is my first post. My daughter and I have 2 Flemish Giants. They are 5 months old and growing fast. Their names are Jasper and Jupiter. We would love to chat with others who have giants !
stonefox on December 15, 2011:
summer can be challenge to deal with. I pick up extra large plastic sour cream containers from a local Taco Johns, fill with water and freeze for one or two days. The ice slides out pretty easy and can be placed in the cage with the rabbit. They will lick on it, lie down next to it and roll it around. For an extra treat, I drop a couple pieces of fruit or veggies in the water before freezing.
In the cold, I have issues with keeping them watered. I use small plastic pet food dishes available at Wal Mart. They are found in the cat supply aisle and are only about $4 each. The ice can be knocked out relatively easily, as long as you don't pound too hard...it is plastic and sometimes they will snap in two especially in the cold. Because of their small size I need to fill them twice a day. I keep a 30 gallon barrel of water in my garage next to the outdoor rabbit pen...I have an electric drop in heater to keep it from freezing. I usually fill it every week or so by carrying 5 gallon buckets from the side of the house.
caymanmama on December 13, 2011:
I have 2 rabbits that I got in June. One always layed in the terra cotta saucer of water I had for them. When it got really hot, I would put a few ice cubes in it and they would chew on them. My rabbit cage was 3ft. off the ground, enclosed in my fenced in garden.(easier to spread the fertilizer(poop)on to the beds. A friend gave me a 4'x10'x4'tall chain link dog kennel. We butted one end up against the side of a wooden shed, put 2 sheets of plywood on the top for a roof and in Nov. covered the top and sides with a double tarp, keeping the front open.Now that it is Dec. in Ct. I lift up the side to let sun in during the day, I have hay on the dirt floor of the kennel and let them out of the hutch to run around in there. When it is above 45 deg.I make a long chiken wire run attached ot the kennels door opening and they can get out to the grass and enjoy the exercise! The hutch is about 1 1/2' off the ground on legs. I put a board with slats about 8" apart down the length and they can climb down to the ground and back up again.
after they've had their hour of running. Now that over- night temps are below freezing, I wrap the open sides of the hutch with a heavy duty bubble wrap that also covers the water bottle. It keeps them a little warmer and the water has yet to be frozen. I hope this helps someone to keep their bunies warm this winter. I also bought a hard plastic baby rattle and they love to toss it around! Keeps them from getting bored. Make sure not to get the rubbery kind that they might eat. They are a riot to watch!
keeper of cats on November 19, 2011:
Thank you wychic for that answer,I will be going into town tomorrow for the straw,not a lot of ink on these bags,I was concerned about the ink also. Thanks
Rebecca Mikulin (author) from Sheridan, Wyoming on November 19, 2011:
Hi! I would not recommend newspaper, as the ink can be absorbed through their feet or eaten and can cause an issue. As for brown bags -- it wouldn't hurt to try, especially if you're experiencing temps as cold or colder than we are today (high of 14F, 6F now) because it will help cut the flow of cold air a bit. However, rabbits love to chew paper, and it will likely get soiled quickly, so it won't last long. It should work for an emergency stop-gap.
keeper of cats on November 18, 2011:
can I put brown paper bags or newspaper in my rabbits cage to help with the cold until I can get into town for straw?
Rebecca Mikulin (author) from Sheridan, Wyoming on October 13, 2011:
Hi! If you have a heat lamp available, then by all means use it, especially since they're younger :). I live in Northern Wyoming, so our winters are pretty close to the same. We had an all-outdoor rabbitry year-round and they usually did just fine as long as they stayed dry, out of the wind, and had good nesting material. However, hard freezes were rough on some of them, especially the Netherland Dwarfs and any rabbits that were by themselves in a cage. Most of my rabbits were New Zealand Whites with a trio of Californians and a couple of pairs of Rexes (aside from the three pairs of Netherlands) and they all generally wintered well. That said, with a heat lamp available, that might help some of the midwinter anxiety a bit :).
Kathy on October 13, 2011:
This is a great post. I have just started to raise two bunnies. They were born in April and I have their hutch in a shed. Even though it is in the shed for the winter, do they need a heater or a heat lamp in the shed for them to be okay in the winter in North Idaho. The temps are very low and I don't want them to die. I have a male and female siblings. I made the hutch out of wooden crates and then they have a fenced area to run in the back yard that leads to the hutch so that they can come and go as they like. I bring them in at night (9-10) and close the door on the shed. It is not an isulated shed and I am concerned about them getting too cold. I also had them fixed so there will be no worries about having babies. I really need to know if they will be okay outside all winter. Thanks.
Lucy on October 08, 2011:
welll i have got 2 11weeks rabbits (dwarf)this has really helped me throughout the winter and i was trying to bring them in but they hated it and they were slipping on the floor and everything.so thanks a lot.:)!
MooMOOFootSTOP on July 09, 2011:
I don't have a companion for my young doe so she's got a tough winter this year. Of course right now we are in the peek of summer where it's plus 30 (c) and frozen water bottles are a GOOD thing, but when winter hits and we're in -50 (c) it's gonna be hard to keep them a liquid. I had my heater break twice last year with my bucks due to cold snaps, and i'm afraid this year will be even worse. Owning rabbits is harder than I thought it would be!!! Big ol' Flemish are hardy, but i'm afraid they've got their work cut out for them this fall/winter. CANADA KICKS ARSE! ...no really.
danielle on April 27, 2011:
Thank you, for your help.That was very useful
Metal Detector Reviews on February 16, 2011:
Rabbits are my favorites... Great article.
Rebecca Mikulin (author) from Sheridan, Wyoming on February 11, 2011:
Agreed, I've done the same thing for my rabbits in the summer, and they do seem to really love it...and in the kind of temps we have in the summer, it truly is a life-saver for them. Another thing we've done is misted our rabbits with water from a spray bottle in extreme heat, which seems to cool them off well but doesn't last as long as a frozen bottle.
dizzy4sam on February 11, 2011:
I enjoyed the tips for the winter and I don't know if anyone knows but I have found in extreme heat of the summer if you keep your rabbits outside they do enjoy it if you'll freeze a 2 liter bottle the rabbit will lay next to it to chill off then I just remove the bottle at night.
Rebecca Mikulin (author) from Sheridan, Wyoming on February 05, 2011:
@ogungbenro, in order to get the water to freeze, it can generally just be put in the freezer as long as it's not full completely to the top. I'm not sure where you're from, but I live in Wyoming, so this time of year it's the exact opposite problem, which is why I had to find ways to keep the water liquid throughout the winter. Heated water bottles have, by far, been the best option I've found for that.
ogungbenro azeez on February 05, 2011:
i ask how to make water inside bottle to freeze,you have not supply me the real answer
Silver Poet from the computer of a midwestern American writer on January 29, 2011:
The title caught my eye because I didn't think it was possible to keep water bottles from freezing in the winter. When I used to keep a rabbit or two I used a heavy weighted rabbit crock and refilled it twice a day.
mehtalopa on December 15, 2010:
I just love cute bunnies. I work a lot in the kitchen outdoors and love to see my bunnies running around in the yard. Yes they are too sensitive to weather.
Thanks for the tips for keeping the rabbit healthy.
Loved your post!
Reese on November 17, 2010:
Thank you for all the tips. It is all very informative and helpful. I also have bunnies and purchased a new rabbit hutches for outdoors. Bunnies are very sensitive to weather changes. They are likely to suffer heat stroke. So a regular observation is needed.
Muktu on October 17, 2010:
Great tips here! I've always been curious about keeping my rabbit outdoors. It seems like something he would enjoy, but due to one reason or another it makes me nervous. Thanks for your hub.
mrfluffy from Northamptonshire on October 05, 2010:
Thank you have given me some ideas and good advice
My Buck is the true outdoor bunny, I tried to bring him in when we had the heavy rain he did not like it one bit. So after a few adjustments to his hutch/ bungalow (yes it a big one!) he is happy back outside. We have insulated and water proofed the hutch better than it was, and put some solid sides to the run. I will need to do something about the water bottle though I haven’t sorted this out yet.