How cold is TOO cold for your rabbit?
One question many rabbit owners ask, depending on what kind of climate they live in, is “how cold is TOO cold for rabbits”? Rabbits are designed to not only survive, but thrive in cold weather. In fact, cold weather often increases the energy level of domestic rabbits, and invigorates them! Many rabbits are at their most playful during the winter months of the year. There are several considerations for rabbit owners when planning ahead for optimal care of their rabbits as the days get shorter, precipitation increases, and temperatures plunge. It turns out that ideal rabbit temperature may be a lot colder than you think!
Indoor Housing: There is a growing popularity among pet owners to share their homes with rabbits living as house pets. Indoor conditions eliminate a lot of the other considerations that outdoor housing imposes. However, while rabbit owners enjoy the toasty warmth of a roaring fire, or crank the heat up to warmer temperatures, they must consider that the rabbit is wearing a fur coat, and cannot tolerate excessive warmth. Indoor rabbits should ideally be housed in a room that does not have a heat source, because it eliminates the risk of the animals becoming overheated. Even without heat, a well insulated home can easily maintain temperatures of 45-50 degrees, which is perfectly comfortable for rabbits. The room the rabbits are housed in also needs plenty of ventilation, and their living quarters must be kept clean and dry. It may seem like an easier solution to house rabbits indoors, but given the difference in preferred temperatures of rabbits and humans, it may in fact be a better solution for the animals to be kept outdoors.
Pros of Indoor Housing:
- few changes are required for routine care of the rabbits
- water bottles and crocks will not freeze
- no risk of precipitation reaching the rabbits’ living quarters
Cons of Indoor Housing:
- rabbits and humans are most comfortable at very different temperatures
- rabbits need a space that can provide proper ventilation and fresh air, even in bitterly cold temperatures
Outdoor Building Housing: For rabbits that are housed outside, but in a fully enclosed building, such as a shed, barn, or other free-standing structure, there are many great options for housing rabbits year-round without having to bring them inside. A great option for rabbit owners with this type of setup is to use cages such as our Supreme Rabbit Cages made primarily with wire, and have plenty of ventilation. With a fully enclosed shelter, the elements of wind, rain, and other cold weather elements are not directly affecting the rabbits in their home, eliminating the need for additional structures built around cages. Outdoor buildings however, should be monitored closely if temperatures fall well below freezing, as frozen water bottles and crocks prevent rabbits from having a constant source of fresh water. It is recommended that if temperatures are causing waters to freeze, that crocks, such as our EZ crocks, are used, as they can be easily interchanged. If two or more crocks are available per rabbit cage, it is very simple to remove a frozen crock and replace it with one with warm water, which will take longer to freeze solid again.
In the wild, rabbits are natural burrowers, and they naturally create small spaces to shelter themselves from the weather and from predators. Rabbits living outdoors in cages will always appreciate some extra Timothy hay as bedding, to keep them off of the wire and give them a place to snuggle in from the cold. They will also graze on the hay, because they need to eat a little bit more in the cold to maintain their body temperature. If the rabbits are housed in an enclosed building, they likely will not require more than this to stay warm and dry. If an outbuilding is fully shielded from outside weather, it is likely that even below freezing temperatures outside will not cause waters to freeze and the temperature in the outbuilding will remain a comfortable temperature for the rabbits living there.
Pros of Outdoor Building Housing:
- Rabbits are insulated from precipitation and wind
- Rabbits can easily tolerate the outside temperatures
Cons of Outdoor Building Housing:
- Risk of waters freezing if below freezing temperatures outside
- Rabbits may need to eat more to maintain their normal body temperature
Outdoor-Only Housing: For rabbits living entirely outside, there is good news for rabbit owners! Rabbits are equipped to withstand even below freezing temperatures as long as two things are assured – they are kept out of the wind, and can stay dry at all times. With those two precautions, these animals can thrive in very cold weather.
Despite the cold weather, rabbits still require proper ventilation, such as provided by the all-wire design of our Supreme Rabbit Cages. It is important, if rabbits are housed solely outside, that there be at least three of the four sides of their housing protected from the outside elements. This could be more permanent hutch-type housing, such as wood or metal surrounding the cages, or something less permanent, such as tarps or plastic sheeting. Regardless, it is important to make sure that the rabbits are unable to reach the outside material and chew on it. Failure to do so can result in fatal consequences. For example, pressure treated wood and plastic can permanently damage a rabbit’s digestive system. As rabbits are prey animals, it is also recommended that a tarp or canvas cover be available to roll down over the rabbit cages at night, to preserve warmth, and to protect them against potential predators.
Water need to be regularly checked, to make sure they are not frozen. It is often easier to use crocks that can easily be switched out when they freeze, such as our EZ crocks. Use caution when using water bottles, as the metal drinking mechanisms inside the tubes can freeze solid, preventing the rabbit from getting any water when they go to drink. Drinking enough water is vital to rabbits housed outdoors. If they are not drinking, they will not eat, and eating is what keeps their metabolism going and helps them stay warm enough. In temperatures of freezing or below, rabbits living entirely outdoors may benefit from a nest box or an edible hay structure designed for small animals.
Pros of Outdoor-Only Housing:
- Provides the rabbits with a more natural environment
- Provides plenty of ventilation
Cons of Outdoor-Only Housing:
- An additional structure around cages standing outdoors is necessary to construct
- Rabbits need to consistently be provided with fresh hay and water, especially if temperatures fall well below freezing
In short – whether or indoors or outdoors, it is fairly simple to make life enjoyable for your rabbits. It turns out that these critters find their ideal temperature to be a bit chillier than their human friends do!
If you have more information or have a question, feel free to leave a comment below!
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