Did you know that the Snowshoe Hare can survive and thrive all winter long in the bitterly cold environments of Northern Canada, all the way up to the Arctic Ocean?
Though domesticated bunnies are not quite as well equipped as some of their hare cousins, they’re no slouches when it comes to winter coats. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take steps to ensure your furry friends are warm and safe during winter months.
In this article, we’ve included tips on how to tell if your rabbit is cold, as well as methods for keeping both indoor and outdoor habitats cozy and safe during winter.
Please note: due to the risk of wire nibbling or overheating, we don’t recommend using any electric blankets or heat lamps unless necessary or recommended by your vet.
How to Tell if Your Rabbit is Cold
Don’t whip out the butt thermometer just yet! There are a few easy ways to tell if your rabbit needs you to turn up the heat just by observing them.
Rabbit’s ears are a little like a built-in thermometer. Or, more accurately, they are your bunny’s heat vents! Their big ears are useful for helping regulate their internal temperature.
A rabbit’s ears should be warm or cool to the touch, but not hot or very cold. Kind of like with our hands and feet, if your bunny’s ears are chilly to the touch, then they may be cold too.
Another good gauge of internal temperature for a rabbit is to feel how warm or cold their fur is.
If their fur is warm, then likely they are too. Fur that is cold to the touch doesn’t necessarily mean that your bunny is chilly. Still, in tandem with other signs, it can certainly be an indicator.
Plus, who doesn’t love an excuse to pet their bunny more?
Perhaps the best way to tell if your rabbit is too cold for their liking is taking note of their energy level. Even if it’s a bit cold for you, if your rabbit is active and perky, then they’re probably just dandy.
A chilly rabbit will be slower moving, spend more time loafed up with their feet pulled up underneath them, or even lethargic in more extreme cases.
Keeping Indoor Rabbits Warm in Winter
Bunnies like a very moderate temperature and low to moderate humidity level. They can tolerate cold much better than heat.
The optimum climate for these furry friends is somewhere between 60-70° F. Depending on which expert you ask, some reckon rabbits can be fine in temperatures as low as 45-50°.
Try to find a good middle ground that’s comfortable for both of you. Gradual fluctuation is fine but try to avoid extreme shifts.
For example, letting the house get very chilly overnight and then immediately blasting the heater when you get up can irritate your bunny’s respiratory system and dry out their skin.
If your home has temperature control or an HVAC system, we recommend setting the fans to auto, as constant air circulation can make also be overly drying. And keep your rabbit’s house a little away from the vents so that they don’t have dust and particles being blown directly on them.
Food and Water
Provide unlimited fresh hay as per the usual. But don’t be so quick to clean up hay that your rabbit has appropriated for snuggling in. Bunnies may use hay or tufts of their shed fur to keep their favorite resting spot extra cozy.
You should always give your bunny a supply of clean water but check their water bowl more frequently in winter. Likely they won’t be slurping it down like they do in the heat of summer, but cold weather and heating systems can cause dehydration too.
Young and active rabbits are often less bothered by cooler temperatures. But if you have an older rabbit (middle-aged or older, depending on their expected lifespan), they will likely appreciate some extra creature comforts.
Try giving older buns a flat pillow or folded-up blanket in a small area of their house or wrap part of their home in a thick blanket to make a little cave.
Let your bunny choose whether they want to get cozy. Don’t cover their entire house or whole floor space, as that may make it a bit too toasty for comfort.
Keeping Outdoor Rabbit Warm in Winter
Rabbits are well equipped to handle cold temperatures. So, most of our tips for keeping your outdoor bunny warm in winter are about the hutch and letting their natural instincts and gifts keep them toasty.
For a quick overview, Canadian rabbit owner Ferreriinfo1111 does an excellent job of showing how they keep their full-time outdoor bunnies happy and warm in winter in their video.
Controlling the temperature in an outdoor hutch is extremely difficult, if not impossible. So, the first thing you should consider before setting rabbits up outdoors is the climate of your region.
For example, far Southern states with very mild winters may seem like a good spot for outdoor rabbits, but the tradeoff for hot summers is a poor one.
Tropical and subtropical climates won’t do. Rabbits thrive in cooler, drier, temperate, and continental climates.
And though they are naturally well equipped to deal with cold, extreme cold and poorly designed hutches can make winter a dangerous time for outdoor bunnies.
Because wild rabbits can survive well in super cold temperatures by keeping warm in underground burrows. For climates that regularly reach single digits, you’ll want to make sure that part of their hutch is as warm, enclosed, dry, and protected from the wind as a burrow would be.
A great way to make sure your furry friends are warm is to keep your rabbits dry. A wet rabbit is very susceptible to cold, and even slight dampness can be dangerous during winter if it is persistent.
Your rabbit hutch should have a solid, totally waterproof roof with a decently sized overhang to prevent windy, rainy conditions from soaking your pals.
Similarly, you want to make sure their food is kept in dry conditions so that it does not freeze, grow nasty molds, and can be used by your bunny for toasty warm bedding.
Food and Water
For outdoor rabbits, you must supply them with plenty of fresh hay and water.
The extra calories will come in handy for keeping their internal heaters stoked. But it also provides additional external warmth, as many rabbits use hay to insulate their sleeping and resting areas.
Cold weather, especially wind, can dehydrate rabbits too. Check your bunny’s water supply at least 3 times a day to keep them well hydrated: first thing in the morning, afternoon, and right before bed.
If your area ever sees freezing temperatures in winter, use a bowl instead of a water bottle. The metal nozzles on bottles can easily freeze, making it impossible to get a drink from.
Many rabbitry keepers in seriously cold climates like the middle and upper Midwest and Canada recommend giving bunnies lukewarm water. For icy conditions, you can also top off bowls with hot water to melt any ice chunks, as demonstrated here by the Rabbitry Center.
Older rabbits may have a tougher time regulating their body temperature and staying warm.
Consider bringing elderly bunnies indoors for the winter – either into your home or perhaps even just a small barn to nullify wind chill and protect them from snow and rain.
Since our lovely Lepus friends are already quite admirably adapted for colder temperatures, you shouldn’t need to bundle them up like Sir Ernest Shackleton to explore the Antarctic.
Using some simple observation and easy to follow advice, making sure your rabbit is warm in winter should be a snap. We hope our handy tips and suggestions will keep you and your bunny loafs comfy.