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Rabbit and guinea pig cold weather warning

Sadly, we see cases of severe hypothermia in  outside rabbits and guinea pigs due to the cold weather. We want to make sure that your rabbits and guinea pigs are protected from the bitter weather.

Wild rabbit warrens are insulated as they are underground, which prevents them dropping below freezing. As a hutch is above ground you need to takes steps to ensure it provides enough protection to keep their bed area above the freezing outdoor temperatures. Whilst guinea pigs do not burrow themselves, they will use other animals' burrows for protection from the elements, so they should be given the same consideration.

A well-built hutch in good repair is a good start to keeping your “small furries” warm in cold weather but there are a few extra steps you should take to check they will be fully protected:

Rising damp is an issue for hutches. Hutches should be raised off the floor to prevent the base becoming damp and rotting. If your hutch doesn’t have legs fitted then placing a brick at each corner will raise it enough to allow air to circulate and reduce damp.

Partially cover large mesh doors with clear Perspex or plastic, allowing your rabbit to see out and the sun to come in but preventing wind and rain. Ventilation is still important though, so leave a gap of several inches for this. Turning the hutch so the front faces away from the wind will also help reduce wind and rain through the mesh areas. If it's not possible to turn the hutch around then put something just in front to block direct wind and rain.

Covering the hutch with an old blanket/carpet and then a tarpaulin will help keep the heat in and the weather out. During the day leave the front open for ventilation and at night cover the majority of the hutch leaving a smaller area for ventilation. You can also purchase hutch covers that offer a smarter looking alternative. Moving the hutch into a shed or garage is another way to help keep it warm.

Rabbits and guinea pigs need a warm snug bed area. This should be the equivalent of a box with an entrance hole. Often hutches have a bed area divided from the main hutch. If a sleeping section isn't available or it's very large, then provide a smaller box as well. A smaller area with lots of bedding material will warm up around your pet and keep them snug.

Rabbits still need plenty of exercise in the winter. It is fine to still allow your rabbit access to a run as long as they have the option to retreat to a warm sheltered area if they choose. If your hutch and run are not attached then you need to place a shelter in the run such as a small hutch or wooden box. You can offer some protection by covering the run roof in plastic e.g. a tarpaulin or corrugated roofing plastic.

Outdoor rabbits and guinea pigs will need more food during the winter months; they use more energy heating themselves so need to take in more energy through their food. Check water bottles/bowls regularly to make sure they are not frozen. Even if the main bottle is unfrozen, it's important to check the spout as this can freeze solid and block. Insulating the bottle can help, wrapping it up with bubble wrap and an old sock or using insulators designed for wine bottles.

Rabbits and guinea pigs do not hibernate so if your pet becomes limp or sleepy then it is important to contact us as soon as possible.

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