Can Rabbits Live Outside in the Winter (Tips On Survival)

Can Rabbits Live Outside in the Winter
Can Rabbits Live Outside in the Winter

Yes!  Rabbits can live outside in the winter.  If you have an outdoor rabbit it is important you take necessary actions to winterize your rabbit’s living quarters.  Their cage needs to withstand the snow and cold the winter will bring. 

The condition of your rabbit’s current enclosure will depend on how much work you will need to do to winterize it.  If the rabbit doesn’t have an interior area to sleep in or to get out of the cold, you will need to build or buy one.  The roof and walls will all need to be inspected to ensure they will keep dampness and drafts out.

Winters can be very hard on a domestic rabbit.  Unlike their wild cousins, they don’t have a dry and warm burrow or the freedom to exercise, so that’s where we come in.  It’s our job to see to our rabbit’s needs, especially in the winter.  Many things we take for granted during the warm months, like their water not freezing or their need for companionship can have severe negative impacts if left unattended.

Can Rabbits Get Hypothermia?

Yes, when exposed to extreme cold rabbits, especially if they are wet, they are susceptible to hypothermia.  Rabbits do not do well in cold weather.  For rabbits, anything below 45° F is considered cold weather.

To find out if a rabbit is suffering from hypothermia you need to take their temperature rectally.  The average temperature for a rabbit is between 101.5°-103° F.  If a rabbit’s body temperature drops to 100° or below, they are entering a state of hypothermia.

Great caution is needed when attempting to warm a rabbit’s body temperature.  Rabbits are sensitive to temperature changes and warming a rabbit too quickly can send their bodies into shock.  If you think your rabbit is becoming hypothermic, take them to the vet.

How Do I Winterize my Rabbit’s Cage?

Location Matters

If possible, move the rabbit’s cage to a protected area of your yard.  Freezing winds can be especially dangerous to our rabbits, providing a windbreak like the side of the house or garage will give a substantial amount of protection. 

Roof

The next thing to address is the roof.  The roof on your rabbit’s cage should be checked for damage and repaired or replaced to ensure it will protect from wind and moisture seeping in.  Also, the roof should be at an angle to keep rain and snow from building up. 

Walls of the Cage

During the warmer months, the more open a rabbit cage is the more airflow it will get to help keep the area cool.  Unfortunately, the open sides of the cage now work against us in the winter. 

If you have walls on the cage already, check for moisture or drafts especially at the corners and tops of the walls.

If you don’t already have walls, you will need to add some.  There are a few different options below for putting walls on the cage.  

  • Plastic – Covering the sides in plastic works great for both wind and moisture, but does not provide much for insulation.  However, depending on your winters you may not need to insulate the walls.
  • Wood – Using wood panels are an excellent choice.  They provide protection and some insulation.  Also, because of their durability, the same panels can be used every winter. 
  • Combination – For those of us who live with harsh winters utilizing a combination of boards, insulation and plastic work best. 

Start with wood walls, then on unusually cold days you can attach an old comforter to the sides for insulation, then cover it with plastic to keep the bedding dry.

There may be times that the winter nights will be freezing, requiring a protective barrier on all four sides.  In these instances, be sure to allow for proper ventilation and remove the cover in the morning. 

Whichever method you use be careful to make sure the materials used are fastened safely so the rabbit cannot chew on it. 

Finally, if your rabbit’s cage rests on the ground you will want to lift it up.  Raising the cage doesn’t need to be fancy, it can be as simple as putting a few bricks underneath, just enough to keep it sturdy and a few inches up.  If you are more motivated you could build a stand for the cage to sit on.  This will help keep your rabbits from the dampness collecting on the ground. 

A couple of things to keep in mind are if you have snow or flooding in your area.  If you have snow and flooding in your area you will want to be sure the cage is high enough to keep your rabbit safe.

How Do I Provide a Warm Sleeping Area for My Outdoor Rabbit?

All rabbits need a safe and warm area inside the enclosure to sleep or to retreat from the elements.  If the cage you use doesn’t already have a nesting box, you will need to either build or buy one.

Building Options:

If you are good at building things, this will be easy for you!  A nesting box is simply a box with a small door.  The area needs to be roomy enough to fit your rabbit and some straw for insulation.

A straightforward way to build an insulated nesting box is to fit a slightly smaller cardboard box inside a wooden box, then stuff the space in between with newspaper or straw.

When building your rabbit’s nesting box, you will want to remember to make sure you have easy access to the inside so you can check the bedding regularly for dampness.

Buying Options:

Most large pet stores carry rabbit houses that you can place inside the cage.  Some of the more common options are below:

  • Ware Rabbit Den – It’s a wooden box that fits neatly in the corner of the cage.  The door is in the corner for easy access and to give your rabbit a good view of the cage.
  • Animal Igloo – These work well if you live in an area with mild winters.  The igloo is plastic and comes in different sizes if you have colder winters you could fit this inside a box with insulation.
  • Woodland Get Away – Is a wooden structure shaped more like a short pyramid.  It is a bit smaller so would only work with smaller breed rabbits.

The key to providing a nesting box for your rabbit is that it is both warm and dry.  You don’t want something too confining as your rabbit will spend a fair amount of time in it, but if you go too large, it won’t contain the rabbit’s body heat well.

Does My Rabbit Need Special Food in the Winter?

Rabbits tend to burn more calories in the winter than in the summer because they expel more energy keeping themselves warm.  Rabbits also benefit from a little extra body fat to keep them warm; this does not mean that it is okay for your rabbit to be overweight.

In the winter it is a good idea to increase the amount of food slightly, but retain their regular diet.  You can supplement their food with small amounts of fruit, rolled oats and treats for small energy boosts.  The majority of the food should always come from hay and fresh vegetables. 

How Do I Keep my Rabbit’s Water from Freezing?

Making sure your rabbit has plenty of water in the winter is of the utmost importance.  Without a sufficient source of water, rabbits can quickly dehydrate.  There are a few different options to pick from to ensure your rabbit has fresh water all winter long. 

Water Bottle:

If you use a water bottle, you will need to have a few different ones. The nozzle freezes quickly so the bottle will need to be brought inside to thaw.  Switching out the water bottle multiple times a day works well. 

One thing to note, the nozzle freezes well before the water in the bottle which gives a false appearance that your rabbit has water available.

Crock:

A water crock can work better than the bottle because it takes longer for it to freeze.  Also, in the event the water freezes, the rabbit will still be able to lick the ice to get some water.

If using a crock, it is recommended you raise and attach it to the side of the cage.  By securing and lifting the crock, you decrease the chances of the water being spilled or stepped in. 

Moisture is your rabbit’s biggest threat in the winter.  Once moisture has seeped into a rabbit’s coat, they will no longer be able to keep themselves warm and will become susceptible to hypothermia as well as respiratory illnesses. 

Heated Water Bottle:

Heated water bottles are an excellent option.  The water bottle attaches to the outside of the cage keeping the cord out of reach of the rabbit.  The heater is activated by the outside temperature, only turning on when needed. 

This option works great since it will keep your rabbits’ water from freezing and since it’s a bottle your rabbit can’t step in or spill the water.  The drawback is that the cage needs to be close to an outlet to plug in the bottle. 

Regardless of what option you decide on, it’s a good idea to check and change your rabbit’s water frequently.   

Can I Move My Rabbit’s Cage to My Garage or Shed?

Moving a rabbit to a more sheltered area like a garage or shed can help keep your rabbit warm.  If you park in the garage, it is not a good idea to also keep your rabbit in there.   The exhaust fumes from the car can harm the rabbit.  Rabbits have sensitive respiratory systems, and even small amounts of carbon monoxide can have severe effects on a rabbit’s health. 

If you move the rabbit’s cage to a shed, you will want to make sure that any chemicals are securely stored and no toxic fumes can escape the containers.   Also, you will not want to move them to a shed without windows.  Rabbits need sunlight to function properly. 

Can I use a Heat Lamp or Warming Pad in My Rabbit’s Cage?

Heat lamps can work great to help keep your rabbit warm, but using a thermostat to help manage heat is best.  You don’t want to have your rabbit overheat from excessive heat exposure. 

An added benefit of a heat lamp is that it will also help keep the water source from freezing.  Tips for using a heat lamp in your rabbit’s cage:

  • Make sure that the cords are out of reach
  • The lamp is for outdoor shelter use
  • The lamp is high enough so that there is no risk of your rabbit burning itself
  • Set the lamp up outside of the nesting box.   The heat lamp puts off too much heat for small areas
  • Use a red bulb to help keep your rabbit from having adverse effects from too much light

Heating pads can also help keep your rabbit warm.  There are a variety of heating pads that can be microwaved then set in the cage.  These are a convenient way to help keep your rabbit from getting chilly, especially in the evening. 

Companionship and Exercise

Even if your rabbit is warm, fed, and watered all winter they still need two more things, companionship and exercise.  It’s not always easy to exercise any pet in the winter, but just like us, they all need it.  Take a little time every day to get your rabbit out so it can stretch its legs a bit. 

When exercising your rabbit be cautious you don’t allow your rabbit to get wet, but if they do thoroughly dry them off before putting them back in their cage.

Keeping your rabbit warm and dry this winter will ensure you will have healthy happy rabbit come spring.  Remember prevention is always best, so start winterizing early so when the cold weather hits you and your rabbit will be ready.  We hope these winterizing tips help to keep your fur baby safe and warm all winter long.

Related Questions

How Can I Tell if My Rabbit is Cold?  A rabbit’s ears are a great indicator to tell if they are cold, since if a rabbit is cold so are their ears.  Also, you may notice your rabbit sitting on their feet in a tight ball instead of being sprawled out.

Do Rabbits Hibernate? No, rabbits do not hibernate, if you notice your rabbit sleeping more, less active, or less alert you should bring your rabbit to the vet to have them checked out.

I Just Got A Rabbit, Can I Put Him Outside in the Winter? If you have a new rabbit that has been living inside, moving them outside in the winter is not safe.  Rabbits need time to acclimate to temperature changes.