Rabbits are known to be very fragile and sensitive to stress. But these little balls of fur also have very dense fur. As such, can they really live outside in winter? The answer essentially depends on their habitat, the rest of the time. We explain everything to you.
Rabbits: wild animals above all
Rabbits are typically animals found growing wild in nature. So of course, these small rodents that we buy in pet stores have certainly not experienced fresh grass under their paws, but for all that, they have the same abilities as wild rabbits: notably their fur.
This insulates them from the cold so that their body temperature is optimal in all seasons. They also have more difficulty with extreme heat than with negative temperatures. Like cats and dogs, rabbits shed. They shed their summer hair for a denser coat in winter and vice versa.
In the wild, rodents dig burrows to protect themselves from the cold. But this natural reflex is not common to everyone, especially if the ground on which they live is too hard.
Rabbit molting only takes a few days!
In general, rabbits molt quite quickly. Allow about a week at most. When the temperatures start to drop, he will put on his winter coat, which is fuller and better adapted to insulate his body. As soon as they come up, instinctively, the winter hair will fall out so that the rabbit can withstand the heat.
However, while rabbit shedding is punctuated by the seasons, it can also be almost imperceptible if your pet lives indoors. In fact, temperatures are often regular with slight variations. So the rabbit has very little need to change its fur. Conversely, if your rabbit lives outside and has put on its winter coat, bringing it in could be problematic for it, because its coat is adapted to cool temperatures.
This is why it is not recommended to move a rabbit from indoor to outdoor and vice versa! To put it simply: if your rabbit lives outdoors, leave it outside, even in winter. And if he lives indoors, only take him out very rarely (preferably in the off-seasons when the temperatures are still pleasant). Be careful, rabbits do not sweat to regulate their temperature, a heat stroke can make them sick and even kill them!
What equipment should I choose to install a rabbit outdoors?
Although rabbits do not fear the cold, they nevertheless need to be isolated from humidity and be able to take shelter. This means that your pet must have an insulated hutch, with access to an outdoor enclosure to stretch its legs.
The hutch must be raised to avoid moisture infiltration. A layer of insulation on the ground is welcome, straw, newspaper or shavings doing the trick very well. The walls must be insulated so that the temperature inside the hutch is a little higher than outside. In short, your rabbit must have the opportunity to create its cocoon of softness and warmth if the temperatures drop suddenly or in the event of bad weather.
It is advisable to stretch a transparent tarpaulin over the hutch or its enclosure to protect the rabbit from humidity, while letting it enjoy the sun’s rays. Place the hutch sheltered from rain and wind. Some people place heating pads or hot water bottles under the litter box to give their rabbit a little more comfort, but be careful that they are out of reach of their teeth!
Finally, in terms of food, they will need a more substantial intake, because their needs are greater. As for the quantity, you will have to be careful: if the feeder is still full at the end of the day, it is because they have too much to eat. You can also supplement the solid diet with fresh vegetables and hay. Water can be made available lukewarm, but never hot.
When to bring rabbits indoors?
Rabbits can survive down to -10°C outdoors. On the other hand, with the variation in temperature that we have had in recent years (+ 10 to -10°C from one day to the next), it is advisable to keep an eye on your animals. Rabbits who have not yet shed their winter coat and who are outdoors in subzero temperatures may have difficulty coping.
In theory, a rabbit can survive outdoors, unless it’s really too cold. If they are still living outside and suddenly you bring them inside, their new habitat will most likely be more cramped and may not make them as happy as when they can roam outside their hutch. An alternative is possible by sheltering them in the garage or a shed for example, even if only overnight.
To summarize: if you are used to keeping your rabbit indoors, do not take it out in winter. On the other hand, if he lives outside all year round, only bring him inside if it is really cold and his winter coat has not yet grown. But be careful, this must remain a provisional decision, since if it is brought inside, the rabbit will lose its winter hair in a few days and will therefore no longer be able to withstand the cold if you put it back outside!