With winter looming, some owners of rabbits that are kept indoors at night have asked us for advice on when it’s too cold to give their rabbits time outside during the day. Outside time is great for rabbits, even in the cold.
Wild rabbits can be seen playing in the snow in the depths of winter. However, moving rabbits from a centrally heated house to outside must be carried out with care, and for periods during the daytime only, avoiding leaving them outside in cold, damp weather overnight. It’s also not ideal to keep moving them back and forth, inside to out and back again. It’s best for them to have a settled, secure accommodation.
There are other considerations and we hope the following will provide some helpful guidance…
A reminder of our minimum space recommendations
Our minimum recommendation for a pair of average sized rabbits is a safe and enclosed area of 3m x 2m by 1m high. Rabbits should have permanent access to this minimum space to allow them to exercise when they choose. Rabbits should not be kept in a smaller cage or hutch and allowed only limited exercise. This applies whether they are kept indoors or out.
“My indoor rabbits have accommodation that meets the RWAF guidelines but I like to give them time outside too, what do I need to consider?”
They still need space
Even though you may be putting your rabbits outside temporarily, they should still have access to a substantial amount of space so they can move around freely. Aside from being part of their natural behaviour, this will also generate body heat that will help them in cold weather.
They need to snuggle
Rabbits should always have the company of at least one other rabbit, as long as they are compatible and neutered. In the cold, this is even more important, as sharing body heat is a vital way for rabbits to keep warm. They are also more likely to move around if they have a partner, which again will help generate body heat.
If your rabbits’ indoor area is very warm putting them straight out in the cold can cause them harm. Try to balance the temperature indoors and outdoors as much as possible, by keeping them in an unheated area such as a conservatory or hallway for example.
Protect them from the elements
When putting rabbits outside, put their run somewhere it is sheltered from the wind, and use a tarp to keep the rain off.
Keep them safe
Regardless of the temperature, rabbits must be safe from predators when they are outside, so make sure the run is strong and sturdy, including all doors, locks and catches.
If you are allowing your rabbits ‘free running’ in all or part of a garden then they must be supervised at all times.
Give them a hidey-hole
It’s nice for your rabbits to have a run on the grass but they will also need somewhere they can take a time out if they wish. Provide an enclosed space with two exits where they know they are safe.
Are they healthy?
If a rabbit is unwell or is recovering from veterinary treatment then always ask your vet’s advice on whether it’s okay to put them outside. Be aware that if rabbits have areas of missing fur then they will be more susceptible to the cold.
“Okay, I’ve taken all that into account, when is it too cold to put my indoor rabbits outside?”
If your rabbits are:
in pairings or social groups
have no significant areas of missing fur
are able to move around freely
able to access a hidey-hole
are protected from the wind and rain
Then, as a rule, they will be able to cope with temperatures down to around 5°C.
If it’s colder than this then you must provide a well-insulated indoor area, either attached to or inside the run. See our Outdoor rabbits in cold weather page for more advice about providing a warm environment for outdoor rabbits.