TOPICAL TIPS – seasonal advice

Winter Topical Tips

If your rabbit has a water bottle, be aware that the bit that freezes first is the spout.  Although you may think that the water is not frozen in the bottle, there is a chance that the rabbit will not be able to drink out of it due to the ball bearing at the end being frozen solid.  On this basis, it may be somewhat pointless to put insulation around the bottle as although you may stop the bottle from freezing, and you will not be able to protect the spout.  Insulated bottle covers have their uses as long as you know the limitations.  Large water bowls can be helpful as an alternative, but even these can freeze and can be tipped over or messed up by the rabbits when they move around.

On very cold days when the weather is unlikely to thaw, you may need to provide water in a bowl or position the bottle inside the hutch to stop it from freezing so rapidly.  Bottles can be attached to the inside of the hutch by fixing a plastic plant pot to the inside wall and making a hole in the bottom for the spout to come through.  Bear in mind that some rabbits will think it funny to chew the pot, so make sure it is of a substantial variety! It is always helpful to have two water bottles anyway, making it easy to swap on a fresh bottle, even if you are in a hurry in the morning.

Whilst I am aware that hot water can freeze quicker than cold water (the Mpemba effect), I find that the spout still seems to freeze less quickly if the bottle is filled with hot water, but the difference is only marginal so you still need to keep a close watch on the situation. Some people suggest putting a few drops of glycerin in the water to stop it from freezing. I have not found that it works very well, and it has the disadvantage of affecting the action of the ball bearing in the spout and even affecting the taste, which may put the rabbit off drinking.

Suppose you are worried that your rabbit’s hutch is not as warm as it should be during a cold winter. In that case, you can insulate it by buying bubble wrap from a garden centre, fixing it on the sides and back on the outside, and covering it with tarpaulin or plastic sheeting.  This can be removed in the spring.   Do not be tempted to completely cover the front as it is essential that air is allowed to flow in, and you are better off trying to site the hutch away from prevailing winds so the rain does not blow in anyway.  If you feel that you have to cover the front (remember that they are rabbits and are very hardy), then cover no more than half of the wire door. An experienced rabbit enthusiast sent in the following:

I have a seasonal tip regarding bunnies, which may help a few furry ones if their owners haven’t thought of it already.  I was trying to find new ways of keeping my elderly twosome, Tinkerbell and Coco, happy in their deluxe accommodation in their bunny shed through this arctic stuff – mindful that they are getting on a bit and may need extra care.  They snuggle up together very well, like a pair of old carpet slippers, but you can never be too careful.  Anyhow, I have a vertical tower, which is a potato planter, and it was in the shed awaiting next year’s potato planting, so I turned it on its side and stuffed it with hay – and hey presto – one instant bunny burrow!!  Tinkerbell eagerly colonised it, of course, and now Coco joins her.  Bunnies live in the wild in burrows, so the instinct comes naturally, and they are as happy as pigs in muck in there.  The same trick works very well with an old swing bin (with the lid taken off) turned up on its side.  I appreciate that most people wouldn’t have enough room in their bunny quarters for such a thing, but some bunnies live in conservatories, etc, so it may be of use. 
The photo below shows one owner’s solution to housing her rabbits in the winter: making part of the house a bunny winter living area
The photo below shows a hutch front protected by an acrylic plastic sheet, available from builders’ merchants.  It comes with a protective film on either side, which you peel off when ready to fit.  Cutting is tricky as you need a sharp Stanley blade and a solid ruler to score along to mark the surface sufficiently to allow it to be “snapped” to the correct size.  It would be best if you also drilled the fixing holes a little on the big size to allow for expansion to prevent cracking.  It looks really good and is an excellent method of keeping rain and wind out of the hutch.
I have also discovered a different type of plastic sheeting that is less nice to look at but is much easier to cut – scissors will do.  I have included photos below, plus two photos of our main bunny section with the plastic sheeting fitted.  The washing-up basins on the run tops were in place due to a storm with high winds being forecast.  The basins are an easy way to ensure the tops do not bump and bang or the catches tear from their anchors and the lid blow off.  They also provide a convenient way to combat such situations; not only can they be stacked inside each other for easy storage, but they also only take seconds to fill each one with water to act as ballast.
If you are concerned that your hutch is large and the sleeping/dark area is not very snug, you can choose a suitably sized hooded corner litter tray (sold for cats) as these give a burrow-type feel to the area and rabbits like them (presumably they feel secure).  Here at CottonTails, all our upper 6-foot hutches have had one of these large hooded corner trays fitted into the sleeping area, and they have been a huge success!  The two photos below show a hooded tray in position, and the lower photo shows it turned around so you can see the opening.
hooded-litter-tray-2-11.5.13 edited
hooded-litter-tray-1-11.5.13 edited

Tree pruning is often done in late autumn or winter when the leaves have come down, so use the branches for rabbits and guinea pigs, as they love to strip the bark off them.  We use apple and willow branches, but many other trees are safe. Do check online first to ensure your tree is safe to use.  Also, ensure that the tree has not been sprayed with pesticide, as this could make a rabbit or guinea pig ill.


Do not be surprised if your bunny changes their behaviour a bit at this time of year, as even neutered rabbits still react to the lengthening daylight, as this is the cue in the wild for the onset of breeding.  This can trigger fighting between predominantly female/female pairs, but if you can nurse them through the first few months of the year, they may settle down again, so long as no long-term damage is done. This is also the time of year to either cover the hutch felting with white roofing plastic or paint it white, as there is no doubt that a white roof keeps the inside of the hutch cooler in the hot weather.  You can coat the inside with greenhouse shading if you have a plastic lid on the run.  If the rabbits are kept in a greenhouse or conservatory, remember that the heat builds up dramatically on a warm day, with often fatal results.


The main risk at this time of year is heat stroke and flystrike, so make sure your rabbit’s accommodation is not in a sun trap where the rabbit can’t move away into the shade.  Also, ensure the diet is correct so there are no soft droppings or dirty bottoms.  See the rabbit care article on the website for helpful hints on dealing with such problems.  Make sure that fresh water is always available, and be aware that a rabbit will drink more on a hot day, especially in the evening.

I came up with a sunshade idea that fixed to the front of the hutch and positioned over the wire mesh side.  These were only needed for the upper hutches as all the others had runs attached, so sun screening was unnecessary.  The photos below show the sunshades in position.  I have used plastic facia boarding from DIY stores and metal right-angled pieces that I could bend slightly to get the right angle.
sunshade-on-hutch-1-11.5.13 edited


sunshade-on-hutch-2-11.5.13 edited

Here is some helpful information regarding keeping rabbits cool in the hot weather:

“Hi, Mairwen. I am following up on an email between us back in March/April regarding cooling rabbit housing. You asked me to let you know how I got on… Well, it took a lot of research and phone calls but it eventually decided on a portable air con unit called the SILENT 12, manufactured by ELECTRIQ.   MY 2 rabbits live in a 10 x 8′ shed with a large run attached and a little door that can be opened or closed (i.e. at night). The a/c unit is proving excellent in this hot weather and is quiet enough not to worry the buns. However, it does need to be externally vented via ‘elephant tubing’. It is easy to use. Cost-wise, it is beyond what many people could afford, but my shed is in direct sunlight with no shade.  From it cost £300 incl p&p. It is also a heater and a dehumidifier. A simple fan would not suffice during summer weather… I also have an ice block ( old water-filled plastic milk bottle) that they can lie near. I hope this helps/ is helpful. Kind regards, Julia.”

Early Autumn

If your rabbit or guinea pig runs around the garden at this time of year, there will be the extra hazard of fallen fruit such as apples or leaves.  Both can be a real problem, especially for the rabbit’s fragile digestive system!  Now is also the time to get your hutch and run ready for the winter weather. Thoroughly coat the outside of the wood with a good quality pet-friendly weatherproofing product.  Also, check that the roofing felt is still sound and not letting in rain and that the sides and back are good.  Oil any hinges and catches and make all those little repairs that you have been putting off for another day.

Vaccinations are essential, whatever the time of year.  The new combined vaccine is given once a year and protects the rabbit against all three diseases – myxomatosis, RHD1 and RHD2. There have been several cases of house rabbits catching myxomatosis and RHD, so don’t think that your rabbit is not at risk just because they live in the house.    The current thinking is that it can take three weeks before the vaccination becomes fully effective against the disease.

YouTube Links

You will find many embedded film clips throughout the site to illustrate various points raised within an article or perhaps to demonstrate a particular rabbit or guinea pig available for adoption.  You can also go through all of the films on YouTube if you go on to the Cottontails account on YouTube (type in my name, Mairwen Guard, on the search box within YouTube itself). These films also include some non-rabbit videos, as I am a musician when I wear my other hat!   Below is an example of one of the bunny films.

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