December to February are our coldest months of the year, therefore it is very important to make minor changes to care to ensure a safe and comfortable winter for your outdoor dwelling small furries. Particularly those who are aged or have pre-existing health conditions.
Advice From Valley Vetcare On Caring For Rabbits & Guinea Pigs In Cold Months
Here are some of the most frequent questions we see asked about smaller outdoor pets in the wintertime.
Q. When should you adapt your husbandry?
A. Preparations should begin when evening/overnight temperatures fall below 10degrees. Rabbits have a slightly warmer body temperature than us but as a general rule if external temperatures have dropped you need to ensure your pet is warm enough.
If you think your pet is cold some things to check are if their ears feel especially cold, they are lethargic, have pale lips or are shivering, then you need to take action to warm them. Remember this should be done slowly and they should be gradually warmed.
Q. How should you adapt your husbandry?
A. The main priority is warmth. Outdoor hutches should be well insulated and waterproof. A section of carpet can be placed on top of the hutch for insulation, and tarpaulins can be used for waterproofing. You should consider moving them indoors though during particularly cold snaps, perhaps in garages or sheds. Ideally this will be someplace with windows in to allow for some natural daylight.
In extreme sub-zero temperatures then a place in your house could be more ideal. As rabbits usually live outside then you need to ensure any room they are placed in is not too hot, as they will have grown their winter coats and you could over heat them. Keep any radiators turned down low and ensure adequate ventilation.
- Sleeping quarters should be packed with plenty of straw for insulation and to provide a comfortable, snug area for settling.
- Toileting areas should be cleaned daily to avoid damp conditions.
- Water bottles or bowls should be checked and maintained daily, or even several times per day, to ensure they do not freeze.
- Regular checks should be undertaken throughout the day.
Q. What nutritional requirements are important to consider?
A. The following are guidelines for year round and a healthy body weight is important for maintaining body temperatures throughout the different seasons.
- Both rabbits and Guinea pigs should have access to good quality, dust free, fresh hay as the main bulk of their diet. This is vital to assist in dental health and the correct wearing of the teeth.
- Guinea pigs should also have access to a good quality Guinea pig specific grass based pellets containing vitamin C. This is because, like humans, they cannot manufacture their own vitamin c and deficiencies in this can lead to a multitude of problems, including poor skin healing, development and maintenance issues of skin and joints, dull coats, lethargy and diarrhoea, to name a few.
- For both species care should be taken with the amount and types of vegetables given. Small quantities of kale, broccoli or dark cabbage are ideal additions to their diet. Avoid too many fatty or sugary treats as these can lead to problems with weight gain, dental issues and problems with selective feeding.
Q. What about exercise?
A. Access to daily exercise should be available throughout the year and the winter months are no exception. Mobility is important in all life stages, for muscle and joint health, weight management and so on, but also for entertainment and lifestyle enrichment.
Ensure your pets have access to a safe and protected area at all times. If you do move them indoors and give them house access, remember to take care with any unsafe household items, toxic plants, cables or cords, and it goes without saying any other pets within the house!
Further information and useful tips can be found on the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund.
Book A Check Up At Valley Vetcare
If you want to make sure your pet is in tip top condition ready for winter, contact us to book in at the practice for a full health check with our resident exotics veterinary nurse Martyn.
A full examination will be carried out and he can provide you with any further information you require.