Caring for rabbits in cold weather

Raising and breeding rabbits in cold weather can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.  When we are aware of the biological changes in rabbits as the seasons change we can best prepare them for the cold temperatures ahead. Ensuring a proper cage environment and feeding and watering systems will give your rabbits the things they need to thrive through the cold months. 

What Changes for the Rabbit?

Most animals go through natural, seasonal changes in their body that help them prepare for the type of weather the new season brings. Rabbits go through a few changes that set them up for colder temps. We should also remember that smaller breed rabbits are more susceptible to cold temperatures compared to larger breeds due to their size.

Changes in the Coat

Rabbits in cold weather naturally grow a thicker and heavier coat. You will notice your rabbits molting as the temperatures start getting chilly. This usually looks like a “fur storm” wherever your rabbits are located and the rabbit themselves will likely not look as presentable as they usually do.

Molting tends to show in patches of fur lighter and darker in shades than normal across the rabbit’s body. This happens as the rabbit is shedding their summer coat and growing their winter coat.

Eating Habits

Another change rabbits go through as the outside temperatures cool is their eating habits increasing. Keeping warm takes energy and your rabbits will need more calories to produce that energy.

There are numerous ways you can provide more calories for your rabbits. We will address this later in the article.

Cages for rabbits in cold weather

Cage Environment for Rabbits in Cold Weather

The best way we can help our rabbits as the temperature drops is to ensure proper caging. 

Cages Should Be Out of the Wind

One of the most important ways to protect your rabbits in cold weather is by making sure the wind can not whip through their cage. Wind, especially cold wind, can quickly chill their little bodies. Below are some ways you can help keep your rabbits out of the wind. 

  • Cut pieces of wood, metal, or hard plastic to attach to the outside of your rabbit cages as the weather cools.
  • Staple or drape tarps over your outdoor cages.
  • Move cages to an outdoor shelter.
  • Add a box-like hideout in each rabbit cage so they can escape the wind.

It is still important for rabbits to have ventilation, so make sure they are not completely enclosed.

Rabbits in Cold Weather Need to be Kept Dry

The next step to keeping your rabbits warm is keeping them dry. Snow, rain, and dampness hinders the rabbit’s ability to keep itself warm.

Enclosing the rabbit cages’ sides will help keep wind, snow, and rain out. It is also important to make sure the roof on your rabbit cages is waterproof so that it is not leaking on your rabbits and making them damp.

If you provide bedding in your rabbit cages you will need to ensure the bedding stays dry. You will also have to change bedding more often in cold weather than in warm weather.

Another thing to keep in mind is that straw is more insulating than hay, so if you have the option, straw is a better bedding choice.

Kindling rabbits in winter

Kindling in Cold Weather

Keeping rabbits during the cold months can be frightening at first, but breeding rabbits in cold weather can be even scarier. While some breeders choose not to breed in the winter or are still learning rabbit breeding basics, others have accomplished breeding all year round.

One way to keep newborn kits extra warm is by adding additional nesting materials.  Remember, straw is a better choice than hay in the winter because it is more insulating and contains less moisture.

When preparing to breed rabbits in cold weather it is essential to have backup fur, or an alternative, in case a rabbit does not pull enough fur when she kindles.

Below is a list of ideas to use in place of fur in case you have a doe that does not pull enough.

  • Gently pull or cut fur from the doe’s sides and belly. If she has a lot you can save some for future litters. Breeders have also found success in saving fur from summer-born litters when the doe pulls an excess amount.
  • Small (1 inch by 1 inch) pieces of a fleece blanket. Just be sure there are no threads the babies can get wrapped up in.
  • Wool. Breeders have been successful when using wool in place of rabbit fur in nest boxes.

Once you have your babies tucked into a warm nest it is essential to keep the nest dry. This means you will have to change out nesting material more often than in the summer. Any dampness in the nest can quickly chill kits, and a chilled nest can be deadly.

Drastic Temperature Changes

Rabbits do not handle drastic temperature changes well at all. So, if you think that it is going to get too cold and you want to move your rabbits it is best to move them to a non-heated shelter rather than into your heated home.

A non-heated shelter will provide great wind protection and you can stuff the rabbit’s cages with extra bedding. Moving rabbits in cold weather into your home can shock their bodies when they experience the drastic temperature change.

Feeding rabbits in cold weather

Feeding Rabbits in Cold Weather

Food = energy, and creating body heat requires extra energy. Because of this, rabbits should be fed more in the winter. There are many options for adding calories to your rabbit’s diet, some are listed below.

  • Increasing the amount of pellets you feed.
  • Adding free choice hay or hay cubes.
  • Supplementing pellets with oats or black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS).

It is important to keep an eye on your rabbit’s conditioning in the winter, as it can be harder to determine with their heavy winter coats. One way to keep close tabs on their conditioning is by weighing them often.

Weighing often may not be feasible if you have a large rabbitry. Everbreed makes weight tracking nearly effortless and simplifies the process, especially if you have many rabbits.

Watering rabbits in winter

Watering Rabbits in Cold Weather

Watering just may be the most frustrating part of keeping rabbits in cold weather, but it doesn’t have to be. Rabbits can quickly become dehydrated so it is crucial they have access to fresh water.

Water bottles do not work well if your weather is below freezing because the nipples tend to freeze up quickly. Instead, you can use bowls that stay thawed longer, and the rabbits can lick the ice if they need to.

There are numerous options for types of water bowls, but many have found that rubber bowls work best so you can break out any ice that forms. Other breeders prefer to have two sets of water bowls so that one set can thaw while the rabbits have the other.

The image above shows a repurposed enamel-coated baking pan. Ice breaks easily from this pan when flipped and it allows ample space for rabbits in a colony setting to drink simultaneously.

Rabbit water bowls should be emptied and filled with lukewarm water at least twice a day if your weather stays below freezing.


If you live in an area that sees cold and freezing temperatures it is essential to be prepared before entering the chilly days. Altering your cages and having an efficient feeding and watering system will be crucial to your rabbitry’s success.

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