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Helping your small pets get set for winter

As the mercury dips and cold, wet, wintry weather takes hold, it’s essential to keep your small furries warm and cosy.

When it comes to ensuring that your small pets can cope with the changing seasons, choosing the right bedding, and providing lots and lots of good quality hay to snuggle down in and munch on is essential. We’ve lots of great advice and top tips to help your small furries stay warm and snug during the colder months of the year.


Do your best for bunnies

Rabbits have warm coats and thick fur pads on the bottoms of their feet, so generally they’re quite well equipped for colder weather. If your rabbits live outdoors, it’s important to give your rabbits’ housing a full MOT to make sure their set up is weatherproof before the cold weather starts to hit.

Bunnies kept outdoors shed their light summer coats and grow thicker fur to protect them from the elements. Their outdoor home needs extra protection too. Pet rabbits should ideally be housed in a shed or outbuilding during wintertime, with space to run around if it’s too cold or wet outside. If this is not possible, then it’s essential to ensure that their hutch and run is winter-proof and placed in a sheltered area, away from wind and driving rain. You should also give it a ‘home maintenance’ check:

  • Check the roofing felt to make sure it’s completely watertight and that all the walls are in good condition, with no water staining that might suggest that rain is seeping in from under the roof.
  • Make sure their accommodation is always raised from ground level, on bricks or a frame, to allow air to circulate and prevent damp entering from below.
  • Extra insulation will be required in the form of a hutch cover. You can buy these from pet retailers or make your own using tarpaulin or old carpets covered in a weatherproof outer layer. Your rabbits will still need fresh air, so you need to create a cover that provides protection from cold and wind but provides good ventilation.
  • Insulate the floor of your rabbits’ sleeping box area with thick layers of newspaper and provide plenty of extra hay for them to snuggle up in. Ensure this is regularly changed and doesn’t become damp. Blankets are not recommended as bunnies may chew on them, causing a blockage in the gut.
  • During really cold weather, provide a couple of microwaveable pet-safe heat pads each evening for them to lie on.

Find lots more great tips for caring for your rabbits throughout the year >>


WINTER TOP TIP

Keeping things dry is a number one priority a damp environment in freezing weather will seriously affect your pets’ health. Wet bedding will freeze on cold nights, which could lead to your pets becoming ill. Clean out the paper bedding in the toilet area daily and their whole home regularly, at least once a week. Always replace a small amount of used, un-soiled bedding to maintain familiar scents and reduce stress.


How cold is too cold? Check out our temperature guide

  • The RSPCA recommends a temperature of between 10-20°C as ideal for pet rabbits. Anything below 10°C is too cold for them.
  • Guinea pigs are sensitive to temperature changes. Temperatures above 26°C can cause heatstroke and below 15°C can cause them to become chilled. They should be housed indoors, away from direct heat sources (radiators/sunny windows) and draughts. Room temperatures of 17-20°C are ideal.
  • Ferrets need well ventilated, dry and draught free housing at a temperature of between 15-21°C.

Give your guinea pigs a helping hand

Guinea pigs are vulnerable to all extremes of weather and very cold or very hot temperatures are dangerous for them. During the warmer months of the year, your guineas will be happy housed outdoors in a large, good quality hutch with attached run. In winter, it may be best to move them indoors. If this is just not possible, then, just as with rabbits, you need to give their accommodation a winter health check:

Find lots more great tips for caring for your guinea pigs throughout the year >>


WINTER TOP TIP

Water bottles need to be checked several times a time to make sure the contents is not too cold or has frozen. Also check the metal spout hasn’t iced up. Wrapping water bottles in bubble wrap or an old sock can help. Access to clean, fresh drinking water at all times is essential or your pets could be coming seriously ill. Bunnies may drink more in the winter if their access to a moisture-rich grass is limited.


Find ways to keep your ferret friends cosy

Ferrets are actually more tolerant of the cold than they are of heat, but they still need extra help to stay warm and comfortable in winter.

  • Outdoor cages ideally need to be inside a shed, but if this isn’t possible, place them in a sheltered spot, with a cover on at night, and a cosy bedding box inside to sleep in. Your ferrets will also need cleaning out daily to keep things dry – a damp environment in freezing weather will affect their health.
  • Ferrets will appreciate some fleecy blankets and sleeping sacks to snuggle up in.
  • As with other outdoor pets, regularly check water supplies aren’t frozen. Your ferrets will also need more calories to keep warm so give them extra rations of ferret food.
  • Consider installing a pet-safe shed heater to take the chill off, but ensure any wires are covered and your pets cannot get too close to it to avoid overheating.

Find lots more great tips for caring for your ferrets throughout the year >>


WINTER TOP TIP

Small pets may need a little more food in winter  to maintain their body temperature and condition, so allow for this when serving up their daily nuggets. As fresh grass is less readily available, bunnies and piggies will require plenty of good quality feeding hay to munch on. Never feed greens or vegetables that are frosty or frozen.


Extra protection for indoor small pets

Indoor pets, such as hamsters, rats, mice, gerbils, degus and chinchillas, may also need some extra warmth on the coldest days.

  • Move them out of drafts – cold air from windows and doors can give small pets a chill.
  • Make sure their enclosure is in a secure area where they can stay warm without overheating.
  • Provide extra bedding to snuggle into on cold days – and change any soiled bits regularly to keep things fresh and dry.
  • Protect them against household fumes. There are lots of things – including non-stick frying pans and wood burning stoves – that produce fumes that we don’t notice, but which can be harmful for small pets.

WINTER TOP TIP

Our small pets still need regular exercise during the winter. Find time during the warmer parts of the day to let your rabbits or ferrets have a run-around in the garden – but don’t let them get wet and cold. If there’s unrelenting wind and rain, allocate a room indoors (not too warm) where they can have some playtime every day, with toys and healthy treats to forage for, with deep piles of hay and tunnels and boxes to hide in.


!! Keep a very close eye on your pets’ health this winter !!

it’s really important to give your small pets a weekly health check, especially in the winter months. As with all healthcare issues, prevention is better than cure – and spotting problems early can make all the difference to your pets enjoying a speedy recovery or becoming very ill.

  • Ferrets can’t catch a cold, but they can get a form of influenza which can be passed from human to ferret and ferret to human. Healthy animals can normally fight it off, but older and younger ferrets may find it difficult to recover and should always be taken to the vet for treatment.
  • While bunnies cannot contract a human cold, they can suffer from infections of the upper respiratory tract, causing a runny nose, runny eyes and sneezing, which is commonly called ‘snuffles’.
  • Chinchillas are very susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections, which can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia – a condition that can be very serious for guinea pigs, too. Symptoms include sneezing, coughing, discharge from the nose and eyes, a dull and depressed appearance and loss of appetite.
  • Both gerbils and hamsters can catch a cold from humans, so if you have one, don’t handle your pets. Find out more about pets and winter illnesses >>

What pets can get pet insurance cover? Can you get multi-pet cover? What types of pet insurance are available? How does pet insurance pay out? We answer some of the most commonly asked questions to help you make an informed decision about pet insurance >>


WINTER TOP TIP

Spending quality time with your small pets is essential throughout the year – interacting with their human is a highlight of their day. It’s perhaps even more important in winter when the days are short, and life can get a bit boring – both for us and our pet animals! Keep daily feeding and exercise times consistent and schedule in some time every day for play, grooming and some extra special attention.

Create safe and exciting spaces and runs for your small pets to enjoy all year round with Runaround connection kits >>


Help your small furry friends stay cosy and warm all winter long with Nap & Nest!

BRAND NEW Excel Nap & Nest is a super absorbent, luxury paper bedding and litter for rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, and small animals that’s made from unused offcuts from teabag production. Soft on little paws, it’s easy to spot clean, reducing waste and making each bag last longer.

How to use: Remove the bedding from the pack a handful at a time and gently pull it apart. Add a 3-5cm layer to your small animals’ bedding and toilet areas. Remove and replace and soiled areas of bedding daily.

Discover more cost-effective ways to look after your small pets >>

Are hamsters nocturnal? Do guinea pigs spend more time awake or asleep? Do chinchillas sleep upside down? Do rats only come out at night? Some of our small pets’ sleeping habits seem a little odd to us, but there are some very good reasons why their snoozing patterns are different to ours >>


Are your small pets, Burgess small pets? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

CARE MORE Find lots of useful advice on caring for your rabbitsguinea pigschinchillasratshamstersgerbils and ferrets from Burgess, the pet experts.


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