Moving your small pets indoors for the winter

As wintry weather starts to settle in, should you move your small outdoor pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets indoors? When winter arrives in a bitter, bleak, bone-chilling blast, some of our small pets cope with it better than others. Providing they have well insulated, draught-free accommodation, and lots and lots of hay and suitable bedding material, rabbits
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23rd November 2023

As wintry weather starts to settle in, should you move your small outdoor pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets indoors?

When winter arrives in a bitter, bleak, bone-chilling blast, some of our small pets cope with it better than others.

Providing they have well insulated, draught-free accommodation, and lots and lots of hay and suitable bedding material, rabbits and ferrets can adapt quite well to colder temperatures. Guinea pigs, on the other hand, don’t do well in chilly conditions and really need to be brought indoors if possible.

Keep reading as we answer some of your FAQs about helping our small pet friends cope with winter.

  • Should you bring outdoor rabbits inside?
  • What are the best ways to keep outdoor rabbits cosy?
  • Should indoor rabbits have some outdoor time in winter?
  • Where’s the best place for guinea pigs during the coldest months of the year?
  • How do you keep outdoor ferrets warm?

 

HOW COLD IS TOO COLD? 

  • 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 very 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.

 

Veterinary charity PDSA advises: “Our small pets (such as rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets) can really feel the cold and changes in weather and are very susceptible to temperature changes. A sudden drop in temperatures can be a real shock to the system, but there are a number of things you can do to help them.” The charity suggests taking the following steps:

  • If your pets normally live outdoors, bring them into a sheltered area that is out of draughts, such as a shed or car-free garage protected from rain and snow. Pets that are used to living outside may find a centrally heated home quite a stark contrast, so a half-way house as suggested above is ideal, but if you haven’t got that option, control the temperature, so it’s not too warm for them. Make sure they have access to natural light and an exercise run.
  • Keep them cosy. All small pets should have extra bedding over winter so make sure there’s plenty, that it’s dry and very deep so they can snuggle right down.
  • If there’s no option but to keep hutches and runs outside, then drape a blanket or piece of carpet over the open mesh door of their living quarters to keep out strong winds and driving rain or snow. You’ll need to make sure that there’s plenty of fresh air for your pets though. You can also insulate outside walls with newspapers covered with plastic sheeting but make sure this doesn’t obstruct the ventilation. You can also get pet-safe microwavable heat pads to help keep hutches warm.
  • Don’t forget to check water bottles and their nozzles every day – multiple times a day in very cold weather – to make sure they aren’t frozen. Provide other sources of water too, such as a water bowl.

Is the outdoor life better for bunnies and guinea pigs, or will these small pets have a more enriching time if they’re kept indoors? >>

 

BE WINTER WISE 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.

 

Q: Should you bring outdoor rabbits inside?

A: RWAF (Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund) advises: “If you have provided a good setup for your rabbits, they should be fine for the whole winter, but there are times when you may feel they would be better off indoors either in extreme weather conditions or when fireworks are being let off.” The organisation recommends:

  • The temperature where they are being kept indoors must not be too high, which can cause rabbits to overheat initially as well as lose their protective winter coat, which would cause them to suffer when they go back outside.
  • As prey animals, rabbits find unfamiliar environments, sights, sounds and smells stressful so try and normalise their temporary indoor home as much as possible. Keep them somewhere quiet, avoid cooking anything with a strong smell nearby.
  • It’s a good idea to bring some of the enrichment items from their outdoor enclosure.
  • Ensure that the area is rabbit-proofed, slippery floors are covered, and the rabbits have sufficient space.

Indoor rabbits hopping around your home means that your bunnies are never short of attention and are closely involved in family life >>

 

***WINTER WARMERS!***

Get your rabbits nice and cosy with our Indoor Rabbit bundle and enjoy 10% discount! This bundle combines six of our quality Burgess Excel products that are high in beneficial fibre and a great part of your small animals’ diet. It includes the world’s first indoor rabbit nuggets specially formulated with vitamin D, dandelion & nettle to support your rabbits’ needs, as well as our Winter Berry Bakes which are packed with cranberry and apple for that perfect seasonal forage treat!

 

Q: What are the best ways to keep outdoor rabbits cosy?

A: Rabbits have warm coats and thick fur pads on the bottoms of their feet, so generally they’re quite well equipped for colder weather.

In the wild, underground rabbit warrens will stay around a constant 10 degrees. However, the RSPCA recommends a temperature of between 10-20 degrees for our pet rabbits. There are some easy adjustments you can make to your rabbits’ housing to help them adapt to the changing seasons. We’ve some top tips from RAAG – the Rabbit Awareness Action Group:

  • Give your rabbits’ housing a full MOT before the cold weather starts to hit. Check for any damage, holes, leaks, damp – anything that can cause rain or the cold to get in. Pay particular attention to their roofing, check it’s completely watertight and there’s no sign of damage.
  • Add some extra insulation to your rabbits’ flooring with thick layers of newspaper and replace this daily.
  • Check any water sources a couple of times a day to ensure they are still drinkable. If you use water bottles, wrapping them in bubble wrap, or an old sock, can help keep the frost at bay.

There are some items you can buy or make at home that can help keep your rabbits cosy and snug in the winter months:

  • Pet safe heated pads: These can be popped in the microwave to warm up for your rabbits to lie on.
  • Hidey holes and tunnels: In the colder months, put some feeding hay in these to add some extra insulation and provide a warm space for your rabbits to retreat to.
  • Add more bedding hay or paper bedding into their sleeping areas during cold snaps. Bedding such as Burgess Excel Nap & Nest provides some extra warmth. Don’t use things like blankets or fleece blankets. As rabbits like to chew, these could cause an intestinal blockage.

In winter, exercise can also help warm your bunnies up. For outdoor rabbits, continue to let them have a (supervised) run around in the garden, just make sure it’s not too wet or cold for them. Provide plenty of enrichment, for example, hay feeders or snuffle mats, to encourage your rabbits to move for their tasty feeding hay.

And, of course, a fluffy companion will help keep your rabbits warm. Rabbits are social animals, so should always be kept in suitable pairs or small groups. A furry bunny friend is perfect for those cold winter nights to snuggle up to.

In the wild, rabbits live in large social groups that are territorial with a dominance hierarchy – which is why introducing a new bunny buddy has to be done carefully >>

 

Q: Should indoor rabbits have some outdoor time in winter?

A: If you have indoor rabbits, it can be beneficial for them to enjoy some time outdoors, weather permitting.

RWAF says: “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.”

  • 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.
  • 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.

Once traditionally always housed outdoors, many people enjoy keeping their guinea pigs or rabbits as indoor pets – and there are all sorts of reasons why >>

 

BE WINTER WISE Outdoor pets will also need cleaning out daily to keep things dry and hygienic – a damp environment in freezing weather will affect their health.

 

Q: Where’s the best place for guinea pigs during the coldest months of the year?

A: Guinea pigs don’t like the cold and really need to come inside during the winter. Create a quiet, cosy space for them in a porch or utility room. You also provide them with a Pigloo each. These are made from a durable cotton outer, a layer of wadding and a hardwearing fleece inner and are a great place for your piggies to snuggle and snooze while feeling safe, warm and comfortable.

If bringing them indoors is just not possible, then, just as with rabbits, you need to give their accommodation a winter health check.

  • First, check that their hutch is water and wind proof. You’ll need to cover it at night, or during really bad weather, with a hutch cover or an old blanket and tarpaulin – always ensuring that there’s just enough space for fresh air to circulate.
  • Insulate the inside of the hutch with thick newspaper, changed daily, and lots and lots of bedding hay and nesting material such as Excel Nap & Nest. Made from unused offcuts from the teabag production industry, it’s highly absorbent, soft on little paws and ideal for your piggies to create a cosy nest to nap in! Microwaveable pet-safe heat pads are also a good idea to provide extra warmth.
  • Guinea pigs will also need a chance to exercise in their run – but don’t let them get wet and cold – or in an indoor area.
  • Guinea pigs need guinea pig friends to cuddle up with – both for companionship and for extra warmth.

Essential checks for your small pets this winter >>

 

***WINTER WARMERS!***

Get your guineas nice and cosy with our Indoor Guinea Pig bundle and enjoy 10% discount! This bundle combines six of our quality Burgess Excel products that are high in beneficial fibre and a great part of your small animals’ diet. It includes the world’s first indoor guinea pig nuggets which are made with a calm formula, as well as Winter Berry Bakes which are packed with cranberry and apple for that perfect seasonal forage treat!

 

Q: How do you keep outdoor ferrets warm?

A: Ferrets are actually more tolerant of the cold than they are of heat, but those that are kept outside need extra help to stay warm and comfortable in winter.

  • Outdoor cages ideally need to be inside a shed with a pet-safe heater to ward off the worst of the wintry chill. If this isn’t possible, place their accommodation in a sheltered spot, with a cover on at night, and a cosy bedding box inside to sleep in. You could also add some ferret sleep sacks and fleecy blankets – ferrets love to make nests in them.
  • 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.
  • If it snows, you can safely let your ferrets out to play for around 10 minutes – many ferrets love tunnelling in the snow – but keep a close eye on them or they might do a disappearing act. Keep snowy playtimes short so your ferrets don’t run the risk of getting too wet and cold.

Outdoor enclosures that combine a well-ventilated and well-insulated indoor section with attached run offers your ferrets constant access to lots of space and activities >>

 

*** FEED YOUR FERRETS WITH TOP QUALITY FERRET FOOD THIS WINTER***

Because ferrets have a very high metabolic rate, and a short digestive tract, they process food very quickly. This means they need to eat little and often. Leaving delicious and nutritious ferret pellets out throughout the day will allow your ferrets to eat at will, providing them with all the essential nutrition they need to stay healthy and happy in each tasty bite!

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

 

BE WINTER WISE 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.

Are your bunnies Burgess bunnies? Are your guinea pigs Burgess guinea pigs? Are your ferrets Burgess ferrets? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

CARE MORE Find more great advice on all aspects of rabbit careguinea pig care and ferret care, from Burgess, the pet experts!

 

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BRING ON THE HAY! When fresh grass isn’t as readily available, it’s essential that you provide your rabbits and guinea pigs with plenty of fresh, sweet-smelling, munchable hay. In fact, hay should make up around 85-90% of their diet and is really important for small furries!

CARING FOR YOUR GUINEA PIGS’ SENSITIVE SKIN Gorgeous guinea pigs are susceptible to a number of skin complaints, which is why owners of these chatty cavies need to keep a close eye on their pets.

FERRETS IN RESIDENCE When it comes to designing the perfect animal pad, where do you start? The first thing to think about is how to create a home that will enable the residents to act naturally. With ferrets, you’ll need to cover off a whole mixture of activities and behaviours.

GAMES TO PLAY WITH YOUR RABBITS We’ve some fun ideas to add interest and excitement to your buns’ day, which will help them stay physically and mentally fit.

CAN GUINEA PIGS EAT BANANAS? Can guinea pigs eat apples? Can guinea pigs eat grapes? Can guinea pigs eat celery? What about strawberries, tomatoes, courgettes and cucumbers? What can guinea pigs eat?  And what fresh foods should you never give to your guinea pigs?

CARING FOR YOUR FERRETS While ferrets are great fun, they have very specific needs that must be met so they can be healthy and happy and live their best ferret lives.

PROTECT YOUR PETS’ HEALTH DURING THE COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS There’s lots you can do during this challenging time – and help is available for people and pets most in need.

FINDING A VET FOR YOUR SMALL PETS Did you know that just like hospital specialists, vets have different areas of expertise? That’s why it can be a good idea to seek out a vet that specialises in small animal medicine.

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