The days are getting longer, temperatures are starting to rise and flowers are peeking up to brighten our gardens. While we happily note a changing of the seasons, our pets do too, and many will be just as eager as us to spend some time outdoors, enjoying the sunshine.
However, if you’re thinking of moving your small pets – such as rabbits and guinea pigs – back outside, it’s something that has to be done very carefully.
Rabbits aren’t suited to rapidly changing temperatures
Rabbits don’t cope well with temperature extremes – in the wild, underground bunny burrows stay at almost the same temperature all year round. Rabbits naturally regulate their body temperature by growing a thinner or thicker coat according to the season. So, if you have house rabbits, they’ll be unlikely to grow thick winter coats as they have no need for them inside a warm house.
On sunny days, it’s fine to let your indoor buns have some garden time, but make sure they stay active to keep warm. Providing lots of exciting tunnels, pipes, a digging box and a hay wall will keep them busy. The RSCPA recommends waiting for temperatures to reach between 10-20°C before letting your indoor buns spend time outdoors.
You can tell whether your rabbits are too cold by gently feeling their ears, which should be warm to the touch. Other signs that it’s too chilly for comfort is if your buns are sitting hunched up with their fur fluffed up.
Veterinary charity PDSA advises: “Indoor rabbits will benefit from time outside so they can get some fresh air and enjoy some fresh grass. However, the sudden change in temperature when going from a warm house to a cold garden can come as a big surprise for them. Try to give them regular access to the outside as the seasons change so they have time to adjust. It’s also really important they have free access to get back indoors if they start to feel cold and lots of houses, hides or tunnels filled with hay so they can stay warm.”
- Find out more about adapting your rabbits’ housing to the changing seasons >>
- Get all the essential info about looking after happy, healthy rabbits with The RWAF Guide to Rabbit Care >>
Milder weather suits mild-mannered guinea pigs
Guinea pigs can’t tolerate very cold or very hot weather and throughout the year need to be protected from draughts and temperature extremes. The RSPCA advises that temperatures below 15°C can cause them to become chilled and above 26°C can cause heatstroke.
Animal welfare charity Blue Cross recommends “Guinea pigs struggle with high and low temperatures, so wait until the weather is consistently warm to reintroduce them back outside.”
When moving your piggies back outdoors, ensure that their accommodation is well insulated and sheltered from the wind. Night-time can still be chilly in spring, so add extra insulation by covering the roof and exterior walls with a blanket or tarpaulin – ensuring that their enclosure is still well ventilated.
Blue Cross also suggest using pet-safe heating pads such as a SnuggleSafe if the mercury dips: “These last several hours and will help to keep your guinea pig warm but make sure it has the cover on it and is buried under some bedding so that the heat isn't directly on their skin.”
An easy way to ensure your guinea pigs are warm and snug is to provide them with lots of extra high-quality hay and paper bedding to snuggle into. A cosy sleeping box – which could be a cardboard box, or a wooden hidey house – with deep piles of hay inside will give your piggies an extra warm space to snuggle into when it’s time for nap.
- Find out more about adapting your guinea pigs’ housing to the changing seasons >>
- Discover top tips on looking after happy, healthy guinea pigs with The GPAW Guide to Guinea Pigs >>
Check out our top 5 changing seasons tips
- Ensure your small pets’ outdoor tunnels and runs are predator proof and provide plenty of space, shelter and shade.
- Provide plenty of safe places to hide so your pets have somewhere snug to go if they feel frightened by something.
- Add more high-quality hay or paper bedding into their sleeping areas if there are any unseasonal cold snaps. Don’t use fleeces or blankets – for constant chewers like rabbits and guinea pigs, this could cause an intestinal blockage.
- Make sure your pets have constant access to fresh water – bowls for bunnies (as lapping is the most natural way for them to drink) and sipper bottles for guinea pigs.
- Having a fluffy companion will help keep your pets warm and toasty. Rabbits and guinea pigs are both social animals, so should always be kept in suitable pairs or small groups of the same species. Never keep rabbits with guinea pigs. Guinea pigs have different dietary requirements to rabbits – and bunnies will often bully guinea pigs which can lead to injury. Rabbits can also carry diseases that are fatal to guinea pigs.
If you found this interesting, you may also like:
WHY GUINEA PIGS LIKE TO PLAY HIDE AND PEEK As prey animals, guinea pigs like to have a range of safe hidey holes to escape to if they become alarmed about something. Giving your pet guinea pigs the best possible piggy life means creating an environment that lets them exhibit their natural behaviours in safe, predator-proof accommodation.
DO YOUR RABBIT HAVE ENOUGH ROOM? In 2010, the original ‘Connection Kit’ was developed to help permanently connect rabbits’ housing space to a larger enclosure or run. Aiming to enrich their lives and allow them to hop, jump, binky, hide forage and run. In their wild environment, rabbits run around five miles a day which means quite simply a rabbit hutch is not enough!
HOW TO GIVE GREAT HOUSING TO YOUR RABBITS Our rabbits have five welfare needs. These are the five things that need to be met to help keep them happy and healthy.