Is It Safe to Let Indoor Rabbits Play in the Snow?


Is it safe for rabbits to play in snow?

There are so many fun videos online of pet rabbits happily playing in the snow. We want to give our rabbits the chance to have fun and happily play in the snow, but not everything you see online is actually safe for our beloved pet rabbits. Luckily in this case, as long as you are careful to limit the amount of time your rabbit spends outside, it’s okay to give them some playtime in the snow.

It is safe to allow indoor rabbits to play in the snow if the temperature is above freezing (32ºF). Only allow your rabbit outside for 10-20 minutes at a time to avoid the chances of the rabbit developing hypothermia. During this time you should monitor your rabbit’s behavior and bring them inside if they are no longer actively playing.

Rabbits who are accustomed to outdoor weather will grow heavier coats to deal with winter temperatures. However, indoor rabbits usually do not have as much protection, so we need to be a lot more careful about introducing them to cold environments. Keeping your rabbit from getting too wet and keeping them indoors when it’s too cold are both important for preventing hypothermia in the snowy season.

Can rabbits play in the snow?

Most rabbits have a lot of fun playing in the snow. It’s a great way for a curious rabbit to explore something new, and rabbits can use their impressive digging abilities to make tunnels in the snow. As long as you limit the amount of time that your rabbit spends in the snow to only 10-20 minutes, there should be very little worry of danger for your rabbit. 

You do, of course, want to make sure you pay attention to your rabbit’s behavior, so you can bring them inside if they are no longer active. It’s best if your rabbit remains active for the duration that they are outside. As soon as they start to sit down or huddle up, it’s time to bring your rabbit back inside.

While they are playing outside, you also want to make sure the rabbit has access to an indoor or warm space. This could be leaving the door open, so your rabbit can go back inside when they are feeling cold, or it could be keeping a carrier on the ground with warm towels inside. Once your rabbit goes back inside the carrier, you know it’s time to take them into your warm home.

When your rabbit is playing in the snow, you obviously want to keep them located in an area with fresh snow. Avoid any place that might have pollutants from the road or urine from neighborhood dogs or other animals, as this could end up making a rabbit sick.

rabbit playing in bucket of snow
You can shovel some snow into a large plastic bin for your rabbit to play with inside.

Playing with snow inside

Depending on the conditions outside, it may be safer to bring some snow inside for your rabbit so play with instead. This is ideal if the temperature outside is below freezing, or if you are unable to closely supervise your rabbit. It also prevents the possibility of your rabbit developing hypothermia since they will still be out in cold temperatures.

The easiest way to give your rabbits indoor playtime is to shovel some snow into a large plastic bin, or an extra litter box for your rabbit. Then place the bin in a place where your curious bunny can check it out and explore. They’ll probably even get on top of it and start digging into the snow. When they’re done, your rabbit will easily be able to hop away from the snow and snuggle up without ever getting too cold.

Symptoms of hypothermia

If your rabbit gets too cold, they can get hypothermia. Normal rabbit body temperature is between 101-103°F. If their temperature drops below 100°F, they are at the beginning stages of hypothermia.

Hypothermia is especially a problem if your rabbit’s fur gets soaking wet while they are playing in the snow. While their outer coat can resist moisture to some extent, if their undercoat gets wet, the fur takes a very long time to dry off. If they get wet, your rabbit will be stuck with freezing wet fur for an elongated period of time, which is usually the cause of hypothermia.

If your rabbit is outdoors for only a short period of time, it is unlikely that they will develop hypothermia. However, it’s still best to be aware of the symptoms so you can take action when necessary. 

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Sitting without moving, or moving very slowly.
  • Ears and feet that feel cold to the touch or look pale in color.
  • Shallow breathing.
  • Weak heartbeat.
  • Non-responsive, or doesn’t move around or respond to you when you try to interact with them.

If you believe your rabbit has developed hypothermia, it’s important to contact your rabbit’s vet to set up an emergency appointment. In the meantime, you don’t want to wait before you start getting your rabbit’s body temperature back to normal. At this point you will want to start warming the rabbit up externally:

  • Wrapping them in a towel.
  • Bringing your rabbit to a warmer area of the house. 
  • Make sure your rabbit is completely dry.
  • Place your rabbit on a heating pad (at the lowest setting) or next to a hot water bottle.
  • Providing lukewarm water for your rabbit

Preventing hypothermia for rabbits in the snow

As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s much better to plan ahead and make sure your rabbit can have fun playtime in the snow while also staying cautious so we can prevent any dangerous symptoms of hypothermia. 

How cold is too cold?

My first piece of advice for prevention is to make sure you only bring your rabbit outdoors when it’s not too cold. For an indoor rabbit, you want to avoid temperatures above freezing, so 0ºC or 32ºF. A little warmer than that is best, but even indoor rabbits have fur coats so they can withstand cold temperatures for short periods of time.

You also want to be sure that there is no serious wind chill. Strong winds can make the temperature feel much colder than it actually is, so take that into account when determining if it’s too cold to bring your rabbit outside.

Consider indoor temperatures too

Extreme changes in temperature can be stressful for rabbits. Rather than bringing your rabbit straight from a 70ºF or warmer house to the low temperatures outside, it might be better to allow the house to cool a bit first. Alternatively, you can keep the rabbit room at a lower temperature than the rest of the house. Rabbits actually do best in temperatures of about 50ºF – 68ºF. Most people consider that to be pretty chilly, but rabbits love it!

Avoid long amounts of time outdoors

Keep your rabbit’s playtime in the snow to only 10-20 minutes. This will prevent their coats from being completely soaked through and it will keep them from being out in the cold for too long. During this time, you want to make sure your rabbit is pretty active too. They’ll start to get cold as soon as they stop moving around, so it’s best to bring them inside as soon as your rabbit is finished playing.

Dry off your rabbit

When you bring your rabbit inside, make sure to towel them off as much as possible so that their coat does not hang onto too much moisture. A rabbit with a wet coat can start to develop hypothermia even after they are moved to a warmer place, so it’s best to dry them off as much as possible. Continue to monitor them for a few hours after coming inside to make sure they don’t show any symptoms of hypothermia.

Can rabbits eat snow?

While your rabbit is out playing in the snow, they will inevitably end up eating a little bit. That is simply how rabbits explore the world since they don’t have fingers and hands like we do. Don’t worry if your rabbit ends up eating a little bit of snow while they are playing. 

However, if your rabbit starts to eat mouthfuls of snow, and acting like it’s a treat, you may want to remove them from the snow. While it’s true that snow is just a form of water, the freezing temperature could potentially end up causing problems in their digestive system if it’s eaten in large amounts.

Sources

  1. “Indoor Rabbits Going Outside in Winter.” Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund. https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-care-advice/rabbit-housing/indoor-rabbits-going-outside-in-winter.
  2. “Rabbit Winter Care Advice.” RSPCA. http://wabbitwiki.com/images/0/06/Rabbit_Winter_Care_Advice.pdf. 

Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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