Keep small animals inside
or outside during winter?

16/11/2021 Housing & purchase Small animal

Keep small animals inside or outside during winter?

Brrr ... cold! The days are getting shorter and the average hours of sunshine are decreasing daily, we are heading towards the winter months. Instead of being outside, we look forward to spending time at home, cosy by the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate. A lot also changes for our pets at this time of the year, not in the least for small animals and rabbits. Many people wonder what to do with pets that live outside during cold days. Can your small animal live outside during the winter or is it necessary to take precautions? Read about it in our blog!

A nice and warm winter fur makes all the difference


Let's start with the most important part; the winter coat! Rabbits and (some) small animals grow a winter fur in the run-up to the colder months. This warm fur with a thick undercoat protects them against the cold. However, not all small animals have the luxury to grow a warm winter coat.

For small animals without a winter fur, staying outside is therefore too cold. The animals that do grow a winter fur can in many cases stay outside in the winter, but it’s necessary to take precautions. Therefore it’s important to know whether your pet has a winter coat or not. We’ll discuss this later in the article.

Pros and cons


Every advantage has its disadvantage. We’ve already read that not every small animal can be kept outside. But there are also advantages and disadvantages to moving your pet to an indoor location. It’s a good idea to weigh up the pros and cons to see what’s best for your small animal and your situation. Should you let your furry friend hibernate indoors or leave him outside in his own familiar environment? We’ve listed the pros and cons for you:
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Disadvantages of spending the winter outdoors

  • Paying enough attention to your furry friends is often a challenge on rainy days
  • There’s more work to do in winter, such as replacing frozen bottles and regularly checking your small animal’s hutch.
Disadvantages of spending the winter indoors

  • Lack of space is in some cases a problem when bringing in small animals
  • Allergies in the family? Keeping your pet indoors isn’t always possible in certain situations
  • Outdoor pets do not always like to stay inside the house
Advantages of spending the winter indoors

  • It’s easy, because you no longer have to go outside in the rain or on cold days
  • It’s less work, because it’s not necessary to defrost frozen bottles every time
  • It’s cosy and you automatically get more contact with your small animal when it’s living inside
Advantages of spending the winter outdoors

  • Your gnawer is kept in its own environment and does not have to get used to a new place inside the house
  • No mess in the house, smells and dirt stay outside and your house stays clean

Preparing a small animal house for the winter: 5 tips


While some small animals can easily hibernate outdoors, there are others that need your help. Have you thought everything through carefully and decided to house your small animal outside during the winter? Then it’s a good idea to prepare the small animal hutch for the winter. Read some tips below. 

Tip 1: Protection from the wet is absolutely essential
Avoid driving rain entering the shelter and protect your pet from rising damp, snow and hail. Preferably place the shelter on a solid surface such as tiles to avoid rain and rising damp entering the shelter.
Tip 2: Protect the hutch from wind and draughts
Draughts and wind can be very dangerous for pets, especially for small animals and rabbits. Prevent wind from entering the hutch and make sure that it’s draught-free during the winter months when the wind can get icy cold. The cold winter breezes come from the north, so it is advisable not to place the opening of the hutch facing north.
Tip 3: Insulate the rabbit hutch in winter
If you want to keep your pets extra warm, it’s a good idea to insulate the hutch. Protect your rodents with plexiglass or an insulating and protective cover for the hutch. Always ensure good air circulation and hygiene.
Tip 4: Together is always warmer than alone
Rabbits and many small animals are naturally sociable, they really appreciate companionship of their own kind. But keeping rabbits or small animals in pairs or compatible groups has even more advantages. In the winter months, the animals can keep each other warm by snuggling up together. This is a great advantage if your animals are outside during the cold autumn and winter months.
Tip 5: Winter tools for your rabbits and small animals
Fortunately, there are many tools available that can help you make the shelter as comfortable as possible in winter. For extra warmth, provide the floor with bedding such as straw for rabbits or guinea pigs. Or give your small animal a nice fleece blanket to crawl into when it gets colder. Below are some products that will get you and your pets safely through the winter months.

Making a final decision ... inside or outside?


It’s important to know that you can’t keep moving your rabbit or small animal from indoors to outdoors or vice versa. If the outside temperature differs from the room temperature by more than 10 degrees, it’s certainly not a good idea to move your pets indoors or outdoors. This is because the fur of your rabbit or small animal adapts to the ambient temperature.

It quickly becomes too warm inside for animals with a winter coat. An animal without a winter coat, on the other hand, will be too cold outside. It’s therefore good to choose indoors or outdoors and not to change your mind before the new (warmer) season arrives.

Rabbits in winter


Rabbits can cope with the cold fairly well, but tend to suffer from too much heat. Your rabbit can already get into trouble at temperatures up to +25 degrees, but colder days up to -10 degrees are easily tolerated. So it’s no problem to keep your rabbits outside in winter, provided your rabbit isn’t ill and has a thick winter coat. Your rabbit’s winter fur starts to grow around August, so it’s best to keep your rabbit outside when this starts to happen.

Are you moving your long-eared friend to the outdoors after or during the shedding season? Then the winter fur will not be developed well enough and your rabbit will get cold. Besides good health and a warm winter coat, it’s important to house your rabbits in pairs or groups. Rabbits living alone lack the warmth of a companion to keep them warm. Rabbits are true group animals and should not be kept alone. But apart from that, bringing 2 rabbits together in the winter months also has a positive effect: it provides extra warmth!

Ferrets in winter


Ferrets also have two different types of coat: a summer coat and a winter coat. Your ferret’s winter coat has a thick undercoat so it can keep itself warm during the winter. Leaving ferrets outside in the winter is a wonderful idea, but their hutch will need some adjustments on cold days.

This means the hutch must be insulated, draught-free and provide sufficient warmth. To provide your ferret with extra warmth it’s better not to use straw. This can cause problems with your ferret's respiratory system. You can provide extra warmth for winter days by offering your ferret warm fleece blankets or a warm fleece ferret house. The main thing is to provide a warm place for your ferret to retreat to for a nap on cold days.

Guinea pigs in winter


It’s possible to keep your guinea pig outside in winter, or rather your guinea pigs. A guinea pig is a group animal and should be kept in pairs or groups, especially during the winter months. This way, your guinea pigs can keep each other warm by snuggling up together. It's also important that your guinea pigs are in good health. Sick or pregnant animals need to be protected from the cold and shouldn't be left outside on cold days.

In addition to good health and a good group structure, it’s necessary to provide a protected outdoor area. The outdoor hutch for guinea pigs in winter should be draught-free and provide warmth and protection on colder days. It's also a good idea to provide them with the necessary hiding places. Don't you have this option? Then it's a good idea to keep your guinea pigs inside for the winter, where they'll be warm and cosy. Of course, there are several ways to prepare your current guinea pig house for the winter. See how to do this below.

Rats and mice in winter


Rats and mice can cope fairly well with lower temperatures, but feel most comfortable at temperatures between 15 and 21 degrees. Most rats and mice prefer to stay indoors where it’s warm and comfortable. Would you like to keep your pet rats or mice outside? Make sure your hutch is insulated and provides enough warmth for your pet to feel comfortable. Rats and mice are particularly sensitive to draughts in the hutch. Draughts make the animals sick and can have a serious effect on your pet’s health.

It’s therefore important that the outdoor hutch of your pet rat or mice is draught-free, provides warmth and is well protected against winter weather conditions. Use enough nesting material to keep your pets warm and to ensure that the heat is retained longer in the hutch.

In a nutshell

Rabbits, guinea pigs, degus and ferrets can be kept outside in winter, if their outdoor hutch, health and winter fur allow it. Hamsters, gerbils, rats and mice should be kept indoors during the autumn and winter months.
It’s important to choose the right moment. This way your pet won’t suffer from temperature differences. It’s best to bring your rabbit or small animal indoors at the beginning of September, before it gets really cold.
Avoid moisture, draught and driving rain from entering the shelter. Provide a warm bedding or nesting material for your small animal, so that the heat remains in the cage longer and can warm your pet.
Of course, you can choose to keep your small animal or rabbit outside on its own, but in most cases, this is not advisable. Rabbits and many small animals are group animals and should be kept with at least one other member of the same species. Besides this, a companion won’t only provide cosiness, but also warmth on cold days!
If your small animal lives inside, it’s not a good idea to let it out during the winter months, not even for a short while. Indoor pets do not have the winter fur required for outdoor activities. Even playing in the snow is far too cold for these animals, because they don’t have a winter coat.