Whether you own a rabbit, want to adopt one, or are just curious, you might have some questions about what happens to rabbits when the cold winter hits. Do rabbits hibernate? What happens to them when they can barely find food sources because the grass is covered in snow?
Hibernating is a survival mechanism for most animals during the winter months. Some animals hibernate as a means of coping with food scarcity and low temperatures, while others stay and adapt. But what about rabbits? Do they hibernate?
The short answer is a hard no. In this article, we’ll explore the answer and how they survive during the cold weather.
What is hibernation?
During the winter, animals have two choices to survive; stay or leave. Some migrate to other warmer locations where they can find food, while others stay to deal with the cold.
It can be very tough to deal with cold temperatures for those who stay. Food is scarce, and water is extremely cold as the cold pierces through their skin and fur.
Some animals hibernate, while others don’t. During hibernation, metabolism slows down dramatically; body temperatures drop, heart rate falls, and breathing slows down. The reason why animals hibernate is to conserve energy. They use the stored energy much more slowly.
Do rabbits hibernate?
No species of rabbit is known to hibernate. Rabbits remain active throughout the year. Their body anatomy isn’t designed to function in “power save” mode.
Rabbits have a constantly functioning digestive system that requires a high-fiber diet. Therefore, they have to stay active to look for food sources since the snow covers most grass, ground plants, and vegetation.
Also, rabbits can’t function well if their body temperature drops. They usually have normal temperatures of 102°F to 103°F, and hypothermia kicks in when the temperature drops below 100°F, which can be fatal. This is why hibernation doesn’t work for them.
How do rabbits survive during winter?
Rabbits spend most of their lives in the same place throughout the year in a 5-acre area. They don’t migrate or relocate.
Although they thrive better in cold temperatures than in hot temperatures, they need to stay warm during extremely cold weather.
During winter, rabbits constantly struggle to eat enough, stay warm, and avoid predators. Naturally, they have several adaptation methods to help them cope.
What do they eat?
Normally, rabbits eat grass and green vegetation to stay healthy and happy. After snowfalls, they can’t access such food sources.
As a result, they have to be less picky and feed on other foods that are not submerged in snow. They switch their diet to a wood-based diet such as tree bark, shrubs, twigs, and buds.
Another thing they eat is their feces, also known as cecotropes. Cecotropes are special types of poop that are softer and stickier. They are nutrient-rich and provide more protein and vitamins when food is scarce.
Where do they live?
Rabbits create burrows or hide in closed-in areas such as brush piles, hollowed stumps, and thick bushes during winter for three reasons:
- Keep warm since the temperature is usually stable- safe from rain, snow, and wind
- Hide from predators
- To be near a food source
You may also notice them more in your yard if it provides a place for them to eat and hide from predators.
Other adaptation methods
Rabbits molt (shed) their fur during certain seasons. They shed their coats twice yearly, shedding their summer and winter coats to adjust to warmer and cooler temperatures. As a result, during winter, rabbits grow a thick fur coat to help keep them warm.
As winter approaches and summer ends, rabbits tend to eat more food and seek food sources. This will help them add an extra layer of fat to provide insulation and energy to produce heat.
Finally, wild rabbits reduce their activities to conserve more energy. When they are not out there foraging for food, they are sleeping in the nests to save as much energy as possible.
How can you help rabbits during winter?
Rabbits have several adaptation methods to survive winter. They are typically born with instincts to keep themselves safe and survive the cold months. However, it’s still very difficult for them for the following reasons:
- Lack of food resources
- Attack by predators due to the loss of vegetation and so predators can see them easily.
- Hypothermia when it gets really cold.
Sadly, some of them barely survive. In fact, their survival rate during winter is only right around 30%.
So, how can you help rabbits survive winter?
Domesticated rabbits have very little to worry about because they have owners or caregivers. However, wild rabbits have to depend on themselves.
Since their main problems are lack of food and proper shelter to hide from predators, you can grow young trees, plants, weeds, twigs, thick bushes, solid fences, or leave your lawn slightly longer. This can give them access to food and shelter.
In addition, let them eat without feeling threatened. Remember to keep your distance since wild rabbits can be easily scared and might attack if they feel threatened.
Wild or domesticated, rabbits don’t hibernate, so they have to stay active all year round. Winter’s cold temperatures and food shortages force them to spend more time seeking food.
Fortunately, domesticated rabbits are safe because they benefit from human protection. Their owners provide food, shelter, and security.
However, wild rabbits can’t afford such a kind of luxury. They must rely on their survival mechanisms and instincts to cope with the harsh winter. But if you notice them in your yard more often during this season, you can help by giving them access to food and shelter.