Image of rabbits sleeping. The caption reads "Do Rabbits hibernate?."

Rabbits do not hibernate at anytime of the year in the United States. During the winter rabbits survive by limiting their activity thus reducing calories expended. Limited food sources like tree bark, twigs, wood boring insects and any dried grass they can find provides calories to survive.

Do rabbits hibernate

As stated, above rabbits do not hibernate, very few animals are true hibernators. Behavior changes do occur in rabbits though during the long and dark winter months.  There are many things rabbits do to prepare for the long winter ahead of them.

How do rabbits know winter is coming?

Is it the temperature? The leaves falling? Perhaps it is the DNA of the rabbit?  The truth is it is nothing like that. Rabbits know that winter is coming due to a phenomenon called “Photoperiodism.”

“Photoperiodism is the physiological reaction of organisms to the length of night or a dark period. It occurs in plants and animals. Photoperiodism can also be defined as the developmental responses of plants to the relative lengths of light and dark periods.”

Source: Wikipedia

When the rabbit’s retina starts seeing that the days are getting shorter his or her body starts reacting to that change in daylight hours.

Changes in fur coat

The first change a rabbit will experience in preparation for winter will be a new fur coat. Rabbits have three types of hair that makes up their fur or coat.

  • Guide Hairs – Guide hairs are very long and rough. This is part of your rabbit’s external hairs that you can easily see. These hairs are strong and stiff and provide no other function than to give guard hairs something to grow around and hold on to. So, the guide hairs “guide” the direction of growth for the guard hairs.
  • Guard Hairs – Guard hairs, also sometimes called “barb hair”, grow around the guide hairs. Approximately four guard hairs will grow up and around every single guide hair. The guard hairs tightly weave themselves together creating a seal or waterproof, dirt-proof and mostly anything proof coat. The important thing to remember is that nothing should be getting past this layer of rabbit hair
  • Down – Down hair is the type of hair that is below the guide and guard hairs. It is supposed to always be protected from water, dirt and anything else. There are about 60 down hairs to every guide hair. Rabbit down is short and about as fluffy as can be. This traps warm, dry air from there body and keeps them comfortable and warm. This type of hair will increase in preparation for winter.

These tree types of rabbit hair make up what we call fur.

Where rabbits sleep in winter

Some rabbits dig burrows, but this is not true for the eastern cottontail rabbit. Many rabbits find a small area and build a bed or nest. Hollow logs, under thick brush, use an abandoned burrow or take shelter under a porch or inside a barn.

Rabbits will gather anything they can to build a nest within these areas. They will often use straw, grass, hay, twigs and leaves. In addition to warmth the nest also provides camouflage from predators since most vegetation and trees have no leaves to offer cover.

What rabbits eat in the winter

Rabbits are herbivores and will never attempt to eat meat of any kind unless you count bugs. During spring, summer and fall rabbits have a lot of food available to them including grass, hay, crops in farm fields, fruits and flowers.

After winter sets in most vegetation dies leaving a shortage of food for herbivores. Rabbits first choice of winter food is farm fields that were harvested in the fall. They will scavenge for anything that was left behind like corn, wheat berries, soybeans or different hays like timothy or alfalfa.

The next food source rabbits will look for is dead grass or any other type of leafy greens that died and dried out. If none of these food sources are in supply, they will resort to eating twigs, tree bark and any wood dwelling insects they can find.

It is very important that rabbits have lots of fiber in their diet or they will encounter GI Stasis, a medical condition in which digestion stops and causes death.

How far do rabbits travel?

Not very far on average. It is believed that most rabbits will not travel out of an area of about 5 acres in area. Five acres is equivalent to about four and half American football fields or about 218,000 square feet.

How many rabbits survive the winter?

Rabbits are a prey animal and were made to feed the masses, including people and other predators. Many baby rabbits never make it out of the nest, if they do the chances of death is extremely high.

It is estimated that only about 30 percent of rabbits will survive their first winter. For every 500 rabbits about 5 will make it to two years old. The only way rabbits can fight back against these terrible odds is in sheer numbers.

Reproduction is survival

Does, female rabbits, often have a 5 to 7 litters of about 4 to 8 baby rabbits a year. This is how rabbits survive. Have you ever noticed how many rabbits you see early in the year vs later in the year? The population is slowly eaten during the year then in the spring there is a population explosion.

Info-graphic showing how fast pet rabbits reproduce.

Rabbits have keen senses

A rabbit’s vision is almost 360 degrees around them, including over their heads to spot birds of prey. They do have two small blind spots though. One is in front of their nose, they can never directly see what they are eating. The other is a directly behind them around where their tail is. This excellent vision is used to spot predators and keeps them alive in the winter when there is no foliage for camouflage.

A rabbit will generally freeze when the see danger or perceive something dangerous like a predator. This allows them to stay camouflaged and hopefully avoid detection. If a predator starts coming after them, they will use speed and deception to avoid the predator. Rabbits can reach a top speed of about 18 miles per hour for up to a half mile. They also run in a zig zag pattern and circle back to where they started to try and loos the predator.

Rabbits are not nocturnal, they are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during the early morning and late evening when the sun is either coming up or down. This is “shift change” time for most predators meaning that nighttime predators are going to bed and daytime predators are just getting up or vice versa. This is another way rabbit try to ovoid their hungry hunters.

Rabbits sleep schedule

Here are some general guidelines that all pet rabbits as well as wild rabbits will follow under most circumstances. This schedule can help you know when to feed your rabbit.

  • Early morning – This is when rabbits start moving for the day. They will eat, play, run and dig.
  • Morning – Rabbits may continue eating but will eventually bed down somewhere and rest.
  • Noon – Rabbits are least active currently and probably in and out of deep sleep.
  • Afternoon – Most rabbits will still be sleeping at this time still. Some may get up and poop or eat a snack.
  • Evening – Rabbits start moving around, eating and pooping.
  • Night – Some rabbits will stay awake later into the night but by midnight most rabbits are not overactive.

Staying warm in the winter

Rabbits are lucky to have such a well manufactured winter coat. It keeps them dry and very warm, so they do not need to burn a lot of calories to stay warm during the winter.

You may have noticed that rabbits do not have much fur on their ears, this is because their ears are used for temperature regulation. They allow blood to flow through their ears in order to cool off and stop the blood flow to warm up. This lack of fur on their ears can leave them susceptible to frost bite though.

In addition to their fur rabbits will burn stored fat during the winter to produce heat during the winter. Believe it or not there is fat in grass, a rabbit’s primary food source.

No hibernation

As you can see rabbits do not hibernate to survive, their sensitive digestive system would never allow them. Rather than hibernating they use what nature provides them with to try and make it to the next year to reproduce.

About the Author

My name is Vanessa and I love my buns. My current house rabbit is Mr. Bunny, he is a black and white Dutch that just turned 9 years old.

I believe that rabbits are a magnificent animal that make great pets for SOME people. My mission is to share what I have learned about rabbits over the past 20 years to improve the relationship between our pets and us. Please contact me or comment if you have any questions or comments.