As a rabbit owner, you make every effort to keep your fluffy friends healthy and happy, and when it comes to keeping them cool in hot weather, it’s important to keep them from overheating.
As a species, rabbits do not do well in hot weather, and since they regulate body heat only through their ears, it’s hard for them to dissipate heat compared to other species. As a result, rabbits cannot tolerate extreme heat and can even die from becoming overheated (hyperthermia). Believe it or not, temperatures above 77° F (25° C) are quite dangerous for rabbits and can put them at risk for heatstroke. It’s also important to note that overweight, old and young rabbits are at special risk for overheating.
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What are the signs of heat stroke in rabbits?
Warm weather can increase the chances of heatstroke in rabbits. Rabbits who have thick, or long hair coats, rabbits who are carrying a few extra ounces, or who are very young or very old are at an even greater risk. Temperature, ventilation, and humidity are also factors that contribute to overheating, and knowing the signs of heatstroke in rabbits is crucial because it can in some cases be fatal.
During the summer months, it is important to check your rabbits regularly to ensure they are comfortable, well-hydrated, and not overheated. Being able to note the first signs of heatstroke, and what to do can mean the difference between life and death for your fluffy friends. The signs of heatstroke in rabbits include the following:
- Panting, or fast, shallow breathing
- Salivating or drooling
- Weak and listless
- Red and hot ears
- Muscle tremors
- High heart rate (tachycardia)
- Wetness around the nose area
- Head tossing backward while panting
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Cardiopulmonary arrest
- A body temp above 104° F (the normal body temperature range for rabbits is 101.3-104° F or 38.5-40°C)
What to do if your rabbit is having a heat stroke?
If you think that your rabbits may be overheating and experiencing heat stroke, the best thing to do is call your veterinarian immediately. Heatstroke can kill rabbits, and you must act fast. Your veterinarian may recommend IV fluid therapy and hospitalization to bring the temperature down and to reduce dehydration.
Other things you can do while preparing to take your bunny to the vet:
- Wet your rabbit’s ears and body with cool water before transport to the veterinarian. This is perhaps the best thing to do for overheated rabbits. You can dampen a towel with cool water, and rub it along your bunny’s ears. This will create an evaporative cooling effect.
- Relocate your bunnies to a cool place, and keep them out of the sun. If they live outdoors, you can bring them inside your home if you have to air-condition, or if the temperature in your house is under 77° F.
- Offer fresh, cool water.
What not to do for heatstroke in rabbits
Below are listed some things not to do if you suspect that your rabbits are hyperthermic, and at risk of heatstroke:
- Avoid overcooling your bunny. Overcooling can have the reverse effect, and cause hypothermia (decreased body temperature under 101.3° F).
- Do not place them in a sink full of water or a tub of water. Rabbits don’t like to swim, and placing them in a tub of water might send them into shock.
- Don’t try to force your rabbit to drink, or place water into his mouth as this can cause the risk of aspiration; just offer fresh cool water.
- Don’t leave your bun-bun unattended for any length of time.
Heatstroke and severe hyperthermia is a medical emergency, and it affects almost every body system. By keeping your rabbits cool during the summer months, you can avoid the dangers of overheating.
How can I keep my rabbits cool in summer?
It’s important to monitor your rabbits during the hot summer months, and even though each rabbit may tolerate heat differently, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your bunnies. Below are fifteen ways to keep your bunnies cool in warm weather:
- Fresh, cool water. Ensure that your rabbits have plenty of fresh, cool water to stay hydrated. You can even add an ice cube or two to bunny’s water crock to keep the water nice and cool.
- Provide a breeze with a fan. Fans can be used to keep the air cool and create airflow, just make sure that the fan doesn’t blow directly onto the rabbits, and it’s always best to keep fans outside of their reach as you want to avoid your pet chewing on electric cords.
- Frozen water bottles or ice packs. You can make your ice packs by filling a water bottle ¾ full, then placing it in the freezer, and you can also use shipping ice packs as well. Before placing in the cage, wrap each frozen water bottle/ice pack in a clean towel. That way, if your rabbits need to cool down, they can lie next to the wrapped ice packs to keep cool.
- Damp towels. Hang damp towels over the cage to provide shade and an evaporative cooling effect. It’s important to avoid covering the whole cage with towels as your rabbits still need airflow to keep cool. If you have a fan, you can use the combination of wet towels and airflow to create a bunny air-conditioning.
- Tiles, bricks, or slates. Ceramic tiles or flooring slates can offer cool places for your rabbits to sit on to keep cool. However, always ensure that the tiles are not exposed to direct sunlight as they can become very hot. You can even place a tile or two in the freezer, wrap them in towels, and place them in the cage.
- Relocate your rabbits to a colder place. If your rabbits live outside, consider bringing them inside. If you have air conditioning or an evaporative cooler, your bunnies will be much happier in the cooler temps. Or, relocate them to a nice, cool place in the house.
- Give them a spritz. Since rabbits regulate their body temperature through their ears, try a spray bottle of water to mist on their ears. It’s important not to drench your fluffy friend, just gently mist the ears.
- Soak vegetables. Try soaking your buns leafy greens and veggies in cold water, or serve straight from the fridge. This will help keep your bunnies hydrated.
- Self-cooling mats. You can purchase self-cooling mats through the internet or at pet stores. These mats can be placed on the floor of the cage and can provide relief from the heat. When the cooling mat comes in contact with your bun-bun, his temperature is absorbed by the cooling pad, which then releases heat.
- Ice cubes. Some bunnies like to lick ice cubes, so feel free to place a few in a bowl, and watch them enjoy.
- Keep out of the sun. Be sure that there is plenty of shade available in their cage, and that they are out of direct sunlight.
- Rabbit hole. We know that in the wild, rabbits make their warrens underground, that way they can keep cool and out of the sun. If your rabbits live outside, try making a warren in a shady area of the rabbit run where your fluffy friends can hunker down and keep cool.
- Brush your buns. Especially if you have long-haired rabbits, it’s a good idea to use a brush to get rid of any excess fur.
- Frozen veggies. Consider placing a few veggies in the freezer, and offer them as a cool treat.
- Watch the old-timers, youngsters, or special needs rabbits. Rabbits who are elderly (over five years of age), tend to be more sedentary, and may not drink as much water as they should. This can lead to dehydration which can lead to death or other health problems. This goes for overweight bunnies and incapacitated bunnies as well. Very young bunnies should be monitored too since they cannot regulate their body temperature as well as adults.
It’s an important part of bunny-keeping to keep rabbits cool in hot weather, and by implementing some of the suggestions above, you can make sure that your fluffy friends will be comfortable and cool in hot weather.
Author: Carol Young