By Caroline Charland
Hot summer weather can be deadly for rabbits. Rabbits are unable to cool themselves by sweating like humans do, or panting like some other animals do. Heatstroke will kill them. I tell people who visit my rabbit rescue, the Bunny Bunch, to imagine if they had on a fur coat, couldn’t sweat and spent all day outside in the middle of summer. Even in the shade, I can promise it would not be a good experience.
People often think that because wild rabbits can survive the heat that domestic rabbits should be able to as well. But what they don’t realize is that wild rabbits dig long, deep burrows into the earth so that during the heat of the day they have a cool place to retreat to. That is one reason you tend to see wild rabbits in early morning and early evening. They are in the burrows during the day to stay away from the heat, and in the burrows during the night to stay away from predators.
I always suggest that pet owners keep their rabbits indoors, with air conditioning as needed. But for some people that is not possible. If that’s the case, the following tips can help you care for rabbits in hot weather. These are good to know even if you have air conditioning, because power failures or breakdowns can occur. If you think your rabbit is sick or has heatstroke, always get your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
12 Tips About Keeping Rabbits Cool
These don’t just apply to outdoor rabbits. Many of the tips above can be used for rabbits housed indoors without air conditioning, too.
- Make sure your rabbit’s enclosure is in a shaded area under a big tree or covered patio. Shade alone will not keep your rabbit cool enough. Grow a heavy vine or creeper over the top of your rabbit’s enclosure. Make sure that it is safe for rabbits to eat just in case they nibble on it.
- Never have your rabbit in a small cage or small hutch outside in the sun or shade, as they won’t be able to get away from the heat. Instead get a large enclosure so they can move to the coolest spot.
- In a patio area you can add ceiling fans to circulate the air or fans on a stand that oscillate to move the air around. Ventilation and humidity also play a role in overheating.
- Keep plenty of frozen 2-liter bottles of water in the freezer. The water in smaller bottles will melt too quickly. Place two at a time in your rabbit’s enclosure (take off any labels) your rabbit will lay against the bottles to cool down. Make sure you have plenty so you can replace the melted bottles throughout the day.
- Get marble tiles for your rabbit to lie on, as these tend to stay cool. You can even put the tiles in the freezer to cool them down even more.
- Make sure you have ceramic bowls of cool water for them to drink from. You may need to change the water several times a day to keep the water from becoming warm. You can add a few ice cubes to the bowl, too. It’s a good idea to have a hanging water bottle as a backup in case the water bowl runs dry. You can put crushed ice into the water bottle to keep the water cool.
- Keep your rabbit groomed by brushing off all the loose fur.
- Rabbits cool themselves through their ears, so you can slightly wet the outside area of their ears. Rabbits should never be bathed like a dog, as it can put them into shock and they can die.
- Caution! Some people use misters or wet towels outside. The problem with this is that wetness can attract flies, and flies can cause fly strike, which is another deadly situation for rabbits.
- Even with doing all of the above, if the temperate outside reaches above 75 degrees Fahrenheit you need to bring your rabbits into an air-conditioned room so they don’t overheat. You can close off your kitchen with a baby gate, or use a bathroom as a temporary set up for your rabbits.
- If you don’t have air conditioning, you can create your own cool breezes temporarily by using a fan, Styrofoam cooler and dry ice. It’s easy to make and very inexpensive. Just do a search online and you will find the instructions. Only adults should try this.
- Be aware that all rabbits are susceptible to heatstroke, but young rabbits, elderly rabbits, special-needs rabbits and rabbits with thick or long fur are likely to be affected sooner.
Signs That A Rabbit Is Overheating
When the weather is hot, check on your rabbits several times a day to watch for any of the following symptoms of overheating.
- Rapid breathing
- Lying stretched out
- Head thrown back
- Wetness around the mouth and nose area
Courtesy of Caroline Charland
A kitchen, bathroom or other cool spot in your house can be a temporary refuge for an outdoor rabbit in hot weather.
Helping An Overheated Rabbit
Many rabbits with symptoms of overheating need emergency vet care immediately. Call you veterinarian to determine if you need to rush there or if you might try some of the following cooling methods.
Note: Never put an overheated rabbit into cold water; your rabbit can go into shock and die.
- Take your rabbit to the coolest place in your house.
- Dab cool water on the outside of your rabbit’s ears.
- Lay your rabbit on a towel that has been soaked in cold water and rung out.
- Lay frozen water bottles, frozen veggie packs or anything you have frozen on either side of your rabbit. These should be very close, but not touching your rabbit.
- Offer a bowl of cool water for drinking.
- Offer cool veggies.
- Take your rabbit to get checked out by your rabbit vet.
Have A Plan In Case Of A Power Outage
For rabbits living indoors with air conditioning, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan in case there is a power outage.
- Keep some frozen water bottles in your freezer.
- Find a friend or family member who is willing to house your rabbits until your power is back on.
- Find a place that does bunny boarding or find a hotel that allows animals.
Rabbit Travel During Hot Weather
In the summer it’s best to be prepared to keep your rabbit cool while in the car going to the vet or for a nail trim. Even if you have air conditioning, take precautions on hot days. Bring along a cooler containing frozen water bottles, ice, cool water, veggies and a water bowl, just in case your break down. If you don’t have air conditioning in your car, wait until cooler weather to travel with your rabbit or, if it’s an emergency, find someone who does.
We all love our rabbits and need to protect them from anything that could harm them. Your rabbit can’t care for herself and is relying on you. So do the very best to protect your furry, little friend.