Hot weather concerns

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Rabbits are unable to sweat or pant effectively to dissipate body heat.[1] The main thermoregulatory mechanism is by heat exchange in the ears.

In general, rabbits are much less heat tolerant than cold tolerant. Temperatures of over 85°F (29°C) can easily cause heatstroke in a rabbit, especially when humid. The ideal temperature range for rabbits is 55-72°F (12-23°C).[2][3] As a result, during hot days in the summer, it is important to monitor your rabbits to insure comfort and health. However, rabbits can adapt to temperatures outside of this range with appropriate environmental conditioning.[2]

"Too hot to handle" awareness poster. Photo © Rabbit Awareness, used with direct permission. Rabbit Awareness Heat Wave blog pdf.

The Rabbit Vet's webinar on "Keeping rabbits cool - too hot to handle."
DIY Pillow Case cooling station. "It's basically a pillow case opened the long ways and I made pockets for frozen water bottles on the ends and frozen tile in the middle. I take the pillow case and wet it and then ring it out so it's just damp and insert the frozen items. My bunnies absolutely love it. Even after the bottles and tile defrost it stays cool. I have enough frozen bottles and tiles to change it out a few times a day." Image (c) A.Montañez
Keep Cool in Summer poster by HRS
Summer Danger


How can I keep my rabbit cool?

The following are some tips and methods to keep your rabbit from overheating:

  • Make sure that there is plenty of shady space in your rabbit's housing enclosure that is out of direct sunlight at all times of the day.
  • Keep your air conditioning on at around 72°F for the comfort of your rabbit.
  • Set up a circulating fan that will blow the air around your rabbit without blowing directly on him. Hanging a damp towel in front of the fan will also produce cooler air. Make sure that you bunny-proof the fan cord.
  • Place a ceramic, stone, or marble tile within access of your rabbit. The tile will remain much cooler than the air around it. These can easily be bought for <$2 a tile at home improvement stores such as Lowes and Home Depot. Marble tile is the coolest out of all the types.
  • Mist or lightly dampen your rabbit's ears. Rabbits do not sweat and use their ears to regulate their body temperature.
  • Remember to regularly brush your rabbit's fur. Extra loose fur provides unnecessary insulation in the summer months. If you have a long-haired rabbit, consider trimming their coat shorter.
  • Place a few ice cubes or frozen juice cubes in your rabbit's water crock to give them a cool source of water to drink or container to lie against.
  • Fill large plastic bottles and jugs (e.g. 1L soda bottles, milk jugs, juice bottles) or tupperware containers with water and freeze them. Once frozen, place them in your rabbit's housing enclosure so that he can lie against them to stay cool. Have more than one on hand to rotate out. Some rabbits also like licking the condensation off the containers. Others enjoy it better when there is a towel over the frozen container.
  • Feed your rabbit plenty of wet vegetables to make sure he is getting enough hydration.
  • Place a frozen ice pack or water bottle on top of a terra cotta plant saucer to keep the dish cold without leakage everywhere.[4]

Keep an eye out for older (5+ yrs), overweight, or incapacitated rabbits. Because of their tendencies to be sedentary, they may not get up to drink water when they are too hot and can easily succumb to dehydration.[5]

Barney resting on a tile... keeping cool. Photo © /u/Seal_Point_Lop, used with direct permission.
Roscoe loves cuddling with his frozen water bottle. Photo © /u/jaredjohnsmithrabbit, used with direct permission.
Princess Minnie chilling in front of the A/C. Photo © /u/strawberryswing1, used with direct permission.

Heat stroke

Main article: Heat stroke

Heat stress and heat stroke is a serious risk in temperatures above 85°F. If your rabbit shows signs of heat stroke, contact your vet immediately. Do not submerge him in cold water because it may place the rabbit in shock. Only lightly dampen his ears with cool water.

To prevent it, make sure your rabbits have shade and plenty of cool water. Consider moving the hutch to a breezy garage or patio with a fan.

If your rabbit has been outdoors and in extreme heat, do not move your rabbit indoors to an air-conditioned area immediately as it may be too much of an acute environmental stressor.[3]

Flystrike

Main article: Flystrike

If your rabbit has a dirty bottom in warm weather, flystrike is a serious danger regardless of health or age. It is caused by several types of insects that will lay eggs in the wounded skin of mammals, and the maggots hatching from the eggs then digest living tissue.

Further reading

The following links are from rabbit breeder websites. Please note that we do not condone breeding for the common house rabbit owner. These are provided purely for information.

Below are some relevant discussion on the topic.

References

  1. Harcourt-Brown, F. (2001). Textbook of rabbit medicine. (1st ed.).
  2. 2.0 2.1 ARBA, ARBA Recommendations for the Care of Rabbits and Cavies
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ballard, B & Cheek, R. (2010). Exotic animal medicine for the veterinary technician. (2nd ed.).
  4. Etherbun, Hot weather ideas- new photo album
  5. House Rabbit Society, FAQ: Warm Weather Concerns