Rabbits don’t handle heat especially well – it’s not as if they can slip out of their fur coats and fix themselves an iced drink. They can suffer from heat stress and become ill very quickly when exposed to high temperatures, so it’s our job as owners to provide relief from sunny weather.
In the wild, bunnies chill out in underground burrows. If your bunnies live outside, you’ll need to help them keep cool. Pet rabbits should have a hutch and run that are in the shade all day. A shrub or creeper can protect from the most intense rays of the sun, but ensure they can’t nibble it. Ros Lamb of the Rabbit Welfare Association suggests moving the rabbits into a well-ventilated, shady shed with an attached run: ‘To keep the shed cool, keep the door open. It’s also a good idea to fit a wire screen over it, to deter unwelcome intruders such as foxes.’ You don’t have to spend a fortune – local Freecycle or Freegle groups are often good sources of sheds.
Provide a sturdy icepack or frozen two-litre water bottle for your bunny to lean against. This will help him to regulate his own body temperature. Replace these items whenever they warm up, and have some re-freezing while one or two are in use, so that you have a tidy rotation system. Some diligent owners go the extra mile and provide their rabbits with a cool surface to lie on, like a chilled ceramic tile.
It’s vital to give your rabbit plenty of fresh, cool water. Replace the water if it becomes warm. Ros says: ‘Even though rabbits only sweat through their feet and tongue, a cool drink will make them feel better. Some will find it helpful to lie in a water dish. Rabbits can access a lot more fluid from a bowl than a bottle so provide both to give a choice. Check and refill them throughout the day.’ If your rabbit is panting, he is in distress and you must act fast. Take him immediately into a cooler area, and moisten his fur with tepid water. Ros warns against dunking him in freezing water as the sudden temperature change could be harmful. If your rabbit doesn’t improve quickly, get him to the vet as quickly as possible, ideally in an air-conditioned car.
A seasonal worry
Flystrike can occur any time of year but is much more likely to happen in summer when there are more flies buzzing around. It’s a fairly common but potentially fatal condition in domestic rabbits (for more information, see our flystrike video). Prevent it with strict hutch hygiene, cleaning out and changing bedding daily in summer. Best of all, keep flies away. Hang a fly repellent in the hutch (out of your bunny’s reach) or surround the hutch with a barrier of fine netting. Rabbits should be checked at least twice a day and if you have the slightest suspicion of flystrike, contact your vet at once.