All you need to know about how to keep rabbits cool in hot weather, from the signs of heatstroke and how to treat it to handy tips and tricks to lower your rabbits’ body temperatures and keep them hydrated on summer days.
Rabbits don’t handle heat particularly well. After all, it’s not as if they can slip out of their fur coats and fix themselves a cold drink! When temperatures start to soar, bunnies can suffer from heat stress and quickly become ill – and as owners, it’s our job to provide relief from the sunny weather.
How can I help my rabbits keep cool?Wild bunnies escape the heat by chilling out in their underground burrows. Pet rabbits can’t do this, so as owners we need to help them replicate these conditions. The first step is to make sure your outdoor rabbits have a large enough home – a shed and walk-in enclosure, or as a minimum a hutch and run – that’s covered by shade all day, and that they always have access to cool, fresh water. Some bunny owners provide a cool surface for their rabbits, such as a chilled ceramic tile or gel-infused cooling mat (just be sure to check this regularly for any damage caused by your bunnies’ claws).
Over the summer, if your rabbits are usually in a hutch and run, you might want to move them into a well-ventilated shed to provide plenty of shade – just make sure the shed is wood, not plastic or metal, and shaded from direct sun. Insulation will help shield against summer heat as well as winter cold. Keep the shed door open so it doesn’t get too hot.
You could even convert the entire shed into a bunny enclosure with an attached run – but make sure you protect against predators.
Four tricks for keeping rabbits cool
The best way to keep rabbits cool is to provide lots of shade. Soak a large towel in cool water and wring it out thoroughly before placing it over your rabbits’ enclosure. Make sure to leave two opposite sides uncovered to allow ventilation. For an even better cooling effect, add an electric fan. As the towel dries out, repeat the process.
On hot days, wrap an ice pack or frozen water bottle in a towel and place it in your rabbits’ accommodation. This creates a cool spot that some bunnies love to lie close to.
Never apply ice or cold water directly to your rabbits’ bodies, as this can lower their temperature too quickly, causing shock or stress.
Water, water, water
Rabbits lose heat through their ears, so misting them can help cool your bunnies down. Fill a small spray bottle with cool (not icy) water and spritz the top section of your rabbits’ ears, making sure to avoid getting water in their ear canals. As the mist evaporates your bunnies should feel immediate relief. Rabbits can drink more water from a bowl than a dispenser, so offer your bunnies the choice of both. Refill these regularly with cool water.
Heatstroke in rabbits
The ideal temperature for outdoor bunnies is between 12°C and 21°C (54°F and 70°F). While most rabbits can tolerate temperatures as high as 25°C (77°F), anything above this can increase their risk of heatstroke.
All rabbits are affected by heat differently, but if your rabbits are overweight, injured or over five years old, they may find it particularly hard to cope. They may be less likely to move around and take frequent drinks, and could get dehydrated more quickly.
During hot weather, monitor your rabbits carefully for signs of heatstroke, including:
- Rapid or shallow breathing
- Hot ears
- Wetness around the nose
- Stretching out fully
- Limp tail
If you suspect your rabbits have heatstroke, seek vet advice immediately. In the meantime, move them to a cool place, spray some cool (not cold) water over their ears and make sure they have access to fresh drinking water. The sooner heatstroke is treated, the better the chance your rabbits will make a full recovery.
Watch out for fly strikeFly strike can happen all year round, but it’s more likely in summer. This is a fairly common condition, but can be fatal without rapid treatment. Over the summer, give your rabbits a twice-daily health check, paying particular attention to their bottoms and above the tails. Make sure to keep your rabbits’ accommodation clean, and ask your vet about rabbit-friendly fly repellent.
Signs of fly strike include:
- Reduced activity
- Bad smells
- Eating less
- Fur loss
- Patches of damp fur on their bottom
- Open wounds
Without rapid treatment, fly strike can lead to seizures, collapse and even death, so always contact your vet immediately if you’re concerned.
How will you be keeping your rabbits cool this summer? Share your tips with us on social media using the #PethoodStories tag – we’d love to hear from you!