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Knowing how to keep rabbits cool in the summer heat can be a stressful thing. Heat is their worst enemy especially if there is high humidity.
Let me first say that I am going to cover rabbits that live outdoors first then I will get to the tips for people that have a pet rabbit inside their home. Cool?
How To Keep Rabbits Cool In The Summer Heat That Live Outside
The first thing you have to remember is they are acclimated to the weather far more than you. So you can’t assume they feel the same way as you do when you walk outside. So if you think it’s awful don’t assume that your rabbits are dying of heat stroke.
Do not! I repeat, DO NOT move your rabbits inside your home with air conditioning because you are not helping them.
If the temperatures are in the upper 90s or hit 100 and you bring them into your house that is 75 degrees (ok I know some people have it cooler than that but we are cheap) then you go and move them back outside when its 87 degrees that is going to be a huge shock to their system.
Note: If you live in a place that has extremely hot weather on the regular then an outdoor rabbit is not recommended. The ideal temperature for rabbits is 50 degrees and they can tolerate up to 85 without humidity pretty well. While I am not a fan of having an indoor rabbit if you live in an extremely hot climate that would be what you have to do.
Your rabbits are better off if you leave them where they are and give them the tools they need to combat the heat.
Here are some ideas to help you keep them cool during the hottest times of the year.
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Keep Your Rabbitry Cool With The Right Positioning
You may not have a lot of options depending on your property but if you have a choice think about where you keep their shelter.
Whether it is in a cool garage, barn, lean-to style hutch with hanging cages, or a normal outdoor hutch, try to position their living space in the shade and out of direct sunlight as much as possible. Under shade trees is even better.
Even if you can’t have the entire area in the shade try to have it covered during the heat of the day.
Trees are nature’s cooling system and I was blessed to have the space to have all of my rabbit herd under a canopy of trees. When I walk from one part of the yard to the area where they are I can feel the temperatures drop several degrees and it is far less humid. There is no way I could keep this herd alive in the heat of summer without having plenty of shade like I do.
So with that said, if you can be picky about where they are, take advantage of that and watch the sun’s movement throughout the day as well. You would hate to have everything set up and then realize that the sun hits them straight on during the hottest part of the day.
If you have to choose let them get the morning sun and have shade during the afternoon and evening. The reason this is better is because they have had the cool of the evening and the morning sun is not as hot as mid day and evening sun in the summer months.
The Breed Matters
Now I realize if you love a breed, by all means, try it. But some breeds are going to do better in certain climates than others. I had a good friend who lives in the southern states remind me that french lops are not easily found in the south especially any further than the Carolinas because of the heat.
So with that said even though I live in the north, I would have to be especially careful with a wooled breed in the summer. So just think about that before you buy a breed and end up with more effort than you planned.
Keep Your Animals Cool Fans
This is the next thing that will help you keep your animals cool. Whether it is a cattle fan, an old window box fan, or a personal-size fan you can use with your animals.
I have a rig that was borderline a death trap of cords for anyone over 5 feet tall but with a few hooks and zip ties, you can run extension cords to each fan without having a spider web to dodge during the feeding time.
There are two reasons fans should be your first move in helping your rabbits stay cool.
Humidity and stagnant air is the worst thing for your rabbits. No matter the temperature outside rabbits still needs good ventilation. Rabbits are very susceptible to upper respiratory infections and stagnant air will do that for them.
So adding the fans does keep them cool but it also gives them the air movement they need to stay healthy.
Fan set up Essentials
There are so many different things you can stick in the freezer to help your animals out.
- Fill bottles, 2-liter bottles, or jugs with water and freeze them. I don’t recommend bottles that are soft plastic like milk jugs because even small rabbits will likely put holes in them and you won’t be able to put them back in the freezer. So make sure to save stronger plastic bottles.
- Another neat thing you can do is freeze stone or ceramic floor tile and put them with the rabbit to lay on.
- Give them icy water – Freeze their drinking water a little bit to make it cold. Not totally frozen because if they lick it they could still get their tung stuck. Just enough to give them cold water.
- Ceramic tile can be put in the freezer and given to them to lay on. These are also great because they are easily washable.
Just get creative and see what you can come up with.
Here are some tips on when you should give these frozen items to your rabbit to help them stay cool.
If you have a 9-5 job don’t stress too much. You won’t be able to do this but if you are home during the day wait until noon to 1 pm to give your rabbit a frozen water bottle or something you put in the freezer.
The reason is that those bottles are not going to last more than 5-6 hours on a day with extreme heat. So if you give your rabbits the frozen bottle later in the day so it will help the rabbit cool down when they need it most. Make sense?
Things NOT To Give Your Rabbit
DO NOT give your rabbit a wet towel that has been frozen or something that is fabric. If your rabbit chews on it and gets one small string off and ingests it could bind up in their stomach and kill them. Rabbits have very sensitive digestive systems and fabrics are deadly to rabbits.
Make Sure Your Rabbit Has Planty Of Water
I use these bowls for my rabbits and they work awesome because my rabbits have lop ears and they will often be letting one of their ears soak in the water to help them stay cool.
But more than that I quit using water bottles for my rabbits because those leak more often than not and it is not worth the risk of them running out of water in the eat.
The average rabbit bottle is 18-22 ounces and I would have to give my rabbits extra water bottles to make sure they had enough to get through the day even if they didn’t leak.
You also want to make sure you give them a water dish that they can’t flip over. This is another reason I love these big rubber bowls. I realize they are overkill if you have a small rabbit breed but if you have the room in your rabbit’s cage then it’s worth it. But some feed stores sell heavy crocks so you can use one of those for a water crock in the warmer temperatures if you need something smaller. They should be heavy enough to keep your rabbits from throwing them.
Bowls also make giving your rabbits fresh cool water every day a much faster process.
My Favorite Rubber Bowls
These are the heavy rubber bowls that I use and would be great if you have a rabbit that is 8 pounds or over.
What If Your Rabbit Lives Inside
You should not have nearly as much trouble if your rabbit lives indoors. There are just a few quick tips to think about. If your rabbit’s cage is in a room with a window or lots of windows make sure the sun does not hit their living space directly. Leaving them with no way to get out of the direct sun.
Also if your rabbit does live in a space with an air conditioner and you take it with you sometimes. Do not take it outside on days that are 90+ You are going to cause a major shock to their system.
Consistency is key to having a healthy rabbit.
Signs Of Heatstroke
So how do we know if your rabbit feeling a little on the warms side? If you have had them for any length of time, you will learn to read them. It just comes with part of being a rabbit raiser. But here are some things to watch out for.
Excessive panting and laying on their sides is a clear sign they are getting warm. Although be careful because the lop breeds tend to lay on their sides or halfway upside down when they are sleeping. But their breathing slows down to almost nothing.
Excessive drooling from the mouth. – When my brother was still in 4-H he was taking a doe and litter project and in most animal projects there is a “weigh-in” day basically to make sure every person has their project for a decent amount of time and didn’t just go out and buy something the week before the fair.
Anyway, we didn’t know that you didn’t have to bring your pregnant does to the check-in. So poor Lexus was a big black french lop doe that was less than a week from her due date. It was a hot summer night and we were standing in line outside. I am trying to give her shade with my body to keep her out of the sun. Fanning her and doing anything I could to keep her cool but I could see she was starting to show signs of heat stress. That poor doe was drooling as badly as my saint bernard after getting a drink. She made it through fine and had a great litter a few days later.
But all that to say. Rabbits will start drooling if they are really hot. That is the last step before being lethargic.
How To Cool A Rabbit down If It Is Having Heat Stroke
Whatever you do DO NOT put them in water. You can mist their ears but that is it. You will shock them and most certainly kill them.
Take them to a cool place and even put them in front of a fan.
(This is the only time I would take them to an airconditioned room)
You could lay cold plastic water bottles around them.
Other than that there is not much you can do except wait. Once they start to seem like they are coming back I could highly recommend adding electrolytes to their water for a day or so after the incident.
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Feel Their Ears To Check Body Temperature
What many don’t know is a rabbits ears their cooling system and thermometer. Their body heat escapes through their ears.
So when keeping an eye on your rabbits in the heat feel their ears to see how hot they really are this will give you a much better idea of their internal temperature. Sometimes they are panting heavily but their body temp is not as bad as it might seem.
The heavy painting can look pretty bad but they are just staying cool.
You can also use a spray bottle and mist the tops of their ears (not in the ear canal) to help them cool down. If you raise a lop-eared rabbit breed you will likely find them dipping their ears in their water bowl on their own if you use bowls instead of bottles.
Prevention is easier than having to save an animal from heatstroke. Pay attention to the weather (here is my favorite site to check) in your area to be ready for it.
The best thing you can do is stay calm and take action to help your rabbit get through heat exhaustion if that does happen.
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