How to Keep Rabbits Cool in the Summer
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It's no coincidence early settlers used rabbit's fur to keep them warm. They are an animal which is able to keep themselves well insulated in some of the coldest areas of our planet. Although they have techniques to help regulate their body temperature when the summer months start to arrive, they will develop negative effects in very hot climates. When temperatures rise above 30 ºC/86 ºF, especially if there is high humidity, the rabbit's well-being is threatened.
For domestic rabbits, finding ways to keep your rabbit safe in hot weather is imperative. At AnimalWised, we explain how to keep rabbits cool in the summer.
How to know if a rabbit is hot
Rabbits are most comfortable in ambient temperatures of around 12-21 ºC/53.5-70 ºF. When temperatures rise above this range, their bodies begin to suffer the consequences of heat. These consequences include developing hyperthermia (otherwise known as overheating). When this becomes severe, it can develop into heat stroke, a potentially life threatening condition.
In addition to heat stroke, rabbits can become dehydrated in hot weather. This also results in severe consequences to the animal's organism. If we think our rabbit may be overheating, we should pay attention to their ears. When too hot, a rabbit's ears can become redder than normal due to dilation of the blood vessels (vasodilation). We can also often see the following symptoms when a rabbit is overheated:
- Fast and heavy breathing
- Widening of the nostrils
- Wet hair under the nose
- Warm ears and feet
- Narrowed eyes
- Lying prone on ground
A rabbit's ears can tell us if they are overheating, but they can also reveal other threats to their health. Find out more in our article on why a rabbit has one floppy ear.
Heat stroke in rabbits
If adequate measures are not taken to protect rabbits from high temperatures, they can suffer heatstroke, which increases their body temperature and puts their integrity at risk. The main symptoms of heat stroke in rabbits are the following:
- Excessively red ears
- Panting and hypersalivation
- Disorientation and weakness
- Muscle tremors and seizures
Keep in mind that a overheated rabbit should not be cooled down rapidly. In this case, it can lead to something called thermal shock wherein the body begins to shut down. Instead, the bunny should be cooled gradually. Even better, heat stroke in rabbits should be prevented. This is why we show you how to keep rabbits cool in summer with the tips below. These are used to prevent heat stroke, dehydration and all negative effects of hot weather.
Ensure proper hydration
When dehydration in rabbits occurs, the high temperatures mean they lose electrolytes. To prevent dehydration and the loss of electrolytes, we need to ensure proper hydration in our bunny. A dehydrated rabbit will be at risk during any weather, but it makes them more predisposed to heat stroke.
Clean and fresh water should be at a rabbit's disposal at all times. For this, we can put ice cubes in their water bottle during the hottest hours of the day or even keep a full water bottle in the refrigerator. It is also a good idea to provide water-rich foods such as fruit and vegetable, although only as part of a balanced diet. Read our article on the best fruit and vegetables for rabbits to learn more.
Hutch or cage location
Many rabbits spend most of their day in their hutch or cage, so it is vitally important we consider its location. We need to keep it in a cool well-ventilated place inside the home, not outdoors. This is because we can better maintain ambient temperature in the home, whether through fans, air conditioning or even just opening a window. Fans can be used to mitigate the heat, but they shouldn't be pointed directly at the rabbit.
We can also place a damp towel can be placed on the ground of your rabbit's hutch to help keep them cool. The rabbit will lie down on it and the water will keep its cool temperature for longer. However, we need to be careful not to soak the hutch and make sure we don't encourage bacteria to grow. We also need to ensure the towel doesn't block ventilation of the hutch.
The rabbit's hutch, cage or run should be kept away from direct sunlight. This not only encourages heat stroke, but it can also lead to skin cancer. We can also reduce the amount of hay we use in their substrate since this acts as an insulator and can retain more heat in the cage. If we have areas which expose the bottom of the hutch, it is also usually cooler for the rabbit to lay on.
You can also try to provide some comfort to the rabbit with ice packs placed under the cage (not directly under the rabbit). We can also freeze a bottle of water and leave it in the hutch. The rabbit can go over when they feel too hot. Again, be careful with moisture in the hutch.
In many cases, how we keep a rabbit cool in summer is the opposite of what we do when keeping a rabbit warm in winter.
Keeping a rabbit cool
You may know already that we can bathe a rabbit, but may wonder if we can submerge them in a pool when it is too hot. The answer is no. We should only bathe rabbits infrequently and when they need it. This is because rabbits find water stressful and will not want to go into a pool, especially if they are already stressed by heat.
This doesn't mean we can't use moisture to cool them down in summer. By taking a clean wash cloth and dampening it will cold water, we can run it over the top of their back to cool them down. This doesn't soak them, but evaporating water helps to keep them cool. Avoid the face and other sensitive areas as this can cause the rabbit stress. Always look for signs the rabbit is stressed when cooling them down and stop if we see them develop.
Caring for a rabbit's coat
If our rabbit has a lot of dead hair on the surface of their coat, it will increase their thermal insulation. This makes them hotter than they should be. If a rabbit is very hot, they may slow their actions and can neglect their self-grooming. In these cases, the dead hair they shed before summer may not drop from their coat. We can help by ensuring regular brushing both during the molting season and after. This is especially important for longhaired rabbits.
If you have any questions about how to brush a rabbit, we provide help with our guide to the best brushes for rabbits.
If you want to read similar articles to How to Keep Rabbits Cool in the Summer, we recommend you visit our Basic care category.
Wegler, M. (2008). The dwarf rabbit. Editorial Hispano Europea.