If you are new to raising rabbits, one of the first things you should know is that rabbits are not heat tolerant. They will succumb to heat quickly if proper precautions aren’t taken to keep them cool.
Keeping Rabbits Cool in the Summer Heat
Rabbits are prone to heat stress because they have no external sweat glands. It is vital that you help your meat rabbits stay cool in the heat of summer.
It is a good idea to keep an eye on your rabbits all throughout the summer months, but especially on days with extreme heat. Rabbits can experience heat exhaustion at temperatures above 80 degrees so when your temps and heat index are above 100, your rabbits are in danger unless you take measures to protect them.
How to Know if Rabbits are Too Hot
There are a few signs to look for to spot an overheated rabbit. Pay close attention to the rabbit’s ears as they use their ears to cool themselves.
Signs of an overheated rabbit:
- rabbit’s ears
- Hot and or red ears
- Shallow breathing
- Lack of appetite
- Floppy Ears
More severe symptoms may be signs of heat stroke:
- The same symptoms listed above plus…
How to Treat an Overheated Rabbit
If you notice that a rabbit is overheated, there are a few things you can do to help cool it down.
- Place a cool wet cloth on the ears.
- If the rabbit is severely overheated, you can bring it indoors into the air conditioning. Don’t bring the rabbit back and forth multiple times as this can confuse its natural temperature control. Bring it in once, let it cool down, and them place it back in the normal enclosure.
- Give fresh cool water. Don’t force the rabbit to drink, but make sure it is available.
- If the rabbit doesn’t cool quickly, take it to your local vet.
Some people think placing rabbits in cool water will bring the rabbit’s body temperature down more quickly… This is true, but it will bring it down much too quickly and could cause the rabbit to go into shock. Rabbits also don’t like to be submerged so you could inadvertently hurt your buns even more this way as it would stress them out.
Tips to Keep Rabbits Cool in the Summertime Heat
Take precautions to keep your rabbits from overheating before the temperatures start to rise. It is much easier to prevent overheating than to treat it.
1. Give access to shade.
Shade is extremely important especially during heat waves. Are your rabbits in direct sunlight at any point during the day? Give them a covering or move them to a shady place.
You can provide shade in the form of a structure (a coop, lean-to, etc.) or you can put up a shade cloth for your animals. I use three shade cloths on my rabbit area and they work great to keep the space cool.
2. Provide a constant source of cool water.
Automatic watering systems are great to ensure that your animals don’t run out of clean water, but you may need to refill during the day to keep the water from getting too warm. It is a good idea to add ice cubes to the water to keep it cool longer.
You can also fill up a small waterer and refill it as needed throughout the day. I use a DIY gravity fed watering system that leads to a nipple in each cage. On especially hot days, I might put a water dish in as well so they can drink more water at once.
3. Give more space if possible.
Allowing the rabbits to move around gives them the ability to find shade where needed. If they are in a shaded and well-ventilated area there is no need to stress about moving them, but you can ensure that their cages are clear so they still have enough space to move around.
4. Provide good air flow.
Good ventilation and air circulation are very important for rabbits. It is a good idea to add a fan to keep a cool breeze moving around your rabbits. Don’t have the airflow directly on the rabbits, but instead have the air moving around them.
I have a fan on each end of my rabbit area and they work well to keep the air moving.
5. Mist their ears.
Rabbit ears work to regulate their body temperature. If they start to get hot, you can mist them with cool water or gently pat them with a cool damp rag.
6. Keep Cages clean.
Make sure that the bottom of the rabbit cages are clear of waste, hay, or bedding in the summer. These things trap heat and will make it more difficult for your rabbits to stay cool.
7. Add electrolytes to the water.
Electrolytes help to regulate fluid levels in the body so they aid in hydration. You can find electrolytes to add to your waterers at your local farm & feed store.
8. Give frozen water bottles.
Freeze plastic water bottles and put them in the rabbit cages. Rabbits can lay against the frozen water bottle in order to cool down when needed.
9. Cold ceramic tiles
Freeze ceramic tiles and place one in each rabbit cage. This works like the frozen water bottles… The rabbits can lay on the tiles when they need to cool down and the tiles tend to stay cool even in hot weather.
Try to figure out where the rabbits defecate and place the tile in a different area of the cage.
10. Give occasional frozen treats
You can freeze fruits, veggies, and herbs in ice cubes for your small livestock. Ice cubes with treats inside can help the animals to cool off for a bit and stay hydrated as they have to lick through the ice to get to their treats.
Only give these treats occasionally or they can cause the animals to have trouble naturally regulating their body temperatures and too much ice can cause intestinal issues in rabbits.
11. Feed fresh foods
Feed foraged fresh greens, lettuce, cilantro, and other rabbit friendly foods. Soak the greens and veggies in cold water before feeding to make them more refreshing and to add a little more water content.
This bun is eating freshly foraged plantain leaf.
12. Brush them out.
If your rabbits still have some thick coats holding on, brush them to remove the excess fur.