Dogs and heatstroke are tied as the number one rabbit killer in my book. Rabbits can handle some extremely cold weather with only an increase in feed consumption, but if you have lops you really have to worry about their ears getting frost bite.
Hot weather on the other hand can trigger molting, make bucks infertile, make mamas act strange, puts them off their feed and in the worst case scenario, can cause heatstroke and death.
Rabbits don’t sweat and don’t pant, usually, unless they are extremely stressed or going into heatstroke. They would naturally be in their cool burrow if the weather got too hot for them. Their major ways of cooling off are simply rapid breathing and normal heat loss, especially through their ears.
I consider hot weather a big enough concern to warrant moving or rethinking your entire rabbitry.
My ideal rabbitry for hot weather is:
-Inside a covered insulated building
-Has good air flow through it
-Faces north and has trees plants to the south to block heat
Obviously, that isn’t always a realistic option. There are a lot of things you can do to make the situation better for your rabbits during hot weather though.
Keeping your rabbits cool:
-Put the cages on the ground during hot weather, its cooler down there
-Put stone or tile resting pads that will stay cool for the rabbits to lay on.
-Run a sprinkler on the roof of your hutch or rabbitry * provided they have a solid roof*
-Cover the cages with or put in the cages for the rabbits to lay on : wet fabric, sheets, burlap, feed bags * remove any string the rabbits could chew*
-Set up fans on your rabbits
-Freeze bottles to put in the cages
-Add ice cubes to their drinking water
-Change the water so it stays cold throughout the day
-Offer ice, frozen or even fresh fruit or veggies to encourage water consumption
-Wet your rabbits down in the hottest part of the day
-Set up a misting system over your cages
-Avoid any stressful or movement encouraging activities until it’s cooled off in the evening
-Check your water bottles, do they leak? Is the water flow too slow, too much work for your rabbit? I am really picky about water bottles, here are some types that I like, a large rabbit water bottle and a regular size water bottle .
When Heatstroke Strikes
Once you have seen heatstroke you won’t mistake it for anything else, as it progresses the signs will get more pronounced,
-Rabbit laying as flat as possible, often in an odd position
-Heavy panting, visible heavy breathing
-Wetness in their fur especially in body areas that are usually warmer
-Ears hot, more than warm to the touch
-Not interested in food, water or special treats
-Odd behavior, such as staggering.
Your rabbit can be hot and breathing pretty heavily and still not have heat stroke. But it does mean they are hot, you should make sure they still have cold water and are interested in food and water. Feel their ears; if you do this regularly you will be able to tell when they are extra warm. If my rabbits are at this point I usually wet them down if there is still the hot part of the day to come and change their water if it’s not cold anymore.
It’s much better if you can act preemptively by putting wetted things and/or ice bottles in their cages, setting up a misting system or fans and sprinklers on the roof.
If you do have a rabbit with heat stroke you need to act quickly. Bring them into an air conditioned place, even if the only place that you have is a car. Wet them down thoroughly with room temperature water. Don’t use cold since it can send them into shock. Offer food and water but don’t try to force them to eat or drink. It’s a great idea to call a vet but quite frankly it’s very unlikely you will have enough time for them to do anything if the heatstroke is very far along.
Your best bet for dealing with heatstroke is to prevent it.
What advice do you give about keeping rabbits when it’s hot?
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