How do you keep your rabbit cool in the summertime? We’ve touched on how to protect your dogs from the heat in the past, but you don’t often hear about protecting bunnies. Did you know rabbits don’t cope well with hot temperatures? While many animals can regulate their own body temperature, bunnies need extra help staying cool. Indoor bunnies don’t have cool underground burrows to rest in like wild rabbits do. They can’t sweat or pant, and although they can lose some heat through their ears it isn’t enough to help when temperatures are too high.
Even if you feel okay in the heat, your rabbit might not. According to the Los Angeles Rabbit Foundation, temperatures over 80º Fahrenheit can be dangerous for a rabbit (with the ideal temperature for pet rabbits listed as between 55 and 70º Fahrenheit). Bunnies can withstand temperatures up to 80º, although they may be in some discomfort, but at 85º they are at risk of overheating. Long-haired rabbits, like Lionheads and Angoras, can overheat quickly. Overweight, very young, or older rabbits can also be more susceptible to the heat.
Let’s get these buns out of the sun!
What are the signs of overheating in rabbits?
It’s always important to pay close attention to the signs your bunny is giving you. Rabbits can be good at disguising their pain, distress, and discomfort because in the wild these things make them easier targets for predators. Although the signs may not be obvious, that doesn’t mean they are less important or mean the situation is less dangerous.
Signs your rabbit’s body temperature is too high (hyperthermia):
- Rapid breathing and nose-twitching
- Breathing with mouth open
- Wet around the mouth or nose, when they weren’t recently drinking
- Restlessness/inability to get comfortable
- Warm ears and feet
- Lethargy and weakness
- Tossing of the head
- Lack of appetite
Hyperthermia is a medical emergency for rabbits, thus why it’s important to know the signs. Rabbits always breathe through their nose, unless there is something seriously wrong, so note that if your rabbit appears to be “panting” then it is a sign that hyperthermia has already set in. It’s too late for the rabbit to cool down without your help.
Ways to help an overheated rabbit cool down:
- Lightly mist cool water behind their ears (make sure not to soak or to get any water inside their ears)
- If you don’t have a mist/spray bottle, use your hands or a damp cloth to dab their ears
- Move your rabbit to a cooler spot in the house, such as a basement
- Lay the rabbit on a cool, damp towel
- Wet a towel with cool water, wring it out, and then wrap the towel around your bunny like a burrito (not too tight)
- Ensure the towel is not soaking wet – it should be cool against your rabbit’s skin, but should not shock them or soak their fur
- Don’t dip the rabbit into water, as this can cause shock
Heatstroke can be fatal so if, after following these tips, your rabbit does not seem to improve or the symptoms get worse, take your rabbit to an emergency veterinarian. Wrap your rabbit in a damp towel as suggested above and transport them in an air-conditioned car.
Now that we’ve discussed the signs to look for, how do you keep a rabbit cool and prevent them from overheating?
Bellini highly recommends a cool tile floor to stretch out on.
Day or night, ceramic water bowls make the perfect cool hangout spot.
Tips for keeping your rabbit cool:
- For indoor rabbits, keep your thermostat ideally between 55 and 70º Fahrenheit (no higher than 80º)
- Keep your rabbit’s enclosure out of direct sunlight and preferably away from windows
- Keep curtains closed and blinds shut to keep strong sunlight out
- For outdoor rabbits, ensure their entire enclosure – including the hutch and run – is in shade all day long
- If there isn’t enough natural shade, create your own using items like patio umbrellas or car screen sun shades
- Keep exercise time to cooler parts of the day, such as early morning and late evening
- Place frozen water jugs or water bottles around for rabbits to lie against, OR try a Cool Pod like this one from Bunnies that Lunch – it automatically cools when an animal lies on it, no freezing required!
- Place a ceramic tile or marble slab in the corner of your rabbit’s enclosure for a cool spot to lie on
- Groom your rabbit! Remove excess hair, particularly if they are shedding and molting
- Consider keeping longer-haired rabbits like angoras and lionheads trimmed during hotter months
- Access to unlimited water
- Use a heavy bowl they can’t overturn – rabbits drink more from open dishes than they do from water bottles
- Add a few ice cubes to the dish to keep water cold on especially hot days
- Keep bun’s vegetables and leafy greens refrigerated and rinse them in cold water, leaving them mostly wet
- Rinse a towel with cold water, wring it out, and then hang it in front of a fan so the cool air blows through it
- DON’T blow the fan directly on the rabbit
- Ensure your rabbit can escape the breeze, if they wish
- Instead of a towel, try a bowl of ice. Simply place it directly in front of the fan and let the cool air circulate the room
How do your bunnies like to stay cool? Mine love cool flooring and hanging out around the water cooler.