When I first got rabbits I put them smack dab in the middle of my garden, it was January… And while this was very convenient for composting and gathering greens, as the summer months approached it became clear this was not in the best interest of the rabbits. They had the shade of their roof but they were otherwise unprotected from the southern heat. They were suffering and I was afraid I was going to kill them just so that I could have them at my convenience.
To the great displeasure of my husband we dissembled the hutch and relocated it across the yard under several mature oak trees. They were surrounded by green and there was a slight breeze. Location. Location. Location… Chose it wisely. That is my first word of advice.
Shade is the number one thing you can do to keep rabbits cool. If you can, choose a location that has all day shade. My rabbits get morning exposure, which is nice in the winter, but not so much in summer so I hung shade cloth on the eastern sides. I put them down after I feed in the morning and raise them up in the afternoon. Depending on the cloth this can lower the temperate 5 to 10 degrees.
Wait!! I should say, water is the number one thing you can do! Common sense should dictate that, but it fails us all on occasion, SO water will always be your number one defense against the heat. Clean fresh, cool water. Shade is number two!
There are a few other things that can be done to make them comfortable in the intense heat of the southern summers, but save putting up a rabbit house with a controlled environment they will still be hot.
Rabbits are most comfortable at temperatures under 75 degrees. Here of the Gulf Coast, the average temperature is in the mid-90s with humidity upwards of 80% most days. If you live in a drier climate, a mister will help, but are completely useless in humid heat.
A fan to move the air will definitely help, but not blowing directly on your rabbits, they won’t like that much.
My first summer I used frozen water bottles, but the rabbits wouldn’t lay next to them. Then I tried wet wash clothes, they didn’t like those either.
I read an article somewhere, I would tell you where it was if I could remember, but it was many years ago and I don’t remember, but it said that strawberry leaves help thin the blood and cool the bunnies, so I often feed them to my rabbits. Now, I really have no idea if this works or not, but the rabbits dig’em so I keep ’em coming.
The Danger Zone
Anytime the temperatures rise above 85 degrees, you should keep a close eye on your rabbits. Watch for signs of overheating, because rabbits can overheat quickly and have a heat stroke and die. I pay special attention to rabbits that are experiencing their first summer. I am not sure if they are more susceptible, but the only my young buns have ever got into the danger zone. So, how do you know when a rabbit has become overheated? If your rabbit is:
- Generally looking miserable
At this point, you should take steps to cool your rabbit down, you can wipe her ears with a wet washcloth, move her to a cooler location, such as a rabbit tractor in a grassy location in the shade. The ground is considerably cooler than a wire cage and they can nibble of fresh greens, helping restore them to health as well.
If you bunny shows these signs, your bunny is in or very near serious danger:
- salivating or has a runny nose
- Red ears or if the blood vessels in the ears are enlarged
If a rabbit’s body temperature gets too high (about 104) the prognosis for a full recovery is usually poor. So you need to take immediate steps to lower their body temp without doing it to quickly because they can go into shock if you do.
If you can take your rabbit to the vet, now is the time to do it. If caught early enough home treatment should be sufficient. Remove the rabbit from the heat, bring indoor; Wet the rabbit’s ears with cool water. You can use a wet washcloth to wet the rabbit’s skin, just rub into the fur. Remember to take your time, you don’t want to cool her down too quickly. I have heard of people using rubbing alcohol into the ears and feet, I have never tried this. Cooling them down in the methods I described have always been enough and I have not, yet, lost a rabbit to the heat.
Other Things you Can Do to Avoid the Danger Zone
- Lots of water. If you can give them a bowl of water, do it. They can drink a lot more water from a bowl than waterer. You could even put an ice-cube or two in there
- A Fan, blowing indirectly, but in their general direction
- Frozen water bottles…. Might work for your rabbits.
- Wipe ears with a cool damp cloth.
- fresh cool greens, frozen even…
- Brush your rabbits often, removing some of the dead fur will help cool the body
- Tiles or flat rocks for them to lay on, I suppose you could stick them in the freezer for a spell as well
- Don’t breed your rabbits in the summer, unless you can provide air conditioning. Pregnancy and nursing can be very taxing on a body. Give them a break, its only 3 months.