Rabbits don’t have an efficient cooling system. They also have dense fur coats. So, you may wonder if it is safe to leave your rabbits outside during the summer or when the temperature is high.
Rabbits don’t tolerate heat well and are vulnerable to dying from heatstroke. Rabbits can overheat at temperatures of 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius). Even rabbits that are acclimated to outdoor living can become stressed during hot weather conditions.
In addition to a rabbit’s thick coat, the fact that it doesn’t have any significant sweat glands prevents it from releasing excess body heat. Rabbits can only release excess heat through their long ears and by panting, but these systems aren’t very effective. The best way to keep your rabbits cool is to keep them indoors and provide them with ample fresh water at all times.
Can Rabbits Tolerate Heat?
Rabbits are more intolerant of heat than they are of the cold. Rabbits are highly susceptible to dying from heatstroke, especially if humidity levels are high and air temperature is around 80 degrees F.
Rabbits that have lived strictly indoors, particularly in air-conditioned spaces are far less likely to survive outdoors compared to rabbits that are acclimated to outdoor living.
Temperatures approaching 80 degrees F is enough to cause severe physical stress in rabbits. If a rabbit shows signs of overheating, it will need immediate medical attention.
Water is the most valuable resource you can provide to your rabbits during hot summer days. Therefore, always ensure that your rabbits have access to fresh drinking water at all times.
Water evaporates quickly in the summer, so you’ll want to check on your rabbit’s water bottle or water bowl several times throughout the day.
Why Can’t Rabbits Tolerate Heat?
A rabbit’s normal body temperate is 102 to 103 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Michigan State University. Rabbits cool primarily via respiration, and their ears play a significant role in thermoregulation.
About 80% of the heat lost through a rabbit’s body occurs via evaporation of water during breathing. According to the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations, rabbit ears create a radiator effect. Rabbits cannot tolerate heat because:
- They have dense fur coats
- They have almost no sweat glands. The only sweat glands they do have are inside their mouths, so they cannot perspire efficiently.
- They cannot pant effectively to release heat unlike other animals
- They do not drink water when they’re dehydrated or overheated
Rabbits are highly likely to become stressed by extreme environmental temperatures. Although rabbits have a decent system for thermoregulation, hot weather can be especially hard on them.
Furthermore, rabbits kept outside in cages or pens cannot burrow in the ground to keep cool.
Do Rabbits Sweat?
Your rabbit’s ability to sweat is strictly limited due to the small size and location of its sweat glands.
Rabbits have sweat glands inside of their mouths. Therefore, if you see a rabbit panting, it’s likely that it has overheated and is trying to cool itself down. Other signs of overheating in rabbits include poor appetite, lethargy, drooling, decreased water intake, loss of coordination, and weakness.
Although rabbits can pant, they don’t pant well. Therefore, panting in rabbits isn’t an effective means of cooling the body. Rabbits with severe dehydration will stop panting and may experience convulsions. This is often followed by coma and death.
Best Rabbit Breeds for Hot Weather
When it comes to housing rabbits in a hot weather region, your best option would be to opt for a smaller breed. The smaller the rabbit breed, the better it tolerates the heat.
Both the New Zealand white rabbit and Californian rabbit are considered to be more heat tolerant of extremely hot climates.
How To Keep Your Rabbit Cool in the Summer
Once a rabbit suffers from heatstroke, death follows rapidly. Therefore, you must take steps to keep your rabbit cool and comfortable in the summer.
House Your Rabbits Indoors
It’s safer to keep your rabbit inside your home during the hottest part of the day. Owners who keep rabbits indoors, with continuous access to cool air or air conditioning don’t have to take extra steps to keep animals cool in the summer.
In general, house rabbits receive higher quality care because they’re under continuous close observation. Therefore, house rabbits live longer than rabbits that are kept outdoors.
However, note that animals are highly sensitive to rapid temperature changes. Research published in the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research indicates that rabbits that have become acclimated to heat do not need to come inside during the summer.
If you decide to house your rabbits indoors in the summer, make sure you plan ahead. Move the rabbits inside earlier in the summer before the hottest weather arrives. This will prevent you from exposing your rabbit to sudden temperature changes and associated health conditions.
If you’re bringing your rabbit inside during hot weather conditions, reduce the temperature in your house gradually so that your rabbits can adapt to the change in temperature.
You’ll also want to ensure that your rabbit is securely contained on your patio. Rabbits are expert chewers and can easily gnaw their way through screens.
Never leave your rabbits unsupervised in your patio as predators can break in to attack your pet. Alternatively, your rabbit may try to escape.
Many owners prefer to use folding playpens to keep their rabbits safely confined inside their homes. A pen will give your rabbit much more space to move around.
A surprising number of rabbit owners report that their rabbits die in the heat due to lack of water. Water is the most important thing you can give your rabbit access to during warm, summer days. Be sure to provide your rabbit with clean and cool drinking water throughout the day.
Heat causes water to evaporate rapidly. Therefore, you will have to check on your rabbit as well as its water bowls and bottles multiple times day. On particularly hot days, it’s advisable to provide water in both a bowl and a bottle.
Rabbits are likely to drink more water if it is given in a bowl rather than a bottle. You can also throw in a couple of ice cubes inside your rabbit’s water bowl to help keep it cool. You’ll want to do this several times, especially during the hotter part of the day.
Mist Your Rabbit
You can also mist your rabbit with water to keep it cool. All you need is a clean handheld spray bottle. Mist your rabbit periodically, making sure you don’t drench its fur.
While some rabbits take this spraying of water reasonably well, others may attempt to run away. If your rabbit does continue to run away, avoid misting thoroughly as unnecessary stress to your rabbit can make it feel hotter.
Never drench or soak your rabbit in water because rabbits don’t like getting wet. Spraying your rabbit too much with water or too often can lead to respiratory problems as well. Therefore, you must mist your rabbit only when needed.
Frozen Water Bottle
If your rabbit does not enjoy misting, it may respond well to a bottle of frozen water. Your rabbit may lie next to the bottle to stay cool.
Fill up a plastic bottle with water and freeze it completely. The bigger the bottle the better. Water in a 2-liter bottle stays cool longer than a 20-ounce bottle.
Frozen water melts quickly in the summer. Therefore, you may have to freeze several bottles at a time and provide your rabbit with one every day.
The construction of your rabbit hutch and where you place it is critical for keeping your rabbit cool and shaded during hot days. Before building the hutch, decide on the type of environment your rabbits will thrive in and construct the enclosure accordingly.
If you plan on moving your hutch around, for example, to shadier regions during the heat of the day, make sure the hutch isn’t too heavy.
If moving the hutch to shaded areas isn’t a possibility, make sure shade is included while constructing the hutch.
To prevent your rabbits from getting dehydrated, build the hutch in the most shaded area possible. This can be under an overhang of the house or a tree. You can also design a hutch with a built-in shade system.
The second most important factor while building a hutch for the summer is airflow. Poor airflow in the summer can cause extreme stress in rabbits, even if they’re provided ample shade.
An example of a well-shaded space with little to no airflow is a garage. The garage is also not suitable for rabbits because of vehicle exhaust fumes and other hazardous elements within this space.
Placing fans near your rabbit’s hutch will provide adequate and controlled cooling airflow. However, in most cases, this technique isn’t practical. Hence, your best option would be to find a shaded spot with plenty of natural airflow and wind.
Handling your rabbit in the heat can increase its stress levels.
Avoid handling your rabbit or reduce handling during hot weather, especially because heat stress is already bothering your pet.
If you have to handle your pet, the best time is in the morning or evening when the temperatures are much more tolerable.
Provide The Right Tools
If you live in a dry environment, a swamp cooler or an evaporative cooling system placed near your rabbit hutch can function as effectively as an air conditioner. This strategy isn’t helpful if you live in a humid area.
You can also offer your rabbit a large ceramic tile to rest on. A ceramic tile will draw heat away from your rabbit’s body, thus keeping it cool.
A cooling mat for your rabbit can be an incredibly helpful tool in keeping your pet cool in the heat of the summer. A cooling mat placed inside a rabbit’s hutch can help it stay cool and comfortable for up to 4 hours or longer.
Traveling with Rabbits in the Summer
Many rabbit owners travel with their rabbits to shows and events in the summer. Unfortunately, traveling can be stressful for rabbits for multiple reasons.
Traveling in a vehicle can stress your already distressed rabbit. Moreover, the airflow in the barns and tents are often inadequate. Your rabbit will also have to adapt to every new environment it visits.
If you are taking your rabbits to shows and events in the summer, plan ahead. Be prepared with extra water dishes, plenty of bottles of frozen and drinking water and a fan, if possible.
Make sure you have the contact information for a local vet in case of heatstroke.
Hyperthermia in Rabbits
Because rabbits have thick fur coats and lack effective cooling systems in their bodies, they are highly susceptible to overheating.
Overheating or heatstroke in rabbits, also known as hyperthermia, is much easier to prevent than it is to treat.
Symptoms of Hyperthermia in Rabbits
If your rabbit is dehydrated, it’s going to pant to release heat. If dehydration worsens, it will overheat and stop panting. Signs and symptoms of overheating in rabbits include:
- Warm ears and feet
- Lack of appetite
- Increased rate of breathing
- Dull and unresponsive behavior
- Open-mouth breathing
- Blue-tinged nose and mouth
- Blue-tinged discharge from nose or mouth
If overheating is left untreated, your rabbit will soon enter a coma and die.
Treatment For Hyperthermia In Rabbits
If you suspect your rabbit is too hot, act quickly to save it. You must contact your vet. While getting ready, follow these steps to keep your rabbit cool, calm, and comfortable:
- Move your rabbit to a cool, well-ventilated location
- Spray your rabbit’s belly between its leg with cool water. Use a standard fine mist spray bottle and do not drench your rabbit.
- Wet your rabbit’s ears and blow air over them using a fan or a hairdryer on a cold setting.
If your rabbit appears distressed, stop what you’re doing immediately. Never dip your rabbit in cold water if it is overheated as this can cause shock.
How to Prevent Hyperthermia in Rabbits
The following precautions will help minimize your rabbit’s risk of overheating:
- Keep your rabbit’s environment between 16 to 21 degrees Celsius.
- Make sure your rabbit can always move away from the sun and rest in a shaded, well-ventilated spot in its hutch. Keep in mind that the sun moves during the day.
- Provide ample access to drinking water and water-rich fruits and vegetables.
- Do not allow your rabbit to become overweight. Excess weight can increase your rabbit’s risk of overheating.
- If your rabbit is overweight and has a dense fur coat, consider trimming its fur.
- Minimize stress by not chasing your rabbit, reducing its exposure to predators and providing it with ample space to move around.
If the weather is particularly hot, consider these strategies:
- Move your rabbit’s hutch to a cooler, more shaded, and better-ventilated location.
- Set up a portable fan that will blow air past your rabbit, not directly at it. Avoid placing electrical cords within your rabbit’s reach as rabbits love chewing.
- Place a large ceramic tile in your rabbit hutch for your rabbit to rest on and keep cool.
- Make cool packs by freezing 2-liter plastic bottles of water. Place a bottle every day in your rabbit’s hutch, especially during the warmest part of the day.
- Mist your rabbit’s ears with cool water periodically without drenching.
Old age, pregnancy, underlying health conditions, and high humidity can increase your rabbit’s risk of heatstroke. Be extra careful during such situations and monitor your rabbit throughout the day.