Rabbits are fairly hardy animals, but heat can cause them stress. At temperatures over 85 degrees, rabbits may show signs of overheating. With proper care and a few husbandry techniques, you can ensure that your rabbit will be cool and comfortable during the hot, long summer.
Water is the single most important thing you can give your rabbit during the hot summer days. Make sure that your rabbit has access to cool, clean drinking water at all times. In the summer, water can evaporate quickly, so check on your rabbit and the amount of water in its bowls several times throughout the day. You may want to provide water in both a crock or bowl and a bottle on particularly hot days. Recent studies have shown that rabbits may drink more water if it is provided in a bowl rather than a bottle.
Misting your rabbit with water can help it stay cool. Using a standard handheld spray bottle, mist your rabbit periodically. Some rabbits take to this spraying of water better than others. If your rabbit continues to run away from the misting, discontinue the practice to avoid unnecessarily stressing the rabbit further and possibly making it hotter. Do not drench your rabbit in water because rabbits do not particularly like getting wet. Misting with too much water too often could lead to respiratory problems in your rabbit.
Additionally, your rabbit may respond well to a plastic bottle of frozen water in its cage. Rabbits routinely lie next to or on such a bottle in an attempt to stay cool. Keep in mind that water frozen in a 2-liter bottle stays cold longer than that frozen in a 20-ounce bottle. Have a few bottles of frozen water on hand each day because the water can melt quickly in the summer heat.
The construction and placement of the hutch is crucial to keeping your rabbit shaded during the heat of the day. Consider the environment in which you will use the hutch, and then choose or construct the hutch accordingly. If you plan to move the hutch to various places, including shady spots, ensure that the hutch is not too heavy. If you will not be able to move the hutch to shaded areas, ensure that shade is incorporated into the construction of the hutch. To help protect your rabbit from overheating, place the hutch in a spot where there is ample shade, such as under a tree or an overhang on the house, or use a hutch having a design that includes built-in shade.
Another key element to hutch placement is airflow. Lack of adequate airflow during the summer can stress your rabbit, even if the animal is in the shade. An example of a shady spot with bad airflow is a garage. Although the interior of a garage is shaded, the three walls of the garage prevent adequate air movement. (In addition, keeping a rabbit in a garage is not a good practice because of vehicle exhaust fumes and other hazardous elements.) Placing fans in the vicinity of the rabbit provides adequate, cooling airflow, but in many cases, this strategy is not practical. Thus, placing the rabbit in a spot that gets plenty of wind and natural airflow is best for the health of the animal.
Owners who keep rabbits inside and exposed to continuous air conditioning need not take extra steps to keep the animals cool. On the other hand, an owner who keeps a rabbit outside in the heat does need to take precautions. The owner may feel sorry for the animal and want to bring it into the cool environment of the house, but this practice is not recommended. Rabbits are very sensitive to sudden temperature changes, and bringing your rabbit inside during the heat of the day could cause other health problems or even death. Like many animals, rabbits become acclimated to heat and do not need to come inside during the heat of the day. If you choose to house your rabbit indoors in the summer, plan ahead and move it inside earlier in the summer before the hottest weather occurs. This will help you avoid exposing the rabbit to sudden changes in temperature and related health problems.
Handling your rabbit less during hot weather is another good practice. Handling your rabbit during the heat of the day causes increased stress when heat stress already exists. If you have to handle your rabbit, do so in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler.
Rabbit owners may travel to shows or events with their rabbits in the heat of the summer. This practice can be particularly stressful because airflow in tents or barns at shows may be poor. In addition, the rabbit must adapt to each new environment. Plan ahead when you travel to shows during the summer. Be prepared with plenty of bottles of frozen water, bring extra water dishes, and bring a fan if possible. Also, make sure you have contact information for a local veterinarian in case of heat stroke in your rabbit.
Following the guidance provided in this article will help ensure that your rabbit has a safe and comfortable summer.
Brett Kriefels, University of Nebraska-Lincoln