Now that we are heading into the warmer months it’s important to check on your bun as heatstroke can be a real issue for rabbits. Unfortunately, heatstroke can be fatal if your rabbit doesn’t receive help in time. And as they have very thick coats, they can’t sweat like we do to keep cool. However, there are a couple of things that you can do to help your rabbits cope with the heat.
How do rabbits regulate their temperature?
Rabbits need to release their body heat, and there are three main ways that they regulate their temperature.
- They evaporate moisture through their breathing. You may notice your rabbit breathing faster in the heat, this is normal, but if you notice that they’re breathing through their mouth heavily then this could be a sign of heatstroke.
- Rabbits also use their ears to regulate their temperature. As their temperature rises the blood vessels in their ears expand and the blood flow increases. And as they have very shot fur on the inside of their ears, the increased blood flow and lack of fur means that body heat can escape through their ears.
- Your rabbits will stretch out on cool surfaces to keep their body from retaining heat.
What temperature is too hot for rabbits?
An ideal temperature for a rabbit is between 12° to 21°C. They can tolerate temperatures as high as 30°C. But anything above that will increase their risk of heatstroke. Long haired rabbits may be affected at lower temperatures, therefore its best to check on your rabbit throughout the day.
It is much easier to prevent heat distress rather than treat it so here are some top tips:
- This is an obvious one, but mover your rabbits hutch out of the sun, even if that means putting it inside.
- Freeze a bottle of water and wrap them in a towel, then place them around the hutch. If your rabbit feels hot, they will lie next to the water bottle to cool down.
- Ensure your rabbit has a lot of fresh water throughout the day.
- Give your bunnies a haircut! By removing as much excess hair as possible they will stay a lot cooler.
- Before you give your rabbit their leafy greens, you can soak them in icy water or serve them fresh out the fridge, this way their food will be cold.
- You could introduce a man-made warren for them. Rabbits in the wild dig deep underground so that they can stay out of the sunlight.
They will need some good quality hay to munch on so take a look at the different variations of hay that we offer.
What are the symptoms of heat stroke?
Heatstroke can be fatal in rabbits so it is important that you know the sins to look out for so that you can get them the appropriate help.
- Heavy panting – when a rabbit starts to hyperventilate, they breathe quickly through their mouth. If you notice mouth breathing, then that is a sign of distress.
- Red ears – as previously mentioned, rabbits use their ears to regulate body temperature and when they reach their limit their ears will get very hot and turn a dark pink/red colour.
- Confusion – you should get help if your rabbit is acting confused. If they are wobbling or falling over then you know something is wrong.
- Weakness – if your rabbit is usually active but suddenly seems low on energy then this is a clear sign that something is wrong with your rabbit. It is normal for your bun to be less active in the summer but if they are extremely lethargic then this can be cause for concern.
What you should do if your rabbit suffers from heatstroke
The most important thing to do is to remove them from the heat immediately. You then need to focus on cooling them down. Paying close attention to their ears you should dampen their fur with cold water. You could also use a fan to blow cool air over their fur. Keep your rabbit hydrated by offering them plenty of fresh water.
You should not apply ice or ice-cold water to your rabbit as the temperature change could send your rabbit into shock.
One of the first things you should do is contact your vet. They will be able to give you more specific advice on what you can do.
Very young and very old rabbits are more susceptible to illnesses. So, you should take more precautions if your rabbit falls into these categories as they are more likely to struggle with the stress of regulating their body temperature.
Overweight and long-haired rabbits should also be kept an eye on. Their bodies hold more hear than the average rabbit.
Other issues that your rabbit might come across in summer
Heatstroke isn’t the only thing that you need to watch out for in the warmer months. During summer, rabbits are at higher risk of fly strike. This is when a fly lays eggs on the rabbit and when the eggs hatch, the maggots can burrow into your pet’s fur. This can be extremely fatal, and the maggots can kill your rabbit within 24-48 hours of hatching,
Rabbits that struggle to keep themselves clean have more of an issue with fly strike – such as rabbits that are old or that have arthritis. To help them, make sure your rabbit and their bedding is clean at all times.
Find out more
There’s a lot more to learn about rabbits so keep an eye out for more advice, how to’s and fact files on rabbit care.