Summer is definitely here. While most humans are happy to shed their winter coats for their swim trunks and head to the gym, some animals might have a harder time coping with the summer heat. Rabbits, in particular, are susceptible to overheating which can lead to more serious heat stroke.
Rabbits have a thick coat of fur, a winter jacket they can never take off. Additionally, a lot of domestic rabbits are overweight which increases their susceptibility to heat stroke. Rabbits that are very young or old are at higher risk. During times of high heat or humidity, it is important to keep an eye on your rabbit for signs of heat stroke.
Early warning signs of a hot bunny are lethargy, panting, and dehydration. Dehydration can be monitored by doing a skin turgor test. This is done by lifting the skin making a “tent” with the skin and letting go. If the skin bounces back to its normal state quickly, the rabbit is well hydrated. If it takes a prolonged amount of time the rabbit could be dehydrated.
More detailed signs of heatstroke can include fast panting with flared nostrils, drooling due to difficulty breathing, unresponsiveness or anxiety. The rabbit may refuse to move or move in an uncoordinated fashion. It might also have convulsions or shiver. If heat stroke is suspected then you should bring your rabbit into a cooler area, such as a shaded, fanned, or air-conditioned place, such as an air-conditioned car, on the way to see your veterinarian. Heat stroke in rabbits is an emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention.
What NOT to do is put ice on your rabbit or submerge them in cold water. This causes them to cool down too quickly and can cause shock.
To prevent your bunny from overheating during the summer months here are a few tips:
- Make sure the room where the rabbit spends its time is well ventilated, a fan that can blow past the rabbit can be helpful. The fan should not blow directly on the rabbit, but just enough so that the air in its cage is fresh and cool.
- Air conditioning in the room is also good prevention. As long as the air does not blow directly into the rabbit’s enclosure.
- Provide ways for the rabbit to cool off, such as place a ceramic or marble tile in the cage for it to lay on. A frozen water bottle is also a good idea. The rabbit can choose to lay near or on these as necessary with no risk of getting too cold.
- Provide cool options for food and drink. Avoid dehydration by encouraging water consumption by giving the rabbit fresh vegetables that are full of water. For example greens, cucumbers, and peppers. Access to fresh water is always essential but providing another bowl of fresh water with ice cubes in it is an excellent addition.
- Adjust its environment. Make sure that the rabbit enclosure is out of direct sunlight at all times. If the rabbit lives in a room that tends to get warm, consider moving it to a cooler place for the summer or at least on the very hot days. The basement could be a good alternative.
Rabbits cannot physically tell us that they are hot and suffering, so it is up to the owners to be observant of their behavior. Because bunnies are susceptible to overheating, be sure you offer them some cooler alternatives to avoid potentially deadly heat stroke.