Overheating / Heat Exhaustion
As the temperatures rise, so do a rabbit’s chances of getting heatstroke. Though this is a legitimate concern for all rabbits, rabbits with thick or long coats of hair, overweight, and young or old are at an even greater risk. Temperature, humidity and air ventilation are all factors that contribute to heatstroke in a rabbit. Like people, rabbits are individuals and could respond to these conditions somewhat differently. It is important to check your rabbit consistently to insure they are comfortable and do not overheat. Early detection of heatstroke and proper corrective steps could mean the difference between life and death for your beloved companion.
Signs to look out for:
- Fast, shallow breathing
- Hot ears
- Wetness around the nose area
- Tossing back of head while breathing rapidly from open mouth.
Video of a rabbit suffering heatstroke:
NOTE this video was taken by a very concerned rabbit expert who was documenting the problem for the show organizers. She immediately took action to cool the bunny down, and he's now doing fine. She also demanded that the show organizers create much stricter policies for the health and safety of the rabbits.
What should you do if your rabbit shows signs of heatstroke?
Your first goal will be to relocate your bunny to a cool place away from any sun. Dampen the ears with cool (not cold) water as this will help to bring down his/her body temperature. Rabbit’s ears are his/her air conditioner. Give your bunny plenty of fresh, cold water with a few ice cubes in it and call your rabbit savvy vet for further instructions.
The old adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care" certainly applies to this. I keep soda bottles filled with water frozen at all times so that they are ready for the rabbits should the temperature of where they are being housed start rising above 75 degrees or I see an increased rate of breathing. These bottles not only help to keep their body temperatures down and the rabbit more comfortable, but also double as a toy I have found. Change out waters twice a day or more frequently if needed and be sure to drop in an ice cube or two when refilling. It’s a good idea to have a bottle water feeder available as back up during the summertime just incase they run out of water or their bowl gets tipped over and you can add crushed ice to these. Be sure to clean water bottles thoroughly and regularly as they tend harbor bacteria in all the small spaces. Oscillating fans also help to keep your rabbit cooler during warm temperatures. When bunny is outdoors, make sure he/she has access to plenty of shade; wearing a fur coat in constant, direct sunlight is deadly. I stay away from using wet towels for cooling because of the risk of fly strike, which is another serious concern of summer.
Heatstroke is a very serious condition in rabbits, but can be prevented. Always consult your rabbit-savvy vet when in doubt.
More recommendations and photos on this great page from BinkyBunny.
Ideas to cool your bunnies:
Bring your bunnies indoors. We believe all bunnies should live inside as members of the family all the time, but if you have outdoor hutches it's critical you consider bringing your bunnies in during extreme weather (heat or cold). Can't keep the bunnies in the main living areas? Consider cooler basements or garages with concrete floors.
Provide frozen water bottles. This is a super cheap and easy way to help keep bunnies cool. Simply save plastic beverage bottles, fill with water, and freeze. Wrap them in a towel and put them in your bunny's living area. Most bunnies will cuddle up to the coolness for relief from the heat. Remember to leave one set in the freezer so you can always replace melted bottles with nice cold ones.
Provide cool surfaces instead of blankets and towels. Get several tiles (stone or ceramic) and place them in your bunny's area. You can also put these in the fridge or freezer to cool them for your bunnies' lounging enjoyment.
Set up a fan with a bowl of water or wet sheet hanging in front of it. Fanned air + moisture creates a 'swamp cooler' that can be almost as effective as air conditioning. Make sure your bunnies can choose to be protected from the blowing air if they want to be.
Put ice in water bowls or create frozen treats (ice cubes with fruit inside).
Know the signs of heat stroke. Get used to feeling your bunny's ears, checking breathing patterns, and checking for drool or panting. More info on our overheating page.
Wet your bunny's ears. This is very good first aid for overheated bunnies. Moisten a small towel with cool water and put it on your bunny's ears, and/or moisten the surface areas of the ears in some other way. The evaporation of the moisture will help cool your bunny's 'radiators'.