With summer heat on the way , raising rabbits can be very frustrating. Many days in the summer there are temperatures approaching 80ºF to 95ºF+. For rabbits outside in a hutch (even in a shady area) this can be a death sentence. A rabbit’s optimal air temperature is between 50ºF and 70ºF. Here are some different ways to help keep rabbits cool and somewhat comfortable. As the temperatures rise, so do a rabbit’s chances of getting heatstroke.
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. Early detection of heatstroke and proper corrective steps could mean the difference between life and death for your rabbits.
Signs and symptoms that will help you recognize that your rabbit has or is beginning to get heat stroke.
-The rabbit is fully stretched out. The feet are sprawled apart and the tail is limp.
-Wetness around the nose area
-Eyes are half closed. The rabbit has a sleepy or dazed appearance.
-The rabbit’s tongue is hanging out. His breathing is rapid and possibly labored.
-Fast, shallow breathing
-The rabbit is reluctant to move.
-The rabbit refuses to eat or drink.
The summer heat can cause your rabbits stress and health problems.
-Bucks can go sterile for several months if they are kept in a too hot of environment it takes up to 3 months for them to get back to normal fertility.
-Rabbits can lose condition and eat less food.
-Many times your bucks will go into molts and temporarily lose most of their hair.
-Lastly when a rabbit gets too overheated they can die from heat stroke.
Preventing heat stress is the key. Ways to help your rabbits survive the heat include.-Looking at the makeup of the common domestic rabbit, one sees that he is completely covered from head to toe in a thick fur coat. This leaves no way for the rabbit to perspire. There are virtually no means of which the rabbit can cool his body temperature other than their ears. The ears of a rabbit act as a temperature control mechanism, to warm themselves up or cool themselves down, they are able to do this because their ears are filled with blood vessels which run close to the surface of the ear. When the animal is too hot the blood vessels are able to cool the blood down from the cool air around the ear, the blood vessels are also able to warm the blood by the ears being in the sun, warming the ears and in turn the rabbit
Rabbits and heat are never a good combination, and heat stroke is one of the leading causes of death in rabbits. Fortunately it can easily be avoided, even if you do not have air conditioning.
-Plenty of ventilation – Fans can be used but not best to have them blowing directly on rabbits. Place a cold, damp towel over a fan directed at your rabbit’s pen. As the water evaporates it will help keep your rabbit cool. Air flow is critical. Have a fan that is circulating the air. This not only makes the area cooler, but can help with the ammonia smell that can build up and increase in strength during hot days. And if possible, have the fan set up so that it is pulling the cool air in and not blowing against it.
-Plenty of shade- Keep them in the shade during the day. Ideally you would use trees to shade your rabbit building or hutches. Natural shade is very helpful. If you have a shelter of some sort made of wood, which is then shaded by a tree, this is optimal. Being under a tree will make a big difference vs. being under a wood cover that is being hit directly by sunlight.
-Frozen ice cubes in a dish during hottest part of day
-Make sure there is enough space for them to stretch out to get cool.
-Ceramic tiles can be provided for them to lay on. If you place the tile in the refrigerator for an hour beforehand it will provide even greater relief
-Plenty of clean cool water. Cool water is important. Make sure they have cool water to drink to cool themselves down. If their water is hot, it not only causes them to drink less, but also keeps them from cooling down when needed. You may need to change their water 3 or 4 times a day during the hot months. And if you have an automatic watering system, make sure you have some way of flushing the system to get the hot water out of the lines and cool water in several times a day.
-Frozen liter bottles for them to lie against. Fill two to three one or two liter bottles about eighty percent full with water and freeze them. Take one out, wrap in paper towels or with a thin, clean rag that you won’t care to be chewed upon. Place this in your rabbit’s pen. This will last between four and eight hours before you will need to replace it with a new one. Place the thawed bottle back in the freezer so that you may use it again. Your rabbit will lay next to, or even on this bottle and get great relief from the heat.
-Evaporator systems like swamp coolers work in dryer climates. If barn is small enough to be closed an ac window unit can be used but again ventilation is stressed.
-Wet piece of carpet-Carpets cut into small pieces dunked in water will retain water throughout most of the day. You will have to watch for soiled pieces and change out for clean ones.
-Wet bricks – Soak them in a bucket of cold water. The bricks absorb the water and retain the coolness for hours.
-Feed in early morning or late in evening. Leave them alone during hottest part of day.
-Misters can be used also. If your aisles are 4’ to 5’ wide, place the mister down the middle. If you use “J” feeders, you may need to cover them to keep the feed dry. Do not let the water mist on the rabbits. Misters will lower the temperature 10-15 degrees in dryer climates.
-Outside hutches – Staple a burlap bag to the roof of the cage and have it drape over front of the cages. Place a soaker hose upside down close to the front of the roof edge. Set the hose on a timer or turn it on manually. The water will run over the burlap and act as a swamp cooler. The rabbits will lay closer to the fronts of their cages for the coolness.
-Avoid keeping multiple rabbits in the same cage. When you have multiple rabbits sharing a cage, their shared body heat contributes to a hotter living environment
When you are able to put most of these together; the cages being under a shelter which is under a tree, with cool water for them to drink, frozen 2 liter bottles in their cages, with air flow from a fan and a proper misting system, your rabbits can get through the scorching summer heat.
If you discover one of your rabbits are over heated there are a few things you can do to help, if caught in time
-Wet rabbit’s ears with a cool wet towel
-Place cold packs against the body moving around slowly but do not leave there.
-If they are alert water given orally is important
-As a last resort, dip your rabbit into cool water, taking care to keep her head and ears above the water. Most rabbits will not like this, and though it is effective, it will likely cause undue stress for your rabbit
If you breed during the summer months, you know how hard it is to keep those bucks from going sterile and keep those kits cool. Here are a few tips for those.
-Keep your bucks a close to the ground as possible. The cooler the better.
-Load the bucks up in carriers and bring them inside during the hottest part of the day.
– Bring the nest boxes inside to keep cool. Number or put the name of the doe on the boxes so you know where they go when returned. If the kits are likely to come out and explore while in the house, set them in your bathtub. If they are all the same color, you may want to number their ears so you know where they go later.
-If you need to breed your rabbits in the summer months I recommend that you use all wire nest boxes to help keep your newborn kits cool. Alternatively you can take your nest boxes indoors for the day and bring them back outside in the evening. If neither option works for you, simply be sure to keep your rabbits in a well shaded environment and maybe try running a sprinkler.
Remember- an ideal temperature for your rabbit is in the fifty to sixty degree Fahrenheit range. Any day above eighty degrees is a potential problem for your rabbit. With care and prevention your rabbits will enjoy many productive comfortable summers.
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