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Summertime Heat ... the Living Ain't Easy for Rabbits

iStock ©2006
A domestic rabbit needs protection from high temperatures. Ideally, domestic rabbits should live indoors when temperatures reach over 85 degrees.

Summer is a dangerous season for domestic rabbits. These gentle creatures are not comfortable in the heat, and they are not very good travelers, either. The Rabbit Sanctuary in Simpsonville, SC, supported by The Fund for Animals, provides some tips to keep rabbits happy and healthy during the summer months.

Heat Exhaustion Has Dangerous Consequences

Rabbits have very little protection against high temperatures. Temperatures exceeding 84 degrees Fahrenheit can cause a rabbit to suffer from heat exhaustion. Rabbit sweat glands are located in their lips, which are not very effective locations for to dispelling heat. Bunnies cannot easily pant when hot, which compounds the problem. They also tend to drink less water when it’s very hot, causing dehydration, and then they do not pant at all.

Signs of heat exhaustion include weakness and uncoordinated behavior that can progress to convulsions, coma and death. If you suspect a rabbit of suffering from heat exhaustion, bring down the body temperature (which often exceeds 105 degrees) by spraying him or her with tepid (not cold) water. It is especially effective to spray the ears, which rabbits use to regulate their body temperature. Another method is to wrap your rabbit in a cool wet towel. And make sure to take your rabbit to the veterinarian immediately.

At the veterinarian’s office, your rabbit may be given intravenous fluids, shock doses of corticosteroids, and possibly artificial respiration. Most rabbits do not do well under this type of stress, and the prognosis for recovery is quite poor. Rabbits that do survive need to be monitored for several days to watch for signs of kidney failure.

Heat Exhaustion Can Be Prevented. Here are some tips:

Travel: Rabbits are most comfortable in a temperature-controlled home. The instability and variable temperatures of travel in cars, planes, buses, or other vehicles can be distressing. For this reason, restrict travel to mandatory trips to the veterinarian only. Make sure that in the summer, the car air conditioning is working properly. Take the added precaution of cooling your car down before placing your rabbit in it.

Vacation: If you have a vacation planned, count your rabbit out. It’s best to get a pet sitter to take care of your rabbit at home. Remember, rabbits don’t ever like to leave their home—this is very stressful for them at any time.

Diet: Don’t let your rabbit get overweight by keeping your rabbit’s diet full of hay, greens and veggies. A bit of fruit in season is a good treat. Keep the commercial rabbit chow down to 1/4 or 1/8 cup or less per five pounds of rabbit weight during the summer months.

Caging: If you know of a rabbit in a cage in your neighborhood, check to make sure there is easy access to clean, cool water and hay and that the cage is in the shade. Enlighten the owner of other summertime dangers to their caged rabbit, such as ticks, fleas, warbles and fly strike (maggots).

Rabbits are companion animals, and they should not be caged. Caging a rabbit is akin to chaining a dog. Both are equally cruel and unacceptable. Treat your rabbit friends well during the summer and at all times of year.

Related Links

  • Read about another rabbit, Kiriakides, who was trapped in the heat before finding a permanent home at the Rabbit Sanctuary.

Posted June 11, 2007