Caring for Rabbits in Hot Weather

Caring for Rabbits in Hot Weather
Rabbits are generally easy keepers who don't mind cold temps...but hot temperatures? That's what rabbit-keepers worry about. When temperatures begin reaching the mid- to high-80s, or the temperature changes suddenly from mild to hot, you'll need to take special precautions to protect your rabbits from overheating and death. (In the wild, rabbits retreat to cool underground burrows on hot days. Their bodies simply aren't designed to help them cool off easily when temperatures rise.) 

Improve Airflow

If your rabbits are in cages, start by emptying all their manure trays. This allows for better airflow and prevents manure from holding warmer temperatures near the rabbits' bodies. Rinsing the trays afterward will also be a small step toward cooling off cages. 

Next, remove any tarps that hang over the sides of cages; you may think tarps will shade the rabbits and promote a cooler cage, but I've personally lost rabbits due to this false reasoning. Airflow is absolutely essential during hot weather and tarps inhibit that. (That said, you don't want your rabbit cages or hutches sitting in the direct heat of the sun; they must be shaded by trees or buildings, or by being inside some sort of shelter, like a carport.)

It's also important to set up fans in the rabbitry, so that everyone gets a nice breeze and airflow is increased. 

Cooling Effects

If your rabbits don't already have tiles to sit on, hot weather is a good time to give them some. Although good rabbit cages do not hurt rabbit feet (unless you have rabbits with bad genetics), it doesn't hurt to have a non-wired place where rabbits can sit; more importantly, tiles help keep rabbits cooler when temperatures are high.

As temperatures near the 90s, make use of evaporative cooling by hosing down the ground or floor of the rabbitry. If necessary to keep the floor wet, repeat this hosing down throughout the day. 

You'll also need to give each rabbit an ice block. In fact, I recommend preparing ice blocks in the winter, before high temps hit. Being caught in a sudden heat wave with no ice blocks on hand can easily lead to rabbit deaths. 

Rabbits need help cooling off in hot weather.

To create ice blocks, I use plastic food storage containers filled with water. I freeze these until they are hard, and then pop out the ice blocks and store them in Ziplock bags in the freezer. On very hot days, rabbits can potentially go through quite a lot of these ice blocks, so it's good to have enough on hand that as blocks melt, you can supply at least two more to replace every one in use. If you tend to have a lot of hot days, larger ice blocks will make your life easier, since you won't have to replace them as often.

Pre-making ice blocks for hot days.

Because rabbits chew on everything, always remove the ice blocks from the plastic bags before giving them to your rabbits. Likewise, avoid soda or water bottles filled with frozen water, or store-bought plastic ice packs - especially the type filled with refrigerant gel or liquid.

Although it may seem nuts, if you have more than one rabbit in an enclosure, it's likely they will cuddle during hot weather. (My guess is they are uncomfortable and seeking consolation from their friends.) If possible, have only one rabbit per cage during hot temps - but if that isn't possible, put multiple ice blocks in the cage.

Since rabbits use their ears to help regulate their body temperature, you can also dab cool water onto the backs of their ears using a hand towel, or you can gently and carefully spray the outside (not the inside) of their ears with a spray bottle filled with cold water. If you live where summers are usually quite hot, you may wish to invest in a misting system for your rabbitry. 

Other Tips

If you have young kits in a nesting box, you'll find them completely uncovered in hot weather. This is a good thing, since overheated kits quickly die. Make sure the kits are getting a breeze from a fan and use all the tricks mentioned above (except, for furless kits, ice blocks and misting). If temperatures near the 90s or higher, bring the kits and their mother into a cooler building, such as an insulated garage. Be careful, however, to avoid exposing them to a big temperature swing, as this, too, has the potential to kill rabbits.

Even recently born rabbit kits will uncover themselves during hot days.

One other thing to consider during hot weather is that bucks are naturally (and temporarily) sterile when temperatures rise. It's generally accepted that if it's 85 degrees F. or higher for at least five days, bucks experience sterility, with older bucks being more susceptible and possibly remaining sterile for up to 90 days. However, results vary depending on your particular rabbits. 

Finally, if you're reading this and thinking rabbits won't work on your homestead because you regularly have high summer temperatures, look into TAMUK rabbits. This composite breed was created by Texas A & M University in the 1960s. Because they have longer than usual ears and thin fur coats, they are much more heat resistant, needing intervention only when temps are over 100 degrees F. They also are much less likely to go sterile during hot spells. 

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