Rabbits can handle cold weather easier than we can. As long as they’re dry and have a windbreak cold weather is tolerable. Hot weather, especially for fur breeds, is something they need help dealing with. Make sure you do this to prevent losing rabbits.
There are many things to consider but the biggest one is keeping them cool. If temperatures get much over 83F bucks can go temporarily sterile, taking a couple months after the onset of cooler weather to recover. When the temperatures hit 90F there is the very real probability of death to heat stroke. You MUST take measures to keep your rabbits cooler. They don’t need to be in an air conditioned room – but they do need help. With a good share of the country now getting hot temperatures it pays to keep the rabbits cool. There are several ways to do this.
Location is important – never leave the cage or hutch in the sun. Sun bathing is a human thing – trapped in sun and heat a rabbit will die. Shade and air circulation helps them deal with it. Make sure there’s plenty of water…refill during the day or use multiple bottles. If there’s a steady breeze the rabbits will probably be fine in the shade with plenty of cool water.
If they begin stretching out and panting do not wait to take action. Get a spray bottle and wipe down the face and ears. The ears will help disperse heat – often leading to something called ‘summer ears’ in young rabbits. Often rabbits raised during these hot weather will have ears slightly larger and thinner than siblings raised in cooler weather. Don’t wet down the entire rabbit…just face and ears. If you have a fur breed like the Rex make special note of where the rabbit lies…if it’s laying by the water and dripping down into it check it daily – move the water and watch the rabbit’s fur very carefully. Fly strike – maggots – can strike a rabbit when there’s damp, moist fur – they’ll get into the folds of skin and begin eating the rabbit alive. It’s treatable if caught early but a nasty thing to deal with and HIGHLY advised to keep from having to deal with it. In hot weather this is a bigger issue. Also if you have litters being born – check them at least twice a day and remove any dead ones – they can draw maggots within hours. Get down into the nest box and check each bunny and make sure they’re ok – remove some of the fur if there’s quite a bit there.
Take plastic 2 liter bottles and fill about 3/4 full of water; put these in the freezer. Secure the lids tightly and remove the wrapper. When it begins to heat up take these out and put in with the rabbit – the frozen jug of water gives them something to lean against and help deal with the heat. Give frozen treats – take bananas or apples and cut into 1″ chunks and freeze – give the rabbit one when it’s hot. Be sure to watch and if he doesn’t eat it right away stick it back in the freezer. For many rabbits this equates to an ice cream in the heat! They LOVE it and it’s good for them. Bananas can be slice peel and all – as can the apples. Some use grapes and just freeze whole.
If you have an enclosed barn to use an air conditioning unit consider yourself lucky! Otherwise, use other means to keep air circulating around your rabbits. For most this means fans. A standard box fan can be put on the end of the cage row of wire cages – attach securely and it’ll get air to about 10 feet of cage space. Remember this needs maintenance!! And remember these fans weren’t designed to run 24/7 – for longer use turn them off in the evening when it cools off and on just during the heat. Someone with a little bit of knowledge could use a solar panel, battery and inverter to power the fans with solar and insure the rabbits still have fans even if the power goes out. If you have fur or wool breeds especially make SURE you do a weekly at minimum maintenance. Rabbits shed and rabbit hair and dust tends to gather up. An overheated fan can trip breakers and even heat up to the point of a fire – make sure you take steps to prevent this! The dirt and hair can pack on the fan housing – you can remove this by hand throughout the week if you see it, but there will still be material wrapped around the housing and removal by hand is difficult. Take a shop vacuum with a blower option or a garden leaf blower – unplug the fan and take it outside. The liberal use of air blowing this clean helps get it clean and prevents it from blowing the dirty “stuff” around the rabbits. Some carefully take a hose and hit the fan blades and frame to remove dust but DO NOT HIT THE MOTOR with water. Let the fan dry thoroughly before plugging it back in. The grids on the face, blades front and back and the housing around the fan should be removed of dust and hair. Using the blower turn the fan around and blow out the passages around the motor – good air circulation here helps keep motors cooler and running longer more efficiently.
In some areas it takes a combination of frozen water bottles, misting the face/ears, fans and plenty of shade, water and air circulation to keep rabbits alive and comfortable in the hot months. A well ventilated basement, which is naturally cooler, is an option that isn’t uncommon. If a rabbit begins seriously stressing – stretching out, panting with head raised DO NOT WAIT. Put him in a carrier and get him in the house in cooler temperatures. If he’s throwing his head back it may be too late. Carriers are not meant to house rabbits – but a heat stressed rabbit HAS to get out of the heat. Sometimes they’ll be fine for a couple weeks then have a problem.
Make no mistake – heat is a killer for rabbits. Make sure yours are happy and healthy.