Community Philosphy Blog and Library

HOMEGROWN Life: Rabbits and Summer are Not Friends

 

 

 

 

 

Summer is well under way so it’s fitting to discuss rabbits and summertime before things really get really hot. The summer is when you really have to keep an eye on your rabbits. They do great in cold temperatures. After all, they are covered completely with a nice thick coat – even the bottoms of their feet. This causes a problem, however, when temperatures get over 85 deg F.
If you have air conditioning and space inside, that’s the best place to keep rabbits. We don’t have either. Our house can get hotter than the outside temps so the best place for us to keep our rabbits is under the big oak tree in our backyard. Being on the north side of the tree allows them to have shade all day long. But this is definitely not enough on those really hot days.

One thing I’ve realized is that I pay a lot more attention to the weather forecast in the summer now. If the weather is expected to get over 80 deg F we start taking the necessary steps to insure the rabbits are comfortable. I keep an outdoor thermometer inside the hutch to help determine the temperatures we’re dealing with and whether it’s cool enough.

Our first line of defense is our misting system and fan. This can lower the ambient temperature by 15 degrees. You can sometimes find these systems at hardware stores, but I’ve had the best luck getting them online. When installing the misters you want to make sure the nozzles are pointed down, but away from your rabbits. The fan shouldn’t be on the rabbits directly but set up in a way that it doesn’t get wet and that it circulates the cooler air around the rabbits. You want them to cool the air without getting the rabbits wet. That thick fur can get waterlogged and when it’s warm it can make them a target for flystrike (warning: graphic). If we know the weather is going to be hot, we turn the system on first thing in the morning. It makes it easier to keep the temperatures down if you start early rather than coming in when it’s already hot and trying to cool the area down.

Our second line of defense are frozen 2L or 1/2 gallon water bottles. We had to make room in our freezer for them, which wasn’t easy. The rabbits like to lean on these and to lick them when it gets really hot. It’s important to use larger bottles because the smaller ones don’t stay frozen long enough. Also, it’s key to plan ahead as these can take a couple of days to freeze solid.

Rabbits can go into heat stroke quickly so it’s important to monitor them on those really hot days. If your rabbit is laying with it’s head thrown back, panting and flaring it’s nostrils it’s in the first stage of heat stroke and must be cooled down as soon as possible.  If there is moisture around it’s nose and mouth with the above signs, it’s gone into the second stage of heat stroke. If the moisture has run down the front of the rabbit, this is the third stage and you only have a 50% chance of saving the animal. If it’s gone into convulsions it’s in the final stage of heat stroke and should be humanely euthanized.

The best way to cool a rabbit (or any animal) that has heat stroke is to get that animal wet. Keep a bucket of water by your hutch. You want the water to be ambient temperature as cold water can throw the animal into shock. Dunk the rabbit making sure to get it’s ears wet, but not it’s muzzle. This gets the water down to their skin to help cool it faster. Be careful of using a hose because if it’s been in the sun all day it can come out extremely hot. In an extreme emergency, such as heat stroke, flystrike is the least of your worries so go ahead and get your rabbit wet. It’s when the animal is wet for long periods of time that you have to worry the most.

Of course an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – so make sure you have the proper system to keep your rabbits cool.

 

My friends in college used to call me a Renaissance woman. I was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. I still am. My focus these days, instead of arts and crafts, has been farming as much of my urban quarter acre as humanly possible. With my husband, we run Dog Island Farm in the SF Bay Area. We raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. We’re always keeping busy. If I’m not out in the yard I’m in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

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