How can I prevent heat stroke and heat exhaustion in my rabbit?

We’ve had some hot weather recently and while it’s the kind of weather most people enjoy, our rabbits might not feel the same. They can handle cold weather well, heat stroke in rabbits can occur very easily in hot conditions.

So you may notice that your rabbit’s ears are hot when stroking them. This can be a sign that your rabbit may be feeling uncomfortably hot. Overheating can be fatal if not spotted early.

Symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion in rabbits:

Do note that all rabbits differ in what temperatures they can cope with so it is up to you to keep a close eye on your pet’s limits.

  • Since rabbits make use of their ears to help regulate their temperature, their ears will feel hotter than usual when they are trying to cool down. They cool down by expanding the blood vessels in the ears to allow more blood through. The air cools down the blood which circulates to the rest of the body. Sometimes (not always) hot ears can be an indication of a fever.

  • Overheating rabbits will be very lethargic and unresponsive.

  • Rabbits who are too hot with have fast shallow breathing and may even try breathing through the mouth.

  • Extreme signs of overheating will include strokes, convulsions and seizures. A rabbit at this stage may collapse in its side with unresponsive eyes. If this is happening, scroll down to the section below to see what to do if your rabbit has heat stroke.

Heatstroke and overheating rabbit

What can you do to prevent your rabbit from having heat stroke?

Simple answer is to not let your rabbit get to the point where he or she is too hot. Prevention is the best cause of action. See more details on my other post – 3 quick tips to prevent heatstroke.

  • Keep your rabbit’s home out of direct sunlight. Even indoors, this is important because sunlight that enters the home through windows can be extremely warm. If some sunlight does fall on your pet’s home, make sure there are adequate areas of shade. Be aware that the sun moves throughout the day so what started out as shady may become full sunlight later. This rule applies both indoor and outdoor, in hutch cage or run.

  • Allow your rabbit access to clean water at all times. If your rabbit prefers bowls, I would recommend having a bottle attached for backup. In hot weather, a rabbit may drink more and water will evaporate quicker so you may need to check water levels more often. Please note that you cannot count on a rabbit to drink more water to cool themselves down when hot. To make water cooler, you can add ice cubes to it.

  • Wet vegetables help increase water intake.

  • I always have a few bottles of frozen water in my freezer. On hot days, I place these in their cages. I have not yet seen my rabbits lean against them but they do contribute to keeping the air cooler.

  • You can place a fan in the same room. Do not aim it directly at your rabbit. Moving fans work best. Alternatively, if you have air conditioning, you can use that.

  • You can place a tile in your rabbit’s cage. This can be similar to the ones used in chinchilla cages.  Your bunny can sit or lay on it to keep cool.

  • Consider giving long hair rabbits a hair cut in summer. Help moulting rabbits brush out their old coat.

If the worst has happened and your rabbit might be going through heat stroke or overheating to dangerous levels, you will need to act fast.

Move your rabbit away from sunlight and into a shady spot. Wet a cloth with cool water. Do not use very cold water as the temperature difference may put your rabbit into further shock. Likewise, do not place your pet into a tub of water. Wipe this onto the ears, as we mentioned earlier, a rabbit’s ears are his way of cooling down so the cool cloth will help lower the temperature. Maintaining this method of cooling your pet down, call your vet and ask for further instructions.

In hot weather, be careful of travelling far with your rabbit. Cars are dangerous places as they can heat up quite fast. Also, older rabbits or less healthy ones will be at more risk of overheating.

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