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Posted on Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 10 a.m.

Learn the symptoms of overheating and keep rabbits cool on hot summer days

By Debbie Ann

winning eating.jpg

Meet Winnie a beautiful New Zealand adult. She is happy and healthy. It is important to watch that your rabbit has an appetite and is drinking plenty of water during the heat.

courtesy of Great Lakes Rabbit Rescue

With many parts of the country under an excessive heat watch, it is really important to keep a close eye on our furry friends. Just stepping outside yesterday for a few moments, with a temperature of 96 degrees, made most of us feel very uncomfortable. Now imagine if you were wearing an angora sweater in this heat.

Rabbits are more prone to heat stroke than humans with their thick, plush coat. Many of them are molting right now, for several reasons. Typically, molting occurs in early spring and late fall. However, several factors can trigger this: stress, illness and/or heat.

Some signs that you rabbit is overheating include:

1. Lack of appetite: This is one of the earliest warning signs. This example could be your rabbit may be eating less or not at all. Including food high in water content — such as tomatoes (fruit only; the vine is toxic), dark leafy greens and cucumbers —  is a good idea. Adding such foods to rabbits' diet should be done gradually. Changing their diets too quickly could cause other problems.

2. Weakness/slow movement: Watch to see if they are moving very slow or seem out of energy.

3. Lethargy/acting confused: Is your rabbit just lying around and doesn’t seem interested in attention or playing? Is he/she interested in treats?

4. Reddening of the ears: If the inside of his/her ears appear to be pink or red? This is a sign that they are trying to cool down their body temperature on their own.

5. Panting: Is your bun having difficult time breathing? He or she maybe taking shorter shallow breathes in an effort to breathing and cool down.

6. Salivating: Rabbits in general don’t drool. If you see drool on your rabbits chin, she or he is salivating too much.

7. Dehydration: There are several signs for dehydration:
• Looking at your rabbit’s urine. Is your bun producing less urine? Does it appear dark in color or have a stronger smell?
• What about his feces? Do they appear unusual? If they appear smaller and/or very dry, this could be cause for alarm. Or, if your rabbit has diarrhea, this could also be cause for concern. Diarrhea in rabbits tends to be another sign.
• Has s/he stopped drinking? A rabbit that isn’t drinking usually won’t be eating either.

Here are some things that you can do to help your rabbit (or even other furry loved ones):

  1. Mist their ears with cool water. Never immerse your bun in a bath. Be gentle and move slowly, so not to scare or stress the rabbit. If they appear agitated by the spray bottle, you can also spray your fingers and massage it into rabbits' ears.
  2. Provide fresh clean cold water all the time. Who wants to drink dirty water?
  3. Provide food high in water content, as discussed early, including fruits such as watermelon, cantaloupe, etc... These should be given in moderation.
  4. Provide a space for your furry family that is indoors and out of the direct sunlight. During these extreme heat days, I leave the blinds closed to help keep my home cooler.
  5. Keep fans circulating if you don’t have air conditioning. But, do not have your fan blowing directly onto your pet. I would also suggest covering the cord to the fan to protect your bun and the fan.
  6. Place stone or ceramic tiles (even a few) in their space to make a nice cool area to lie on.
  7. Drape a damp towel over their pen. But, make sure that you wring it out. We don’t want it to be dripping all over your friend.
  8. Add a frozen water bottle to their pens and provide a cool place to lie up against or just lick. I would suggest removing the label. This is also nice if you are gone for periods of the day. By the time you return home, it may be thawed, and you can replace it.
  9. I already mentioned fresh water, but what about giving them an ice cube? A rabbit with an ice cube is one of my favorite things to watch! They usually love it, and it is much more entertaining than any movie.
  10. Keep your rabbit well groomed. A good brushing to remove excess hair is always a good idea, especially during the heat. Short frequent brushing is a good idea to get them used to it. It can also help you prevent hairballs.

Debbie Ann is a volunteer at Great Lakes Rabbit Sanctuary (GLRS) in Willis, Mich. If you are interested finding out more, you can find us at the Ann Arbor Art Fair. We will be set up in the nonprofit section. Or, you can also visit our website: