Wow! It’s been really hot across the country and many a person has since lost a rabbit (or two or even more).
We’ve been pretty lucky here though we did lose a couple ourselves.
One was a buck that was in a cage I had been considering moving. A few branches lost during the winter/spring had him a tad more in the sun that I was happy with. Lazy person that I was, and gone the first two days it got so hot….he succumbed to heat stroke. Poor guy. Not that he was in full out sun…but obviously enough that with the higher temps and no breeze it was too much.
That brings me to my first point. Place your cages in as shady of a spot as you can. Remember that tarps, though they do offer shade, don’t “vent” as much either. The best shade is under trees which “perspire” and help lower the temps or in the shadow of buildings that will allow over head venting to a great degree than tarps. If you only have tarps place them well up so that wind/venting can get in and out.
Here is one of our cages under a maple. The picture shows the most sun this cage gets during the summer.
Secondly, if you like us have more “enclosed” cages also known as hutches, consider removing the back and adding wire instead, keeping the back to reattach during the winter. The bunnies will appreciate the more open concept of the wire for cooling and catching the few breezes that come along when the temps are up. The cage above could probably use that done to it but it is not as substantially built as some of our other cages and needs the back for structure. It does however have wire at the ends and venting up near the top that you can’t see. Beyond that the two doors to the left are one open cage for litters that need more space but I don’t have a pasture pen available for them. With the shade from the maple this cage actually is one of the coolest on our property when it gets super hot.
Below is a picture of a pen with the back off for the summer and wire on it. When it starts to cool down we will replace the back as a wind/weather shield.
Oh yes, that is also a couple of our chocolate Silver Fox does. They are currently beginning their molt so they look a bit blotchy right now. The chocolate is not yet a ARBA accepted color for the Silver Fox (neither is the blue) but in the not too distant future it will be. It is a recessive and much more difficult color to get because of that.
Another way rabbits heat up is by too many bodies in one small pen. Remember when it gets hot to move does with kits to the largest cages you have available. We use the one mentioned above and also our pasture pens….though we did lose two 4 week old kits because of crowding. Luckily we did not lose mom or all the babies. Unfortunately again…that was my fault for not being here and not paying enough attention to the weather to give my temporary caretakers instructions on what to do during such extreme weather. We generally don’t breed during the hottest part but this was the first time I had issues with it being SO hot that kits that old had trouble.
Pasture pens are a great way to keep rabbits cool. The contact with the ground helps immensely. Our rabbits are very good about not digging though some breeds are more prone to that. If your breed digs more you can just move your pen more often. We can,if we need to, keep our pens in the same spot for two days. We have been on some days since we’ve been trying to keep them nearer to the trees. We don’t leave them longer than that though since we don’t want disease issues to pop up. During the afternoon, when using pasture pens, you can spray down the roof with water and also hose some water into the pen and onto the grass for additional cooling (notice how dry the grass is in the picture—that was the greenest spot in the yard)
Yes, the rabbits will run around a bit but no they won’t die from the stress. If they do…..you were about to lose them anyway. Really. We spray our pasture pens down during the middle of the day (about 1 to 4pm) along with the grass. Occasionally I will purposefully give the buns a quick squirt too. They don’t really like it…but they get some water as they lick their selves which is good for them on a hot day.
Lastly, if it’s really really hot…..say in the range of 106 to 108 like it was here for many days, give your rabbits ice bottles to lay around and possibly dip them in water to cool them. We gave the rabbits their ice bottle about 11am and then about 2pm I went out and dipped each rabbit in a bucket of water. Fill a 5 gallon bucket(s) earlier in the day so they will be warm. DO NOT plunge your rabbit into cold out of the water hose water…it is shocking to them. However, also make sure it’s not hot water from sitting out in the sun either -you don’t want to burn them. Put the rabbit in up to it’s neck and rub the water in to the fur a bit them put them back in their cage. Some always act like they hate it…some actually like it after the first time. However it is once it gets back to say…100 with a bit of wind or even cooler… you can usually quit doing all the ice and dipping. With appropriate cages and siting most rabbits will do fine in pretty hot weather. However as we all know we’ve had record breaking temps this year and that’s hard on all of us…humans and rabbits.
Remember the most important thing about keeping rabbits cool is siting. Start with that then move to other things.