Overheating / Heat Exhaustion

As the temperatures rise, so do a rabbit’s chances of getting heatstroke. Though this is a legitimate concern for all rabbits, rabbits with thick or long coats of hair, overweight, and young or old are at an even greater risk. Temperature, humidity and air ventilation are all factors that contribute to heatstroke in a rabbit. Like people, rabbits are individuals and could respond to these conditions somewhat differently. It is important to check your rabbit consistently to insure they are comfortable and do not overheat. Early detection of heatstroke and proper corrective steps could mean the difference between life and death for your beloved companion.

Signs to look out for:

  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • Hot ears
  • Listlessness
  • Wetness around the nose area
  • Tossing back of head while breathing rapidly from open mouth.

Video of a rabbit suffering heatstroke:

NOTE this video was taken by a very concerned rabbit expert who was documenting the problem for the show organizers. She immediately took action to cool the bunny down, and he's now doing fine. She also demanded that the show organizers create much stricter policies for the health and safety of the rabbits.

What should you do if your rabbit shows signs of heatstroke?

Your first goal will be to relocate your bunny to a cool place away from any sun. Dampen the ears with cool (not cold) water as this will help to bring down his/her body temperature. Rabbit’s ears are his/her air conditioner. Give your bunny plenty of fresh, cold water with a few ice cubes in it and call your rabbit savvy vet for further instructions.

Preventing heatstroke

The old adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care" certainly applies to this. I keep soda bottles filled with water frozen at all times so that they are ready for the rabbits should the temperature of where they are being housed start rising above 75 degrees or I see an increased rate of breathing. These bottles not only help to keep their body temperatures down and the rabbit more comfortable, but also double as a toy I have found. Change out waters twice a day or more frequently if needed and be sure to drop in an ice cube or two when refilling. It’s a good idea to have a bottle water feeder available as back up during the summertime just incase they run out of water or their bowl gets tipped over and you can add crushed ice to these. Be sure to clean water bottles thoroughly and regularly as they tend harbor bacteria in all the small spaces. Oscillating fans also help to keep your rabbit cooler during warm temperatures. When bunny is outdoors, make sure he/she has access to plenty of shade; wearing a fur coat in constant, direct sunlight is deadly. I stay away from using wet towels for cooling because of the risk of fly strike, which is another serious concern of summer.

Heatstroke is a very serious condition in rabbits, but can be prevented. Always consult your rabbit-savvy vet when in doubt.