How to Cool Your Overheated Pet
Rabbits do not do well in high temperature settings. During the summer we must think of how our pets will survive the heat. Many rabbits, including house rabbits, die each summer of heat-related stress. A rabbit's optimal air temperature is between 50ºF and 70ºF. Many days in the summer have air temperatures approaching 80ºF to 95ºF. For rabbits outside in a hutch (even in a shady area) or inside a house without air conditioning, this can be a death sentence.
There are many ways to keep your rabbit cool. First and most important, always make sure your rabbit has plenty of fresh cool water available. If air conditioning is not an option, try a fan strategically placed so the rabbit cannot be injured (e.g. chewing the cord). When it is dangerously hot, immerse a light cloth in cool water and hang it over the side of the cage or pen. Then, have the fan blow on the cloth; this cools the air more than the fan alone.
Another idea is to freeze a milk jug full of water and place it in a large bowl in the rabbit's room or cage.
Do not use 2-liter bottles as they may fall on the rabbit or roll away when the rabbit lies next to it.
Use the bowl around the milk jug to keep the puddles of condensation off the rabbit. Most rabbits will soon
lie down with their bodies pressed against the cold bowl. The frozen milk jugs usually last about 8-10 hours
depending on the air temperature. If your rabbit does not lie next to the frozen bowl, try a ceramic or
marble tile (large enough for the rabbit to rest on) placed in the cage. These can be frozen to keep them
cool longer. The tiles are inexpensive and can be purchased at a local home-improvement store.
If preventative measures do not work and your rabbit appears to be overheated, this can be an emergency. The best way to tell if your rabbit is overheated is to take his temperature. The normal rectal temperature of a rabbit is 100ºF to 103ºF. The best way to take the temperature is to hold the rabbit on his back like a baby and have another person insert the thermometer one inch into the rectum. If using a glass thermometer leave it in for approximately one minute. Digital thermometers usually take less time, are safer, and are easier to use. If you need help learning how to take your rabbit's temperature, ask your veterinarian to show you how. Watch your rabbit for panting or lethargy or feeling warm to the touch. If your rabbit's temperature is above the normal range consult your veterinarian.
If you cannot get to the veterinary hospital in a timely manner, there are some home procedures you can employ until your rabbit can be examined. Lightly spritz your rabbit with a spray bottle of water. Be careful not to drench your rabbit because this will mat the hair and hold in the body heat. Try pushing the hair against the grain with one hand and spritzing the skin with the other. Avoid spraying the rabbit in the face or ears. To cool the ears, place a cloth in cool water (not cold) and dab the ears. If your rabbit is severely overheated you may try a cool water bath. Do not place your rabbit completely under water. Be careful that your rabbit does not struggle and injure himself during any of these procedures.
If you are unable to do any of these procedures, please take your pet to your rabbit-knowledgeable veterinarian for care. Overheating can be fatal to your rabbit. Take preventative precautions and consult your veterinarian if necessary.
Have a safe and cool summer. Your rabbit will thank you!