Beating the Heat

During these dog days of summer, as I sit as close to my fan as possible; I decided it was time for some tips on keeping hot, cross buns cool. Ok, admittedly we're hot weather wimps up here in Seattle, where an 85 degree day is a major local news story but we also rarely have air conditioning in our homes and keeping our furry companions comfortable can be a challenge. I wanted to pass on some of my favorite methods.

Heat can be particularly dangerous for bunnies since they have fewer ways than other creatures of shedding excess body heat. They rarely pant and they can't sweat, like dogs, cats and humans. They rely on radiating excess heat through those built in air conditioners, their highly vascular ears. As their body temperature or the air temperature increases the many blood vessels in their ears dilate, allowing more surface area to come into contact with the air, which being relatively cooler than their body temperature provides a cooling effect. Now you can see why jackrabbits have such large ears!

Here are my top tips:

Use fans to increase air circulation. Each of my buns has their own personal fan (not including me). Make sure that the cord is bunny proofed or inaccesible! I also use larger fans to move the air in each room around. It can sound like I'm living in a wind tunnel but it helps to keep the overall air temperature more comfortable. To increase the cooling effect drape a damp towel over the side of the cage or pen facing the fan.

Freeze one or two liter plastic bottles and place them in your bunnies cage or pen or in a favorite resting spot. Some of my bunnies like to lie right up against these on very hot days but they provide evaporative cooling even if the bunny isn't right next to it. I don't recommend commercially available ice packs, like you would freeze for a cooler because as they thaw they become less rigid and more susceptible to chewing. The plastic bottles retain their difficult to chew on round shape even when thawed and you're recycling!

Place ceramic or marble tiles in your cages or pens. These can be found for very little cost at most large home improvement stores. I give my pairs a large 16" x 16" square and my smaller bunnies a 12" x 12" square. Since these can be hard for a bunny to walk on I don't use too many in any one spot. Marble tiles work great also, particularly if you put them rough side up, otherwise they can be very slippery. Placing ceramic tiles in the refrigerator to cool down before putting them in with your bunny will increase the cooling effect. For obvious reasons, I store the tiles in the box they came in while they are cooling!

Spray your bunny gently with a fine mist of clean water, particularly over the ears. This will likely produce some indignant ear and head shaking but it will really help. You can also wet them down with a damp washcloth, again focusing on the ears. You can also rub their ears with an ice cube or in a pinch, rubbing alcohol. Don't immerse your bunny in cold water as the shock can be harmful.

Keep your rabbit well groomed and free of excess hair. If you have long haired bunnies such as Angoras, Jersey Wooleys or American Fuzzy Lops consider having them clipped or shaved professionally for the summer. It can be difficult to find a groomer who will work with rabbits but check with your favorite rabbit vet, they may be willing to do it or may know a groomer who will. If your bunny is comfortable with being groomed and will reliably hold still you can carefully give them a trim yourself with short ball tipped scissors, using your finger as a barrier between skin and scissors. I recently gave this a try and while I'm not giving up my day job it clearly made my foster Marshmellow, a Jersey Wooley mix; more comfortable, if not particularly fashionable.

When you feed veggies, make sure they are really good and wet. This will provide extra hydration. I do find that my rabbits may not have as robust an appetite as usual if it is hot so I usually feed them their salads a little later than usual, once the temperature starts to decrease.

Watch for symptoms of heat exhaustion. If you bunny becomes particularly lethargic and listless, has trouble breathing and has a decreased appetite consult your preferred rabbit vet immediately. Older and overweight rabbits can be particularly susceptible. Heat exhaustion can be fatal, so don't hesitate.

However, remember that for a bunny to have hot ears is perfectly normal as a friend of mine discovered, much to her chagrin. My first bunny, Burma; gave a friend of mine quite a scare while she was pet sitting. As she was petting Burma one night she thought her ears felt unusually hot and since I was unavailble called several emergency vets in a panic before one told her to relax, Burma was just being a bunny! It took quite a bit of coaxing to get the story out of her but after I got done laughing I was touched that she had been so worried. Burma, being her usual unflappable self; was unconcerned.

I hope you will find these tips useful and that they help you and your bunny to keep cool!

It's time for another Photo and Tip Contest! We're looking for your holiday related pictures and holiday safety tips for our upcoming holiday bulletin. The two winners will each receive a $25.00 Bunny Bytes gift certificate. If we use your photo or tip you will receive a free holiday toy! Please email submissions to bulletin@bunnybytes.com or mail to Bunny Bytes, PO Box 69733, Seattle WA 98168. Be sure to include your mailing address so we can send you your prize.

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