Heatstroke in rabbits

It’s important to keep your rabbit cool in warmer weather – this will keep them happy and means there’s less chance of them suffering from heatstroke.

Rabbits drinking water together

What is heatstroke?

Heatstroke occurs when a rabbit gets too hot and is unable to regulate their body temperature. It’s a serious illness for rabbits and can prove fatal.

A rabbit’s enclosure should ideally be between 10-20 degrees celsius. However, there’s a fine line as rabbits can start to show signs of heatstroke at 22 degrees celsius.

Keep a watchful eye on your rabbit on warmer days, there are some really easy things that you can do to keep your rabbit cool and happy when the sun is out.

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How can I tell if my rabbit has heatstroke?

Rabbits do not display symptoms of illness unless they are in real trouble. Check your rabbit carefully at least a couple of times a day to spot any early signs of illness.

Signs of heatstroke are:

  • Drooling or salivating
  • Panting and taking short shallow breaths
  • Overall weakness and lethargy
  • Reddening and warmth of the ears
  • Wetness around the nose
  • Fitting or falling unconscious

What should I do if I think my rabbit has heatstroke?

If your rabbit is showing any of these signs, please talk to your vet immediately.

There are some immediate things that you can do to help try and cool your rabbit down. It’s really important that you do this slowly, this will avoid your rabbit going into shock and making the situation worse. You should never pour water over your rabbit.

  • Place a damp towel over the enclosure
  • Allow them to drink small amounts of cool water
  • Gently wipe cool water on their ears
  • Move their enclosure (if you can) so it’s in a cooler place or move them to a cooler (secure) place if that’s not an option

A rabbit that is suffering from heatstroke should always be seen by a vet. Even if you believe that you have cooled your rabbit down and they are behaving normally.

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How can I prevent heatstroke?

As with all conditions, prevention is better than cure. There are a few simple steps that you can take that will ensure your rabbit stays safe.

Shade

Plenty of shade is a must, indoors or outdoors. A rabbit should never be housed in direct sunlight.

If it’s not possible for their enclosure to be in the shade, then you need to provide plenty of option for shade. This could be a parasol, a towel or some tarpaulin.

Inside their enclosure a tunnel or cardboard box will provide shade and possibly some entertainment.

Water

Hydration is key and you should ideally provide a couple of different water sources; a bowl and a bottle. Check bottles regularly to ensure they aren’t blocked. Change the water a minimum of twice a day, so they will always have access to clean, cool water.

A frozen bottle of water wrapped in a towel is a great way to help your rabbit keep cool.

Cool breeze

If your rabbit’s enclosure is in a shed or outhouse, you could safely open a door or window to allow a natural breeze to pass through. Don’t allow a cool breeze to become an uncomfortable draft.

Alternatively, a small battery-operated fan can help. Always position it so that your rabbit can move away from the breeze should they have had enough.

Cool mat

These are widely available for a reasonable price, and they’re another great option for placing inside the enclosure.

Grooming

Rabbits with longer fur will heat up quicker but ensuring that your rabbit is well-groomed will make a difference.

What else should I know?

  1. In the summer you should be checking your rabbit at least twice a day for flystrike. Read more here
  2. Rabbits struggle with sudden changes to temperatures. If you need to cool your rabbit down or warm them up – this must only ever be done gradually. Anything else could send them into shock and result in them becoming very poorly.
  3. In the wild, rabbits would spend hot days tunnelled underground. If your rabbit has an outdoor run, a safe tunnel for them to burrow in would be ideal. Alternatively, a big earth filled litter tray, that can be kept damp to keep cool is a good option – if a little messy.

If you suspect your rabbit has heatstroke you should always see your vet.

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