One of the cool things associated with my job is working with the rabbit plant that my company owns. Yes, we slaughter rabbits, but I get to work with the funner side of that. I get to work with the rabbits while they are alive, trying to maintain the best possible conditions to keep the rabbits as happy and comfortable as possible.
I have always loved animals and have been around them my entire life. It brings me great pleasure in my life to help animals that can’t help themselves.
Over the past couple of weeks, I was assigned the task of working to create a handout that we could give to our growers that would help them with finding ways to keep their rabbits cool during the very hot summer months.
We have growers who raise rabbits for us all throughout Iowa and Missouri. Many of these growers have a great knowledge of rabbits and some not as much. One of my jobs is to try to give them some instruction that is informative, yet very clear to understand.
I had a blast doing the research on the topic and I wanted to share what I wrote for a handout for these growers with you on today’s blog.
Iowa Rabbit LLC
Keeping Your Rabbit Cool in the Summer
By Dr. William J. Marsau
As the summer months are upon us, it brings with it very hot days and that can be bad news for your rabbits. Rabbits are much better at handling cold weather than they are at being able to handle the hot weather. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that rabbits can’t sweat so they have no way of cooling their bodies when it is hot out. The areas on a rabbits body where they can experience any type of cooling effects is through their mouths and their ears. The second reason is pretty obvious. They have a fur coat. While they do shed their winter coat and have a lighter summer coat, it is still a coat. Can you imagine how hot you would be if you had to wear a coat around in the summer?
To help us think about keeping our rabbits cool in the summer months, I have come up with an acronym. THHS. This stands for Temperature, Humidity, Hydration, and Sunlight.
The ideal temperature for rabbits is between 60-78°F. Any time the temperature is above 85°F, you really need to make sure you are taking active steps to keep your rabbit cool.
This is a measure of the amount of water droplets in the air. The more moisture in the air, the higher the humidity percentage is. The ideal humidity range for rabbits is between 30-40%. On most summer days, we will be above that.
Keep in mind that high temperatures and high humidity each on their own can cause a rabbit to overheat. When you combine high temperature with high humidity, it increases the chance of the rabbit overheating exponentially.
Keeping a rabbit well hydrated is one of the best defenses we have available to us to keep a rabbit from overheating. A rabbit uses the water inside it’s body to try to keep cool. When there is a lack of water inside the rabbit’s body, they are not able to do this.
When it comes to keeping a rabbit cool in hot weather, sun is our very worst enemy. We need to take every measure possible to keep the rabbits out of direct sunlight when it is hot out.
So how do you know when your rabbit is too hot? Here are some signs your rabbit may show that tells you they are very hot:
Signs of overheating
Stretching out, panting, open-mouthed breathing, lethargy, wet nose and muzzle, and tilting their head back.
So all this science is great, but lets get down to the practical stuff here. Here are some tips and practical ways you can keep your rabbits cool.
Keep them in the shade. Like we discussed above, it is vital that you keep your rabbits out of direct sunlight. Put them in the shade whenever possible. Remember that with the rotation of the sun, the shade spots move so don’t go off and leave them to come back and find them sitting in the sunlight. Shade can be a tree, a building, or even your vehicle.
Access to water. It is hard to keep water bowls from spilling when you are moving rabbits around in cages in your vehicle. A great trick is to take an empty 2L bottle and remove the label. Fill the bottle ¾ full of water and then freeze it. Put one 2L bottle in each cage. As the ice starts to melt, it will create condensation on the outside of the bottle and the rabbits will be able to lick this condensation off the bottle and get access to water.
Give them fruits or vegetables. No we are not talking about giving them something to eat here. When the weather is hot, they are not going to be very hungry anyway. The only time you need to feed rabbits during transport is if they will be traveling for over 24 hours. I am talking about getting the rabbits access to water through the water contained inside the fruits and vegetables. There are two different ways you can approach this. The first way would be to take your fruit or vegetable (potatoes and apples work best) and soak them in water the night before you are going to be moving them. This slows them to soak up as much water as possible. Then you just put some pieces in each cage where they will have access to eat them during your trip. The other way would be to take your fruit or vegetable (apples, bananas, or grapes work best) and cut them into 1 in. pieces (grapes can stay whole). Stick them in the freezer the night before your trip. When you get ready to leave, just put a few pieces of the frozen fruit or vegetables into each cage. They may not eat everything you put in there, but at least you are making it available to them. Every little bit helps.
Use a sheet. If you are going to have your rabbits in an area that does not have any type of shade, you can use a sheet to protect them from the direct sunlight. Just get an old sheet and put it over the cage. The sheet will help filter out the sun, yet will still be porous enough to allow air through it so it does not hinder their breathing. If you want to have even more cooling effect, you can wet the sheet down prior to putting it over the cage.
Use a spray bottle. As we discussed earlier, rabbits get their cooling from their mouths and ears. It does very little good to try to hose down the entire body of a rabbit when they are hot. A good alternative is to have a spray bottle filled with water and you can use it to periodically spray the rabbit on the face and the ears to provide additional cooling to them on really warm days.
Use a fan. Fans are great ways to cool hot rabbits. If you have electricity available, it is always great to have fans running on the rabbits while they are in the cages. The fans create airflow that helps to cool the rabbits.
Use marble or ceramic tiles. If you have access to some old marble or ceramic tiles available to you, they work great at cooling rabbits. Due to their composition, they tend to maintain a much cooler temperature. You can place some of these tiles on the floor of the cage. When the rabbits sit or lay on them, the tile will draw heat out of the rabbit from their underside providing a great cooling effect.
Never leave them sitting in the car. Good access to air is vital when hot. If you have a situation where you are transporting rabbits inside your vehicle, do not leave them sitting in the vehicle with it shut off. The exception to this would be that you can leave them in there if you keep the vehicle running with the AC running.
Keep moving. Air movement is key to cooling. If you are carrying cages in the back of your truck, the breeze created while you are driving will have a cooling effect on the rabbits. Try to keep the vehicle moving as much as possible to maintain this breeze.
Be timely. It has always been said that it is good to be early. This might be one of the few exceptions. While it is important that you have you rabbits at the pickup point on time, try to avoid arriving too early. The less the rabbits have to sit, the better.
Keep them brushed. Something that you can do at home before the trip that will really help is to take the time to brush the rabbits to make sure that excess fur is removed. The more fur the rabbit has on their coat. The hotter they will be.
Avoid overcrowding. Rabbits give off body heat and when there are too many rabbits in a cage, it can cause them to overheat. Make sure that the rabbits have plenty of space to move around. This will allow them to stay cooler. In the cages that Iowa Rabbit LLC uses, we do not put more than 10 rabbits per cage. Remember that the larger the rabbits are, the less rabbits per cage.
Check road conditions. During the summer months, it is prime road construction season. You don’t want to start on your route to the pick up point only to find that you can’t get through or that there will be long delays. Severe storms can also be an issue. You don’t want to get into a situation where you have your rabbits exposed to severe weather on the trip to the pick up point. Call the DOT in your state before you start your trip to make sure that the route you are taking will be safe and go smoothly. In the state of Iowa you can call 511 or (800)288-1047. In the state of Missouri you should call (888)275-6636.
Making the Trip
So here is a checklist of things you should do before and during your trip to the pick up point:
Before the Trip
Ö Make sure the rabbits are well hydrated.
Ö Remove all excess fur from the rabbits.
Ö Check the route to make sure there is no construction or severe weather.
Ö Freeze water bottles.
Ö Freeze fruit/vegetables or soak vegetables in water.
During the Trip
Ö Don’t overcrowd the rabbits in the cages.
Ö Don’t arrive at the pick up point too early.
Ö Keep your vehicle moving while avoiding any prolonged stops.
Ö Make sure the rabbits always have access to water through a water bottle or fruits/vegetables.
Ö Always keep rabbits out of direct sunlight and in shade whenever possible.
Ö Have a spray bottle filled with water to spray the faces and ears of hot rabbits.
Ö Have a fan along to cool rabbits as needed.
Ö Bring along a sheet to cover the cages as needed.
All of these tips and ideas will help you keep your rabbits as cool as possible. As growers, you are responsible for their comfort. There is a strong financial incentive as well. You work hard to have the rabbits gain as much weight, as quickly as possible, to get them ready for market. If you allow the rabbit to get dehydrated when you take them to the pickup, they can lose a significant amount of body weight through the loss of water. This can drastically lower their weigh-in weight, which will mean less money for you as a grower. It is a shame to work so hard putting weight on the rabbits and lose a bunch of weight just hours before the end.
I just want to end by thanking all of you for the hard work and effort you put into raising healthy, strong rabbits for us. The most important consideration when discussing hot weather and rabbits is keeping the rabbits happy. And when the rabbits are happy, everyone is happy!