Friday, June 11, 2010

Keeping Cool in the Summer

Just because their wild cousins don’t have access to air conditioning, doesn’t mean our domesticated rabbit companions are also fine on their own during the summer. Not only are domestic rabbits a distinct species, they also don’t have the ability to burrow in the ground to spend the sweltering hours of a summer day in cool underground tunnels. But I’m sure most readers already agree on the importance of indoor housing for our rabbits.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean we can ignore the dangers of heat and humidity entirely. Upstairs levels of houses/apartments and sunrooms tend to concentrate warm air and negate wind to form greenhouse-like containers of extreme heat and humidity. If you are feeling uncomfortable inside, put on a giant (faux) fur coat to see how your rabbit feels. And it’s not just a matter of comfort-level; it’s a relevant medical concern—heat stroke is one of the top killers of the domestic rabbit. Temperatures above 80 degrees are dangerous, especially when dehydration or environmental stressors are also present.

Tips to keep your rabbit cool on a hot day:

1. A window air conditioning unit is your best friend and absolutely worth the investment. (I only bought an air conditioner once I had my first rabbit.) It's the easiest way to safely cool down you and your bunny's environment.

2. Fans can be helpful, but at a certain point they only serve to circulate warm air. Coupling a fan with an air conditioner can lower energy costs by reducing the needed strength and length of use of the AC unit, while maximizing cooling efforts.

3. A hot rabbit does not want to lie on carpet, so allow her onto an alternate surface or provide a ceramic tile block to lie on. Put the tile in the fridge for an hour for an even cooler surface!

4. A frozen water bottle can make a cool cuddle buddy on a hot summer day.

5. Since rabbits radiate heat from their ears, rubbing an ice cube or dabbing a little cold water on the outside of their ears can assist their cooling down efforts. Applying some water to the back of their necks can increase the evaporative cooling effect too. Avoid getting water into the ear canals though, as this can lead to irritation or even infection.

6. Frequently brush or manually remove loose fur to keep the coat at a minimum density. If you have a long-haired rabbit, such as an Angora or Jersey Wooly, consider trimming their fur with electric clippers (have your vet show you how) for the summer months. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep the fur short year-round to prevent matting and excessive fur ingestion.

7. As with people, adequate hydration is an important part of avoiding heat stroke. Provide a large bowl with fresh, chilled water and serve your bunny's daily veggies extra moistened.

8. If you have the option, a rabbit-proofed, finished basement can be a great place for a rabbit in the summer months, as they are usually the coolest part of the house. Basements tend to also be low-traffic, so make sure you spend adequate time downstairs so your rabbit doesn't get lonely or bored. Move your computer or the TV (don't forget to hide the wires!) to the basement so you can continue spending quality time together. Or allow your bun the opportunity to willingly come upstairs for some socializing when the mood strikes. This may involve helping her understand stairs and how to properly use them.

Most importantly, always be cognizant of the temperature and carefully note any changes in your pet's behavior or appetite. An overheated rabbit will be inactive and could also stop eating, further jeopardizing her health. Take the issue of heat seriously and be proactive at helping your fur friend stay cool. In the event of a heat stroke, wrap ice packs around your bunny and get her to a rabbit savvy vet as fast as possible.