With summer well underway, we’ve had some stiflingly hot weather…how are your rabbits coping with the heat?

Even though rabbits originate from much hotter parts of Europe and North Africa, they are crepuscular, that is most active at dawn and dusk. In the wild, they would be able to hide from the more intense heat in underground burrows where the temperature varies by only a few degrees. Pet rabbits, especially those who live outside, are reliant on their owners to provide conditions where they can be safe and comfortable. Shade from direct sunlight is essential, so consider where your rabbit hutch or shed and run are situated. Is there any plant cover that will provide shade? A shrub or creeper will be a great help in keeping off the most intense rays of the sun. Plant a tree, but while you wait for it to grow and bush out, also plant something that is going to provide cover quickly, for example a Montana Reubens. Ensure your rabbits can’t get to it and eat it though.

Shade provided by a cover on the run and under a large bush. Make sure the rabbits can’t nibble anything harmful. The mesh allows a cool breeze

Is your hutch inside a shed? If not, that would be a good idea. Garden sheds can be fairly inexpensive – sometimes you might be able to get one from your local Freecycle or Freegle group – and that would provide an extra insulation against the sun, with the extra bonus of being somewhere to store rabbit possessions, winter insulation, somewhere you can sit with the buns, give them more sheltered living/exercise space and so on. Site it somewhere shady or plant some creeper/tree cover as mentioned above. Be wary though as sheds too can get very hot, so consider double-skinning it and putting insulation between the layers – cavity wall and roof insulation for rabbits. In fact, turf roofs provide excellent insulation and although you’d need to water them in the dryer parts of summer, they do a great job. Insulation keeps heat OUT as well as IN, so whatever you do along these lines for the summer will be of benefit in the winter months too.To keep the shed cool, you will need to keep the door open, so it’s a good idea to fit a wire screen to keep it secure but still let in the fresh air.

A shed with a mesh door for ventilation and under a shady tree. Shade also provided by the covers on the run and den pipe

FANS. These can be wind or solar powered, battery driven or connected to the mains. But be sure that if they are connected to a power source, your rabbits can’t get to those wires and nip them. Rabbits have a natural instinct for snipping things that look to them like tree roots. Use some hosepipe or trunking to cover wires and keep checking it…you’d be amazed just what buns are able to nibble their way through. Remember too that fans only move the air around and while that makes our skin feel cooler it doesn’t reduce the temperature of the air. So consider having the fan blowing over a frozen pop bottle and that will reduce the air temperature by a few degrees. But don’t aim a fan directly at a rabbit somewhere that it can’t get away, many of them find this very distressing.

Fill up plastic pop bottles with water and freeze them. Have a few so that some are re-freezing while one or two are in use. You can put one in the path of the fanned air to act as a mini-air conditioning system. Your rabbits might also like one to lie on to keep them cool. Cover them though so that your rabbits don’t have to be in direct contact with them. Visit Snugglebunnies for bottle covers in different sizes https://www.facebook.com/snugglebunniesfortheRWAF/?hc_ref=ARTUhdAVekTRQqYvYYENXPOEgNWi4mK8UxglYtocS7BFuuVie-fl1T7PtPU4TnWevUg You can buy Scratch and Newton ice pods too and Snugglebunnies heat pad covers fit those too. https://scratchandnewton.com/products/ice-pod

Once frozen, these will stay cool for hours. And if you cover an ice pod with the upturned large terracotta drip try from a plantpot, the temperature will remain low for longer. You can also freeze ordinary ceramic floor and wall tiles for hot buns to lie on and cool down. Some materials are naturally cool to the touch, marble for example – remember nothing’s too good for your rabbits!

Obviously always supply plenty of fresh cool water, as even though they only sweat through feet and tongue, a cool drink will make rabbits feel better, and some will even find it helpful to lie in a water dish. Rabbits can access much more fluid from a bowl than from a bottle so it’s best to provide both so they have the choice. Remember to check and refill regularly. If you do find a bun panting, it is in distress and should be brought immediately into a much cooler environment, but don’t dunk them in freezing water as the sudden temperature change could do untold harm and send their system into shock. If this was an emergency, they need to see a vet. Cool them as gently as you can by laying a damp towel over them to slowly reduce the temperature, and cover the carrier with a damp towel on the way to see a vet if you’re really worried, but generally just providing them with a much cooler space is best.

Have you somewhere they could safely tunnel underground? Could you sink wide pipes under your garden? Buns could keep lovely and cool in these, but always think about being able to get access to the rabbit – this is less advisable if your bun is already hard to catch.

FLIES. The horror of rabbit owners. Flies of course, lay eggs, and those hatch out into maggots, which literally eat their way into your rabbit’s flesh and organs – an often fatal condition for rabbits. If the eggs have been laid on your rabbit by a blowfly (a greenbottle or a bluebottle), then there is a very real danger of flystrike. So do all you can to keep flies away. Plant herbs that are thought to repel them, keep bun an dbedding/litter area scrupulously clean, buy a battery or solar powered bug zapper to hang in your shed, check your rabbits several times every day. If you have the slightest suspicion of flystrike, it is an emergency. Phone your vet and tell him or her what the problem is and get your rabbit there at once. Rather a false alarm in these circumstances than a dead rabbit. If your bun is prone to wetting itself or having caecal pellets stuck to fur, you need to work out the reason why and work with your vet on eliminating that…is your bun obese and unable to clean itself or to squat properly? Is there the possibility of arthritis? This is far more common than people realise in older rabbits. You can get products like Rearguard from your vet or from online pharmacies (no prescription needed). There are other products on the market. Rearguard works by preventing the maggots from developing mouth parts so they can’t eat your rabbits alive. It only needs to be applied at intervals of a few weeks. Other products need to be applied daily and are insect epellents/killers. But nothing is better than regular checks of your rabbits’ rear ends and scrupulous hygiene.

In summary, your buns need to be checked even more regularly in the hot summer months, and owners should always err on the side of caution. Best to take a bit more time than to have the unthinkable happen.