Filed in Small Animals, Bunny
Climate plays a huge factor in your rabbit's health. Rabbits cannot tolerate large fluctuations in temperature. This is one of the reasons why many families house their bunnies inside. Let's take a look at the issue of climate from the outdoor bunny's perspective.
Rabbits suffer from heatstroke very easily. Knowing that, you will need to take precautions accordingly. If your outdoor hutch is moveable, perhaps you will want to move it to a shady spot during the summer months. Some enthusiasts hang the cage from the side of their house to prevent hutch knockdowns and to make it more mobile. With a set of brackets on each side of the house, you can change your pet's environment/exposure according to the season changes. If temperatures are rising, (85 degrees or above), you will need to take matters into your own hands. Georgia Williams, leader of Bunny Central, and a rabbit enthisiast as well as a local expert recommends freezing 2-liter plastic soda bottles (full of water) and placing them in the cage (non-bedding side). Keeping another one in the freezer will allow you to keep rotating the bottles, (be careful not to let a "melting" bottle dampen bedding material). Make sure that your hutch is exposed to good circulation of fresh air. If it's not, then you can provide a fan outside the cage so that it blows on a portion of the cage. Hanging damp burlap over the part of the cage where the fan is blowing will also cool the hutch. Williams also supports the use of garden misters in the area of the hutch.
Although rabbits can manage colder temperatures more easily than hotter temperatures, if your outside hutch is exposed to cold weather, you'll need to take precautions. When temperatures drop, give your rabbit bedding of hay so that he can burrow in it. Change the hay frequently, hay is likely to mold if it becomes wet. Another important factor is wind. Provide your bunny with some wind blockage by tarping the cage or using hinged boards that can cover the sides of the hutch to block the wind, (don't block all the circulating air, just part of it). One of the keys to providing warmth is to optimize your rabbit's ability to use his own body heat. If he has a cozy nesting box with hay to cuddle in, he will be able to warm that small environment with his body heat. If he has too large an area, or an area without protection from too much circulation of air, then his body heat is lost to the space around him.
Remember, any time you make changes in your rabbit's climate, whether it's with a frozen soda bottle or a thermal fabric, you'll want to allow the animal the opportunity to thermo-regulate itself by going in and out of the altered climate on its own. Don't cool the entire cage, cool a portion of it and let your bunny hop back and forth.
For more information, try some of these sources:
- Barron's Small Pet Handbook, David Taylor, 1996
- The International Encyclopedia of Pet Care, David Alderton, Howell Book House, 1997
- Rabbits Magazine, 1999-2000 issue
- The House Rabbit Society
Deirdre Kelly is a freelance writer, teacher and animal lover living in Florida.