How to Keep Rabbit and Rodent Companions Cool in Summer
Rabbits are very sensitive animals who don’t tolerate heat well. Unlike many animals, buns can’t pant to cool themselves, nor do they sweat like humans. With limited ways to cool themselves off, cottontail companions will rely on you to monitor the mercury.
Generally, temps in the high 20s can cause stress and even fatal overheating in a rabbit within minutes. Here are some things you can do for them and provide them with to help them stay cool:
Even in mild temperatures, a rabbit drinks more daily (on average) than a medium-sized dog would, so it’s especially vital to ensure yours have access to plenty of fresh, cool water. A bowl is best, as dropper bottles can be too much work for them on hot days. Make sure you change the water often and clean the bowl regularly to remove fur and debris.
A few frozen water bottles or flat freezer blocks placed around their home will give your rabbits a nice cold spot to flop down on. You can also buy cooling mats from pet stores – but remember that rabbits chew, so never leave them with access to a gel-filled mat.
Bring Them In
Rabbits are prone to fly- and mosquito-borne illnesses. If you have an outdoor hutch, bring your buns inside when the heat is on. And make sure that they’re given plenty of space to explore during the rest of the year – no animal wants to live in a cage.
Misting your rabbit with cool water can help – especially if you have a lop-eared breed. As buns lose heat via their ears, those whose ears flop against their head have half the surface area through which heat can escape, so wetting them is a good idea. Just bear in mind that misting too often can lead to breathing issues and that rabbits should not be bathed or submerged in water.
Rabbits like popsicles, too! When hot weather is on the way, freeze some ice blocks containing berries and/or plain vegetable juice (diluted with water) and give one to your bun to eat. As with all treats, these should be given in moderation.
A rabbit’s best defence against heat is having somewhere cool to stretch out, so a wooden or tiled floor is great. If you only have carpet, grab a large ceramic tile from your nearest hardware store and pop it in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Rabbits love vegetables, and while hay should comprise about 80 per cent of their diet, fresh green vegetables (check out the safe list here) dripping in water from a rinse are very welcome in hot weather.
Know the Signs
Rabbits tend to hide illnesses until it’s too late, so be alert. Heat stress shows as lethargy, panting, and dehydration, while signs of heatstroke include unresponsiveness, lack of coordination, and convulsions. If you’re worried, see a veterinarian for emergency intervention.
Mice, Rats, and Guinea Pigs
Mice, rats, and guinea pigs are prone to stress in extreme heat and humidity and can quickly die if not looked after properly. Here’s how to keep your tiniest family members safe when the temps soar:
Bring Them In
Mice, rats, and guinea pigs like company and aren’t meant to be stuck in an outdoor cage. In summer, it’s very important to bring your little ones inside – especially during the hottest part of the day.
Make sure they have a dropper bottle, and test it regularly to ensure the flow is working. Adding a shallow bowl of clean water will give them a spot in which to dip their faces, too.
Cool Their Home
Lay a damp facecloth out for your rodents, or place a ceramic tile in their home for them to sit on. Bonus points from your squeakers if you pop the tile in the freezer first! Other measures you can take include directing a fan or air conditioner toward their home and draping damp towels over the bars of their enclosure (but if you do the latter, don’t forget that they need lots of air flow, too).
A flat freezer block placed under their enclosure can help bring the heat down. Also, a frozen pea or two will be much appreciated.
Misting your mice or holding an ice cube over them and letting it drip onto their backs can help bring their body temperature down. Just be mindful not to handle a mouse too much on a hot day – think of how you feel when someone hugs you tightly on a hot, sticky day!
Know the Signs
If your small friends are struggling with the heat, they may retreat into a hidey hole. Make an extra effort to check in on them, and take measures to help them cool off if you notice panting, thick saliva, a bright-red tongue, weakness, lethargy, or (in advanced stages of overheating) convulsions.