Keeping Rabbits Alive

—is more work than you think.

They are sensitive, nervous, little things, prey animals at that. They don’t behave very well and they don’t give up their secrets easily. This can make it incredibly difficult to diagnose internal issues until it is too late.

Our most common issues are neurological, digestive, or environmental.

Neurological? I am at a loss on that one. We haven’t pursued treatment in the one or two instances, simply made them comfortable until the end.

Digestive? I am a firm believer in the power of hay. Consistent access to timothy or alfalfa hay provide the rabbits plenty of roughage to keep their digestion moving right. Keeping it moving help keep bacteria or disease from taking hold.

Environmental can mean many things. We keep the hutches away from the fences the dogs bark at to keep their stress levels down, and we keep them in the shade to help them regulate their temperature. Rabbits are sensitive to extreme temperatures, and especially ill-suited for the extreme heat.

In the winter we protect them from drafts and keep them dry, using tarps or plywood. And we keep their water unfrozen, using heat lamps or heating pads. I’ve heard some things about beet juice and may look into it this winter.

In the summer we keep them in the shade and we keep them in fresh water. However these heat waves are more cause for concern. We’re facing ten days of over 100° temps this week, and Monday evening I had to get prepared.

Freezing water bottles for them to lay against is a common option but one I haven’t had much luck with—they seem uninterested. Instead, this year I’ve made a point to supplement their diet with chilled produce: cabbage, celery, apples.

And with the heat wave in mind, this week I froze slices of watermelon and apples, and bags of stir-fry vegetables. They’ll enjoy some cool cabbage most days and on the very hottest days will get some frozen treats in the afternoon.

Monitoring their water is extra important. I partially filled and frozen their bottles to help their water cool enough to be refreshing.

Heat wave agenda: Fresh water in the mornings, cool treat in the afternoon or evening, and a final glance at their water levels after work.

Other options include evaporative cooling, or chilled tiles or bricks for them to lay against. We’ll see how they hold up and decide if we need to change our approach.

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