Rabbits use their ears as air conditioners in warm weather. Since they cannot sweat like people do, they have to lose heat somehow and they do it a bit through panting, but mostly through their ears.

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There are large blood vessels in the ears which dilate when the rabbit is warm, either because the outside temperature is warm (resulting in heavy breathing and a rise in body temperature) or if the rabbit is overheated because of exercise or disease. The
air moving across the ear cools the blood as it passes through the blood vessels, thus returning cooler blood to the body to cool the rabbit. This is why rabbits from hot climates, such as the Jack rabbit, have such large ears, so they can lose a lot of heat, and rabbits from cooler climates, such as the Arctic hare, have tiny ears because they don’t want to lose precious body heat.

To cool down a rabbit who may be overheated, wet the ears or hold an ice pack wrapped in a wet washcloth over the ears. This cools the blood as it circulates through the ears. Unless your rabbit having any difficulties such as lethargy, panting or difficulty in breathing, just hot ears don’t need to be treated in any special way.

San Diego House Rabbit Society

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Rabbit ears have a unique shape Rabbit ears are not only very long, they are also have a curve that turns them into satellite dishes on the bunny’s head. Why would a rabbit want this kind of shape? Well… rabbit ears are shaped like that for the same reason satellite dishes are – it helps to catch and amplify important signals. Rabbits are a prey species, so they need to be constantly monitoring for small sounds that may indicate a predator is near. They also need to be able to figure out exactly where that sound came from. The unique shape of the rabbit’s ears, and the rabbit’s ability to tilt, turn or move their ears, gives the rabbit the ability to pinpoint the location of the sound.

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Rabbit ears are signals Just like cats, rabbits can use their ears to signal things to other rabbits. In fact, ears are an important part of body language for any species that can move its ears. Rabbit “ear language” is pretty complex, but a lot of it is similar to cats. Forward facing ears are generally considered happier, while ears that are turned backwards indicate a more annoyed rabbit (unless the rabbit is listening for a sound behind them). Rabbits may even “waggle” their ears at a favourite human to encourage the human to interact with them. Spend some time watching rabbits closely and pay attention to what they do to their ears and/or body in response to different events. This is a great way to learn the body language of any species!

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Rabbit ears are air conditioners Rabbits cannot sweat. While people often say dogs and cats cannot sweat, both of these species actually do sweat through their paw pads – it’s just not enough to regulate their temperature. Rabbits, on the other hand, do not have paw pads like cats or dogs (rabbit feet are entirely covered in fur) so they cannot sweat at all. Rabbits also do not pant to cool off (in fact, should you spot your rabbit panting it is a medical emergency and you need to get your rabbit to a vet immediately).  So how is a rabbit to keep cool during hot days?

Rabbits will use their ears as air conditioners in hot weather – actually, they are more like radiators. During hot weather, a rabbit will increase the blood flow in their ears and will position their ears to catch any available breeze. Rabbit ears have very thin skin and thin fur, so heat can radiate away from the rabbit into the air. Unfortunately, this is not a terribly effective cooling mechanism, especially for indoor rabbits. Moistening your rabbit’s ears (with a spray bottle or wet cloth), adding a cool ceramic tile for your rabbit to sit on, ensuring your rabbit has shade and moving your rabbit to a cooler area of the house are all very helpful to your bunny when the temperatures start to climb. Rabbits do not tolerate heat very well, so keeping an eye on the temperature is important to keep your rabbit hopping and happy.

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What about lop-eared rabbits? Unfortunately for our lop eared friends, their ears are just not as effective at doing the above three things. This is one of the reasons you don’t see lop ears in most wild rabbits. Lop ears are a characteristic we have selectively bred into certain breeds of domestic rabbits because we like the way it looks. What does this mean for caregivers of lop-ear rabbits? Well, it means you may need to be extra sensitive to changes in your rabbit’s ear position to read its cues correctly and you will also need to be extra careful about your rabbit’s exposure to heat.

Calgary Humane Society