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Air Quality In The Pet Rabbit Building
Pet and Meat Rabbits Need Quality Air 

 
     
 


Air quality in the rabbit house has a direct effect upon the health and well being of rabbits housed in a building. Proper ventilation as well as maintaining low ammonia levels can have a positive impact upon the overall health of the respiratory tract of rabbits.

Most rabbitries are built inside of a building of some kind. A balance of plenty of air flow and closed off enough to be able to heat as needed in the winter will be the dilemma for all indoor rabbit

AMMONIA AND ITS IMPACT ON PET RABBITS

Ammonia is generated as a result of the breakdown of urine. The rate at which ammonia develops is dependent upon the rabbits diet (higher protein, more ammonia), as well as ambient air temperature (higher the temperature, the faster the development). Ammonia is a heavy gas and will settle to the floor of a building. If there is no air flow in the building to remove it, the concentration of ammonia will rise up in the building.

Ammonia has a detrimental impact upon the health of rabbits. Once damage occurs you will need to get new rabbits.

In comparison to rabbits, the human sense of smell is rather poor. Once one is able to detect ammonia vapors, the level of ammonia is already too high in the building.


PET RABBIT - BUILDING DESIGN

Many times a breeder will utilize an existing building or may wish to design a building specifically for the rabbits. The optimum elements in any rabbitry building is the establishment of passive ventilation.

Passive ventilation is established by the proper location of inlet and outlet air openings in the building. There are two problems that need to be dealt with in the rabbitry: Hot air (especially in summer) and ammonia vapors that develop as a result of the breakdown of urine. Hot air rises to the top of the building, whereas ammonia is a heavy gas that drops down to the floor. In summer, the breeder does not want hot air to build up (reaching the floor), nor does one want to have ammonia build up to move up in the building. In winter, this becomes a balancing act because we want the heat of the building (if heated) to drop down more to keep rabbits warmer.

Passive ventilation also relies upon the prevailing wind of the area. Air from outside the building must enter in order to get the percolating effect that passive ventilation offers. That means, inlet openings should ideally be on the windward side of the building at a minimum. This means, thought must be given to the orientation of the building. The longest wall of the building should ideally be oriented to the prevailing wind side (in most areas, this is to the west).

Inlet openings should be located, evenly spaced near the floor of the building on the windward side and on the opposite wall, should be staggered. In other words, not in direct line with the ones on the windward side. If they were located directly opposite the ones on the windward side, on a windy day, air would pass horizontally and out the other side. The passive ventilation would not occur correctly. The goal is to move cool air from the floor to the ceiling, where the outlet air would be located. This is especially important for the winter, since this type of air flow would force warm air out of the building by drawing it down from the ceiling. It is also important to have openings the full length of the building so that corners of the building do not become dead air spaces where no air can flow or be drawn from.

The size of the openings is also important. The TOTAL square foot area of the inlet air should be slightly less than the TOTAL square foot area of the outlet. The outlet area being larger will work to remove hot air faster. If the total square foot area of inlet is more than the outlet, air will move much more slowly or not at all on calm days. On winter days, passive ventilation needs to be adjusted to keep more heat in the building. Inlet air opens on the windward side of the building should be equipped with a means to close some of them off to slow the air movement. Because air flow is slower, it will be necessary to implement other measures to reduce ammonia levels (discussed later).

Since many breeders start out utilizing an existing building, not all of the elements of the passive ventilation system are possible, either because of the building orientation or other factors. By implementing as much of the system as possible, one can generally establish some level of air flow which can be supplemented with other measures to reduce ammonia.

NEGATIVE AIR SYSTEM

This system is similar to the passive air system in that inlet and outlet openings are still necessary but the air is forced out of the building by mechanical means, such as exhaust fans. Again, the openings need to be located the same but the TOTAL outlet air opens can be less than the inlet. It is also important to locate the outlet openings as well as the number of outlet openings to ensure that there are no dead air spaces in the building. In summer, ideally, the outlet air should exit the building near the floor since ammonia levels will be at the highest this time of year. In winter, one can either switch to the passive system completely or reduce the number of inlet openings by closing some of them to prevent excessive cooling of the building and establishment of drafts.

CONCENTRATION OF PET RABBITS


Air quality also depends upon the number of rabbits housed in the building. Many breeders utilize stacking cages to keep the number of rabbits they need for their breeding programs. One must keep in mind that keeping large numbers of rabbits in a small unventilated building will cause an increase in the ammonia levels that will be difficult to manage.

ARRANGEMENT OF CAGES FOR PET RABBITS

The cage system in use will dictate some of the necessary steps one must take to ventilate the building. Stacking cages that rest on the floor of the building will require different measures than cages set up as suspended runs (single level). Rabbits closest to the floor will be exposed to higher ammonia levels than those closer to the ceiling whereas those closer to the ceiling will be warmer than those near the floor. The temperature of the building differs at different levels. In summer, it is often necessary to house bucks in the lower levels to help offset summer sterility due to high temperatures. However, this also exposes them to higher ammonia. Those who use stacking cages need to adjust the ventilation system for summer and winter. Those who utilize single level suspended cages may not need to make major adjustments from summer to winter.

HUSBANDRY METHODS

Husbandry methods can supplement the ventilation system and reduce the need for fast airflow to remove heat and/or ammonia from the building. These methods should be utilized extensively to reduce the need to make major adjustments in airflow or ventilation.

For those that utilize stacking cages with drop pans, cleaning and rinsing of the pans on a regular basis will greatly reduce the ammonia levels. Ideally, this should be done at least every 3-4 days, depending upon the concentration of rabbits in the building. It should be done more often in winter if a heating system is used and/or the ventilation system is not optimal as well as in the summer where the hot days can increase ammonia levels.

Additives to the drop pan can help absorb some of the ammonia generated between cleaning. One excellent product, zeolite, can be used in the bedding in the drop pan to help absorb the ammonia. Zeolite can also be used in solid floored cages since the product is non-toxic to rabbits. They can ingest the product with no adverse health effects. (In fact, the product can be used to help absorb toxins in the GI tract of animals.) Some breeders also claim that adding vanilla to the drinking water of the rabbits helps to reduce ammonia as well as deter flies. There are also sprays that can be applied to the drop pan between cleaning that contain enzymes that break down the ammonia.

Another aspect of ammonia development is the diet. A higher protein level in the feed will generate more ammonia. Rabbits should be fed the lowest protein which produces the desired quality of animals. This is not always advisable in winter however. It is best to feed whatever level protein is necessary for the stage of life of the rabbit and to utilize other means to reduce ammonia production.

For those who utilize single level suspended cages, manure drops to the floor. Since rabbits are up off the floor at a comfortable working level for the breeder, ammonia tends to stay closer to the floor and rabbits are not exposed to high levels unless the manure is allowed to build up in a closed building with little ventilation. Most suspended cages are utilized in a large barn that generally breathes very well so it is often not as much of a problem to allow the manure to remain on the floor for several months. Many who use this caging system do not remove the manure for 6 months to a year. Some breeders may establish worm beds under the cages, which greatly reduce the ammonia generated since the worms are “cultivating” the manure. The only problem that does exist with this system is when urine becomes concentrated in one location on the floor. The worms tend to avoid these areas unless the breeder “turns” the manure or adds peat moss or old wood sawdust to the area.

HEATED BUILDINGS for PET RABBITS

In winter, some breeders heat the building to just above freezing to keep the water bottles or automatic watering system working and to make for a more comfortable work environment for the breeder. Heating is not absolutely necessary for rabbits themselves since they do exceedingly well in cold weather. It is intended more as a convenience for the breeder. But heating does pose a problem with the generation of ammonia. Ammonia development increases with increased temperatures, thus, in a closed building, this can cause a problem since one needs to keep the building more closed in to keep the heat in the building. More frequent cleaning of pans and the use of zeolite can help. Many breeders who heat can often shut down the heating system on warmer winter days and open the building during the day to ventilate, closing it up later in the day.

HUMIDITY

Humidity plays a role in ammonia generation as well as the level of damage it can cause to both the respiratory system of rabbits and the cages. High humidity reduces a rabbits ability to remove moisture from the respiratory tract, whereas low humidity does the opposite. Both are not good for the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract of the rabbit. High humidity also increases the rate at which ammonia eats away at the galvanizing on cages.

Humidity if often very difficult to manage. Ventilation can help but when the outside air is humid, there isn’t much that can be done except to use dehumidifiers, which is not always practical. Moving the air more quickly will remove the ammonia from the building, which is the most important thing. Cleaning cages more often than normal will also help.
Conclusion - Have a good fan or have lots of air ventilation for your pet rabbits.





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