What feels pretty comfortable to most of us can be warm enough to start causing severe problems for rabbits. Heatstroke is a big deal. It is more than just being hot; it can cause your bunny friend to collapse and even die. The young, the old, anybun with paralysis – these rabbits are all especially at risk. Lop-eared rabbits are also more prone since rabbits lose heat through their ears – their ears are their air conditioners! – so lops have less ability to get rid of extra heat. To help keep your lagomorph safe, we’re going to review what are the symptoms of heatstroke in rabbits and discuss what to do if it happens.
We hate to be so melodramatic, we really do. But heatstroke can turn into an emergency quickly. You may not have a lot of time to cool your friend down. And suppose you don't get that temp down correctly. In that case, even more, damage can be done…your rabbit can go into shock from the sudden and extreme temperature difference. We've got another crisis shutting down organs.
- Fast, shallow breaths. There might be a lot of nose action with these breaths.
- Head tilted back with chin raised, possibly even mouth open while breathing.
- Red ears.
- Listlessness, lethargy, i.e., staying still and not moving around.
- Wetness around the nose.
If you notice your sweet bun exhibiting any of the symptoms, do these steps RIGHT AWAY, IN THIS ORDER:
- DO NOT douse your rabbit with cold water!
- Move your rabbit to a cooler, shaded area.
- Use fans to get air moving around your rabbit.
- Use cool but NOT COLD cloths to cool your rabbit’s ears. (COLD can cause shock)
- Offer water with ice cubes in it.
- CALL THE VET.
How do we prevent this scary thing from happening in the first place? We’ve got a few tips to beat the heat.
- Make sure your rabbit has shade and there is a lot of airflow in their enclosure. Set up the fans, turn on the AC if you are lucky enough to have it.
- You can freeze water in plastic bottles and tuck them down into a sock, leaving them for your rabbit to curl up against (if that is, your rabbit is not a cloth chewer). Gallon milk bottles work even better since they stay cold longer – but you can’t cover them up as easily.
- You can get a shallow terra cotta bowl, flip it upside down, and put a bag of ice under it – the terra cotta is a cool surface anyway. The ice stays a bit insulated and frozen longer. Get one big enough for your rabbit to lounge on if he gets too warm.
- You can freeze ceramic tiles and put them in your friend’s area, so they can choose to lay on them (this only works for a short time, then the tiles are 'defrosted". Also, make sure your rabbit can get OFF the tile if they choose).
- If your rabbit is not a cloth chewer, you can fold damp towels and freeze them, place them in a plastic bag, then wrap them again in another towel. We don't like the idea of just putting out the frozen towel since laying on that damp can encourage flystrike, another serious issue.
- You can leave ice cubes in their water several times a day. It is a good idea to have several bowls of water around in the summertime, just in case one gets tipped or your rabbit is more thirsty than usual.
- GROOM GROOM GROOM – get rid of any extra fur and undercoat.
Summer seems to be getting hotter every year, and many folks we know live in older buildings without AC. Thinking through the warmest season now and getting prepared makes sense, right? So go find yourself some fans and terra cotta bowls, save up your bottles and make room in the freezer. That way you won’t even have to worry about what are the symptoms of heatstroke in rabbits…your buns will be as cool as a cucumber.
If you’ve got your own tips or tricks to keep your friend cool, let us know by posting on our socials or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We like to share ideas. It takes a village…
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