Summer is just right around the corner! However, the nice weather may not be too nice to our furry companions. While the sun’s out, a threat on a rabbit’s health is also out.
It’s time for some basic knowledge on heatstroke and the simple ways of preventing it from occurring. After all, prevention is better than cure.
What is heatstroke?
Heatstroke is an extreme elevation in body temperature, usually after exposure to increased environmental temperature. Heatstroke requires emergency treatment. Untreated, this condition can easily damage the brain, heart, and muscles, and further damage can lead to serious complications, even death.
For humans, it’s very easy to keep out of hot weather with umbrellas, cold drinks, or the simple choice to stay indoors. But what of our adorable companion rabbits?
Here’s some trivia for you: In the wild, the ancestors of domestic rabbits are crepuscular, or active during twilight. They live underground by burrowing, removing themselves from the exposure of extreme weather conditions.
Physiologically speaking, rabbits have the need to pant and to have thick coast for them to manage their core temperature, as they do not have sweat glands. In other words, it’s a lot more challenging for rabbits to manage elevated temperatures than other animals around them.
For the rabbit with a normal body temperature of 40.5 degrees Centigrade, any rise in body temperature can be very alarming. This may sound a little too high compared to our own body temperature, but that’s how it is with rabbits: Smaller animals have higher body temperatures.
5 tips to prevent heatstroke
Even if a rabbit has never experienced heatstroke in the past, the possibility should not be dismissed. While an evalated body temperature doesn’t always lead to heatstroke, a warm room will make them feel a little less comfortable and they may show signs of unease.
1. Provide water round the clock
Rabbits drink more water in the summer, so pet parents should ensure that they never run out of clean potable water at any time of the day.
Think of getting a bigger water bottle and refill them multiple times a day. Aside from the nipple drinkers, clean bowls of water should be placed around the house as rabbits tend to drink more from bowls than from drinkers.
2. Give the right food at the right time
The time of the feeding is vital. Food metabolism in the body produces heat. Adjusting the feeding time a little earlier in the day and a little later in the afternoon can help manage a rise in internal temperature when rabbits metabolize their food.
Chilled vegetables can be given as midday snacks. Be sure to give this in little proportions only.
3. Monitor them indoors
Make sure that you keep the rabbits inside your home, with the right temperature and ventilation. It’s necessary that we keep an eye on our companion animals, since it’s easy to overlook the effects of sunlight: One moment it’s fine, the next it’s shining directly on your rabbit.
4. Keep them safe outdoors
If you take your rabbits outdoors for a walk, make sure the ground is cool. You wouldn’t want your feet burning, let alone your fur babies’.
5. Avoid noontime trips
Going somewhere? It’s advisable to make the trip during the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday heat.
You know how hot cars can get and how uncomfortable it is to get backed in the heat. Once you feel a bit queasy from the heat, that can be a sign of heatstroke. Unfortunately, our beloved rabbits do not have the capacity to cool off by themselves.
Dr. Jocelyn Ignacio of Dog Central Veterinary Clinic answers questions and gives important advice to prevent heatstroke in rabbits.
What signs of heatstroke do we watch out for?
Firstly, [a rabbit with heatstroke] will look uncomfortable. Look out for vomiting, incoordination, diarrhe, and seizures. During seizures, rabbits may hit their heads against hard objects, causing further trauma. Alarming signs include increased heartbeat, fast breathing, dry mucous membranes, and a flushed appearance cause by increased blood flow.
If these signs are present, what should a rabbit parent do?
When you see these signs, it is imperative that you see your vet immediately for them to administer fluids as soon as possible.
Do not panic and do not do anything that would drastically change their body temperature, like submerging them in very cold water as this can cause shock. You can, however, spray a little bit of lukewarm water over them or wrap them in a damp cloth. Doing this can help lower body temperature safely.
What can predispose a rabbit to heatstroke?
Rabbits of all ages and breeds, both indoor and outdoor, can be affected by this condition. Additional care for imported rabbits should be practiced, especially when these rabbits come from colder countries, as they have yet to adjust to our own weather.
What home remedies can be given before informing the vet?
When you get heatstroke, there is no time for you to consult online sources or do home remedies; you have to inform your doctor immediately and make your way to the hospital.
The same goes for our rabbits. Once they show signs, there’s no time to waste. Inform your vet right away and listen to their advice.
Crafty ways to keep the heat out
In our simple ways as pet parents, we can prevent this fatal condition in our rabbit babies. Placing a wet towel over the cage to control humidity and ensuring that their water supply is fresh, cool, and available can do wonders. You can put some ice cubes to keep the water cool, just not too much.
If you put your rabbit in an air-conditioned room, see to it that the unit does not directly blow in the animal’s direction.
All in all, we should always treat our rabbits the same way we treat ourselves. As long as they are comfortable as we are, and we are as wary of conditions like heatstroke for us as for our animal companions, then there is no need to worry.
Makeshift air-conditioning idea
No air-conditioning when you’re staying? Here’s a little craft idea: Recycle your old plastic bottles by putting water in and freezing them. Once forzen, these can be placed around the cage to give your rabbit a makeshift AC.
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s January-February 2021 issue.