The heat is on for pet rabbits this summer

21 June 2016

With the right preventative measures and care rabbits can enjoy the summer months as much as their owners

As temperatures rise, leading veterinary organisations the British Veterinary Association (BVA), British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) and British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) are warning pet owners to take special care of their rabbits this summer as they are particularly susceptible to suffering in hot weather.

Rabbits cannot sweat or pant to regulate their body temperature and cool down, and temperatures over 27 degrees centigrade can cause heat stroke, which is often fatal for rabbits. However, with the right preventative measures and care rabbits can enjoy the summer months as much as their owners.

This summer BVA, BSAVA and BVZS are offering rabbit owners some top tips on how to best care for their pets in the heat:

  • Ensure your rabbits' home and enclosure is kept shaded from the sun, with a good airflow, and constant access to fresh water.
  • Place a ceramic tile or paving slab in your rabbits' enclosure for them to lie on and cool down; make sure this is kept in the shade otherwise it will heat up in sunlight.
  • Lightly misting rabbits' ears with cold water is an effective way to help cool them, however never submerge a rabbit in water as this can cause shock and anxiety which will increase their core body temperature.
  • Freeze plastic bottles of water and place them in your rabbit's enclosure so that your rabbits can lie against them.

Sean Wensley, President of the British Veterinary Association, said:
“While most of us look forward to warmer weather, many of our pets, including rabbits, can quickly overheat, with signs of heatstroke including weakness, disorientation and breathing heavily with their mouth open. If your rabbits show any of these signs you should contact your vet straight away.”

Mark Stidworthy, President of the British Veterinary Zoological Society, said:
“Wild rabbits retreat into the cool of their burrows when it gets too hot outside. Rabbits in hutches or smaller pens can find themselves trapped in full sun without the freedom to escape into shade. Owners should make sure hutches and pens are properly shaded in summer. Ideally, a larger secure pen with a mixture of shelters including natural areas of deep shade will give rabbits the control they need to keep comfortable on very hot days. Plenty of clean fresh water should always be available.”

Flystrike is also a life threatening risk in the warmer months so ensure your rabbits have clean bottoms and their living space is kept clean to prevent possible maggot infestation. If you see any maggots on your rabbits this must be treated as an emergency and you should call a vet immediately.

John Chitty, Vice President of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association with a special interest in rabbits, said:

“Outdoor rabbits are vulnerable to flystrike, but indoor rabbits to can be susceptible too, so a vigilant approach to hygiene and a good diet is crucial in the prevention of this nasty disease. Flies can strike a healthy animal, but older and overweight rabbits who are less able to clean themselves are at particular risk. So check your pet daily, talk to your vet about dental problems, appropriate diets and the use of anti-fly agents – and importantly, look out for faecal build-up. If you see any maggots on your rabbits this must be treated as an emergency and you should call a vet immediately.”

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