by Nancy J. LaRoche Copyright 2002 – All Rights Reserved (May be copied for free distribution)
Summer presents some unique dangers to our rabbits. Prevention is best, but should your rabbit be the victim of any of these dangers, contact a veterinarian familiar with rabbits immediately
- Heat Stress
- Danger: Heat is a major threat to rabbits. Direct sun at any temperature and temperatures over 80 degrees are dangerous. Panting, wet nose, and weakness indicate heat stress.
- Prevention: Freeze water-filled, gallon plastic bottles and leave them with your rabbits during the daytime. Provide a large ceramic tile or flag stone to help absorb heat from the rabbits when they lie on it. Ensure an adequate supply of drinking water. Never leave a rabbit exposed to direct sunlight indoors or out! Draw drapes indoors and be certain that outdoor shade won’t move off as the sun’s direction changes.
- First Aid: Move rabbit to a cool area. Wipe ears with cold water or alcohol. Place plastic bags filled with ice on either side of the rabbit. Don’t leave your rabbit to rest! Get veterinary care quickly.
- Fly Strike
- Danger: Flies (any fly, the larval stage of which is a maggot) lay eggs on the droppings in litter boxes or on any wound on a rabbit, including a surgical incision. Maggots hatch, dig through the rabbit’s skin, and proceed to eat the flesh. They also produce a neuro-toxin that paralyzes the rabbit.
- Prevention: Keep your rabbits indoors in a fly-free environment. Keep your rabbits clean, especially in the genital area. Keep their litter box clean. Don’t let your rabbits dig in compost piles or any place where maggots might be. Check your rabbit all over, especially in the genital area, every morning and evening for signs of maggots moving under the skin.
- First Aid: Get your rabbit to a good rabbit-veterinarian fast. 24-hour IV antibiotics and fluids are essential, and even that may not save your rabbit.
- Danger: The cuterebra fly, common in Colorado, has an unusual life cycle, but the larvae end up under the skin of the rabbit (in some cases, in a nostril, or even in the brain). There, it creates a small breathing hole that becomes crusted with the waste from the larva. It absorbs nourishment, without destroying its host, and eventually leaves through the breathing hole. There are two dangers from the cuterebra: 1. infections can occur in the pocket created by the cuterebra larva 2. If the larva’s body is damaged, the rabbit may go into anaphylactic shock
- Prevention: Keep your rabbit indoors. Check them for lumps any where on the body, but don’t mess with a lump if you find one.
- First Aid: Take your rabbit to a good rabbit veterinarian to have lumps diagnosed and dealt with.
- Ingestion of Fur
- Danger: Rabbits groom as cats do, thereby ingesting hair, especially when they are molting.* Unlike cats, rabbits are physically incapable of vomiting, so if the hair fails to pass, and begins collecting as a hairball, it can create a mass in the stomach making it impossible for the rabbit to eat. Veterinarians usually recommend surgery at this point, although we have had good success with a non-surgical treatment.
- Prevention: Keep your rabbit well groomed and give them a papaya tablet once or twice a day,** increasing this to as much as three or four tablets twice a day.
- First Aid: If your rabbit’s droppings appear to be getting smaller, give him or her several papaya tablets several times a day, and gently massage the stomach (which is high in the abdomen, partly under the “V” of the rib-cage.
Winter presents far fewer problems for rabbits than summer does. Rabbits handle cold better than heat, although either can be deadly. For house-rabbits, there are only two winter-time concerns.
- Danger: Drafts can weaken a rabbit’s immune system, and cause them to succumb to illnesses.
- Prevention: Keep your rabbits out of drafts
- First Aid: Warm your rabbit up and move him or her out of the draft. Watch carefully for symptoms of any illness during the next few days.
- Going in and outdoors
- Danger: Rabbits do not tolerate sudden changes in temperatures.
- Prevention:Do not take them outside from a warm house if there is more than 20° F. difference between the indoor and outdoor temperature.
- Of even greater danger is moving a rabbit from a cold environment into a warm one. Again, do not do this if there is more than 20° F. difference between the outside and inside temperatures.
* In the wild, rabbits molt in the spring and fall. The length of day is one factor that sets up when the rabbit will molt. In the middle of the winter, when it is coldest, the days begin getting longer. This causes the rabbit to shed the winter coat and grow the winter coat about three months later. Likewise, in the middle of the summer, days begin getting shorter, causing the rabbit to shed the summer coat and grow the winter coat about three months later. However, when we bring rabbits into our homes, and they are exposed to light until, perhaps 10 PM each evening, light ceases to be a factor in when they will shed. It is not unusual for house rabbits to begin a heavy shed in December or January.
** Papaya tablets have enzymes from papaya and pineapple, providing an easier way to give these than the fresh fruit. Rabbits usually like them, although to introduce them, you may need to crumble them over their pellets for a few days. Papaya tablets can be found at health food stores, but Oxbow makes one especially for rabbits that is much less expensive.