You're Hot And You're Cold

How to protect our fuzzy friends from the dangers of summer and winter

Authored by:

Edited by:

Jacqueline Arndt

Sarah Erickson and Carrie Oswald

Summer


While many of us want to let our bunnies enjoy that summer sunshine it is important to remember the potential dangers that summer brings. If your rabbits show signs of any of these issues it is critical to seek emergency care immediately!


Heat Stress/Heat Stroke


We should always do our best to keep our bunnies out of direct sunlight or at the very least make sure there is always a shady area available for them to retreat to if need be. Temperatures over 75F can be dangerous and cooling options should be available at all times.


What to watch for:


  • A moist nose

  • Rapid, heavy breathing (open mouth breathing is an even more severe symptom)

  • Lethargy


Prevention: Fans, frozen water bottles, large chilled ceramic or stone tiles, and constant access to unlimited amounts of fresh water. Bunnies love air conditioning and will happily plop right on the air vents or directly in the breeze.


First Aid: If you believe your rabbit has or is beginning to overheat it is important to begin cooling them by moving them to a cooler, shaded area. Begin wiping the ears with cool water or alcohol. Rabbits cannot pant or sweat, their only means of cooling is through their ears! Place frozen water bottles or bags filled with ice (wrapped in towels) against the rabbit’s body and immediately head to an emergency facility.


Fly Strike


This occurs when a fly/flies lay eggs in the droppings/bedding/litterbox/wounds of a rabbit. As the eggs hatch the maggots will begin eating through the rabbit’s skin, tissues, and muscle. It is important to note that the maggots produce a neurotoxin that can paralyze the rabbit so that they are able to eat uninterrupted. This can happen very quickly! It is imperative to keep your rabbit’s area and litterbox as clean as possible especially in the case of a rabbit that may have wounds, surgical incisions, or mobility issues!


What to watch for:


  • Any maggots within the rabbits living quarters, litterbox, or on the rabbit itself. The maggots often begin eating areas near the tail, genitals or legs – you should always pick your rabbit up at least once a day to check for any issues in these hard to view areas!


Prevention: Cleanliness is key! A clean-living area and litterbox are a fabulous place to start. If your home has an issue with flies then fly strips or animal safe fly traps are an excellent idea. Disabled or elderly rabbits should be checked twice as often as they often have issues cleaning themselves and may be an easy target for flies and maggots.


First Aid: Do not waste time trying to remove the maggots yourself, instead you should take the bunny to the nearest rabbit savvy facility as soon as possible. This is a very serious situation that will require medical intervention in the way of heavy-duty antibiotics and surgical removal/repair.


Cuterebra


You might be thinking “what the heck is that?” and the simple answer is a botfly. These are the larval form of a fly common to Colorado. The fly lays its eggs in grassy areas where they lay in wait for a furry host to hop by. When they find an appropriate host, they hitch a ride and follow the hair shaft up until they are able to burrow in the skin. From here they enjoy a free ride and shelter as they grow.


What to watch for:


  • Often times you will not notice anything until the cuterebra begins growing and creates a bump under the skin

  • A bump with a small breathing hole in the center

  • The bump may have debris around the hole

  • You may at times even be able to see the cuterebra within the hole


Prevention: These eggs are restricted to grassy areas, if your bunny never goes in the grass then you have nothing to worry about! And before anyone gets worried about denying bunnies the feel of grass between their toes – I have known plenty of bunnies who hated the feeling of grass. You are not denying them anything by keeping them off grass. These are fully domesticated rabbits – they aren’t pining for the wild adventures of their ancestors.


First Aid: Repeat after me “NO MATTER WHAT I HEAR FROM OTHERS, READ ONLINE OR WATCH ON YOUTUBE – I WILL NEVER ATTEMPT TO REMOVE A CUTEREBRA MYSELF”. Go on, say it, I can wait. :-)


Now, you might be thinking this sounds crazy but there is a good reason behind this. Cuterebras may be, and often are, a simple removal for most species but rabbits are the exception to this. Cuterebra often cause infections within their little living pockets, this requires antibiotics. Secondly, and most importantly, If the cuterebras body is damaged in any way it will release a toxin that can send the rabbit into anaphylactic shock! A quick trip to your favorite bunny vet will have this unwelcomed visitor evicted!


Ingestion of fur:


With the changing of the seasons comes the shedding of bunny fur, and depending on your particular bunny, this may be more bountiful than others. Because bunnies groom themselves like cats they will ingest fur, but unlike our feline friends, bunnies can’t vomit! This means if a build up of fur occurs in the digestive system, they will be treated to a case of GI Stasis or an even more serious GI Blockage that requires surgical intervention.


What to watch for:


Periods of increased shedding and grooming


Prevention: Give your fuzzy buddy a hand! Regular brushing and grooming will reduce the amount of fur your rabbit will ingest. In addition to this, you may want to increase the amount of papaya tablets from 1 or 2 tablets twice a day to 2-4 tablets twice a day, even more so for our larger or longer hair breeds. Unsure how much to give, ask your vet!


First aid: If you notice your rabbit’s feces becoming strung together (think pearl necklace) it is time to bump up the grooming and papaya tablets!


Winter


Winter doesn’t present quite as many dangers as summer but it is still important to be mindful of the effect chilly weather can have on our bunnies.


Drafts


Cold breezes can, over time, weaken a rabbit’s immune system which may make them more likely to have issues with other illnesses.


Prevention: We certainly hope your homes aren’t so chilly as to cause this, but it never hurts to get down on your bunnies’ level and feel for any colder areas to make sure your bunny isn’t exposed to a chill you had no idea was there.


First aid: If you are concerned your bunny may have gotten a bit chilly, it is important to warm them gently and slowly. Bring them into a warmer area of the house, and try holding them in your lap or to your body for a bit. Make sure to watch for any signs of illness over the next few days. In the case of severe cold such as being found outdoors or the like, it is best to take them to an emergency facility so that they may be warmed safely to avoid organ damage and to be assessed for frostbite.


Sudden changes in temperature: Have you ever left the warmth of your home and stepped out to be greeted by air so cold it felt like it took the breath right out of your lungs? Now imagine what this is like for a four pound bunny! Sudden changes in temperature are hard on those tiny lungs!


Prevention: Prewarm/precool your vehicles. Ensure the carrier is insulated against the cold with blankets or towels, in the instance of warm weather toss a cool water bottle or ceramic tile in the carrier