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Summer Dangers

by Kathy Smith

Summer is rapidly approaching and with its arrival come special problems for rabbits: heat/humidity, fleas, fly strike. While House Rabbits are less likely to be effected by these dangers than outdoor rabbits, they are not immune.

Heat/Humidity

The most serious summer danger to rabbits is heat stress/stroke. Humans can change sweats to shorts and back on a daily basis, as temperatures dictate. Your rabbit wears a fur coat year-round and the change from winter to summer coat is a gradual process. Temperatures or heat index numbers above 90F place your rabbit at risk for heat stress. If humidity is high, the heat index can rise to dangerous levels even when air temperature is 80F or lower. Early signs that your rabbit is suffering from summer heat include lethargy, panting, and dehydration. Even if you see no signs of distress, a good rule of thumb is that if it feels uncomfortable to you, your rabbit may need help staying cool. Even if you can afford to "crank up the air-conditioning", the suggestions that follow can help reduce utility bills and provide a backup plan in case of power loss.

Large blocks of ice can help keep your rabbit cool on hot days. Freeze water in one– or two–liter pop bottles and let your rabbit lie next to them. Keep several on hand for emergencies. If your rabbit drinks from a bowl, give him ice water on hot days. Lops will often lie with one ear in a bowl of cool water, since a rabbit’s ears help remove heat. If your rabbit is not a lop, mist his ears with cool water to help keep him cool.

If nights are cool, open the house and allow it to get as cool as possible. Your rabbit won’t mind and you can always put a blanket (or two) on the bed. In the morning, close up the house and pull blinds, shades, and drapes shut to keep the hot sun out.

If you don’t have air-conditioning, use a fan to circulate air or let it blow across an ice block to further cool the air. Don’t have the fan blow air directly on your rabbit. Make sure both the fan and cord are safely out of your rabbit’s reach. You can also set up a play area for your rabbit in the coolest area of your house. Rooms on the lower floors and room with high ceilings stay coolest. Basements stay quite cool, both because they are the lowest level and because they are earth-sheltered.

During hot weather, if you must transport your rabbit in a vehicle without air conditioning, wrap an ice pack, ice cubes or a frozen water bottle in a towel and put it into the carrier with your rabbit. Never leave your rabbit — or any other living creature — in a locked car on a warm day. Temperatures can rise to deadly levels (over 100F) in a matter of minutes.

If you come home to a warm house and find your rabbit is unresponsive, uncoordinated, or having convulsions, spray him with tepid (not cold) water and get him to a veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian may need to give IV fluids and/or steroids. Heat stroke may do long-term damage to kidneys.

Fleas

For the protection of all animals in your family, have your veterinarian treat your indoor/outdoor dogs and cats with products that prevent fleas. This will reduce the risk of your rabbit getting fleas. Watch all of your animals carefully and treat dogs, cats, and your environment at the first sign of fleas. You can treat carpets annually with the boric acid product made by Flea Busters (the only boric acid product proven safe for rabbits) or fenoxycarb (an insect growth regulator in the form of a synthetic hormone). Common table salt sprinkled on the carpet acts as a desiccant when it comes in contact with flea eggs or larvae, but it needs to be reapplied after vacuuming. For linoleum and other washable surfaces, use Murphy’s Oil Soap, a natural, vegetable-based soap that also acts as a flea repellent. Use hot, soapy water for bunny laundry.

If you discover just a few fleas on your rabbit, the safest way to get rid of them is to use a flea comb. Comb your rabbit thoroughly each day. Kill the fleas by dipping the comb in warm, soapy water and rinse the comb thoroughly before continuing to comb.

For a more severe case of fleas, consult your veterinarian. Topical products that are safe for kittens are usually safe for rabbits. Though they have not been tested on or approved for use in rabbits, kitten doses of Advantage® (a topical prescription treatment) and Program® (an oral prescription product) have been safely used by top rabbit veterinarians across the country. Frontline® and Sentinal® should never be used on rabbits.

Fly Strike

We would all like to believe that our House Rabbits are completely immune from fly strike, but it only takes one fly to harm your rabbit. If you have a problem with flies, fly traps and fly paper are safe ways to reduce the number of flies. To minimize the problem, make sure screens are intact and encourage all family members to close doors quickly.

Flies are attracted to warm, moist areas and to odor. If your rabbit has been battling an intermittent wet or messy bottom, make a vet appointment now! If you have an outdoor play area for your rabbit, keep him inside until the problem is completely under control. While you and your veterinarian are identifying and treating the underlying problem, keep your rabbit as clean as possible. Ask your veterinarian about clipping or shaving the wet or soiled hair. I have found that keeping the area shaved (my veterinarian does this while I hold and comfort) helps keep bunny clean and dry. Frequent bathing is not a good idea since moisture itself can attract flies. If you must bathe your rabbit’s rear, dry the area a thoroughly as possible.

A wet bottom may be caused by urinary tract infections and/or bladder sludge. If a urinalysis rules out these causes, your rabbit may be unable to lift his tail away from the urine stream. This problem can be caused by injury or by any number of conditions including arthritis, spondylosis, or neurological damage from E. cuniculi.

If your rabbit has an intermittent messy bottom, ask for a fecal test to rule out coccidia and clostridium, both of which can be easily treated. Your rabbit may be producing excess cecals or he may be having trouble reaching his cecals because of obesity and/or pain. Make sure your rabbit’s diet contains plenty of hay and limited sugars and carbohydrates. If your rabbit’s diet varies, keep a diary to see if you can correlate the messy episodes to specific foods. If so, discontinue those foods even if they are your rabbit’s favorites. Discuss your rabbit’s diet with your veterinarian and ask her about adding Prozyme (a digestive enzyme product). Prozyme has made a big difference for my rabbits.

Keep a watchful eye on your rabbit any time a stray fly is in the house. If your rabbit appears to have a seizure, check carefully for signs of maggot infestation. Maggots produce toxins that can quickly send a healthy rabbit into shock. Fortunately, however, rabbits have sensitive skin and may sometimes have a seizure as soon as the skin is irritated. If this happens to your rabbit, stay calm and get your rabbit to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.

Copyright - 2001 Kathy Smith