If you are a dog or cat parent, you know the hazards of leaving them in a hot car. If you are a rabbit parent, you need to be aware of the dangers of heat as well. Overheating is a major concern for rabbits and constitutes an extreme emergency for which you need to seek immediate help. Here's what you need to know about rabbits and heat stroke.
Rabbits and Body Temperature
Rabbits are very susceptible to overheating, more so even than dogs and cats. This is because dogs and cats pant to cool themselves off whereas rabbits do not. Instead, rabbits cool themselves by dilating the blood vessels in their ears. A slower, more long-term adjustment to environmental temperatures is the growth of a rabbit's fur. A rabbit's coat will thicken when the outside weather is cooler and will shed the excess coat when temperatures are warmer. For this reason, it's not a good idea to frequently move your rabbit between inside and outside housing.
Heat Stroke Signs and Symptoms
Heat stroke, also known as heat exhaustion, occurs when a rabbit's body temperature increases to dangerous levels and the bodily organs and mechanisms begin to shut down. Because of their small size and relatively large surface area, rabbits can overheat and dehydrate very quickly. Heat exhaustion can occur if your bunny is in direct sunlight, in a hot car or next to a heat source such as a furnace or radiator.
Typically, the first signs of heat stroke appear as respiratory distress or difficulty breathing. Your rabbit may drool, be lethargic, and try to avoid human interaction. You may also notice a reddening of the ears as the blood vessels enlarge. As the body temperature increases, your rabbit shows signs of confusion, experiences seizures and becomes unconscious. If not treated quickly, your rabbit may die.
Quick action is imperative for treating heat stroke in your bunny. If you notice signs of overheating, take your rabbit's temperature. You should be familiar with taking your rabbit's temperature (rectally) so you know how to do it properly, and you know your rabbit's base temperature (normally between 101 and 103 degrees F). If the temperature is 105 degrees or above, your bunny is in distress.
Remove your rabbit from the source of heat. For example, if it is outside in the sun, bring it inside. If it is next to a heat source move your rabbit to a cooler area, even an air conditioned area. Spray its ears with water and wrap in cool, damp towels or place cold water bottles around it. Offer cool water or ice cubes to cool it down and help prevent dehydration.
Heat stroke is life threatening. Contact your veterinarian immediately. He or she can cool your rabbit safely and provide intravenous fluids and electrolytes to help it recover.
Never house your rabbit near a furnace or in direct sunlight, and provide plenty of air circulation. An area of ceramic tiles in your bunny's hutch or cage provides a cool area to lie down. If you house your rabbit outside, make sure it has plenty of shade. Always provide a fresh supply of cool water that it can easily access at all times, and provide plenty of fresh vegetables, which have a high water content. Check on your rabbit frequently during warm weather, as heat stroke can occur rapidly and your bunny's survival relies on quick action.