Heatwave emergency: Vet issues urgent warning to rabbit owners

As people across the UK brace themselves for a potential heatwave emergency, vets are warning rabbit owners to take extra care of their small animals to protect them from heatstroke, flystrike and even death.

Dr Samantha Butler-Davies, Veterinary Clinical Services Manager at Vets4Pets, said: “While some of us will be looking forward to enjoying the sunshine, the warmer weather can be incredibly dangerous for our furry friends including rabbits and other small animals such as guinea pigs.

“Simply put, the hot weather poses a genuine risk of death for rabbits. The temperature of their homes can increase rapidly in warm weather and a hot garden with no shelter can soon turn into a death trap if your rabbits don’t have access to cool areas.

“There are some simple steps rabbit owners can take to help keep their pets cool, but it’s really important that owners can also spot the signs of heatstroke and flystrike in their pets and act fast to keep them safe.”

With highs of up to 40°C on the way, experts from Vets4Pets have shared their advice to keep rabbits safe, healthy and happy:

Watch out for flystrike

Flystrike is one of the biggest summer dangers for rabbits.

As the weather warms and more flies start to appear, some might lay eggs in rabbit fur which then hatch into maggots that burrow into the skin. This can cause irreparable damage to the skin, severe illness, and death.

Keeping your rabbits and their house clean and dry is the main way to prevent them from developing flystrike. Flies are especially attracted to damp or soiled fur, which is most commonly found around the back end of rabbits, so it’s important to pick them up and check them over daily – paying special attention to their bottoms.

Live maggots are the most obvious signs of flystrike, but you should also look out for rabbits becoming quiet or tired, a loss of appetite or not drinking, and a strong smell coming from them or their living space.

There are preventative flystrike products available, and the Vets4Pets Complete Care Health Plan offers seasonal flystrike protection for your rabbits too.

Know the signs of heatstroke

Just like dogs and cats, rabbits can suffer from heatstroke which can cause seizures, organ damage, internal bleeding, unconsciousness, and even death.

Heatstroke can develop rapidly, so it’s important to know the signs to look out for, including reddening and warming of the ears, moisture around the nostrils, rapid breathing or panting, lethargy and any odd behaviour.

The longer a rabbit’s body temperature stays high, the more damage it causes, so the quicker they are cooled down and treated by a vet, the better their chance of a full recovery.

If you suspect your rabbits are suffering from heatstroke, you should contact your vet immediately. Avoid spraying them with cold water, submerging them in a bath or covering them in wet towels, as these can make the situation worse.

Move their house

Ideally, your rabbits’ living space should stay between 18-20°C.

Throughout the summer, you should make sure your rabbits’ house and run are not in direct sunlight and that it is well ventilated. It’s best to use parasols, gazebos or trees for shade and move their houses away from buildings as these can radiate heat.

On particularly hot days, you could move their house and run inside to a quiet area with good airflow. If you put their homes into a cool, shaded shed or unused garage, make sure there is plenty of air circulation and that the building does not overheat.

Keep them cool

Preventing heatstroke is all about keeping your rabbits cool. As well as relocating their home, you should try to give them access to cold tiles, a cooling mat, or wet towels on the ground floor – though remember not to cover your rabbits with the towels as this can be very dangerous.

Bottles of frozen water are also great for them to lie next to and cool down.

Make sure to keep long coats well-groomed, removing any excess fur, and try gently spraying their ears with water to help keep them cool.

Keep them hydrated

Make sure your rabbits have access to fresh, cold water at all times.

Water, especially in shallow bowls, can evaporate quickly so check your rabbits’ water supply several times a day. Keeping bowls and bottles out of direct sunlight and serving it chilled will help keep your rabbits water appealing and fresh for them.

For more advice on keeping rabbits safe this summer, visit: https://www.vets4pets.com/pet-health-advice/rabbit-advice/summer-tips-for-rabbits/