Reducing the risk of overheating in rabbits

If we get too hot we can cool off by sweating – and hot dogs can cool off by panting. Rabbits, in contrast, can neither sweat nor pant. When combined with their thick fur coat, this puts them at risk of overheating. Also known as ‘hyperthermia’, overheating in rabbits is much easier to prevent than to treat. But if hyperthermia does occur, it requires urgent veterinary attention. If you think your rabbit is at risk, or if you just want some advice on prevention, contact your local Healthy Pet Club practice.

Signs of hyperthermia

  • Warm ears and feet
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Open-mouth breathing
  • Not eating
  • Dull/unresponsive
  • Restless
  • Uncoordinated
  • Blue-tinged mouth and nose
  • Blood-tinged fluid from the nose or mouth
  • Collapse
  • Seizures
  • Death.

Treatment of hyperthermia

If you think that your rabbit may be too hot, you must act very quickly to save it. The most important thing is to contact your vet and take your rabbit immediately to your local Healthy Pet Club practice.
While you are getting ready to leave, the following steps will help to cool your rabbit:

  • Move him to a cool, well-ventilated area
  • Wet his ears and blow air over them with a fan or hair dryer set to cold
  • Spray his belly and between his back legs with cool water.

Stop what you are doing if your rabbit becomes distressed. And do not dip him in cold water, as this could cause shock.

Prevention of hyperthermia

The precautions listed below will minimise the risk that your rabbit will overheat:

  • Keep his environment between 16 and 21°C
  • Make sure that he can always get out of the sun into a shady, well ventilated place
    • Remember that the sun moves during the day
  • Ensure he has plenty of water and vegetables
  • Do not allow him to become overweight
  • If he is overweight or has a thick fur coat, consider clipping him
  • Do not chase him
  • Minimise stress
    • Examples of stressful situations include exposure to predators and being confined in a small space.

If the weather is particularly hot you can try these ideas:

  • Move his accommodation to a cooler area
  • Set up a fan to blow air past him (but not directly onto him)
    • Do not place any electrical cords within reach
  • Put a large ceramic tile in his hutch for him to lie on
  • Make ‘cool packs’ by freezing plastic bottles filled with water; place them in his cage
  • Mist his ears with cold water.

Pregnancy, old age, underlying health conditions and high humidity also increase the risk of hyperthermia, so you need to be extra-careful in these situations.

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