Summertime Health for Rabbits

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Summer presents some unique dangers to our rabbits. Prevention is best, but should your rabbit be the victim of any of these dangers, contact a veterinarian familiar with rabbits immediately

Heat Stress

Danger:
Heat is a major threat to rabbits. Direct sun at any temperature and temperatures over 80 degrees are dangerous. Panting, wet nose, and weakness indicate heat stress.

Prevention:
Freeze water-filled, gallon plastic bottles and leave them with your rabbits during the daytime. Provide a large ceramic tile or flag stone to help absorb heat from the rabbits when they lie on it. Ensure an adequate supply of drinking water. Never leave a rabbit exposed to direct sunlight indoors or out! Draw drapes indoors and be certain that outdoor shade won’t move off as the sun’s direction changes.

First Aid:
Move rabbit to a cool area. Wipe ears with cold water or alcohol. Place plastic bags filled with ice on either side of the rabbit. Don’t leave your rabbit to rest! Get veterinary care quickly.

Fly Strike

Danger:
Flies (any fly, the larval stage of which is a maggot) lay eggs on the droppings in litter boxes or on any wound on a rabbit, including a surgical incision. Maggots hatch, dig through the rabbit’s skin, and proceed to eat the flesh. They also produce a neuro-toxin that paralyzes the rabbit.

Prevention:
Keep your rabbits indoors in a fly-free environment. Keep your rabbits clean, especially in the genital area. Keep their litter box clean. Don’t let your rabbits dig in compost piles or any place where maggots might be. Check your rabbit all over, especially in the genital area, every morning and evening for signs of maggots moving under the skin.

First Aid:
Get your rabbit to a good rabbit-veterinarian fast. 24-hour IV antibiotics and fluids are essential, and even that may not save your rabbit.

(For more information, read the article from our Summer 2015 issue of Rabbit Tracks.)

Cuterebra

Danger:
The cuterebra fly, common in New Mexico, has an unusual life cycle, but the larvae end up under the skin of the rabbit (in some cases, in a nostril, or even in the brain). There, it creates a small breathing hole that becomes crusted with the waste from the larva. It absorbs nourishment, without destroying its host, and eventually leaves through the breathing hole. There are two dangers from the cuterebra:
1. infections can occur in the pocket created by the cuterebra larva
2. If the larva’s body is damaged, it can release neuro-toxins which cause ataxia and/or paralysis; the rabbit may also go into anaphylactic shock

Prevention:
Keep your rabbit indoors. Check them for lumps any where on the body, but don’t mess with a lump if you find one.

First Aid:
Take your rabbit to a good rabbit veterinarian to have lumps diagnosed and dealt with.

Note: If your rabbit spends any time at all outside, you must be vigilant to check for the Cuterebra fly strike.  This can happen even if your rabbit is only outside for a short supervised time.  You will not see it happen.  Run your hands over your rabbit’s entire body (including under the chin) searching for lumps. This must be treated immediately. For more information, see:  http://www.rabbit.org/journal/4-3/maggots.html

Ingestion of Fur

Danger:
Rabbits groom as cats do, thereby ingesting hair, especially when they are molting. Unlike cats, rabbits are physically incapable of vomiting, so if the hair fails to pass, and begins collecting as a hairball, it can create a mass in the stomach making it impossible for the rabbit to eat. Veterinarians usually recommend surgery at this point, although we have had good success with a non-surgical treatment.

Prevention:
The best method is to keep your rabbit well groomed, removing loose fur daily. There is no solid scientific consensus on the benefits of papaya tablets, but many people give them to their rabbits daily as “maintenance.” Pineapple can also be beneficial, but must be consumed fresh or frozen (when canned, the enzymes are destroyed, and the pineapple juice contains too much sugar).

First Aid:
If your rabbit’s droppings appear to be getting smaller, give him or her several papaya tablets several times a day, and gently massage the stomach (which is high in the abdomen, partly under the “V” of the rib-cage. If you monitor your bunny’s litter box every day, you should be able to catch these episodes early. When it comes to stasis, every minute counts!

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