As soon as the first rays of sunshine appear, it gets warmer outside and everything is greening and sprouting, rabbit owners and their long ears look forward to the beginning of the outdoor season.
Even rabbits that are kept in outdoor enclosures year-round enjoy the first warming rays and delight in the sun. As nice as the new feeling of life is, it does have its dangers.
Especially on hot summer days, when the sun just burns from the sky, can be the doom for the pelt-noses – it threatens the heat stroke.
What is heat stroke
If the rabbit’s body is exposed to high temperatures for a long time, the body temperature rises. What doesn’t sound too bad at first glance, turns out to be a big problem on closer inspection.
In order for all organs to function properly, they need a certain body temperature. If this is either under- or exceeded, the rabbit’s body tries to compensate for the temperature in order to return to optimum.
If, in the case of overheating, this does not succeed through the organisms designed for this purpose, such as panting or the increased blood flow to the ears to release more heat, a heat buildup develops in the body.
The rabbit suffers a heat stroke (medically hyperthermia syndrome), thereby the regular function of all body organs is shut down, or stopped completely, in the worst case this means death.
The most common cause of heatstroke in rabbits is staying too long in high heat. This can be a stay in the open air without shade, the cage in the blazing sun, an overheated apartment, no sufficient water supply in the heat or transport in a hot car.
Rabbits cannot sweat and thus cool their bodies. In order to regulate their body temperature, they only have a few regularities at their disposal, such as the increased blood circulation in their ears. In addition, their fur also keeps the heat bound to the body, a great option in the cold, but counterproductive in the heat.
Good to know
Wild rabbits primarily avoid the sun and too much exercise when it’s hot. They retreat to cooler climes, so find a shady spot and move their activities to the cooler evening hours.
Rabbits also drink more water to avoid dehydration caused by the increased heat.
Symptoms of heat stroke in a rabbit
Heat stroke in a rabbit is relatively easy to recognize by the typical symptoms.
At first, the long-eared rabbit seems very agitated, stops eating, and hops tensely through its cage or run. This is by no means a lively rabbit, but a desperate attempt to find a shady spot.
If this does not succeed, the body temperature continues to rise, causing the rabbit to stop moving. Now it lies almost motionless in its enclosure. Altered breathing may also be noticed.
If overheating has not yet progressed to this point, the rabbit will try to expel as much heat as possible from its body by breathing faster. If evaporation via faster breathing does not succeed, overheating continues to progress.
Now the long-eared rabbit takes only a few very deep breaths. If it is not brought out of the overheating situation, the rabbit’s circulation fails, it becomes unconscious and eventually stops breathing altogether. Death from heat stroke has occurred in the rabbit.
Diagnosis of heat stroke in rabbits
Due to the typical symptoms and the conclusions about the trigger, the diagnosis of heat stroke in rabbits is easy even for the layman.
The veterinarian will use additional diagnostic procedures to confirm the diagnosis. These include, above all, measuring the body temperature, which is clearly out of range in heat stroke, and checking the pulse and respiration.
Treat a rabbit with heat stroke
A rabbit with heat stroke is an emergency and requires immediate action.
As a rabbit owner, the animal must be removed from the situation immediately and moved to cooler quarters. To avoid putting too much strain on the circulation and causing more damage to the already weakened organism, a slow cool down must now be applied.
A damp towel laid over the rabbit does very good service here. Also careful the cooling of the runs with cold water brings the cycle slowly again in swing.
In addition, the rabbit must be constantly offered fresh water.
On the way to the vet, the first aid measures must be continued! In most cases the vet will give the rabbit an infusion to stabilize the circulation and to compensate for the loss of water.
If the rabbit has not been exposed to the heat for a long time, it is usually possible to stabilize the circulation so that the long-eared rabbit recovers without permanent damage.
Preventing heat stroke in rabbits
The comfortable temperature of our long-eared companions is around 18 degrees.
If the temperature rises in summer or the sun shines into the cage or enclosure, sufficient shade must be provided.
In addition, fresh drinking water must always be available for the rabbit to refresh itself.
The following measures will help prevent heat stroke in rabbits:
Place cage in a cool place
Hanging damp cloths lowers room or hutch temperatures
Provide sufficient shade
Avoid car transport in summer
Never place the cage in the blazing sun
Provide sufficient fresh water
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