With summer properly started, it’s important to make sure your bunnies are safe and comfortable – because there are some very real health threats in the hotter weather. Rabbits are well adapted to our climate, but nevertheless they do need looking after! The Big Four to watch out for this summer are:
Overheating is dangerous to any animal, rabbits included. It results in dehydration, collapse, organ damage, abnormal blood clotting, seizures and brain damage. That said, rabbits are unlikely to suffer unless they are unable to escape the heat of the sun – so this is mainly a problem for bunnies kept in small hutches in direct sunlight.
If possible, make sure your rabbits have open spaces where they can catch a cooling breeze, with plenty of shade. Don’t shut them up in a small hutch – essentially, it becomes an oven in the midday sun! Making sure they have constant, ad lib water is also really important – rabbits will drink to help them stay cool, just like us.
If you think your rabbit may be overheated, get them into the shade, bathe them with cold water and call us for advice as soon as possible.
This is a very common killer of rabbits, and we sadly see affected rabbits every year – despite the fact that it is entirely preventable. Flies are inevitably drawn to muck and faeces, so that they can lay their eggs in it; the eggs then hatch into maggots that eat anything organic. Flystrike occurs when a rabbit’s back end is dirty (with either urine or faeces); the flies lay their eggs on the fur, and the maggots then burrow down into the coat. They then eat their way through the skin and eat your bunny from the inside out.
This can occur to any rabbit, but is most likely if they have:
- Diarrhoea – loose faeces due to dietary changes, digestive upsets or other diseases.
- Arthritis – because they find it harder to groom their back end and keep themselves clean, due to their stiff joints.
- Obesity – because the “spare tyre” round their middle prevents them from grooming.
- Dental disease – again because it stops them from grooming properly.
Initially, fly-struck rabbits will seem uncomfortable and itchy around their bottoms; as the maggots really get stuck in, they will become painful, depressed, dehydrated and then will die as they are slowly eaten alive.
Treatment is sometimes possible, depending on how much of your bunny is left, but prevention is much better! Make sure you groom rabbits who can’t groom themselves, and get them checked out if their droppings seem looser than usual. Over the summer, there’s also a topical medication our vets can prescribe that will prevent any eggs laid from hatching into hungry maggots.
If you think your rabbit has fly strike, bring them in for one of our vets to see immediately!
Myxomatosis, or Myxi, is a severe viral disease of rabbits, and is usually fatal in unvaccinated rabbits. It can be spread by fluid droplets from rabbit to rabbit, but also by biting insects like mosquitoes and fur mites. As a result, outbreaks are more common in the summer months.
All rabbits are potentially at risk; most affected rabbits will develop the characteristic swollen eyes, faces and genitals of “Classical Myxomatosis”. Occasionally, the lungs are more severely affected resulting in sudden death.
There is a very effective vaccine available – vaccinated rabbits are unlikely to develop disease, and even if they do, it is usually treatable and most bunnies will survive. Unvaccinated rabbits, however, have a mortality rate of almost 100%, even with treatment.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease
This is another viral disease, usually causing uncontrolled bleeding (from nose, mouth, bottom, eyes and internally) and often sudden death. This virus can be spread directly between rabbits or by virus particles on clothing or feed bowls. The reason we are concerned about VHD this summer is because there’s a new strain of the virus (VHD-2) doing the rounds, that the current vaccines do not offer protection against. We are trying to get hold of the new vaccine that protects against both strains, so if you’re concerned, give us a call!
If you are concerned about any aspect of your rabbit’s health, give us a call!