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Rabbit Care Questions and Answers
Revised: January 05, 2011
Published: March 06, 2001

How do I know if my rabbit is overheating?

Don't put a heating pad under a small cage in which a rabbit is confined unless directed by a veterinarian for a specific reason. Never leave your rabbit in the car on warm days (anything over 65F) while you run a quick errand.Most importantly, avoid placing your rabbit in a situation where it can overheat. Rabbits can overheat in temperatures 80F or higher, especially if the humidity level is high. Do not leave rabbits outside in high temperatures and high humidity without a cool shelter. Do not leave cages unattended in direct sunlight indoors even in the winter, because glass windows can intensify the heat from the sun. During hot weather if your house is not air-conditioned, place your pet in the coolest area (basement) and use a fan to circulate air. Consider purchasing a room air conditioner for at least one area.

Overheated rabbits will initially become quiet and start panting. They may stretch out and keep their eyes half closed. The ears have large blood vessels near the surface of the skin so they can be used as natural “air conditioners” to release extra heat. The ears in an overheated rabbit will become very warm. The rabbit's gums and conjunctiva, which is the pinkish tissue under the eyelids, will become dark red and look congested. At this stage it is usually possible to reverse the effects of the overheating by cooling the rabbit.

As overheating progresses, the brain become affected as well as other organ systems and the rabbit starts to go into shock. Signs seen with severe overheating include sudden collapse, complete unresponsiveness, hyperactivity, bizarre behavior or seizures before collapsing or collapse with overexaggerated breathing. When a rabbit collapses he falls to the side, the eyes are usually open and dull looking, and he is not responsive to being touched. The gums and conjunctiva turn muddy brown, eventually to white, as the shock condition deepens. The ears may become cooler because shock causes blood to flow away from the extremities.

The prognosis for an overheated rabbit that has collapsed and is showing signs of severe shock is grave. Rabbits in this condition need immediate veterinary intervention including drugs to combat shock and cool intravenous fluids.

If you suspect your rabbit is overheating, immediately remove your pet to the coolest area you can find. If he is still somewhat alert and is still able to sit upright, take a washcloth soaked in cool tap water (not ice water) and wrap it around both ears to try to cool the blood and thus the body. Do not immediately soak your rabbit with water, as this can be very stressful, but try cooling the ears first.

If the rabbit is not improving after about 5 to 10 minutes of ear cooling, then gently wet the fur with lukewarm water, not ice water. If you use ice water it actually may cause the shock to get worse. If your pet is already collapsed, get him out of the hot area, use a cool cloth on the ears and take your pet to a veterinary office immediately. This is an extreme emergency situation.

Is it bad for my bunny to snack on dog or cat food?

Yes, it is dangerous for a rabbit to snack on dog or cat food. These foods are designed for carnivores, not for herbivores. They are high in protein and fat as well as carbohydrates in the form of grains, usually corn. Although rabbits can eat small amounts of dog or cat food and appear to be normal, there can be insidious changes that take place over time. Excessive levels of protein can lead to kidney damage; excessive levels of fat and grain-based carbohydrates can lead to obesity.

However, by far the most dangerous side effect in rabbits who eat dry dog or cat food is the disturbance of the normal intestinal flora that will ultimately lead to intestinal distress and death. We have seen rabbits become seriously ill and some die within 24 hours of eating dog food due to acute intestinal disorders. Please keep all dog and cat food out of the reach of your rabbit!

When I take my rabbit in for a check-up to the vet, what will the veterinarian expect me to know about my rabbit?

When you take your rabbit to a veterinarian for any reason, it is a good idea to be prepared with the rabbit's history and with questions you might have. Unless you are dealing with an emergency, take a moment before you leave the house and write down as much of the following general information as you can about your pet (this applies to any pet going to the veterinarian). It can be helpful and increase the efficiency of your visit if you give this information when you first check in at the receptionist's desk.

  • Date of birth
  • Date and place where you acquired the pet
  • Sex of the pet and whether it is surgically altered
  • Description of the environment (cage size, cage furniture, location in house, etc)
  • Exercise (how often, where)
  • Diet (be specific and include all foods including treats, frequency of feeding)
  • Current medications (including vitamins and “natural” supplements/medications)
  • Other pets in the household

If your pet is experiencing a medical problem, the following information is also helpful:

  • When the condition first appeared
  • Detailed description of the abnormality
  • Medications/treatments already tried or being used now
  • Records from other veterinarians
  • Other animals/humans ill in household
  • Your own thoughts on the cause of this condition

It is also a good idea to have a list of questions you wish to ask during the visit. If they are written down, you won't forget and you can record the answers on the same page for your permanent records.

I suggest that you keep a medical file at home on your pet with the general information as well as records from your veterinary office and questions and answers you have had along the way. You can easily take this file with you if you need to get a second opinion or are traveling.

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The information contained here is for general purposes only and is not a substitute for advice from your veterinarian. Any reliance you place on such information is strictly at your own risk.

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