Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Too Hot for Fairs? Rabbits & Heat Stroke in the Bunny Barn

Again this year a large portion of the United States will be experiencing hot temperatures as fair season begins. Rabbits (and other animals) in exhibit halls and barns are exposed to temperatures that can make them ill or kill them.  Last year some fair officials had the common sense to cancel rabbit related events or move rabbits into air conditioned buildings.
Heat can kill.  It's that simple. My vet has told me time and time again that rabbits out of all animals are the most susceptible to heat stroke. After all, they are wearing a thick fur coat. Symptoms can include panting rapidly (open mouth breathing), weakness/lethargy;  laying flat out with tail down and reluctance to move, lack of interest in food, drooling/wet around mouth, convulsions, coma and ultimately death. Temperatures of 85 degrees F and above can be dangerous.  A lot of the country will be will hotter than this in fair season especially in August.  Rabbits regulate their body temperature with those big ears full of large veins.  (By the way, this is tougher for the lop breeds due to the down position of the ears next to the body.)  Misting ears with water can help because it cools the blood that circulates throughout the body. A large cool ceramic tile on the cage floor (in shade) may help. A warm rabbit will lounge on it to keep his cool.  A "cold buddy" consisting of a frozen water filled bottle (plastic) and covered with a wetted down cotton sock is cool comfort, too. 
Fairs are already stressful for rabbits with all the new smells, sounds and strange rabbits in the cage next door. But most rabbit exhibit facilities at state or county fairs are not air conditioned. They just turn off the lights in exhibit halls and turn on big fans. When the temperatures are well over 85 degrees, isn't it reasonable to consider leaving the bunny at home. If the fair officials value animal exhibits over the needs of heat stressed animals, then individuals need to make the good decisions about the safety of their animals. There is always next year. I know this is especially disappointing for kids who wait all year to show their rabbits. But it is more disappointing to have a rabbit ill from heat stroke or succumb to the heat. (Photo: rabbits at a fair in a cooler year and no resting board in sight - don't get me started)