June 15, 2017
A hot cross bun is not a happy one!
Most of us humans cant wait for the weather to brighten up and bask in the glow of Mr Sunshine. However, imagine doing that whilst wearing a fur coat and not being able to cool down via sweating…doesn’t sound like much fun does it?
Rabbits can easily suffer from heatstroke and this can be fatal. Ideally they need to be kept in an area with a constant temperature of between 10 – 20 degrees celcius (50 – 68 degrees Fahrenheit). They do not cope well with sudden temperature changes and anything above 22 degrees celcius can cause heatstroke.
It is highly recommended that all owners purchase a thermometer that records the maximum and minimum temperatures. Place this in the rabbits main living / sleeping area (make sure its up high safely away from inquisitive bunny teeth!) and check it throughout the day. You will soon see that hutches and closed in areas become significantly hotter than the outside air.
Hutch temperatures can become dangerously high and one recent study shows that they can easily reach highs of 40 degrees celcius within just a few hours – this is like cooking your rabbit 🙁 It can even become far too hot for them when they are in the shade or on a cloudy day.
PLEASE SEEK VETERINARY ADVICE URGENTLY IF YOU SUSPECT YOUR RABBIT IS SUFFERING FROM HEATSTROKE.
Its vital that you understand the signs of distress and heatstroke in rabbits as this is an emergency condition that needs veterinary attention. If your rabbit seems lethargic, off food, is panting, wobbly when moving, dribbling or generally acting weird then CALL THE VETS! Warmer weather also brings a higher risk of Flystrike so make sure you are extra vigilant about checking your bunnies bottoms and cleaning out the enclosure more than usual.
There are quite a few ways of making sure your rabbits (and guinea pigs) stay nice and cool in warmer weather (see the poster for some top tips). The MOST important is that their whole area is in complete shade and that they have constant access to their run from their hutch / shed / cage etc. This allows them to move around and seek out cooler areas. It also allows much better ventilation of their living space.
Icepods made by Scratch and Newton are fab and provide a nice, safe way of keeping small furries cool. Simply pop them in the freezer overnight and then wrap in a tea towel. Place inside the bunnies area and it will release cold air around it. The bunnies dont tend to lay on it directly, but it helps keep the temperature a little lower in that area. You can achieve the same effect by 3/4 filling a large bottle with water and freezing. This still needs wrapping in a tea towel (to prevent any frost burns) but will defrost a lot quicker than the icepods. It is also more of a chew risk once thawed.
You can also get specialist cage fans that are battery operated and can really help keep the air flowing through the enclosure. They can be used indoors and outdoors and just need something to hang on. Never point these directly at the rabbit if it has no way of getting away from it. many rabbits will choose to come and sit in front of it for some time if they feel hot. Never place cooling items in front of, or pointing at their food, hay or water as this could prevent them wanting to eat and drink.
It is not recommended to freeze fruit or veg and feed as it is thought that the very cold temperatures of this can upset the gut by causing a mild tummy ache that in turn, can lead to stasis.
Marble / granite & Glass ceramic tiles can be placed inside the rabbits enclosures (make sure there are no sharp edges) as these stay cool for some time and the bunnies can lay on them. These can also be popped in the freezer for a couple of hours before use for an extra blast of coldness (no longer though as they may crack). And an old towel can be misted with water and frozen for another chill out mat.
Be sure to offer more water sources than usual and try to offer a water bowl as well as a bottle. Rabbits often prefer to drink from a bowl and bottles can leak / break / get stuck and then the rabbit is denied access to vital water. Always offer more than one water source as a back up and refresh twice a day.
A covered pop up tent filled with children’s play sand or untreated top soil makes a great cool area for them to dig in. make sure they are fully supervised at all times when using this & do not give them any chew toys or scattered food to avoid the risk of ingesting the sand / soil. Also make sure you check the bunny thoroughly once the playtime is over and remove all traces of sand / soil from the underside of the rabbit including genitals.
For more tips on keeping bunnies cool, check out the following website links:
Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund
The House Rabbit Society
February 3, 2016
EDIT: 4.2.16 – Burgess have announced they will no longer support the Harrogate Show. Thank you Burgess for making a stand for rabbit welfare.
Widely promoted as ‘the UK’s biggest small animal show’, the Burgess Premier Small Animal show has been held in Harrogate since 1921. It is a meet up for breeders of rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, chinchillas and more who enjoy showing the best of their stock and hope to come away as winners. As my expertise is in rabbits – this will be the species I focus on here. The Guardian has posted an interesting article on the most recent 2016 show.
BUT AT WHAT PRICE?
Rabbit handling at the 2007 Excel show in Harrogate. CC:BY-NC-ND.
Photos from the event and those from previous events (see above), show some common handling techniques used at shows. For example, rabbits being held on their backs. This is called ‘trancing’ or ‘tonic immobility’. This has been proven to be very stressful for rabbits (as well as increasing the risk of a back injury). As they are prey species, this is an auto response they enter when tipped over. See here for more info on trancing. Many people use this method of handling for checking, grooming and judging rabbits and many refuse to change their ways and disregard the scientific facts. Many top organizations and specialists do not agree with trancing, including The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) who are the UK’s largest organization dealing with domestic rabbit welfare.
The British Rabbit Council (BRC) are the UK governing body for fur and fancy rabbits. When previously questioned about trancing, they were adamant that this was NOT a part of their routine handling – yet it seems, this happens all too often AND at BRC approved events by BRC approved judges.
Also some of these photos show that the judge is grasping the ears as part of the support / restraint. This method can easily cause damage and pain to the rabbit and is not recommended as a standard form of acceptable and safe handling.
BUT SURELY THE ENCLOSURES ARE OK?
Example of show cages in 2007
Sadly not – as you can see they are tiny, one rabbit per cage, wood shavings for bedding, some don’t even have food and / or hay (hay and fresh water should be available to a rabbit 24/7). Thankfully no cages were observed that did not have a water available. Each rabbit can be stuck in these cages for many hours, some will spend the entire day there. Surely this doesn’t meet the Five Freedoms welfare standards? Is this even legal if you consider the Animal Welfare Act 2006?
Wire floor show cage
The photo above (taken by me in 2007) shows the types of cages that the long haired rabbits have to sit in. They have wire bottoms as clearly shown in the picture. Wire floors are not recommended by welfare organizations and rabbit specialists as they can cause pain and damage to the feet. See this RSPCA factsheet for more information on rabbit accommodation.
Next question… where do they stay overnight? That’s another thing I urge you to ask the show organizers. At this particular event a message was shared publicly to the exhibitors explaining that the animals would have to spend the whole of the first evening in their travel boxes as the venue was not safe due to weather problems. Yes the weather is not under anyone’s control, but is it fair to keep an animal in a traveling box overnight? What size are these boxes and where were they placed? When staying at a secure venue with no weather problems, where do the rabbits spend the night – in these show cages? or somewhere else.
Many of the rabbits that do have food in with them, are being fed on a muesli diet – again this has been scientifically proven to contribute to dental and digestive problems. If these people care SO much about their live stock – why are they not adhering to basic welfare guidelines and following the most up to date veterinary advice?
The RWAF state that rabbits should live in bonded, neutered pairs, be fed on a good quality diet (not muesli style mixes) and be housed in spacious accommodation that allows at least 3 full hops in any direction. Clearly – show accommodation is NOT adhering to any of these guidelines. What message is this sending the general public who flock to this event? Charities and veterinary professionals work tirelessly to promote good husbandry, handling and welfare – then for a bit of fun and entertainment (for the humans not the animals), these animal shows can do untold damage to the welfare messages in just a few hours.
WHAT ABOUT DISEASE RISKS?
Some diseases are very easily spread between rabbits and other small animals. I’m focusing on one – Viral Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RVHD). This is a rapid and often fatal disease that is easily spread from rabbit to rabbit and from human to rabbit too. It has also recently mutated into a second strain that is currently not routinely vaccinated against in the UK. The disease can live in the environment for many weeks and is easily spread on shoes, car tyres, clothes, hands etc. The following statement is displayed on the BRC’s own website with regards to RVHD:
“Clothes should be changed between handling rabbits from different places. Newly arrived rabbits should be quarantined for at least a week before mixing with others, and different clothing worn between established and new groups of rabbits.”
So – take a look at the image of the rabbit show cages again… These rabbits are side by side, above and below many other rabbits from other breeders. The judges wear their ‘coats’ for the whole show and do not change them in-between each rabbit. The judging tables have tablecloths on that are not changed between each rabbit. Do the judges wear gloves? Oh and the public have full access in and out the building, can get right up to the show cages and touch them too. Final question: Why are there no apparent disease risk controls in place?
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
I advise anyone who agrees that these types of shows DO NOT promote animal welfare, to contact the companies involved. Burgess are the main sponsor and the BRC are heavily involved.
Thankfully I have seen that Burgess have responded to a tweet today and are “reviewing their involvement with the show” (EDIT: and have WITHDRAWN their support for the show. PLEASE contact Burgess to thank them for putting welfare first).
Please do consider contacting Burgess, the show and the BRC directly (via email, Facebook, Twitter, letter etc) to see if you can get answers to some of the questions raised and show your displeasure with the event.
Finally a thank you AGAIN to Burgess for putting welfare first.