RABBIT lovers are being warned to watch out for signs their pet is dehydrated and overheating during the summer heatwave.
If kept in the sun, hutches can reach temperatures of 40 degrees C – leaving the bunnies inside boiling and at risk of heat stroke.
Richard Saunders, vet advisor for the Rabbit Welfare Awareness Fund said: “Although rabbits originate from hot climates, in the wild they have always been able to dig and create burrows to keep cool.
“But domestic rabbits living in hutches can be exposed to extreme heat from direct sunlight and this can be very dangerous.
“They can’t sweat or pant as they breathe through their noses and it’s very uncomfortable for them to breathe through their mouth, and the way they lose heat is by dilating the blood vessels in their ears.
“They struggle with heat and humidity so owners of rabbits in hutches and sheds really need to take care and make sure they offer shade and are well ventilated.”
He advises owners ensure the pet always has fresh water, ideally from a bowl as it is easier to drink from.
Frozen water bottles can be used for rabbits to snuggle up to and cool down.
Hutches or sheds need open windows so air can pass through and ideally the rabbit should have a run with shaded areas
Owners should look out for signs of dehydration every day.
These include fast, shallow breathing, listlessness, hot ears, stretching the head back to breathe and breathing quickly with their mouth open.
The rabbit should be moved to a cool place, have cold water on their ears and water to cool them down slowly.
Immersing them in water can send them into shock and prove fatal.
Diet is important in maintaining rabbit health.
Dr Huw Stacey, director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, said: “Incorrect feeding can lead to dental disease, behavioural problems, gastrointestinal disease and obesity, so it is key that owners know exactly what to feed their rabbits.
“Hay and grass is low in fat but high in fibre and should make up 70% of their diet. This helps with a rabbit’s digestion and chewing on them keeps their continuously growing teeth at the right length and shape.
“The rest of the diet should be made up of leafy green vegetables and herbs, such as dandelion, cabbage, watercress, basil, carrot and parsley, along with a small ration of pellets.”
Owners are also advised to make sure vaccinations to help protect rabbits against deadly diseases such as Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) are up to date.
A huge 75% of the 1.3m pet rabbits in the UK are still not vaccinated.
Dr Stacey said: “Primary vaccinations and regular boosters will help protect rabbits from horrible diseases like Myxomatosis and RHD which are nearly always fatal.
“From vaccinations, to appropriate diets and providing the perfect environment for pet rabbits, there are a whole host of ways to keep your bunny safe, healthy and happy.”