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Summer Safety Tips For Small Animal Pets

Rabbits and other small animal pets are prone to heatstroke, predators and other dangers when you take them outside to enjoy summer days.

Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
Posted: June 9, 2014, 4 a.m. EDT

Depending on what part of North America you are from, summer is either in full bloom or has only just crept up on you. Everyone loves to enjoy the great outdoors when the weather warms. I know that my own pet rabbit, Molly, really enjoys spending time in the backyard after a long winter indoors. If you plan to take your pet outside to enjoy the fresh air, certain precautions are necessary to ensure that your pet remains safe.

Firstly, it is very important that your pet be kept in an escape-proof enclosure or yard and be supervised closely. Rabbits were designed for running and digging, and it does not take long for them to burrow under a fence. They should also be kept away from areas of the yard treated with pesticides and/or herbicides or containing toxic plants such as delphiniums and lilies (check out the House Rabbit Society website for a list of other toxic plants to avoid.

Be vigilant about monitoring the environment for potential predators, such as cats, dogs, raccoons, weasels and birds of prey. Bites and scratches can become infected or be deadly if they cause a lot of tissue damage. Many rabbits will panic if they sense the presence of danger, and they can hurt themselves if they run wildly and thrash around. I have seen rabbits hurt themselves severely when panicked by loud thunder as well, so bringing pets indoors during storms is strongly recommended.

rabbit outside in x-pen
© Leticia Materi
Be sure any outdoor environments are safe before you allow your pet around them.

Pets, such as rabbitsguinea pigs and chinchillas, are especially sensitive to high environmental temperatures (greater than 78 degrees Fahrenheit  or 26 degrees Celsius) and can succumb to heatstroke within minutes. Excessive heat, especially with high humidity, can cause an increase in core body temperature leading to seizures, collapse, coma and death. This is why animals should never be kept in a car during hot days. Always ensure that your pet has plenty of shade if outside as well as easy access to drinking water. If you are concerned that your pet has heatstroke, use a cool, moist towel to wrap the ears with or to place against the groin. Use tepid or cool water to mist your pet or to soak your pet in (do not use cold water, this can lead to shock), and get your pet to a veterinary clinic immediately.

Conditions such as poor hygiene, urine scalding, stool stuck to the hind end and moist skin folds due to obesity may increase the chance that a rabbit will develop a maggot infection (i.e., myiasis or fly strike) if kept outside. Affected rabbits may show a variety of clinical signs, such as depression, lack of appetite, weakness and restlessness. Severe maggot infection can lead to bacterial infections, shock and death. Prevention of this condition includes maintaining clean outdoor hutches and monitoring the genital area of your rabbit, especially those with urination disorders, tendency toward stool accumulation, geriatric pets and those with bad teeth.

With proper precautions and supervision, even our small exotic pets can enjoy nice summer days!

Note: This article is meant for educational purposes only and in no way represents any particular individual or case. It is not for diagnostic purposes. If your pet is sick, please take him or her to a veterinarian.

See all of Dr. Materi's blogs, click here>>

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And check out:
The Cool Rules For Ferrets In Hot Weather, click here>>
The Dangers Of Heatstroke (chinchillas), click here>>
Hedgehogs And Heatstroke, click here>>

Posted: June 9, 2014, 4 a.m. EDT

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