For those of you not in our area (NC), let me inform you that we’ve been having record setting temperatures here for the past month or so. The heat index is routinely reaching 105°F, and warnings are all over television asking people to stay out of the heat. Unfortunately, while the people readily comply with this, they often forget about their companions, especially rabbits and guinea pigs.
These species suffer greatly in the hot weather, being naturally equipped for dealing with cold temperatures much more readily than heat. Each year, we get numerous calls from people asking for medical advice for their ailing guinea pigs and rabbits who have been kept outside in “hutches”, and invariably our recommendations to bring the animals in are rejected because “wild rabbits are fine” or “he’s been fine for all these years”. People unfortunately believe that the wildlife is not suffering from the heat simply because there are no wild rabbits dying in their direct line of vision, and that an animal’s ability to survive despite lack of adequate care means that they are ‘fine’.
At a recent adoption event we conducted, a woman stopped by with her daughter and inquired about adopting a rabbit as a companion for her elderly bunny. She then hesitated for a moment, and asked if we had any advice about keeping her bunny cool in the summer, as he had started having problems with the heat. We recommended making sure he had frozen water bottles and tiles to sleep on and making sure that his cage was in a part of the house receiving good air circulation from the air conditioning. She admitted that he was an outdoor rabbit. When we entreated her to bring in her elderly bunny who was suffering from the heat (by her own admission), she said that she could not, because she had read on the internet that they would get “used” to the air conditioning, and then could not be put back outside. Besides, she assured us, he was doing fine as he was a very tough bunny. He had outlived two cagemates! Two thirds of her pets had died outside from preventable problems, yet she refused to bring in her poor elderly rabbit so that he could at least enjoy the twilight of his life in comfort.
We have also had people inform us that they did not need to bring in their animals until there was a problem, and that they would happily seek vet care if something did happen, and then they would move their pet inside. Vet care is not a guarantee of survival. Friend of ACR&S Cindy wrote us with a sad story about a pig named Copper that she rescued from an outdoor home:
Received a call from my vet’s office saying that someone had left their pig out in 100-degree weather and had brought him in with severe heat stroke. When my vet told the owner he had to keep his pig inside, the owner told the receptionists he couldn’t do it and needed to find a new home. So they called me. Before I knew the situation, I told them I was in contact with a rescue, but when I learned that the guinea pig was once at a day care and then ended up with a family who left him outside, I couldn’t say no. I adopted him Saturday after he’d been at the vet’s overnight for observation, receiving fluids, etc., and after the owner came and signed him over to the vet.
It is with extreme sadness that I report that Copper didn’t make it. I’ve lost track of how many weeks of 90 and 100-degree weather (and heat indexes) we’ve had, but Copper’s former owner left him out the whole time <sniff>. I think that probably Copper’s systems were beginning to shut down little by little until he finally was flat out, and the man (I use the term loosely) finally got him to the vet. Copper perked up quickly with fluid therapy and with being in the incubator, and we were so excited to adopt him. However, during the weekend, he didn’t want to eat, so my husband and I began hydrating him with a slurry of pellets and water and also with homemade Pedialyte (with no-sugar-added cranberry juice substituted for sugar). He began to perk up, and on Monday, when I was going to take him back to the vet for a checkup, he ate breakfast on his own and was doing so well I thought he was out of the woods. Monday afternoon he was eating carrot pieces and grabbing the slurry syringe. Then Tuesday morning he had totally gone downhill. I rushed him to the vet’s, but we sadly had to help him to the Bridge yesterday afternoon.
I am at a loss to understand how Copper could have been left outside.
We had so hoped he would have some happy years with us. I do think he had some good, though brief, times — he liked sitting on my husband’s stomach and in the crook of my elbow. A friend who met him Monday night thought he was sweet, alert, and very handsome.
Please make sure your guinea pigs, rabbits, rats, chinchillas, and other small animals remain inside, especially for the summer. Additionally, be aware of your animal’s changing needs as they age. An older animal cannot tolerate the same temperature extremes as a healthy animal in the prime of life. The same goes for very young animals. Often our most heartbreaking calls are from otherwise excellent owners who took their beloved pet outside to play, not realizing that event 15-20 minutes of this extreme heat can cause heat stroke/exhaustion.
If your house is older and prone to hot spots, even with air conditioning, make sure your animals are well ventilated. Use fans to help circulate air (make sure you don’t point them directly at the cages), provide frozen water bottles or tiles that have been placed in the freezer so your animals can cool off, and if you suspect a problem, seek vet care immediately!