We have been asked by owners whether our pets can be infected by COVID-19, so as always we turned to our Specialist Veterinary adviser Dr Richard Saunders for advice
This is his response
“At the moment, COVID-19 is too new, and not enough work has been done on it in a full range of species, for us to be able to give absolutely definitive advice, but from what we know about previous respiratory coronaviruses (https://jvi.asm.org/content/89/11/6131) it seems hopeful that rabbits and rodents are resistant to it, although its worth pointing out that they could carry it on their fur etc.
It would appear that rabbits are much much less at risk than pigs, ferrets and cats, and so our advice would be to be sensible, wash hands in soap and water before and after handling any animal, and contact your vet if you have any concerns”
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With summer well underway, we’ve had some stiflingly hot weather…how are your rabbits coping with the heat?
Even though rabbits originate from much hotter parts of Europe and North Africa, they are crepuscular, that is most active at dawn and dusk. In the wild, they would be able to hide from the more intense heat in underground burrows where the temperature varies by only a few degrees. Pet rabbits, especially those who live outside, are reliant on their owners to provide conditions where they can be safe and comfortable. Shade from direct sunlight is essential, so consider where your rabbit hutch or shed and run are situated. Is there any plant cover that will provide shade? A shrub or creeper will be a great help in keeping off the most intense rays of the sun. Plant a tree, but while you wait for it to grow and bush out, also plant something that is going to provide cover quickly, for example a Montana Reubens. Ensure your rabbits can’t get to it and eat it though.
Is your hutch inside a shed? If not, that would be a good idea. Garden sheds can be fairly inexpensive – sometimes you might be able to get one from your local Freecycle or Freegle group – and that would provide an extra insulation against the sun, with the extra bonus of being somewhere to store rabbit possessions, winter insulation, somewhere you can sit with the buns, give them more sheltered living/exercise space and so on. Site it somewhere shady or plant some creeper/tree cover as mentioned above. Be wary though as sheds too can get very hot, so consider double-skinning it and putting insulation between the layers – cavity wall and roof insulation for rabbits. In fact, turf roofs provide excellent insulation and although you’d need to water them in the dryer parts of summer, they do a great job. Insulation keeps heat OUT as well as IN, so whatever you do along these lines for the summer will be of benefit in the winter months too.To keep the shed cool, you will need to keep the door open, so it’s a good idea to fit a wire screen to keep it secure but still let in the fresh air.
FANS. These can be wind or solar powered, battery driven or connected to the mains. But be sure that if they are connected to a power source, your rabbits can’t get to those wires and nip them. Rabbits have a natural instinct for snipping things that look to them like tree roots. Use some hosepipe or trunking to cover wires and keep checking it…you’d be amazed just what buns are able to nibble their way through. Remember too that fans only move the air around and while that makes our skin feel cooler it doesn’t reduce the temperature of the air. So consider having the fan blowing over a frozen pop bottle and that will reduce the air temperature by a few degrees. But don’t aim a fan directly at a rabbit somewhere that it can’t get away, many of them find this very distressing.
Once frozen, these will stay cool for hours. And if you cover an ice pod with the upturned large terracotta drip try from a plantpot, the temperature will remain low for longer. You can also freeze ordinary ceramic floor and wall tiles for hot buns to lie on and cool down. Some materials are naturally cool to the touch, marble for example – remember nothing’s too good for your rabbits!
Obviously always supply plenty of fresh cool water, as even though they only sweat through feet and tongue, a cool drink will make rabbits feel better, and some will even find it helpful to lie in a water dish. Rabbits can access much more fluid from a bowl than from a bottle so it’s best to provide both so they have the choice. Remember to check and refill regularly. If you do find a bun panting, it is in distress and should be brought immediately into a much cooler environment, but don’t dunk them in freezing water as the sudden temperature change could do untold harm and send their system into shock. If this was an emergency, they need to see a vet. Cool them as gently as you can by laying a damp towel over them to slowly reduce the temperature, and cover the carrier with a damp towel on the way to see a vet if you’re really worried, but generally just providing them with a much cooler space is best.
Have you somewhere they could safely tunnel underground? Could you sink wide pipes under your garden? Buns could keep lovely and cool in these, but always think about being able to get access to the rabbit – this is less advisable if your bun is already hard to catch.
FLIES. The horror of rabbit owners. Flies of course, lay eggs, and those hatch out into maggots, which literally eat their way into your rabbit’s flesh and organs – an often fatal condition for rabbits. If the eggs have been laid on your rabbit by a blowfly (a greenbottle or a bluebottle), then there is a very real danger of flystrike. So do all you can to keep flies away. Plant herbs that are thought to repel them, keep bun an dbedding/litter area scrupulously clean, buy a battery or solar powered bug zapper to hang in your shed, check your rabbits several times every day. If you have the slightest suspicion of flystrike, it is an emergency. Phone your vet and tell him or her what the problem is and get your rabbit there at once. Rather a false alarm in these circumstances than a dead rabbit. If your bun is prone to wetting itself or having caecal pellets stuck to fur, you need to work out the reason why and work with your vet on eliminating that…is your bun obese and unable to clean itself or to squat properly? Is there the possibility of arthritis? This is far more common than people realise in older rabbits. You can get products like Rearguard from your vet or from online pharmacies (no prescription needed). This product can be used if your rabbit is at risk of flystrike, as recommended by your vet. There are other products on the market. Rearguard works by preventing the maggots from developing mouth parts so they can’t eat your rabbits alive. It only needs to be applied at intervals of a few weeks. Other products need to be applied daily and are insect epellents/killers. But nothing is better than regular checks of your rabbits’ rear ends and scrupulous hygiene.
In summary, your buns need to be checked even more regularly in the hot summer months, and owners should always err on the side of caution. Best to take a bit more time than to have the unthinkable happen.
We have had fantastic news from artist Seb Lester recently. He had contacted us around Christmas time and said that he intended to donate profits from the sale of his limited edition print ‘Shaped’ to our charity. We love the sentiment expressed in the print. How much our love for our wonderful rabbits has shaped us all!
Seb had made 160 prints and most have sold although some are still available. He is donating almost £870 to help us with our campaigns.
With some prints still available from the limited edition please have a look at Shaped and other items from Seb’s collection which you’ll find here https://www.seblester.com/
With amber and red weather warnings for the severe weather in most of the country we are asking people to act quickly to protect their outdoor pet rabbits.
Our normal winter advice doesn’t cover these extreme conditions so we would ask owners to bring their rabbits into unused garages or sheds. Or if that is not possible then bring them indoors. But please be aware that if you are bringing them into the house, keep the room unheated. Rabbits are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature so if you put them in a room that is heated, it will be dangerous to put them outside in the cold again.
If you can’t bring them into a garage, shed or into the house then follow our winter advice, but multiply it by 10.
Rabbits really do suffer in these conditions – in the wild they’ll stay underground in large groups sharing body warmth. Pet rabbits rarely have that luxury. Keep them warm and dry, keep them safe.
Do you and your rabbits want to become RWAF Social Media stars? We are looking for members to profile in our new Social Media campaign which will run in February on both Facebook and Instagram. Not only could you and your buns be featured, but there are some excellent prizes too (see later)! All you need to do is submit one (or more) photo(s) of your rabbit and a separate photo of yourself and finish the following using between 250-300 words “ I am a member of the RWAF because…” The RWAF Directors will select between 10-15 responses to use in the campaign. Those selected to be profiled will receive a 10% off voucher for the RWAF shop https://shop.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/. And there’s more…once the campaign has run, the profile which receives the most likes/loves and shares will win this beautiful and unique rabbit memo board with stylus, specially made for us by Rosemary MacDonald. The image is burnt into the wood and then lightly varnished
Deadline for entry is: 31st January 2018
How to enter in three easy steps:
Select one or more photos featuring you and separately, one or more of your rabbit(s)
Finish the following “ I am a member of the RWAF because…” using between 250-300 words