Heat Stress in Small Pets by Dr Anne
Summer is our favourite time of the year, but for our pocket pets it can be a dangerous period. Heat stroke, aka heat stress, occurs when heat production exceeds heat loss, leading to a high body temperature (hyperthermia) and in some cases thermal injury to tissues.
If left untreated, heat stress leads to multiple organ failure and death. It can be extremely fast. Heatstroke related fatalities are particularly common in pocket pets housed in outdoor enclosures during summer. Pregnant animals are at an increased risk.
Rabbits and guinea pigs tend to hide any signs of illness, so you may not notice much at all. However some symptoms to keep an eye out for include:
- Laboured breathing.
- Flaring of the nostrils.
- Excess salivation.
- Reluctance to move
- Lying outstretched on the enclosure floor.
- Seizures or coma may occur.
If your pet is showing any of the above symptoms make sure you:
- Ensure your pet is breathing.
- Wrap your pet in a cool wet towel.
- Avoid the temptation to apply ice cold water as this can cause hypothermia.
- Seek veterinary attention immediately.
How do I keep my pocket pet cool over summer?
There are a number of precautionary steps you can take to ensure that your pet stays cool and healthy over summer. Some good tips to keep in mind are:
- In the event of a heatwave in your area, make sure to relocate your pets indoors, but only if it is cooler inside.
- Ensure that outdoor enclosures are placed out of direct sunlight and that your pet has access to shade all day (remember, the sun moves so what was a shady spot at 10am can be in full sun at 11am)
- Avoid overcrowding as this leads to heat stress. Rabbits and guinea pigs tend to herd together, even when its hot. Pairs and trios are reasonable for a single enclosure but consider multiple enclosures if you have more animals.
- Provide well ventilated enclosures to allow fresh air to circulate throughout.
- Provide fresh, clean water daily. On hot days you might consider putting an ice cube in the water dispenser. Make sure sipper bottles are not blocked (rabbits and guinea pigs love blowing balls of grass up the nozzle of the sipper, causing a blockage)
- Remove uneaten vegies daily. This should be routine but its particularly important in the heat as they rot and attract flies.
- Minimise daytime activity levels. If you exercise your rabbits or guinea pigs, plan your playtime for the cooler part of the morning or in the evening (you need to be careful because mosquitoes can transmit calicivirus to rabbits and are very active at dusk – ask us about vaccination)
- Avoid overfeeding.
On hot days please check your pets frequently. Offer cold treats for example a treat for guinea pigs, spray a small amount of iced water on Bok Choy leaves to keep them cool.
Please use some or all of these tips to help keep our pocket pets cool this summer.
If you have any concerns please contact your local Sydney Animal Hospital;
Newtown (02)9519 4111
69-73 Erskineville Road Erskineville
Inner West (02)9516 1466
1A Northumberland Ave Stanmore
Norwest (02)8883 0411
Unit 8, 1-3 Celebration Dr Bella Vista
Kellyville (02)8883 0533
106 Windsor Rd Kellyville
Newport (02)9997 4609
1 Palm Rd Newport
Avalon (02)9918 0833
710 Barrenjoey Rd Avalon Beach