Rabbits and fireworks don’t mix

The summer is now a faded memory, and our thoughts turn to a colder season, with frost, rain, wind and festive celebrations. Fireworks will start to emerge as the evening draw in, and with this come the consequences of stress to so many of our patients. People without pets will often be completely unaware of the problems they cause, but anyone with a dog, cat, rabbit or horse will know of the terrible anxiety and distress fireworks can cause.

Posted: 10 October 2019

Rabbits and fireworks don’t mix

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Act now

Now is the time to raise the firework subject with everyone, so use your emails, Social Media and waiting room walls to highlight the issues. For all animals, and especially rabbits, it’s vital that we try to minimise this stress. In this article we look at some practical suggestions to allow you and your clients create a stress-free home and working environment.

What could possibly go wrong with a rabbit?

Rabbits are a prey species and tend to go silent when frightened or threatened. The evidence of stress to their owners is hidden, and as a result the suffering often goes unnoticed. The impact of stress can be devastating. Neurotransmitters from the pituitary gland trigger the adrenals to release adrenaline, causing tachycardia, tachypnoea and hypertension. If the fireworks go on too long, it can lead to gut stasis and death.

The list of complications from stress include;

  • Hepatic lipidosis
  • Reduced gut motility leading to altered gut function and stasis
  • Insulin resistance and hyperglycaemia
  • Altered carbohydrate metabolism
  • Immune system suppression
  • Reproductive impairment
  • Reduced renal blood flow
  • Cardiac failure
  • Hypertension

Stress can work in many ways, and some owners may even notice their pet developing some unusual behavioural problems. Below are just three of the changes that may be seen;

  1. Fear Aggression – many owners will report their pet has started to bite or chase them. This aggression may be an emotional response to fear.
  2. Territorial aggression – this is frequently seen, so be aware when trying to introduce a new pet at this time of year.
  3. Inappropriate chewing – house rabbits are often allowed free access around the home. The desire to chew is inevitable, but the hazards around the home are numerous and often dangerous. You’re best to advise that the owner restricts the animal to access until the risks have reduced.

12 ways to protect your rabbit patients

Minimising stress is important at all times of year, but during the firework season, the levels of distress can be even higher. With this in mind, follow some of our guidelines to ensure your rabbit patients are as safe and stress free when under your care.

  1. Provide somewhere to hide – provide a secure place to sit comfortably and undisturbed. A cardboard box of adequate size can be used. Use large amounts of hay or straw as a bedding material. Blankets or towels can also be used, though some rabbits tend to chew.
  2. Peace and quiet – examine them in the quietest consulting room, away from windows and outside doors. Any loud bangs from fireworks will be muffled and less likely to cause stress.
  3. The waiting room – book your rabbit patient appointments at the end of surgery, when you are less likely to have a busy waiting room with barking dogs.
  4. Day care only – avoid overnight stays to reduce the time exposed to stress. Offer morning appointments to reduce the chance of fireworks, which tend to be heard after dark.
  5. Avoid contact with predators - keep all hospitalised rabbits away from the usual care rooms. A secluded place away from barking dogs and the smell of cats will go a long way to help reduce anxiety.
  6. Clean the examination room - rabbits have a keen sense of smell, so make sure you don’t check them immediately after a cat, dog, ferret or bird of prey has been in the room. You might even consider wearing a clean scrub top.
  7. Two’s company - rabbits are social animals, so encourage your client to bring a companion for their pet.
  8. Safe and careful handling – correct and safe handling technique are essential to avoid spinal injury. Animals can be wrapped in a towel, given support to the back. You can sometimes calm them by covering their eyes.
  9. Enrichment – rabbits can soon become bored and frustrated. Offer clean and safe toys to enrich their environment. Cardboard boxes filled with hay make ideal throwaway toys. Read our article on rabbit enrichment >
  10. Favourite food - ask the owner to bring a rabbit lunch box. Fresh food needs to be readily available. Ask whether the rabbit is drinking from a bowl or a bottle.
  11. Offer premium diets – only feed the best – don’t compromise on the quality of food you offer. Use lots of good, fresh, dust free hay, together with a selection of herbs and complete nuggets. See our range of rabbit foods >
  12. Educate and inform – use your waiting room to explain the potential firework problem. Why not offer a practice leaflet on rabbit stress and give tips and advice on how to help? Below is an example of what could be used.

Use our client handout – “Keeping your rabbit safe on Bonfire night”

We’ve put together some suggestions for you to use in a client handout, Social Media posting or email newsletter. Feel free to use this as you wish.

Keeping your rabbit safe on Bonfire night

Rabbits are masters at hiding the signs of stress. Bonfire night and festive fireworks can trigger some major problems for your pet, so it pays to be aware of the problems and take action to help avoid an issue. The consequences of not dealing with the problem early can be devastating. As prey animals, they tend to hide their fear, but you may notice some of the clues. Look out for

  • Ears flat to the head
  • Lying completely still and close to the ground
  • Head held low
  • Rapid breathing
  • Anorexia

Here are our top ten tips to help your rabbit

  1. Check the dates – look online, in the papers and for local signs to find out when the big events are planned. Many local authorities stage big events, lasting up to an hour. There will be plenty of advance notice, so mark your diary and keep your rabbit safe.
  2. Relocate – for those that house their rabbit in the garden, it’s time to bring them inside. Move them into a quiet room in the home or a safe area in the garage.
  3. Provide cover - cover the rabbit’s home with a dark sheet or blanket. This will reduce the bright lights and give a feeling of shelter and protection. A thick blanket or duvet will also provide some sound insulation.
  4. Lots of bedding hay - rabbits love to burrow and hide, so encourage them to hide by providing some extra bedding hay for a feeling of security. Cardboard boxes and tubes will also allow them to hide and feel safe.
  5. Fibre food – don’t forget to provide plenty of good quality, dust free feeding-hay such Long Stem Feeding Hay and Excel Forage Feeding Hay. 
  6. Silence is golden – place the rabbit into the quietest room in the house or garage. It may be the back room away from the road, the downstairs toilet or even the front room if the neighbours are having a bonfire party in their back garden. Keep doors and windows closed and pull the curtains.
  7. Relaxing sounds – it may help to provide some background noises that your rabbit is used to. Quiet music or relaxation tapes can be a good choice, but if you’re going to do this, make sure they’ve become accustomed to the sounds before bonfire night itself.
  8. Schedule the day - keep to a routine that the rabbit is comfortable with. Feeding at the same time each day and by the same person. 
  9. Company - rabbits are social animals and like to have companions. If your rabbit lives alone, it may be time to find a friend. Living alone is extremely stressful for rabbits.
  10. Keep others away – make sure your rabbit feels same from predators. Keep them away from the sight, sound and smell of prey animals such as dogs, cats and ferrets.

 

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