A LIFE-OR-DEATH STORY ABOUT BODY TEMPERATURE

Meadow’s mom here ~ our Leo gave me a huge scare a couple weeks ago and I truly feared he was on his way to the Rainbow Bridge.  Thankfully, that was not the case, but the circumstance was another huge lesson about knowing everything you can about each of your rabbits ~ and ~ what to do when something isn’t right.

It started with Leo being disinterested in his nighttime salad.  As usual, once everybunny else had theirs, I got everything set up to do my normal “stasis routine” ~ simethicone, metacam, chamomille tea (Leo loves it), baby food, syringes.  I administered the semithicone and metacam ~ then thought he felt cooler than normal, so it would be best to warm the baby food-tea combo and keep it it in pan of hot water while I fed him. 

Something in my ‘gut’, however, urged me to actually take his temperature before I did anything else ~ even though Leo always “runs cool”.

KNOWING YOUR BUNNY ~ That Leo “runs cool” became known from observing him over the years.  He is my sun-seeker.  Even on the hottest days, he will seek out the hot afternoon sun, stretch out, and bask.  He has brown fur, so it is definitely absorbing and retaining heat.  I should point out that we do run the air conditioning, but it is set at 79 F (too expensive to set lower) ~ so it isn’t chilly in the house by any means. 

My heart about gave out when the thermometer beeped and the read-out said 95.1 F!  To this day I am trying to convince myself that I didn’t do something quite right, despite the fact that it is a new, no-brainer design with an easy-to-insert, short probe.  A second attempt produced no better results.

KNOWING WHAT TO DO ~ From doing research, I knew that the only thing that mattered at the moment was getting Leo warmed up.  No other measures would have any positive effect until that happened. 

WHAT I DID ~ While keeping Leo as warm as I could, I got out one of the single bunny-sized pet carriers and lined it with a heavy, tight weave rug that is folded in triple.  I placed the carrier on a kitchen counter and put the electric heating pad on top of the rug ~ and turned it onto LOW.  A piece of faux sheepskin went on top of the heating pad.  Then I put Leo in.  I tucked him into a heavy bath-size towel that had been doubled-over ~ so that only the front of his face was sticking out.  His ears were covered and he was facing the front door of the carrier.  I then covered the sides and open-wire top of the carrier with more bath towels.

WAITING ~ Then all I could do was pray, wait, and monitor.  I truly feared that he was suffering from liver or kidney failure and his body was shutting down.  If that was the case, there was nothing I could do ~ except make sure he was being kept warm and was in a place where he felt secure and loved.

RESULT ~ Leo stayed in that position for about 5 hours ~ without moving!  Even though I was often checking the heat being put out by the pad and monitoring for changes in his ear temperature, he just stayed there in the ‘meatloaf’ (heat preserving) position. 

This took place overnight, but I did finally doze off for a bit on the sofa nearby.  When his body temperature had reached an appropriate level, he emerged from his towel cocoon.  Hearing him moving around awakened me and I found him sitting up, on the towel, at the carrier door, obviously anxious to get to heck out of there!  So I blocked off the kitchen entrance and put him in front of the sliding glass door where the morning sun was streaming in.  He gobbled up the food I offered and drank heartily of the chamomille tea I’d brewed earlier.  Totally back to normal!

Then I set about moving his two-story bunny house and everything else into the kitchen ~ where I could set things up to keep him warmer on a permanent basis.

Fortunately, we already had a portable electric heater so I placed it ~ safely ~ behind a fence and positioned the cord so he can’t get to it.  Since it is still warm here, I turned on the lowest wattage option and selected the middle setting.  It has a thermostat, so comes on and goes off accordingly.  In a small space between his bunny house and the heater, I folded a heavy bath towel several times (to fit the space) and placed it on the floor, with a small carpet sample piece on top of that.  Within 15 minutes (or less), Leo had found the warmth and was lounging comfortably in his new ‘spa’ zone. and he can now be found there frequently.  He has the run of the entire kitchen and eating area, but prefers to hang out with his stuff in his ‘territory’.  When he wants extra warmth, he heads for the heater area ~ other times he can be found in his box bed ~ a perfect sized box for him that is lined with a fleece pet bed (complete with a rim which serves as a great chin rest), in the litter box munching hay, in front of the sliding glass door looking out or soaking up the morning rays, on top of his wooden tunnel box, or lounging on the top floor of his bunny house.  To keep him warm during the cool days this winter while he’s up there, I’ve purchased a heat lamp, with a dimmer so that I can control how hot it gets. 

WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED ~ Obviously I cannot prove it, but truly believe that had I gone to bed not realizing that he was not ‘up to par’, he would have been dead when I came out in the morning ~ simply from getting too cold. 

How many times have we read stories where a bunny seemed perfectly normal when his parent went to bed ~ and yet was gone in the morning?  I could have been one of them ~ and a necropsy would have revealed nothing, further deepening the mystery.

WHY DID IT HAPPEN ~ Don’t know.  Something caused him to feel ‘poorly’, which causes a bunny not to eat or move around.  Stasis ~ gut slowdown ~ is certain to occur ~ which leads to a continued decline in gut motility, energy and body temperature.

A couple days later, Leo looked a bit uncertain and unsteady when attempting to wash his ear, so I took him to our vet.  The exam showed nothing abnormal and blood work came back normal.  We did, however, put him on Fenbendazole in case his episode had kicked up dormant EC parasites. 

Zippity also had a not-eating episode just a week and a half before Leo’s episode.  He had x-rays and blood work ~ all completely normal.  His stomach was pretty much empty, but there was no gas.  What made him feel “off”?

WEATHER & POLLEN COUNT CONNECTION ~ Their vet believes ~ and I agree ~ that our drastically and rapidly changing weather patterns are having an effect on the bunnies ~ and other animals ~ just like it is on people.  Dr Harrison, at University of Guelph in Ontario (who was going to operate on Rocky) has charted a definite correlation between high pollen counts and the number of GI Stasis cases coming into the Small Animal Clinic at the University.

LESSON ~ It doesn’t take much at all to cause our bunnies to go into stasis ~ gut slowdown.  Stasis can cause death ~ and it often happens frighteningly rapid.

OUR RESPONSIBILITIES ~ As their guardians, we must make ourselves extremely familiar with everything about each rabbit in our care ~ we must educate ourselves about rabbit rabbit physiology, all aspects of proper rabbit care, what signs and symptoms to watch for, and what to do when something isn’t right.  Then we must immediately take the appropriate action(s) to save our bunny’s lives and restore them to health ~ where that is possible.

BOTH HEAT AND COLD MATTER ~ I’ve had house rabbit companions for 14-1/2 years and been an educator for several years, as well.  In all that time, my major concern ~ and what I relayed to others was ~ beware of excess heat.  If it gets over 80 F, take cooling actions. 

Generally, cold is so much less of an issue for rabbits.  This episode has shown me that it is equally important to be aware of those bunnies who do “run cool” and to take safe, appropriate actions to help them stay warm.  Apparently, not all ‘fur coats’ are created equal. 

And that make sense, really ~ each rabbit is as individual as every human ~ and we must take that into account.  They can’t go get themselves a fan or a sweater ~ so we have to learn what each needs and not accept any generalities.



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