This article is about how one of our rabbits got the worst case of flystrike our vet had ever seen.
Last night, about half an hour after I posted my last article, I got called outside by my husband. One of our rabbits, Sebastian, was lying on his side in his run, his eyes looked sort of dead but he was still breathing/moving. I wasn’t quite sure what was wrong with him, I examined him as much as I could, I actually thought he’d broken his spine. There was literally nothing showing on the outside of his body at this point. I don’t have any pictures of how we found him because I wrapped him in a towel, phoned the vet, and, upon realizing we had no car and that no taxi in the universe was going to take a sick rabbit to a vet, I ran the 2 miles to the vet, carrying the bunny in my arms wrapped in the towel, trying my best to hold him gently, with my husband alongside, carrying the rabbit carry case (because the angle the rabbit was found at, he wouldn’t actually go in our extra large carry case which is actually for my Jack Russell terrier, even though Sebastian is a Netherland Dwarf, the smallest pet bunny breed).
When I got to the vet, they were fantastic. They literally threw out a woman mid-consult so they could take in our rabbit (I apologized profusely to her) and they got him straight to the medical area in the back.
Exhausted from the run, I went to the Spar next to the vet’s to get a coca cola, because I needed some liquid sugary crap in my system. When I got back to the waiting area, they called us straight through.
Sebastian had the worst case of fly strike the vet had ever seen in her decade or more of clinical practice. He had to be put to sleep immediately, and we held him and my husband stroked his nose (I wanted to as well, but he only had a tiny nose and my husband has large hands) while the vet did it there and then.
Fly strike is where a fly lays eggs under the surface of the bunny’s skin and they hatch into maggots that eat the rabbit alive. I don’t know if it’s a particular species of fly that does it, because I’ve always been a little confused on the fact that maggots are only suposed to eat dead flesh, but Sebastian was the first fly strike bunny we’ve had, and I saw the evidence. When the vet opened his back legs, I could see that the flies had eaten half his internal organs.
I had been checking the rabbits about twice a week (as well as obviously going out to spend time with them daily, and so was my husband), but I now know that’s not often enough. It took less than 6 hours for this to happen, for our bunny to go from his usual self to near death. The vet said it can take under 24 hours from the eggs being laid to the rabbit being eaten alive by maggots. And that’s basically what happened.
The photos that follow show you what fly strike looks like at its worst. They are very graphic. I purposely put the featured image of a less awful picture so I didn’t upset people. I didn’t take many pictures because we needed to bury him quickly, but I wanted to share this so that people know how bad fly strike can get.
This was my pet bunny, and it could be yours:
We showed him briefly to Fifer and Poppy, who were his (non-bonded) friends, but we couldn’t leave him with them because the vet couldn’t get the maggots out, and we had to bury him in the ground as quickly as possible, in the towel we took him to the vets in (because it had to be chucked anyway).
Sebastian lived to be 11 years and 5 months of age. I always hoped he’d go in his sleep.
Today’s entry for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Numbers is just a few of the photos I collected around Europe showing the numbers of people who died in the two world wars.
In Britain, every town, every village, every city has its war memorial. It is a constructed object, such as a sculpture or a stone alcove, which serves to remind us of the people who never came home from World War I and World War II.
I once had the fortune to actually visit the war graveyard in Huddersfield. It’s not for the faint hearted and I remember trying to read every single headstone, the name of every single person interred there.
The number of people who died on both sides in World War I and II is staggering. When reading/experiencing that aspect of history, it tends to make me have a panic attack; the sheer inescapability of death was a daily reality for most of these people. Having PTSD, I find this immensely triggering and tend to suppress the anxiety, leading to the delayed reactions I keep getting told are really unhealthy – the migraines, the vomiting, feeling angry (because I’m feeling so shaken) for hours, sometimes days afterwards. I hate thinking about these wars, but I feel like I should, because they happened, and these people’s lives are over as a result, and the world would be very different if they had not happened.
I wasn’t born then, so of course I never asked them to go to war for me, to ensure my future survival, but they did anyway. Whichever side these soldiers were on, they were treated like millions of expendable ants at the beck and call of their country. For that, for the fact that they were put in this shitty impossible situation with no real chance of surviving it, we should be fucking grateful to them. We should have some empathy. It makes me angry to think that some people pretend these wars never happened, people pretend that the Holocaust never happened, how can anyone really believe that? I think in their hearts they know it to be true.
I’ve talked before about the memorials in the photos above in Impressions of Salzburg. What I’ve never talked about was my experience in Salzburg Museum, because it set off my PTSD and made me sickened and pretty depressed. The Salzburg Museum’s exhibition of the First World War was a particular eye opener. The Austrian point of view is that they were defending their assassinated archduke. The exhibit explained an awful lot about World War I that we in England tend to not get told, and English speaking resources tend to follow suit.
I would strongly urge anyone with an interest in the history of the Great War to research original non-British primary sources as well as the English sources we’re used to seeing, to get a more balanced view of the First World War, who was actually fighting it, and how it caused the second. I’m not taking sides here, but it’s damn scary to see how Britain actually contributed to the rise of Fascism and Nazism, and I think there’s a lot of lessons we aren’t learning while we pretend our government wasn’t part of the problem in that first war. The individual soldiers, of course, had no idea of this. The only people who should have been involved in that war were Austria and Serbia, and as a result of ridiculously convoluted diplomatic ties, millions upon millions of lives were lost for no reason on all sides. Many were aged 16-18.
We need to remember them, otherwise we could *be* them.
Wow so I was just checking my Twitter and saw that David Bowie’s death was announced today. He died yesterday, at home, aged 69. Cause of death: Liver cancer.
It seems to be shaping up to be a shit year for musician mortality; it was only this morning I was watching Lemmy’s memorial service on Youtube.
When will this wanton loss of musical icons end? He only released his latest album Blackstar (to critical and commercial success) two days earlier, on January 8th.
David Bowie was always the spearhead of popular music, no matter what decade, his style always evolved and was reinvented to shape the next musical era.
Now who will man the tiller of popular music? Who will be avant garde? Who will look good in a mullet??????
Sunday was Banacek’s funeral. We buried him in a cardboard rabbit carrier, with his favourite toys; the chewy hemp carrot, the chewy sticks, his first cuddly rabbit (stuffy), as well as his drinking bowl. We rested him on a piece cut from his favourite blue carpet out of his bedroom, then we tucked him in with his favourite towel, the one he kept pulling under him after he got neutered. We read him the story of Snuggle Bunny, our rabbit book puppet with the adorable bedtime story (hey, I don’t judge YOUR insomnia tactics). The book still has a little nibble out of the spine from the time Banacek “investigated” it.
We dug a big hole and gently laid him in it, then covered him over with soil, it was absolutely pouring it down with rain and we fenced it off with rabbit run panels so he doesn’t get dug up by foxes. He’s next to Katie and Neville.
The cynical part of my brain observes that there is literally no room left for vegetables in the garden. I was going to put in a picture of him in his little box, but WordPress crashed when I tried to upload the picture (why didn’t they put an “add pictures” button in the ‘New Posting Experience FFS), and I had to restart the whole internet to restore this backup, so I’m going to leave it with what’s already in this post.
It’s been colder in the house since he died, and we all keep expecting him to run up and down the stairs, to hop into the living room and investigate the food situation, or to try to get into the bathroom or kitchen. The house just feels so big and empty now. It’s like the colour has just disappeared out of the whole house, and everything is much greyer and duller than it was before.
As the days have gone on, we have realized that we’d built our whole life around Banacek; everything from how we organize our day to the furniture in the house, the fact that we redecorated the living room with adhesive tiles to stop him chewing the first two feet of wallpaper, the stairgate-type barriers in the doorways of our bedroom and the bathroom, to stop him getting into danger. He had his own bedroom in the house, a room which was predominantly his giant 6′ by 6′ rabbit hutch, and his upstairs toys scattered around. Every corner of the house has a sawdust litter tray so he didn’t have to get caught short, and our Hoover is the special pet one to pick up his fur from the carpet. The kitchen is full of a variety of dry rabbit foods, toys and accoutrements that were in rotation so he never got bored, since he didn’t have an outdoor run any more (Fifer kind of stole it), and we specifically chose and modified our furniture and electricals to make a safe, accessible and stimulating environment for him. We only got Cleo to be his friend because he was getting lonely, and we worried that we’d have to cope with his grief when she died of old age, since she’s 11 and he was only 3. Before we adopted Cleo, we used to take Banacek on bunny playdates with other houserabbit owners so he could socialize with members of his own species.
Nobody really gets this, but this is definitely harder for both of us than losing the baby. I think the reaction from other people, that “meh, it was just a rabbit” response, has made it so much worse, because it’s made us realize Banacek’s profound impact and amazing presence didn’t really extend past our house. Banacek was so central to our life that not having him here to greet us, wait for us, harass us for things he doesn’t need, to give us affection, to focus our attention on, to adore and lavish with love and snuggles… All our little every-day rituals, all the songs we’d changed the words to so Banacek was the focal point, all the tiny bunny crockery for his different nibbles… He was interested in literally everything we did, and everything that he did was naturally awesome. I even started this blog so I could share the delight of Banacek with the world. And everyone who came to the house was always so taken with him; how can people be so fickle and heartless about such a wonderful bunny?
The house just feels empty. My soul feels empty. Everyone in the house feels the same right now. My Dearest explained it best this morning, when he said “I keep putting the central heating on, but I feel so cold on the inside.” The house is a balmy 16 degrees right now and I’m huddled under a blanket in my dressing gown, and I’m still freezing.
Banacek was the life and soul of the party. And now the party’s left, and we’ve just got a big empty venue to clean up, and that one sick girl to look after who drank too much.
How do you find meaning and purpose when you had it, you were happy with it, and it got taken away from you?
Now he’s gone, I’m coming up with nothing.
We’ve lost our best friend, our confidante, and our baby bunny all in one. Banacek was our world. If you think that’s hyperbolic you just didn’t know how amazing Banacek was.
I promise my next post will be something upbeat, but today I needed to tell the world about how important Banacek was.
Very sad times; we are struggling to even comprehend how this happened. Cleo is doing her best to make sure he gets a good send-off, we will have his funeral tomorrow in the garden unless it’s too flooded. This is pretty much all I have to say about it:
I went around the town on Sunday 27th December (yeah it took me FOREVER to upload these to WP) and just took some photos of the damage and of the things I saw. We even saw some looters trying to get into some abandoned vehicles, but they ran away when they saw me taking photos of nearby things with a professional looking camera (pro-tip – don’t photograph the looters if they’ve noticed you; they’ll probably take your professional looking camera then resume looting). Click all of these to enlarge if you want to see them up close.
So some laughs, some drama, but most of all, I’m just very glad that my house isn’t flooded at the moment, and I hope to goodness it stays that way. I think this has justified the expenditure on my 40mm prime (non-zoom) lens for my camera – it’s performance in low light is absolutely stunning – these pictures are actually a little brighter than my eyes were able to see these scenes, because it was going dark as we left the house. If I go out photographing again tomorrow, I need to try and overcome my fear of photographing people because I saw some fantastic human-interest scenes today such as a family pushing their salvaged possessions in a shopping trolley, and some others standing outside a supermarket in their pyjamas waiting for friends to meet them and take them to somewhere dry, and the aforementioned looters although I wasn’t going to snap them in a million years, they were paying too much attention to my camera (although I couldn’t have photographed people very well as I didn’t have my zoom lens with me because I didn’t want it to get wet since it’s bloody expensive – I took my standard kit lens but it was just shockingly crap in the light levels so it captured NOTHING). I always worry that I’m imposing on others’ private emotional dramas by photographing them; I guess that’s why I’m not a “proper” journalist/photojournalist yet.
On Tuesday, I put Fifer on his rabbit lead because the carrier was at the vets with Katie. There was a spare carrier, but two boxes and a husband don’t fit in my car safely. It turns out Fifer much prefers to wear his harness and sit on someone’s knee for car rides than to be put in a box. We learned he likes looking out of the window. I told him we were going to see Katie. I wanted him to have the chance to see her again, because whilst I’d been worried about her when I took her to the vets in the morning, I had had no idea that this was going to happen or that we weren’t getting her back. I’d been worrying in the morning because Katie was worrying; it was like she knew.
We arrived at the vet’s 20 minutes early. Contrary to what the receptionist had said earlier, we were shown straight into a room and Katie was brought out for us by the nurse. We put Fifer on the table with her so they could talk in bunny language to each other and share a moment. She wasn’t very with it because they’d sedated her, she’d been in so much pain after the anaesthetic wore off that they had to, apparently. She still looked like she was in pain, and she basically just sat there and Fifer came and snuggled her and licked her nose and she just stared at him for the longest time, then she nuzzled him with her nose and sat next to him.
Our usual vet (not the one I’d seen in the morning or the day before, but the one who founded the practice and who has been seeing us since we first started going here, a few weeks after they opened) came in to talk to us about Katie’s situation. She showed us the X-rays. It was much MUCH worse than it had sounded on the phone, and as soon as I saw the X-rays I started crying because Katie’s skeleton was effectively crumbling away inside her. Before we came to the vet, I’d kept an open mind and if I’d thought there was the slightest chance of her having a pain-free or fulfilling life after that day, I would have paid the money. I would have remortgaged the house if I’d had to to pay to save Katie. But there’s only so much that can be done, and the leg was today’s problem, but as the X-rays of the rest of her showed, her other leg could split at any second, her knees were fucked, her spine was fused together, her hips showed significant lack of bone density, and that was just the lower half of her body (which was what was X-rayed). This more experienced vet told us she thought Katie was probably about 7 years old, and that from the bone density throughout her skeleton, it was extremely likely that she wasn’t actually fed rabbit food by her previous owners. From this day on, her life was only going to be vet stay after vet stay, interspersed with what they called “cage rest,” during which her movement would have been inhibited as much as possible and she would have spent months in extreme agony until this leg healed, then there would have been the rest of it, a ticking timebomb inside her ready to go at any moment, causing her more unspeakable pain and fear. I wanted my squishyboo, but I wasn’t going to keep her alive so I could selfishly stroke her nose.
Would I still have adopted Katie if I had known she was so old? Resoundingly yes. I just would have maybe expected this instead of it being such a shock. It was only last week that I was thinking that one day, in a few years time (with her and Fifer being our youngest rabbits – or so I thought), the only bunnies we might still have of our current set would be Katie and Fifer. I thought she would even outlive Banacek, who we got when he was a tiny helpless baby three and a half years ago. Because she should have just turned three last week, when I got her vaccinated. She should have had about another five to seven years of life. That was what was most shocking I think – because we have some very old rabbits (over age 10) and Katie looked and acted nothing like them.
Before I took her to the vet, she had taken herself to a spot in her hutch and stayed there. When I came to pop her in the box, she screamed in pain but she didn’t resist. She knew her time had come and she was very serene about it. I didn’t understand at the time (hence my worry before and after dropping her off at the vet that the anaesthetic would be the killer here). I never expected to end the day having to make a living death or death decision over my favorite bunny.
While we were talking to the vet, Katie seemed to perk up a bit, and she started eating the cilantro that my Dearest had brought for her and strewn over the examination table. Then, with superhuman effort, she managed to get up and hop over to where Fifer stood opposite her, and she faltered when her injured leg touched the floor, but that didn’t deter her, she went to lick his face profusely. Then she turned around, and just lay down sideways on the examination table. She only managed to do it for a few seconds before she had to get up again because her leg hurt too much in that position, but after her little energy spree, she turned to my Dearest and licked his hand, then she turned to me and licked my hand, then she licked Fifer’s nose again, then she sort of switched off again, it was as if she was saying “there, now I’ve done everything, now I have said goodbye to you all, I can go now. I’m ready.” I was in floods of tears throughout. The vet picked Katie up and took her out (they can’t do rabbits the way they do dogs because their veins are too small so she had to do it away from us then bring her back).
When the vet took Katie in the back to do it, Fifer just sort of sat there staring at the floor looking morose. Then, about a minute or so after she’d left, Fifer suddenly looked straight up towards where she’d been taken, he stared at that spot for a second, then he lay down on the examination table. It was as if he knew the exact moment when she died. After Katie was PTS (put to sleep), the vet put her on the examination table for us and then she just let us stay in the examination room and take our time.
I let Fifer have a look at her. He declared that she smelled strange then indicated that he wanted to leave. So we bundled Katie up so carefully (the vet let us have a towel). I just scooped Katie up, supporting her head because she was limp, and held her for about ten minutes, just rocking her and crying and kissing her nose and trying to deal with the situation. Then I popped her back in her dog carrier (she’s the size of one) and took the bunnies home.
When we got home, I popped her in the big outhouse where Fifer’s hutch is (they have 24/7 indoor/outdoor access and no door on the entrance to the hutch for their own freedom to roam), and I lay her down next to the hay pile. We fed Fifer and we had given him copious snuggles and strokes.
On Wednesday morning, after the school run, the first thing I did was go to see Fifer. I went to his outhouse and just sat by Katie’s body with him. I noticed there was now some broccoli in her ear. He had tried to feed her broccoli at some point in the night. The rest of her had been thoroughly groomed.
Rabbits have a special ritual when one of their herd dies. They sometimes do a rabbit dance around the dead one, and they often groom them. It’s critically important that they get to see the dead body after the bunny has been PTS, which is why I put Katie out with Fifer overnight. That morning, I lifted her up – rigor mortis had set in by now – and I took her out into the outdoor run so that Sebastian could see her as well. Fifer of course had priority because they were bonded first, but Sebastian loved Katie and would often be found on the other side of the fence snuggled up to her.
When I got Sebastian out of his run and put him next to Katie, he nosed her then lost interest. He didn’t seem to care. I put him back away and gave the rest of my attention to Fifer who was clearly mourning his Katie. Fifer sat with me and Katie for hours in the garden, and when I went to the flowerbed to dig her a grave, he came and “helped” without getting in the way. He knew what we were doing. He’s very intelligent. I lined the bottom with lots of her favorite plants. After that, I popped Katieboo in the outdoor toilet room so that bugs and birds didn’t start on her, then waited for my Dearest to finish work so we could bury her.
After I moved her, I watched Fifer from the kitchen. I saw him sniff around where she’d been before, then he laid down where her body had been, and stared into space wistfully. This is why they have to see the body – otherwise, they will wait for weeks sometimes for their friend to return (because they think they’re out feeding and haven’t come back) and they won’t eat or drink if you’re not careful.
When He got home from work, we wandered down the road and picked loads of dandelions and daisies for her. Dandelions were her favourite thing to eat that grows wild, and she’d eaten all the ones in the garden which is why we went looking. We were losing light, as the sky turned a dark pink, it was Katie’s favorite time of day (bunnies naturally are most active in the hour around dawn and the hour around dusk, and out of all of our buns, Katie and Fifer are/were the most in tune with their natural rhythms). We gathered her some broccoli and a whole carrot from the fridge, and all the rabbit nuggets that had been handed back by the vet because she wasn’t eating properly. I got her out of where I’d put her, and rigor mortis was wearing off again so she was a bit more movable than before. I placed her carefully on the bed of plants, then we placed the dandelions, daisies and broccoli where she could get at them (I put some of the broccoli behind her ears as per Fifer’s broccoli-feeding attempts, in case he knew something about all of this that we didn’t, such as that rabbits eat backwards in the afterlife maybe). We snapped the carrot and placed it in front and behind her. Then we took the bunny nuggets and scattered them around her, so she was totally insulated from soil by all her favorite snacks. It’s what she would have wanted.
The hardest part was putting the soil over her. It felt so wrong. She just looked like she was sleeping, peacefully, dreaming, with her eyes slightly open. I covered all the rest of her then I did her face last because it was so hard. Then after I’d covered her a bit I handed the shovel to my Dearest and let him put the next layer on. I was too upset. I didn’t want to let her go.
In the end, I took over again because he was too upset too. Fifer stood beside us, looking on, I’m not sure what he was thinking but he knew she was there. We put a protective fence (made of spare panels of rabbit run) around her because the last thing I want is a cat to dig her up and eat her. I’ve let Fifer out since and he’s gone to the place where she’s buried and he’s nosed at the fence, like he’s saying “that’s where Katie is, isn’t it mummy?” and I’ve replied (because I do) with “yes, honey, that’s where Katie is.”
He seems to be coping pretty well. He’s just gone back to being his loner, lonely, languishing self from his pre-Katie days. We’ll probably need to get him a new friend soon but for now I want to just let him (and us) get over this profound loss.
My Dearest asked me a question yesterday that threw me. He said, “what are your thoughts about pregnancy now?” and my answer was “it’s strange that you should ask, because when I was holding Katie’s body in the vets, the only thought in my mind was ‘if we get pregnant RIGHT NOW then we might get her reincarnated spirit.’ Because I know that Katie will get reincarnated if she doesn’t just get a free pass to the afterlife. Look, I know it’s weird but in the last 12 months I’ve lost 2 parents and 2 rabbits, I think I’m allowed to have strange afterlife ideas.
The night after she died, I had a dream that her and my dog Dillon (childhood BFF) were both pissed that only humans get let into the afterlife (in my dream it was Elysian fields, pearly gates, huge drinking festhall of Valhalla – the works – all together in the same place), so they broke in (Katie burrowed then Dillon barked at anyone who tried to stop them) until St Peter and Hades both turned up and St P. said “well, you’ve clearly made a lot of effort so Imma let you stay” and they went to the fountain of youth and drank from it and tore around heaven like racing cars.
Then I had a dream about all the ginger people I know, all in the same room, and I was looking for Katie but she wasn’t there. I had that dream the next night as well. Weird, huh?
I’m going to miss my Marmalade Princess Katieboo.
I don’t think there’s another rabbit the same as her in the whole world.
I also need to give a big shout-out to my vets who were really really wonderful about the whole thing (even when I got stressy, and even sent Fifer a condolences card with a pair of rabbits on it). If you live in York, you can’t do better than Vets4Pets for rabbit-savvy vets.
I got a call from the vets at 12:00 this afternoon telling me that Katie has split her femur all the way up and that it would require extensive surgery to pin and repair, and that a surgical specialist would have to come to do it.
The X ray shows that she has very severe arthritis – she is apparently much older than the 3 year old bun we though she was, they estimate she’s at the very least 5 years old, and they think the arthritis has torn her leg bone in half.
They won’t amputate because the other leg is just as arthritic, and they won’t double amputate because they can’t take a “healthy” leg. Amputation would come to £500 per leg and she’d suffer a lot in the process.
The surgery would cost at least £1500 and on top of that, there would be the future problems from the untreated arthritis and the ongoing cost of complications, and the risk of using anaesthetic again.
She got a check up at the vets last week and they told me she was in good health. Now she’s at death’s door with this fractured femur.
We have had to make the very difficult decision to put Katie to sleep because she is in unbearable pain, she is hardly moving and she is suffering greatly. I don’t want to lose my marmalade princess, when I’ve barely had her for a year, but it turns out that she is an older lady rabbit. It seems weird thinking that about a 5-ish year old bunny when Cleo and Sebastian are both 10 and 1/2 and they’re still hopping around. And I was mentally prepared for either of them to die. But not Katie. I thought I had about a decade with her before we’d have to deal with this stuff. We were supposed to have more time!!! Fucksake.
Mostly I’m angry at her previous owners for doing the shit they did to her then abandoning her in a cardboard box. I’m angry that she never got her happily ever after, when she’s the rabbit of all of our buns who most deserved to be happy, because she’d gone through so much shit before we got her.
I don’t know how to tell Fifer. He has only known her for a year too and they’ve been so happy together.
I’m angry at the vet receptionist who just told me I couldn’t have my rabbit back before we put her to sleep. I want my rabbit. I want to stroke her nose and tell her it’s going to be okay and fix this all.
I can’t stop crying.
I feel so awful. I told her last night that we’d have her back and safe this evening, that the vet would make her better. Instead, we can’t do that.
I don’t want to lose my Katieboo. I just want this to not be happening.
I probably won’t update tomorrow even if my internet is working (unlikely).
I don’t know if this will get online or not.
Keeping rabbits cool in summer can be daunting. This has been the hottest week of the year in the UK, and with temperatures pretty much soaring worldwide in the Northern Hemisphere (sorry, Oz), it’s important to keep bunnies safe from sun and heatstroke too!
We all know that dogs die in hot cars, but rabbits regularly die in hot hutches as well, especially young rabbits (less than a year old). Lack of ventilation, hutches placed in direct sunlight, and the ammonia from a hutch that hasn’t been cleaned in a while all take their toll on rabbits. I’m not being OTT here, these are all things I’ve learned from having tons of buns for years. Here’s how to keep bunnies cool and safe and happy and snuggled in all this hot weather we’ve been having:
Don’t: Leave rabbits in a hutch on hot days. They need to be able to move around and find shade (or a cool breeze) and additionally, they panic if they feel trapped, which will only make them hotter.
Assume their water bottles are sufficient. Rabbits have been not drowning in puddles for thousands of years, and a bowl of water that they can put their face in to cool down will really help them out. Be aware that they might knock it over, and refill as needed.
Put sunblock or other human sun protection products on rabbits: It sounds good in theory, but please never do this. Rabbits will lick it off and ingest it, and sunscreen’s not good for them, and it won’t reach their skin in any case.
Leave hutches in direct sunlight. Even when the rabbits aren’t in them, they will get hot and cause the ammonia from their urine to degrade. This can cause a potentially toxic vapour that can suffocate rabbits when you put them to bed.
Forget to clean the hutches out at least once a week in summer. The temperature and the amount of insects around means that it’s easy for a hutch to acquire maggots, which will lead to bunny fly strike, a deadly disease.
Ignore warning signs: If your bunny is visibly too hot, not really moving much, breathing heavily, and clearly uncomfortable, you need to take action (see how below).
Never, ever, ever touch a nest with newborns (younger than 8 weeks) baby rabbit kittens in it: Even to move them somewhere cooler. If the mother smells the babies have been interfered with by anyone who isn’t herself, she will reject them and they will die (yes, you can try to hand rear them, no, it often doesn’t work). The mother will move them if she thinks they’ll have a better chance of survival, and she comes from a long line of rabbits who didn’t fail to care for their young (or she wouldn’t be alive herself), trust her to know what’s best for her babies, unless she’s got brain damage. Rabbits have very good mothering instincts that are better than those of most human mothers. Additionally, if you go near the nest while she’s around, she will attack you very viciously. Put an ice block or a frozen bottle of water next to the nest, but not in it, and let the mother move it herself. The only exception to this is if one of the babies needs a vet.
Do: Get them a good sized enclosed rabbit run and put them out all day in hot weather (check they can’t dig out, or make sure your garden fence/wall will stop escapes if they do, if you’re at work all day). Leave the run in the shade and remember the shade changes direction as the sun changes position in the sky. An old doormat or cardboard box over one corner of the run will provide shade. Don’t forget to give them water in the rabbit run!
Freeze some ice blocks for them and put these in the rabbit run so they have something cold to lie next to if they need it.
You could also put bricks in the freezer (if you remember from my article on keeping bunnies warm I mentioned putting a brick in the oven then put it in the rabbit hutch at night) and put these out in the hutch to cool the air in the hutch.
Get them a water bowl as well as their bottle (or a second water bowl) so that they always have some water, and check it every few hours if it’s a really hot day. Water is the most important thing for keeping bunnies alive in hot weather. If you do nothing else from my article, do this.
Keep topping their water up. Water water water water water. That’s what rabbits need in hot weather.
If bunny gets too hot: Emergency bunny first aid for heatstroke: If your bunny is visibly uncomfortable from the heat, get a jug or bucket of water and get the bunny wet. Avoid the face and ears, you just want to get their body wet to increase heat loss. If the bunny doesn’t jump up and try to run away (they really don’t like getting wet), check the temperature of their ears.
If the bunny’s ears are hot and the bunny is not moving much, breathing heavily (or not breathing), and generally unresponsive, they probably have heat stroke. It is preceded by heat exhaustion, which stops them raising the alarm about their state (this is true of humans too, although in people, the face tends to go red and they can even stop sweating). This is more deadly to small animals than it is to humans (and it’s pretty dangerous to humans). At this point, you need to make an emergency appointment with the vet and get your bunny the care he needs to survive.
Personally, I wouldn’t waste any time, and I’d get a sick bunny to the vet (any vet) as soon as possible because they are stuck with a fur coat and feel the temperature a lot more than we do, they don’t have a very good cooling system and they’re not designed to be above ground trapped in a hot environment in summer weather, usually they’d be in their underground burrow at this time of day in the summer, chilling out with their friends. We have, over centuries, forced them to live in our environment for our own entertainment, the least we can do is try to make it comfortable for them.
Trigger Warning: This story may trigger feelings that you need to help animals in some way, shape or form.
My earliest memories are of my mother, my brothers and sisters. We had shared a womb. So comfortable and soft, I felt perfectly safe and happy with them. Sometimes we would push each other out of the way to get milk, but we loved each other really.
After a few weeks, tiny, scared and helpless, we were all lifted up and put into a metal box. It hurt our paws. We looked to our mother to protect us, but she just stayed where she always did, unresisting, submissive, she had seen this all before.
We were put into a lorry. A yawning metal monster. There was darkness, and noises. Terrifying noises. Squawks, squeaks, squeals. As we stayed in the lorry, I realised they weren’t predators, they were the sounds of frightened animals. More creatures, taken away from their home too soon, left in this dark place which lurched and tipped sideways, leaving us struggling to balance. One of my brothers hurt his foot in that dark place, when the lurching stopped abruptly, and the monster we were inside let off an ear rending honk for what seemed like ages. My brother lost his balance and got his foot trapped in the bars in front of us. He struggled, and got free, but his foot looked very swollen and painful.
At long last we stopped. Light came in as the back came off. We were moved out of the lorry. They picked me up and turned me upside down, I thought my spine might break then I felt sleepy, but I was so afraid that I tried to fight it. They told me I was a girl and put me in a new box. When they came to my brother with the hurt foot, they poked at his foot and called him damaged goods, unsellable stock, and they held him high in the air. They let go. Later they told this important looking inspector that they had dropped him while he was wriggling. It was classed as an understandable accident. My brother, dead on the concrete floor.
My brothers and sisters knew what had happened, and were all very scared. They were treated as I had been, and either put in the same box as me, or put in a separate box. Then we were all put out in a bright place with lots of tidy shelves. We didn’t go on the shelves though. We were left in a small enclosure with glass windows. There was no roof. The lights were bright but it was warm and there was lots of golden sawdust on the floor, some toys for us to play with, a food bowl and a weird metal tube. We huddled together for hours, all the girls, and in the next pen, I could see that the boys did the same. We didn’t know where we were, what was going to happen to us. When someone opened the front we all stomped and cowered even further away from the glass windows. They poured some brown stuff into our bowl. Put some yellow stuff down on the sawdust. Closed the front again and left us.
One of my sisters sniffed the yellow stuff. She indicated that it was supposed to be grass, by chewing it. The rest of us were very surprised. Surely there was some mistake. Grass was green. We had seen it. The light was strange here, too. We were all very hungry, so gradually we unhuddled to try this yellow grass. It was dry and flavourless. We ate it anyway. Soon we were very thirsty, so we drank from the metal tube. It was much bigger than the one we’d had before, and we all struggled to drink from it, but there was no choice.
Later, different people came in. Small people who shouted and banged on the glass a lot, they were terrifying. One of my sisters got picked up by one. The small person hit her because she tried to struggle away from the uncomfortable grip. The person who fed us was not looking. My sister was taken away in a cardboard box by that small person. She was terrified. We never saw her again.
There were also tall people, who towered down over the open top of our enclosure. We were afraid that they might eat us. Sometimes there were dogs, walking on their leads. They paralysed us with terror, especially when they tried to get at us and started barking. We were trapped. If they jumped in here, we would all be dead. We felt so vulnerable.
Dark time was worst. It was cold, and we all jumped at every noise, terrified of the murky shadows we could see beyond our enclosure. Above us, some rodents would dig and chew and run on their wheel at night. We found ourselves relieved in the morning when the light came back.
That second day, someone took me and my sister away in a box. We were scared, and we stayed close to each other for safety. We didn’t really see where we went, although we were bumped and tilted a lot so we guessed it was like that terrifying lorry monster again. We wondered if we had been bad, if this was our punishment. Maybe we hadn’t groomed each other enough. Or eaten too much food.
The top of the box was opened at long last. We were face to face with a face. It was bigger than either of us. An enormous hand reached in and picked up my sister, then, empty, it came back for me. I fought it with my feet to try and escape, but it squeezed me so hard that I couldn’t breathe. It put me down in a small wooden box. There was a very low ceiling, and the back of it was also made of wood. They closed the front – a wire mesh door – and clipped a small water bottle to the front. There was food and hay and sawdust, but there were no toys or other bunnies. Just me and my sister. We chewed at the wooden walls. Then we went to sleep. We waited for something interesting to happen.
Two days later, someone came out to see us. It was a small person, but not as small as some of the other ones we had seen. We were squealed about. Then the mesh door was opened, and a hand reached in. It pulled me out and ensconced me in a squash. There was a second hand, which stroked my back. I liked that. I wiggled my nose and clicked my teeth together and enjoyed the attention, even though I disliked being picked up. Then I was put back in the hutch and it was my sister’s turn. She was stroked then returned to the hutch.
The mesh door was closed again. Was that it? We were bored. Really bored. We had nothing to do. We groomed each other until our coats shone. We slept until we were the most beautiful bunnies. We scratched at the floor and chewed at the wood. We were still really bored. We both wanted to explore, to forage, to run really fast, to chase each other, to flop on the solid ground and all we could do was chew our hutch.
The one who had stroked us… she was coming back, wasn’t she? She seemed happy about us. She did come back out that evening, and gave us lots of the yellow hay and lots of the brown food and stroked our backs a little bit. We were still a little wary but she seemed not to want to harm us.
A week later, she let us out in the garden. At first we were afraid that we were not allowed out. We had been in that tiny box for a week. We grew bold. We ran around chewing green grass and playing chase with each other. After a while, she caught us both and stroked us and put us in our box again. That had killed half an hour. It was over too soon. We were bored again. We chewed our hutch some more.
Every day, she came to feed us. Then one day, she didn’t come. We were so hungry that we chewed our hutch extra to ease our aching tummies. The next day, she didn’t feed us extra, just the normal amount. We didn’t know what had happened. A few days later, it happened again. We started to realise that we couldn’t depend on this small person at all. We were hungry. Then our bottle went bad, and all the water tasted funny and made our poo sloppy. The tummy ache started to become constant. And all the time, nobody cleaned out our hutch. We tried to keep each other clean but we were fighting a losing battle because only our sleeping corner was clean. My eyes watered and I sneezed and wheezed a lot.
After long weeks, the man who brought us here came out. He let us run around the garden. We were so happy we ran and played and nibbled plants. He seemed to be emptying our box. Then he saw where we had chewed it. He hit us both and told us we were bad rabbits, but we didn’t know what we had done. Had we eaten the wrong plants? Should we have stayed in the hutch when he opened the door? He didn’t seem to be making an effort to catch us or put us away. We were both confused. We decided to put it out of mind and we went off around the garden again playing. Slightly more afraid now of this tall person. Then he filled our box with new sawdust and hay and food, and put our bottle back on the front, and herded us back into the box. We were bored again. We slept and chewed our hutch some more.
From that day, the tall person brought us food. He never stroked us or spoke to us like the girl had. He just threw the food in, closed the door and left. We didn’t really understand, but we had each other and that was the main thing.
As we got older, we started having little arguments. Sometimes she would scratch my ears and sometimes I would bite her nose. We were getting quite large, now, and it was a struggle to fit us both in our sleeping place. We certainly couldn’t stretch out like we used to. Our backs ached from always being hunched over. We dreamed of running around the beautiful garden that we could see, but instead we were stuck in a wooden box that was too small for us.
Weeks turned into months. That first winter was the most awful. The cold made us both cry and flatten our ears against our backs, but we had to sit out in the cold next to the bare wire mesh door, because our sleeping room was too small and we could barely sleep in there, let alone hang out. We craved more food, but every day the tall man just threw the same amount in. The rain came in and made our home damp. My sister got a wheeze. The man didn’t notice. Eventually, she was struggling so much to breathe that she died. I tried to raise the alarm but nobody came. I stomped my foot for hours, but nobody came. The man threw food in, and didn’t notice. It was a week later, when maggots were eating my sister’s body, that he finally investigated the smell, and saw that she was dead. He pulled her out and tossed her in a tall thin plastic box full of black plastic bags. I don’t think he was sad. I was the only person who mourned her. All the hopes we’d had, all the things we had wanted to do – to chew, to climb, to snuggle, to run as far as we could. She hadn’t even finished growing – as I found out when the box I lived in got even smaller.
Now, I was sad and lonely. I didn’t eat my food. I didn’t drink anything. I didn’t even chew my hutch any more. I just sat there and did nothing. I stared out at the garden I would never get to play in, wishing I could have my sister back. I keened for her loss. And I was so cold, now that she wasn’t here. I missed her profoundly. Nobody noticed or cared, until the man who brought the food saw that my bowl was overflowing. He tried to put the food in my face but I wouldn’t eat it. He put me in a smaller cardboard box and I hoped we were going back to see the rest of my brothers and sisters. That would have made me feel better – just to know there were other bunnies in the world who loved me.
Instead, we went to a place that smelled of fear, death and, predominantly, dog. There were dogs everywhere. Barking, whining, walking, wagging their tails. I cowered in my box and stomped my foot so they would know I was really large and not to mess with me. The man took me into a room and pulled me out of the box. Another man looked at me, held me, turned me this way and that. They made people-noises, the new man seemed irritated, then he put me back in the box. He said a lot of things to the man who had thrown food in my wooden box. The food man left me there and I never saw him again. Apparently if I wouldn’t eat his food he didn’t want to know. The other man put me in a new cage near some cats and dogs. I was terrified of the smell, but they didn’t seem to notice me, maybe they were asleep. The man, who I discovered was called a vet, brought me green plants and gently stroked me. Nobody had stroked me for months. I was so excited that I wanted to nibble the green plants, but the dog smell stopped me. What if this was a trap to find out if I ate plants? Dogs ate things that ate plants. I decided it wasn’t worth the risk. I went to sleep. Hours later, I was awakened to find that I was moving again.
I stopped moving at another brightly lit big place. I could smell rabbits, as well as cats and dogs. I nibbled my green leafy plants. Over the next few weeks, I went back to the scary dog place, where they made me go to sleep and when I awoke I felt so ill that I thought I must be dying. I sat in a corner of my new cage for days, feeling sorry for myself. It hurt so much and I felt like something had been taken from inside me – like I’d been violated somehow. Then after I got over that, my life changed forever.
Another bunny came to see me. He seemed as surprised as I was about being in the middle of an unfamiliar room, with an unfamiliar bunny. I said hello with my nose. He didn’t bite it. That was a good start. We sat staring at one another for long minutes, until he came towards me. I was afraid so I ran away. Round and round we ran, until he stopped chasing me, and I cautiously hopped towards him. I sniffed his face. Then I sat down next to him. He seemed okay. We stayed like that for a long time, until one of the tall people here put us both in my cage. It was much bigger than my old box in that garden. I spent a lot of time sat next to my new friend, even though there was so much to do. Early in the morning we would run around in huge fast circles. Later on, we would chew some cardboard and make nice shapes out of it. Then we would eat together, then we would wash ourselves and snuggle up. I wished my new friend could have met my sister; I know they would have been friends.
One day, someone new came, and they picked me up. Then they picked up my new friend. I was suddenly very afraid that we were going to be separated, and I didn’t think I could bear it. I licked my friend’s head as soon as he was back on the ground and he stomped to show them that his place was with me. Whatever we did must have worked, because a few days later, the same someone came back with a plastic box with some hay in it, and we were both encouraged into the box, then we were taken on another journey. At the other end, the box was opened, and the landscape was the strangest I’d ever seen.
The floor was squishy but slightly coarse and beige. The light came from a big square on the wall, a bit like the door on my box where I used to live, but there was no fresh air coming from this square. There was a huge thing that had lots of platforms and ramps, and a little white picket fence in front of it. On the floor, just inside the picket fence, there was a food bowl and a water bowl. They had pictures of orange triangular things on them. There was also a green leafy thing on the floor that looked like some sort of vegetable. In a basket made of thick hay, there was lots of green stuff that looked like it actually used to be a plant! I was quite afraid that we weren’t supposed to have come out of the box, this was all so big and open. Would we get hit for escaping? I was very hesitant, but my new friend was braver. He hopped right on out towards the food bowl and rubbed his chin over it. I wasn’t having that, so I copied him, so he would know it was MY food as well. The people were watching us and making their strange people noises. I was still scared, so I ran for the smallest place I could see, and hid there. Eventually, the people went away but I stayed hidden in case it was a trap. My bunny friend seemed to be less scared than I was. The distance between me and the walls and the ceiling was making me feel queasy. It was the biggest box I’d ever been left in. Was it really all for me and my friend? After a few hours, the people came back in. I knew it! I stayed in my hiding place. They left again. They had brought us some more vegetables. I wondered if they would get angry and send us away if we didn’t eat them. I stretched my nose out and sniffed. The food seemed so far away. I stretched some more. Then my back legs had to follow and they sprung back to the rest of me. My back was sore from stretching out. I tentatively nibbled some of the green stuff. I don’t quite know what happened because I swear I only tasted it, but it was gone really quickly. I think it ate itself. It was very tasty. I hoped there would be more.
Running round was so much more fun with a huge space to run in, and I really liked climbing, too, once I got the hang of it. After a few days, I became quite confident and I started to climb on everything. I found a really good vantage point at the top where I was the tallest bunny ever, and I laid out there, relaxed, with a great view of any intruders. My bunny friend joined me, and it became our main hangout.
What I liked best about our new home was that the people who brought us food would also come and sit with us. If we were lying down, they would gently stroke us both, and we would click our teeth appreciatively. I wished my sister had lived to see such happiness. The other thing they did, was they talked to us in their odd people noises. They had a sound for everything! We learned that we had names, and we learned that we felt very happy when we were told, “good bunny” because it was always accompanied by a stroke or a treat. We also learned to feel very sorry for ourselves when we were told “bad rabbit” because the sound was barking, like a dog, and there were no strokes or treats for bad rabbits.
Years came and went. I enjoyed every new day and the possibilities it brought. I loved the new and thoughtful toys that my people brought me, and I really felt like they were a part of our herd, even though they didn’t sleep with us. Sometimes, we saw the rest of their burrow, and it was huge. Everyone had their own separate nest space and there was a communal one down lots of small platforms, one after the other, that I learned to run up and down really quickly for fun. Near the communal nest space was the food place. It was full of food. Sometimes the smell upset me because it reminded me of the smell of my sister when she was dead. Usually, though, the smell was exciting and made me look forward to my own food time – even if I never had the same food as them. Well, unless I hopped up and ran off with a leaf or a slice of carrot.
I was so happy in my new home, and I thought how lucky I was to get such a wonderful place to live. There are millions of rabbits who don’t make it this far in life, whose owners leave them in a wooden box at the bottom of the garden, who maybe throw some food at them if they remember.
They live sad, pointless, lonely lives of boredom and lack of fulfilment. The only reason I can think why people do that to us is because their own lives are the same, and they don’t see why animals should be happy if people aren’t. Worse still, they “free” rabbits into the wild, where they get eaten before they can even find their way, or where they die of diseases that people invented to kill wild rabbits, or they do all sorts of other unimaginable things to bunnies who have no voice of their own.
Occasionally, though, you will find your person, and they will sit with you and tell you things, feed you intriguing vegetables and take you out to interesting and safe outdoor spaces, they’ll stroke you and make you toys, and love you unconditionally, and understand when you get scared and bite or scratch them, they’ll never shout at you or hurt you, and most of all, they will be glad that you are around. And when you find a person like that, the days fly by in a flurry of excitement until one day you are old and fat, and you have led a longer and happier life, full of love and fulfilment.