A dog can kill a rabbit without ever touching it.
The shock of a potential dog attack can set off a sequence of events known as neurogenic shock.
This kind of shock can make your rabbit very sick or even kill it.
In this article, we will explain why rabbits go into shock in fearful situations.
Then we will discuss how to know whether your rabbit is experiencing shock, and what to do about it. But first, we’ll explain what shock in a rabbit is.
What Is Shock in a Rabbit?
Rabbits are susceptible to neurogenic shock when they are attacked, or they are fearful that they are about to be attacked by dogs or other predators.
The rabbit’s heart rate will accelerate, but its blood pressure will plummet. Its breathing will become very shallow and very fast. It will become weak, limp, and cold.
Scientists don’t know exactly what causes shock, but they do know that when a rabbit (or a human, for that matter) goes into shock, the sympathetic nervous system is downregulated, and the parasympathetic nervous system is unaffected.
The sympathetic nervous system powers the fight-or-flight response to danger. It triggers the release of adrenaline.
It gives the rabbit a boost of energy by breaking down stored glycogen into glucose, the sugar that muscles need to burn for quick motion.
The parasympathetic nervous system has the opposite effect. It relaxes the blood vessels and slows the heart rate, so blood pressure plummets. It stops muscle tension. It shuts down the muscles the rabbit needs to run away.
Also read: Rabbit Screaming – What to Do?
In Nature, Shock Is Not Always a Bad Thing for a Rabbit
For rabbits living in the wild, it’s not always a bad thing for a rabbit to go into shock.
Snakes, for example, locate their prey by their body temperature. When a rabbit goes into shock, and its muscles go cold, it is harder for the snake to find.
Cats actually don’t see very well. Their visual acuity is less than one-tenth the sharpness of human vision.
They don’t see their prey unless it is moving. A rabbit in shock is less noticeable to a cat that might want to eat it.
Owls, hawks, and other raptors swoop down on their prey from above, taking motion into account.
A rabbit that goes into shock doesn’t run into the raptor’s glide path, giving it just another fraction of a second for something to distract the bird that wants to kill it.
Similarly, dogs and coyotes don’t usually eat “dead” prey. Rabbits don’t play dead, but the ability to appear to be dead can save their lives. Unfortunately, for rabbits, actual death from shock is a real possibility.
Also read: What Kills Rabbits at Night?
How You Can Tell Whether Your Bunny Is in Shock
To determine whether your rabbit could be in shock after a scary encounter with a dog, a coyote, a big cat, or a snake, ask three questions:
- Is your rabbit weak? Rabbits in shock may be capable of some movement, but they won’t be able to hop away.
- Is your rabbit cold? Your rabbit’s skin will feel cold and clammy.
- Is your rabbit unresponsive? A rabbit that does not usually like being picked up won’t protest if you pick it up when it is in shock. Rabbits in shock don’t have any interest in petting, praise, treats, or toys.
Other signs of shock in rabbits include:
- Cold ears. When a rabbit is in shock, its ears will be extremely cold. This is because its circulatory system redirects oxygenated blood to its brain and heart.
- Pale gums. If you pull back the lips of a rabbit that is in shock, its gums will be blue or gray instead of their usual healthy pink color.
- Weak or limp muscles. A rabbit in shock may not be able to sit up or come to you. If you pick it up, it may feel limp in your arms. (This is a good sign. If your rabbit is unresponsive and stiff, it may be dead.)
- Breathing with its mouth open. Your rabbit may appear to be gasping for air or hyperventilating. This is very unusual in rabbits.
- Hiding: Anxious rabbits tend to seek shelter or hide in a secluded spot to avoid any further stressful situations.
- Dull eyes. The eyes of a rabbit that is in shock may appear glossy or “glazed over.” They will not fix their attention on anything. Their nictitating membrane, their “second eyelid,” may be pulled down over their eyes like a curtain.
- Cold skin. It’s dangerous for a rabbit’s body temperature to fall below 100º F (38.1º C). You can take your rabbit’s temperature with a hand-held infrared thermometer. Insertion into the rabbit is not needed.
Also read: Do Ferrets and Rabbits Get Along?
First Aid for Shock in Rabbits
Take a moment to consider what may have caused your rabbit to go into shock.
It isn’t just frightening encounters with predators that can induce shock in rabbits.
Rabbits may go into shock when they hear gunshots, fireworks, backfiring auto exhaust pipes, thunder, or the roaring tremor of an earthquake.
They may go into shock if they get soaked in sudden rainfall or by a burst pipe, or if you try to give them a bath.
A first-ever encounter with excessively noisy and boisterous children may cause a young rabbit to go into shock.
Don’t jump into the car to take your rabbit to the emergency room of the nearest vet or animal hospital when you first suspect shock. A car ride may only add to your rabbit’s distress.
Instead, take these basic steps of first aid:
- Make sure your rabbit is dry and warm. Gently dry a wet rabbit with a warm towel. (Don’t use a hair dryer. The noise can cause additional anxiety for your rabbit.) Once you are sure your rabbit is dry, place it under a warm towel or blanket. A towel from a bathroom towel warmer is ideal.
- Take your rabbit’s temperature. A hand-held infrared thermometer is best. You can also take your rabbit’s temperature with a rectal thermometer. You can also use a rectal thermometer with a quick-read probe. You only have to place the thin wire probe inside the bunny’s anus. Lubricate with Vaseline or dish soap before inserting the probe.
- Now call your veterinarian for advice. You want to be able to bring your rabbit directly to the clinic with as little waiting time as possible. Rabbits in shock can deteriorate rapidly if their body temperature continues to fall. If the nearest exotic animal hospital is an hour or more away, ask your vet for advice about how to keep your rabbit warm and comfortable on the ride to the clinic.
- Follow your vet’s instructions. In-clinic treatment for shock in rabbits is usually warm IV fluids. If you cannot take your rabbit to a vet, you may be able to help it by giving it a product called Oxbow Critical Care—but you will have to already have it on hand.
Mixing Oxbow Critical Care is easy. You just add warm, clean water until the product has a consistency like pudding.
Giving Critical Care to your rabbit is the hard part. You put the mixture into a syringe (no needles!) and squirt it into your rabbit’s mouth without getting it into your rabbit’s windpipe.
You can ask your veterinarian about how to do this if you are not confident of your technique.
Rabbits need about 25 ml of Critical Care for every pound of body weight. For example, if your rabbit weighs 5 pounds, give it 125 ml of Critical Care every day. If it weighs 10 pounds, give it 250 ml of the mixture.
Feed your rabbit small amounts of Critical Care four to six times a day. You can reduce feeding Critical Care as your rabbit starts eating hay again.
A Homemade Substitute for Oxbow Critical Care
Rabbit pellets are not as nutritious as critical care, but they will keep your rabbit alive for a few days.
In a bowl, grind 1/4 cup (30 grams) of your rabbit’s pellets into a powder.
Add warm water to the ground pellets until the mixture has a consistency like pudding. Give your rabbit one serving of this mixture for every pound of its body weight, preferably in four to six feedings per day.
Ordinarily, fruit is not a good food for rabbits. When your rabbit is recovering from shock, however, a tablespoon of mashed banana or applesauce added to every 30 grams or every 1 ounce of critical care feeding is helpful.
How to Feed Your Rabbit with a Syringe
Feeding your rabbit with a syringe is harder than giving them pills, because you need to feed very slowly.
You do not want your rabbit to choke and aspirate its food into its lungs.
Here are the steps:
- Scoop the formula into the syringe.
- Pull the plunger to the top of the syringe.
- Wrap your rabbit in a loose, warm, clean towel to make a “bunny burrito.” This keeps them from struggling. Then place your rabbit in the towel on a flat, hard surface that is easy for you to reach.
- Wrap your arm under the towel and around your rabbit. Placing your hand on your rabbit’s head, pull their lip back so you can see their teeth. You will want to open your rabbit’s mouth on the side closest to you.
- Insert the syringe into your rabbit’s mouth behind its front teeth. Hold your rabbit’s head gently while you are giving them a taste of the formula.
- Give your rabbit 1 ml of the formula, remove the syringe for their mouth, and wait for them to start chewing.
- Let your rabbit swallow. The process of hand-feeding a rabbit is different from hand-feeding a bird. You are placing food in your rabbit’s mouth, not injecting it into your rabbit’s throat.
- Continue giving your rabbit formula 1 ml at a time until the feeding is done. You may need to devote 2 or 3 hours a day to feeding until your rabbit is well again.
Saving a rabbit that has gone into shock takes time and patience. But if you spend the time your rabbit needs to make sure it is warm, safe, and well-fed, it will reward you by returning to good health.
Creating a Calm Environment for Post-Attack Recovery
After a dog attack, your rabbit may be in shock and need your help to recover.
In this situation, it’s crucial to create a calm environment for them to heal both physically and mentally.
Here, we’ll discuss several aspects of creating a safe and comfortable space for your rabbit, along with monitoring their progress to ensure they’re recovering well.
Maintaining Safety and Security
To reduce stress and anxiety, it’s essential to provide your rabbit with a secure place away from any further potential harm.
Ensure that their hutch or enclosure is adequately protected from other animals, such as dogs and cats, that might cause additional stress.
You might want to place the hutch in a quiet room, away from noisy household activities and interactions with children or family members.
Make sure that your rabbit has hiding spots and toys to help them feel more secure.
A well-protected hutch or enclosure will help your rabbit feel safe, which is crucial for their recovery process.
To help your anxious rabbit feel more at ease, you can provide them with additional comfort items, such as soft bedding and blankets.
Offer them their favorite toys or even include some new ones to help distract them from the stress they’ve experienced.
Keep their usual food and water available, ensuring that they have everything they need to maintain their health and well-being.
Maintain a consistent routine for feeding and cleaning, which can offer some predictability during this challenging time.
Monitoring the Rabbit’s Progress
As your rabbit recovers from the attack, it’s vital to keep a close eye on their progress.
Watch for signs of improving or worsening health, such as changes in appetite, energy levels, and general behavior.
If your rabbit’s condition does not improve or worsens, consider consulting a veterinarian for further guidance and support.
Regularly monitoring your rabbit’s progress will help you determine if they are on the right track towards recovery or need additional assistance in their healing journey.
By providing safety, comfort, and ongoing monitoring, you’ll create a calm environment that supports your rabbit in recovering from a dog attack.
Remember to be patient and gentle with your rabbit as they navigate this challenging experience, which will help them return to their healthy and happy self in no time.
Preventing Future Dog Attacks
To minimize the risk of your rabbit experiencing a dog attack, it’s essential to take precautionary measures.
This section will focus on three key strategies: Proper Training and Supervision, Enclosure Solutions, and Understanding Canine Predatory Behavior.
Proper Training and Supervision
An effective way to prevent dog attacks on rabbits is through proper training.
Working with a certified professional dog trainer can help address any behavioral issues your dog may have, such as aggression or prey drive.
Training your dog to obey basic commands, like “leave it” or “off,” can help keep your rabbit safe during unsupervised interactions.
Even with thorough training, it is crucial to supervise your dog when they’re around rabbits.
Maintain a vigilant watch over both animals to ensure their safety and intervene if an aggressive situation arises.
A sturdy and secure enclosure can significantly reduce the risk of a dog attack on your rabbit.
Make sure that your rabbit’s living space has a solid base and walls, strong doors, and a secure roof to protect them from predators like dogs, foxes, and other threats.
Provide hiding spots inside the enclosure for your rabbit to retreat if they feel threatened.
It is also a good idea to place the enclosure in an area of your home that’s not easily accessible to your dog.
Understanding Canine Predatory Behavior
Recognizing and understanding your dog’s predatory instincts is key to preventing attacks on rabbits.
Some dogs have a higher prey drive than others; this means they have a natural inclination to chase and sometimes attack animals they perceive as prey.
Being aware of your dog’s breed and temperament can help you anticipate their behavior around rabbits.
If you notice any signs of aggression or fixation on your rabbit, it’s crucial to intervene immediately and take appropriate action to prevent a potential attack.
By focusing on proper training and supervision, implementing secure enclosure solutions, and understanding canine predatory behavior, you can minimize the risk of dog attacks on rabbits and ensure a safe environment for both animals.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the symptoms of shock in rabbits?
Symptoms of shock in rabbits may include rapid or shallow breathing, a weak pulse, low body temperature, and a lack of responsiveness. Rabbits in shock may also appear limp or lifeless, with pale or blueish gums. It’s essential to promptly address these symptoms to prevent further harm.
How to help a rabbit in shock after a dog attack?
If your rabbit is in shock following a dog attack, you should first keep them warm by wrapping them in a soft towel or blanket. Ensure they are away from any potential threats to help them feel safe. Transport them to a veterinarian for proper assessment and treatment.
How can I differentiate between a dead rabbit and one in shock?
A rabbit in shock may appear lifeless and unresponsive, but still present faint signs of life, like a weak pulse or shallow breathing. To check for a heartbeat, gently place your fingers on their chest, close to the front legs. In contrast, a rabbit that has passed away will have no heartbeat, completely relaxed muscles, and no response to touch or sound.
What is the best immediate action for a rabbit attacked by a dog?
If your rabbit has been attacked by a dog, remain calm and carefully remove the dog from the situation. Carefully pick up your rabbit, supporting their head and spine, and assess them for injuries. If your rabbit appears to be in shock or has evident injuries, contact your veterinarian immediately. Additionally, keep your rabbit in a secure, quiet environment to minimize stress.
What signs indicate if a rabbit is in pain?
Rabbits in pain may exhibit physical and behavioral changes, such as reluctance to move, hunching, teeth grinding, and a decrease in appetite. They may also become more withdrawn or aggressive when approached or touched. If you suspect your rabbit is in pain, consult your veterinarian for further assessment and potential treatment options.
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