Maintenance of normal body temperature is critical because decreases in body temperature affect every organ system. Rabbits have a high surface-area-to-volume ratio, which makes them susceptible to rapid changes in body temperature. The hypothesis of this study was that rabbits hypothermic on admission to an exotics-only hospital would have an increased risk for death compared to normothermic rabbits. A rabbit was considered normothermic if its rectal temperature was between 38.0°C (100.4°F) and 39.9°C (103.8°F). Hypothermia was defined as a rectal temperature ≤37.9°C (≤100.2°F).
During the study period, 316 rabbits were hospitalized and owners were contacted 7 days later for follow-up. Of these, 61.1% were normothermic, 36.7% were hypothermic, and 2.2% were hyperthermic at the time of hospital admission. Of the 316 rabbits, 95 (30.1%) died during hospitalization or within 7 days of discharge. Rabbits with hypothermia were 3 times more likely to die before or within 1 week of discharge than nonhypothermic rabbits. Older age, suspicion of systemic disease, and GI stasis were significantly associated with risk for death. The authors conclude that rectal temperature at admission is a significant prognostic indicator for hospitalized rabbits and should always be part of physical examination.
The results highlight how important it is to measure rectal temperature on intake, especially for any rabbit not clinically well. Clinicians should not be stopped by the fear of stress or possible trauma to the rabbit; having adequate numbers of properly trained team members to assist with rabbits can minimize these concerns. As a clinician, I routinely use rectal temperature to assess how severely compromised the patient is and decide how aggressively to pursue diagnostics and treatment. Rectal temperature can be especially helpful in cases of GI stasis, as it can indicate a response to treatment.—Karen A. Moriello, DVM, DACVD