Anesthetics and your rabbit
Anesthetics can be harmful to your rabbit if your veterinarian does not properly prepare, evaluate, and/or monitor your rabbit. This is why it is very important to have a veterinarian that has been trained in the care of exotic animals. In the past, there were anesthetics that could harm a bunny, however, today, there are anesthetics that are used and have been deemed safe for rabbits.
Injectable anesthetics such as ketamine, diazepam (Valium), butorphanol, propofol and xylazine, are safe for rabbits, however, dosage on injectables can be tricky. Once injected, there is no control over the dose, and there are large variations in recommended dosages among rabbits.
An inhalant anesthetic (gas) that is most recommended for rabbits is isoflurane. The main drawback to this anesthetic is that it is administered using an endotracheal tube. Difficulty can arise when trying to place the tube in the bunny’s trachea because of the tracheas shape and size.
In many cases, it is not the anesthetics that cause the death of a rabbit during or after surgery. Death during and after surgery is usually caused by lack of proper monitoring of the rabbit’s respiration, heartbeat, blood pressure, body temperature, and as an end result of some of the following situations.
We have all heard that when preparing for surgery, do not give food or water after a certain time prior to surgery. This is usually done so that the animal does not regurgitate while under anesthetic. If the animal regurgitates while unconscious, there is the possibility of choking or suffocating. However, as rabbits do not (and cannot) regurgitate, this is not a possible problem for them. More important, lack of food in the digestive system can cause GI Stasis (see Gastric Stasis under Health Problems in Rabbits for more information on this fatal ailment); rabbits should not be fasted prior to surgery. It is OK to remove food about an hour or so before surgery so food particles will not be present in your bunny’s mouth but make sure the period is not longer than an hour.
It is also very important that your rabbit begins eating after surgery. Your bunny may not want to eat, but it is very important that food be introduced into your bunny’s digestive system to prevent GI Stasis. If necessary, you may need to feed your furry friend liquefied pellets or vegetables with a syringe several times during the first 24 hours. If after 24 hours, your bunny is still not eating or drinking by him/her self, contact your veterinarian immediately.
If a rabbit’s pain is not addressed, it can cause extreme stress. A rabbit in prolonged stress or pain can develop problems such as a drop in body temperature (see Body Temperature for more information on how temperature affects your bunny) or blood pressure, damage to kidneys, and loss of appetite (leading to GI Stasis), all of which could cause death. So make sure any pain from the surgery is being treated.
Anesthetics can also alter your bunny’s stool. You may see no stool or smaller stools than normal during the first few days, but if your bunny develops diarrhea, this can be fatal (see Health Problems in Rabbits for more information). If this occurs, contact your veterinarian immediately.
The type of antibiotics given before, during or after surgery can also be the source of complications or death for your rabbit. Many antibiotics used for dogs and cats can sterilize your bunny’s digestive system with the result that food is not digested properly. Antibiotics can also cause diarrhea which can also be fatal. Baytril has recently been acknowledged as a safe antibiotic for rabbits and has not been known to interfere with the “good” bacteria rabbits need to digest food, and in most cases, it does not cause diarrhea.