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♥ What is the right vet for my rabbit?
♥ What are the signs that my Rabbit is not feeling well?
♥ Body Temperature
♥ Hock Sores
♥ My bunny is not eating and or drinking
♥ Runny eyes or nose, labored breathing or chronic sneezing
♥ Wet chin or drooling
♥ What are Cecotropes and why does my bunny eat them?
♥ Diarrhea in Rabbits can be deadly.
♥ Cancer In Rabbits
♥ Your Bunnies Eyes... What do they see?
♥ Anesthetics and Your Bunny
♥ Antibiotics and Your Bunny
For additional articles on Rabbit Health, Click here to view my articles on the National Rabbit Examiner Web Site!
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The National House Rabbit provides a list of veterinarians trained in the treatment of exotic pets across the United States. This list can be accessed at http://rabbit.org.
If you do not find a vet in your area, call around to available veterinarians near you and ask some questions. Ask if any of the veterinarians in the clinic have Exotic Pet training. Ask how many rabbits they treat per week. Ask if they know of any antibiotics that are dangerous to rabbits (the answer should be Amoxicillin, Lincomycin, Clindamycin, or any of the drugs ending in ...cillin). Choosing the wrong vet can cost the life of your rabbit.
If your bunny normally allows you to pick her up and take her out of her hutch, yet one morning, you try to do so and she lunges, grunts and bats at you, this could be a sign that she is not feeling well.
If you are following the suggestion made in the article "What Should My Rabbit Eat" and feeding your bunny pellets once per day, you should have an idea of how much your rabbit eats. If your bunny did not eat her normal amount of food, she may not be feeling well! You can test this by offering her a favorite treat such as banana or papaya. If she normally takes these treats but now does not, your bunny is not feeling well.
Your rabbit will defecate on a regular basis. His feces will usually be a specific size, depending on the size of your bunny. They should be fairly round in shape and firm. If they have become very small and hard, this indicates that your rabbit is not drinking the correct amount of water. If a bunny is not eating or drinking, they are not feeling well! Note here that there could be small moist, smelly feces in your bunny's hutch that appear in a cluster like a cluster of grapes. They are called cecotropes and are normal for your bunny. You need to be concerned when the feces are small, hard, and no longer nice and round. This is a picture of the normal feces of a seven pound rabbit compared to one for the same rabbit who just went off his feed and water.
As mentioned in "My bunny is not eating and or drinking what should I do?", it is very important that you start some kind of treatment of your bunny IMMEDIATELY upon determining that he/she is not feeling well. The two most important treatments are to reduce the pain and hydrate your bunny. Examine your bunny for any physical signs that could be causing pain. If you find sores, mites, or any other physical problem causing your bunny pain, treat accordingly.
If there are no physical signs of pain, start a treatment for tummy blockage. At the rabbit rescue, we keep on hand a supply of 1.5mg Metacam for pain relief (this is a prescription medication), 20mg Simethicone Infant Gas Relief (an over-the-counter medication commonly known as "Little Tummy") for tummy trouble and three different size syringes for treatment. The large syringe with the curved tip is a 12cc syringe that is great for giving water.
♦ Begin tummy treatment by giving your bunny at least two syringes of water. If you need a syringe like this one, they are $2.00 plus shipping. You can buy one through Paul's Deals, [click here] one of the Rabbit Rescue sponsors. All proceeds from these sales go towards housing, food, and medical treatment for the Rabbit Rescue Bunnies.
♦ The smallest syringe is used for pain medication, use .3 ml Metacam for pain for the initial treatment of a 7 to 10 pound rabbit.
♦ The medium syringe is used for the Gas Relief medicine. 1/4 to 1/2 ml of Simethicone (Little Tummy) is generally sufficient for the initial dose of gas medicine for a medium size rabbit.
If you treat your rabbit immediately, it is very rare to need a second dose of the medications but continue monitoring water intake. Gently rub your bunny's tummy and intestinal area which will help move and break up any impacted items.
After the initial treatment, make sure your rabbit has plenty of fresh green vegetables in their hutch. (See safe vegetables here) As the pain subsides, they will begin to nibble the greens which will provide them with additional moisture and fiber necessary to move any blockage through the stomach and intestines. You can use leaf or romaine lettuce, dandelion leaves (and flowers if available) and fresh green grass (free from any fertilizers and chemicals).
Check your rabbit in about one to two hours after the initial treatment. If he/she has started nibbling the greens, you have a good start. If they have not touched the greens, give them more water (a couple more syringes full) and possibly try a piece of their favorite fruit to entice them. If after a couple more hours, you are still not having any luck getting your bunny to eat or drink you can administer another dose of Little Tummy and water or contact your vet.
This problem can be treated if you recognize the signs quickly. That is one reason why it was mentioned in a previous article "What should my rabbit eat", that you feed your rabbit at a set time of day each day and offer small treats at the beginning of each day. This way, you can tell quickly if your bunny has stopped eating. So, remember to keep an eye on your bunny's food and water. If you see any signs that he/she is not eating or drinking as normal, DON'T WAIT.
At the first sign that your bunny did not eat his/her regular serving of dry food and/or did not drink their usual amount of water, offer him/her a small bite of their favorite treat. At the rescue, during the summer, one of the bunnies favorite treats is dandelion flowers and leaves. In the winter, small slices of banana or dried papaya are used. If your bunny shows no interest, start treatment for tummy troubles.
First look over the entire bunny for any sores, fleas, mites, or anything visual that could be causing pain. Check the bottoms of the feet, check the genital area, in the ears and in the mouth. Make sure your bunny's teeth are not too long because that could cause sores within the bunny's mouth and prevent them from eating. If you find anything, treat it to help remove the pain. If you’re not sure how to treat the visual problem, contact your vet.
If you don't see anything physical that could be a problem, start by giving your bunny a syringe of water (water should be room temperature), "Little Tummy" to help reduce any gas buildup (check with your vet for appropriate dosages) and some pain medicine. Talk to your vet about a pain medicine that you can keep on hand for this type of emergency. It has been found at the rescue, that gently messaging your bunny's tummy and intestinal area can also help move gas and any blockage through your bunny's system. But remember, it hurts your bunny just as bad as an attack of gas can hurt you so be gentle. Offer your bunny a piece of their favorite fruit or vegetable and fresh greens such as leaf lettuce or dandelion leaves. If they still do not show interest in eating within 1/2 to 1 hour, you should try to force some food into them.
Soak some crunches in water to make a paste. Not too thin as it will need to stick on your finger tip. Kneel down with your bunny, putting him/her between your legs facing forward. Talk softly to your bunny to keep him/her quiet. With one hand, pull back bunny's lips and using the other hand, take a finger of the pellet paste and push it up against bunny's teeth under the lip. Your bunny will try to dislodge it and hopefully swallow it. Try this as many times as your bunny will let you.
Turn your bunny around facing you and gently rub his/her tummy from the bottom of the rib cage back. This will help to move and loosen any blockage, and help create movement within the GI tract. If the bunny's problem is gas or blockage, they will probably enjoy this massage. Just remember to be gentle. If the problem is gas or a blockage, it could hurt bunny as bad as severe gas pains can hurt a human.
When done, put your bunny back into a cleaned hutch with fresh water, hay, pellets, fresh greens, and some of his/her favorite treats. Pay close attention to how much of each you put into the hutch. If bunny does not eat or drink anything at all within 1 hour, try another syringe of water and some more food. Repeat this every hour for about 3 to 4 hours. If your bunny still does not respond, contact your vet.
NEVER let your bunny go more than 24 hours without food or water.
Snuffles (a bacterial infection) manifests itself in a couple of ways. Initially, your bunny may develop a watery nasal discharge and sneezing. The watery discharge will then turn to a thick whitish or yellowish discharge. They will often make a loud snoring or snuffling sound due to the amount of mucous in the nasal passage. The infection can also appear in the eyes, resulting in a discharge from the eyes, and can also cause ear infections. Snuffles is one of the most common bacterial infections in rabbits. It is very contagious and can be fatal in rabbits with a decreased immune system if left untreated. Treatment is usually with antibiotics which should only be used under strict veterinary supervision as rabbits require certain bacteria in their stomachs to maintain a healthy digestive tract, and antibiotic treatments could destroy those much needed bacteria.
This is usually a sign of problems with your bunny's teeth. If left untreated, you may see your bunny eating less, and/or not eating harder treats. A bunny's teeth are constantly growing throughout their life like your finger nails, and hard foods and hay help the rabbit to keep their teeth properly worn and prevent sharp points and edges that could cause mouth sores. A good set of teeth meet together as shown here.
Misaligned teeth (called malocclusion) could happen to the side and back teeth as well as the front teeth. Misalignment of the front teeth is called an over or under bite. One set of teeth should not come down in front of or behind the other set. If this occurs, you may find it necessary to trim his/her teeth approximately every two weeks to keep them from excessive growth, but don’t worry, it does not hurt your bunny any more than cutting his nails if you do it properly. These are pictures of a bunny with an under bite. His upper teeth close behind his lower teeth. This bunny has been getting his teeth clipped since he was a kit (every two weeks for 6 years). With his teeth clipped, he is a happy healthy bunny and normal in every other way.
You can use a toe nail clipper for this procedure as seen in this photo. Make sure the cutting end of the clipper is flat not curved. A curved cutting end will produce an uneven cut and cause you to have to do more clipping and trimming to eliminate sharp edges. Make sure that you do not cut too short as you could cause a split in the tooth down below the gum line. This could cause sores and infections in the gum, so be careful. In between teeth trimming, keep your bunny supplied with lots of hay, plum tree branches, and other hard items that he/she can chew on as this will help keep those teeth worn down.
If your bunny's back teeth are misaligned and/or over-grown, your vet will need to file them down on a regular basis.
Additional problems can occur with your rabbit because of their environment and living conditions.
Rabbits regulate body temperature by their ears. As their body temperature rises, the blood vessels in the ears expand thus allowing more blood to flow through the ears. The air then cools the blood, which circulates back through the bunny and cools their body temperature. When your rabbit is too cold, they lay their ears against their neck and back to warm the blood. Ears that are too hot could be a sign that air temperatures are too high, or that your rabbit has a fever.
If the air temperatures are below 75°F, you can take your bunny's temperature to see if he/she has a fever. A bunny's temperature is normally taken with a rectal reading. Normal rabbit body temperature ranges between 101°F - 103°F. You should always use a plastic thermometer not a glass one in case your rabbit kicks or wiggles during the process, you don't want a glass thermometer breaking in your bunny's rectum. If you are unsure how to take your rabbits temperature, your vet can help instruct you.
A slightly elevated temperature (around 104°F) could be a sign of stress, anxiety, heat stress, or early signs of a fever. A very high temperature (105°F or higher) should be considered an emergency. In any case, you should immediately start cooling procedures. You can place a water bottle with frozen water in his/her hutch, you can use a cool wet cloth or rubbing alcohol to cool down your bunny's ears, and ice packs or a package of frozen vegetables along your rabbits side and/or under his belly will also cool them down. If a bunny's temperature remains too high for too long, it could cause irreversible brain damage. Once you lower your bunny's temperature (and have determined that the increase in body heat was not due to the air temperature or stress), you should bring your rabbit to a qualified rabbit vet who can run tests to find and treat the cause of the temperature increase.
Ears that are too cold could be a sign of hypothermia. Hypothermia is when the body's temperature is lower than normal (under 100°F) and could be more life threatening than a slight fever. It is very important to immediately begin procedures to increase your bunny's temperature. You can do this by filling hot water bottles or bags with hot water, wrap them in towels to avoid burning your bunny's skin, and then hold them against your bunny's sides and belly until the temperature reaches at least 100°F. Then, wrap your bunny in heated dry towels and get him to a vet.
If sores appear, keep the bottom of the hutch clean, dry and soft. Keep the sores clean and watch for infection. If infection sets in, see your vet for an antibiotic treatment. However, make sure your vet is well versed in the care of rabbits as certain antibiotics Amoxicillin, Ampicillin, Cephalosporin's, Penicillin and other similar treatments can be harmful to your bunny as they can kill the much needed bacteria that resides in your rabbits digestive system to help your rabbit digest properly.
As with any medical condition of your bunny, prevention is always the best medicine. Providing an appropriate living area for your rabbit will help prevent hock sores. If your bunny is kept in a wire hutch, make sure he/she has some kind of smooth and/or soft place within the hutch to sit and get some relief from the wire, such as a raise smooth wood platform, a box to crawl into, a tray with lots of hay, or in some cases, you can even use soft towels. You can also line your bunny’s hutch floor with plastic interlocking flooring available at many pet stores. These special plastic floors have holes to allow waste to fall through, keeping your bunny’s feet clean and dry.
Rabbits will develop calluses on their feet. You can use cool tea bag compresses to help toughen them which will also help prevent hock sores.
The cecal pellets that come from the cecum are small, soft (unlike normal feces), slightly sticky and many times look like a “bunch” of tiny grapes. They also have a strong odor. They are high in minerals, vitamins and proteins that rabbits need to help their digestion. Therefore, you will see your rabbit eating them. Cecotropes are VERY important to your rabbit’s digestion and health, so do not discourage your rabbit from eating them. If these cecotropes fall outside of your rabbit’s hutch, replace them whenever you can.
If your rabbit’s diet contains too much protein and calories, and too little fiber, more cecal pellets than your bunny may need to eat can be produced. If this happens, you may find them smeared on the bottom of your rabbit’s tail, the floor of the cage, and the floor of bunny’s play area. If this occurs often, increase your bunny’s fiber and decrease the protein and calorie intake.
If your bunny has developed diarrhea, the first and most important treatment is to keep your friend hydrated. Next, review your rabbit’s diet and make sure they have the right balance of food. They should receive no more than 1 to 2 oz. per 6 lbs. body weight in fruits per day, a minimum of 2 cups per 6 lbs. body weight of chopped vegetables per day, unlimited hay, and pellet food according to the chart below.
Rabbit Weight Daily Ration
2-4 pounds 1/8 cup
5-7 pounds 1/4 cup
8-10 pounds 1/2 cup
11-15 pounds 3/4 cup
If your bunny is receiving the proper diet and still has diarrhea, take a sample of the watery feces (and some cecal pellets if possible), to your vet to test for a parasitic infection that needs to be treated. Remember that your bunny has necessary bacteria in their stomachs and intestinal tracts that are very important for your rabbit’s health and antibacterial treatments such as Amoxicillin, Lincomycin, Clindamycin, or any of the drugs ending in …cillin can be deadly to him/her. Make sure you know what your vet is using to treat your bunny’s infection.
Diarrhea is more common in baby rabbits and juveniles and is a sign associated with sudden death in kits. It can appear quickly and cause death in very young kits within hours. Keep a close eye on the young and at the first sign of loss of appetite, lethargy, or runny stool, take the kit immediately to an experienced rabbit veterinarian. Any delay could be the difference between life and death for the youngster.
One of the first signs of uterine, ovarian, and testicular cancer is a small bloody discharge or blood in the urine. If your rabbits urine is red or pink in color (not orange or yellow), you should make an appointment with your vet to have their urine tested for blood.
Another sign of cancer could be if you feel a small lump under your bunny around the area of the testicles in the male, and the general location of the ovaries in the female. Rabbits do tend to get other (growths) under their skin that are not cancer, but at the rabbit rescue, we have had two females where cancer started as a small lump and spread upward and outward along the mammary glands. These cancers can spread to the lungs as well causing labored breathing. However, if your bunny raises his or her head to breath and has labored breathing, it is not always a sign of lung cancer as rabbits are prone to upper respiratory problems if they have been in drafts or dusty areas. If your bunny does exhibit signs of labored breathing, have your veterinary run tests and/or take X-rays to diagnose the problem.
Unfortunately, chemotherapy treatments have been designed for dogs and cats but not for rabbits. The toxic drugs could cause more pain and suffering than the cancer itself. If your bunny has cancer, the best thing you can do for him/her is:
♦ Provide regular pain treatment such as metacam (it is sometimes also mixed with tramadol but check with your vet)
♦ Keep them well hydrated
♦ Supplement their food with strong B-Complex Vitamins and maybe even antibiotics as the cancer will weaken their immune system.
Don't let your vet convince you that the best thing you can do is put your bunny down. With decent pain medicines, your bunny can still enjoy life to some extent. Your bunny will know when it is time to go, just be with him or her, love them, cuddle them, and give them everything they love to make their remaining time with you happy.
Of course, the best action is prevention. Spaying or neutering your rabbit could greatly reduce the risk of them ever having to deal with cancer.
Studies in the early 1970's indicated that rabbits can possibly detect greens and blues, but other color distinctions by the rabbit are not possible. They also have better "low light" sight than humans, though it is thought that their low light sight is grainy and less clear than in higher light situations.
Because their "near" sight is not clear and sharp, rabbits use the "image" of your body, coupled with your distinct smell and sounds to recognize you. If any of these three characteristics are not recognized, your bunny may determine that you are something "different" and thus be startled. This is why you may have noticed at times that your bunny reacts in fear if you enter the room carrying something (like a box) that changes your normal image, or walk into the room silently.
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 patient does not regurgitate while under anesthetic. If the patient regurgitates while unconscious, there is the possibility of choking or suffocating. However, as rabbits do not (and cannot) regurgitate, and lack of food in the digestive system can cause GI Stasis (see Gastric Stasis 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.
If a rabbit’s pain is not addressed, it can cause extreme stress in a rabbit. 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.
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 vet immediately.
Anesthetics can also cause your bunny’s stool to be altered. 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 Diarrhea for more information). If this occurs, contact your vet 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.
Some of the more dangerous antibiotics such as Ampicillin, Amoxicillin, Clindamycin, and Penicillin can cause what is called Dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is the process by which the much needed bacteria (called the enteric bacterial flora) that is normally present in the cecum and intestines are also eliminated by the treatment. When the enteric bacterial flora is disrupted, unwanted bacteria such as Clostridium spp, to begin to grow in the digestive tract and could produce toxins that can kill your furry friend. This process can actually take up to 10 days after discontinuing antibiotic use to have deadly results. Signs that Dysbiosis is in process are reduced activity, loss of appetite, watery diarrhea (see "Diarrhea in Rabbits can be deadly." for more information about the effects of diarrhea in rabbits), rapid dehydration, and ultimately death.
Yogurt pellets or acidophilus should be given to your rabbit whenever your vet prescribes any type of antibiotic. These items will help preserve the proper enteric bacteria in the cecum and intestines. You must be very attentive to your rabbit and report any signs of diarrhea or loss of appetite to your vet immediately.
If you have any questions about rabbits and/or rabbit care that you would like answered, or any topics about rabbits or rabbit care that you would like covered, please email Diana at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Diana's Rabbit Rescue, P.O. Box 2, Eastlake, CO 80614
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