Rabbits

Rabbit Care

Rabbits are not rodents; they belong to the family of animals called lagomorphs because they possess an extra set of upper incisor teeth called “peg” teeth. Rabbits are quiet, clean and affectionate and can be litter trained. They do not handle heat well, must be kept in a climate-controlled rabbit-proofed environment, do not like being picked up or held, and may be skittish.

Unlike the teeth of dogs and cats, rabbit’s incisor and molar teeth grow continuously throughout their lives. Rabbits are herbivores (vegetable eaters) that eat grasses exclusively in the wild. Most of rabbit digestion occurs in the cecum, which is part of the large intestine, and their high fiber grass diet maintains normal gastrointestinal motility and digestion.

It is normal for rabbits to eat their “soft” stools, also called cecotropes, or night feces during the night or early morning. Cecotropes provide rabbits with important proteins and vitamins.

Like many of our “prey species” they do not show outward clinical signs of disease because of their innate preservation instinct. In the wild if the predator sees any signs of “weakness” they will become targeted rather quickly. This is why it is so important to have your rabbit examined every 6 months by an experienced exotic animal veterinarian like us before they become too ill to be helped.

Wellness Info

Post-Purchase Exam: Physical Exam, Fecal Analysis, Microchipping, Discuss and Schedule Spay/Neuter

6 Month Exam: Physical Exam, Fecal Analysis

Annual Exam: Physical Exam, Fecal Analysis, CBC/Chemistries

Geriatric Exam: Physical Exam, Fecal Analysis, CBC/Chemistries, Radiographs, Ultrasound

Emergencies

If your rabbit is exhibiting any of the symptoms described below, contact us immediately at 843-216-8387.

Diarrhea or decreased number of stools, lack of appetite, weakness, depression, painful when lifted or touched, head tilted to one side, rolling or flipping.

If your rabbit is not eating, his or her gastrointestinal system can go into stasis, a serious condition which may require extended hospitalization and treatment or even surgery to correct. You can try syringe-feeding ground pellets or Oxbow Critical Care mixed with water. This will provide fiber and nutrients to support your pet until you are able to get to our clinic. Not eating is often related to dental issues or internal disease, and as such is an emergency situation which demands medical attention. It is important that we examine your pet as soon as possible to correct the underlying condition.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iGZVYVm5Bg – How to Syringe Feed Your Rabbit

Transport to the Clinic

Some rabbits can become stressed when transported, so it is important to make their trip as stress free as possible. Small to medium size pet carriers work well and placing some hay and a towel inside will make them feel much more comfortable.

Services

Wellness Exams, Grooming, Boarding, Microchipping, Gender Determination, Diagnostics, Behavioral Consultation, Spaying/Neutering

Boarding

In order for your rabbit to board with us we require an exam within the last year with a clean bill of health. A fecal test with no parasites seen is also required. Your rabbit can have no changes in health since the last examination. If your pet’s examination was done by a different veterinarian, it needs to have been within the last six months and your pet’s complete record needs to be sent to our facility several days before boarding so we can evaluate the record to ensure all testing was done to our standards.

Anesthesia and Surgery

Rabbits can be challenging when it comes to anesthesia and surgery. Before your rabbit is to undergo anesthesia and/or a surgical procedure make sure that your veterinarian is very familiar with this species. They should have the same level of care given to any other animal. If you are out of the area and your veterinarian is not as familiar with rabbits please have them contact us and we will be more than glad to help them with any questions.

This rabbit has a tibial fracture and was repaired using an external fixator device. In this picture he is ready to undergo physical therapy.

Rabbit recovering from a gastrotomy (exploratory surgery of the stomach) to relieve a life-threatening obstruction that was caused by chewing and swallowing carpet fibers. As you can see he has an endotracheal tube in place for respiratory support, is connected to a capnograph to monitor his carbon dioxide levels, has an IV line on his hind leg for fluid support and blood pressure maintenance and is laying on a warm air heating blanket to help him maintain optimal body temperature during the procedure and recovery.

Here are the pieces of carpet fibers and hairs that were causing the obstruction.

Common Diseases/Conditions

Reproductive Disease

As we all know, rabbits are very prolific breeders.  Does (female rabbits) are described as being induced ovulates, which means that they will release their eggs after breeding with a buck (male rabbit). Therefore they can stay in a “hormone high” which predisposes them to reproductive disease. Pseudo pregnancy, pyometra (infection of the uterus), neoplasia (cancer) of the reproductive tract and other forms of inflammatory diseases are very common in does.

The uterine horn on the left is full of fluid and the one on the right is very thickened which most likely was cancerous; this rabbit did very well after surgery.

This rabbit has an advanced form of cancer and even with surgery could not be saved.

Male rabbits (bucks) also develop reproductive issues as they mature.  Aggression, spraying/marking territory, “humping” and testicular neoplasia (cancer) are among the most common presentations to our practice.

Here is a rabbit with a tumor on his left testicle. Since it was caught early, once neutered he recovered well afterwards.

Spaying (female) or neutering (male) your rabbit will prevent most of these conditions from ever occurring. If you are out of the area, make sure that your veterinarian is VERY familiar with rabbit anatomy and anesthesia because they are very different than dogs and cats, if they have any questions please have them call us prior performing these procedures.

ECUN (Encephalizotoonosis)

This is a very common infection in domestic rabbits, guinea pigs and other small mammals. It is caused by an intracellular parasite: Encephalitozoon cuniculi; about 50% of rabbits demonstrate exposure to the parasite. Spores are shed in the urine and infection usually occurs via ingestion of contaminated food or water. It is a very resistant parasite and can survive up to 4 weeks in the environment. It primarily targets the central nervous system, the kidneys, and the eyes.

This rabbit has head tilt associated with E. cuniculi. The sutures are from surgery for an unrelated jaw abscess.

This rabbit has head tilt associated with E. cuniculi. The sutures are from surgery for an unrelated jaw abscess.

Neurological signs are the most common: head tilt, uncoordination, circling, rolling, and involuntary eye movements. Paresis or paralysis of one or both hind legs, seizures, and behavioral changes are also commonly seen. The degree of torticollis (head tilt) can be an important prognostic factor. Not all infected rabbits will show clinical signs of disease; carriers and asymptomatic infections are very common.

This rabbit has uveitis and pus in the eye due to E. cuniculi.

This rabbit has uveitis and pus in the eye due to E. cuniculi.

Rabbits suffering from chronic kidney disease often show non-specific signs such as lethargy, weight loss, and reduced to no appetite. Increased water intake and urination and urinary incontinence may or may not be present and urine staining of the fur is also commonly seen. A high percentage of cases also show eye lesions or even blindness. Usually one eye is affected and in some case surgically removing the eye might be the best treatment option.

There are other diseases that show neurological signs such as head tilt, including bacterial (Pasteurella), viral, and parasitic among others. At Exotic Vet Care we use multiple tests to obtain a definite diagnosis; if positive the test is repeated in 4 weeks to see if the rabbit’s immune system is reacting to the organism. In some cases we can test the urine of suspect rabbits but false negative results can occur if the organism is not being shed.

Treatment aims at reducing inflammation and blocking spore formation. Fluid support and assisted feeding are mandatory to correct dehydration and for appropriate intensive care. As always the sooner your rabbit is diagnosed the better his chances at recovery. Many rabbits, despite treatment, do not improve clinically because irreversible changes and damage to the organs have already occurred.

Ear Disease

There are several forms of ear disease (otitis) that can occur in rabbits; here we are focusing on bacterial ear disease, which can be caused by Pasteurella and/or several other bacteria. We almost exclusively see this disease in lop-eared breeds and we often discover the infection during routine physical exams, which emphasizes their importance. Ear disease in general is quite a painful condition but unfortunately owners do not recognize it until it is well advanced and the rabbit presents as generally ill (not eating, spending more time laying or sitting down, having urine staining and/or unkempt fur), or with a head tilt. Remember that in the wild rabbits are prey and if they show signs of “being ill” a predator will spot that and go for the kill.  Head tilt or wryneck can also be cause by other diseases but in our experience those are the exception to the rule. To further evaluate the disease process a culture of the ear is obtained to try to identify a pathogen, blood work and radiographs are taken to stage the disease and a treatment plan is established. Medical therapy by itself is unrewarding and surgery is usually indicated to gain better access to the ears, making flushing and maintaining them much easier for the owner. In general ear disease is an ongoing process and long-term management will be necessary.

Above is an intra operative picture of a rabbit undergoing a ear surgery to gain better access to the infection site.

Above is a close up picture of a rabbit’s left ear after surgery. The yellow exudate is wax, which is a normal finding.

“GI Stasis”

Rabbit Gastrointestinal Syndrome (RGIS) presents as a slow down or stasis of the GI tract. It is very common in rabbits and can be primary due to an inadequate diet or secondary to another disease. Rabbits cannot vomit; they build up gas quickly, become painful and can succumb to colic and endotoxic shock. If not detected early this can quickly become a life-threatening situation. Decreased appetite decreased fecal output and weight loss in more chronic cases is often noticed. A thorough physical exam and radiographs are needed to aid in the diagnosis. This is a very painful condition and immediate treatment is necessary.


Lateral and ventrodorsal radiographs of a normal rabbit abdomen full of ingesta (food).


Lateral and ventrodorsal radiographs of a rabbit with “Gastro Intestinal Stasis”, evident by gas-filled bowel loops.

Dental Disease (Acquired Dental Disease)

Rabbits have 28 very unique teeth that are open-rooted, which means they grow continuously throughout their lives. Inadequate chewing on tough fibrous vegetation such as hay and leafy vegetables can lead to abnormal wear leading to tooth root elongation, malocclusion, dental spurs, food impaction or deformed/crooked teeth. Once dental disease is diagnosed follow up exams and dental trims most likely will be necessary unless is caught early in the disease process.  Most rabbits present for not eating, not defecating as much, and/or drooling. On the picture below you can see how the lower molars are cutting/ripping through the tongue.


Above is a picture of a rabbit with overgrown teeth which are cutting into his tongue; this is a very painful condition that usually goes unnoticed so it is very important to have your rabbit’s teeth evaluated every 6 months by an experienced exotic animal veterinarian like us.

Dental/Jaw Abscesses

In chronic cases these dental abnormalities predispose rabbits to infection and pus may develop in the roots of the teeth or in their jaws causing abscessation. Abscesses can be detected as a hard lump or swelling typically on either the maxilla (cheek) or the mandible (jaw). They are very painful and surgical removal and/or drainage is the treatment of choice.

Incisor malocclusion

This is quite different from ADD and only involves the front teeth. Rabbits can be born with this condition or it may develop secondary to trauma, infection and/or metabolic disease. Frequent trimming will allow them to eat better but unfortunately the molars might keep growing and the condition will worsen. Never use nail trimmers or clippers because they may fracture the teeth and an infection in the root may develop. The treatment of choice is permanent extraction since as a pet they do not need the teeth to pull grasses from the ground and can handle hay just fine.

Rabbit with incisor malocclusion; all 6 incisors had to be extracted to help this little guy.

Choosing a Pet

TYPE PROS CONS

Rabbit

Quiet, clean, affectionate, can be litter trained Do not handle heat well, must be kept in climate-controlled rabbit-proofed environment, do not like being picked up or held, may be skittish
FYI: MUST be spayed / neutered to avoid reproductive tumors, cancers and cysts, prone to dental issues, lops are prone to ear infections