One of the main differences between rabbits and dogs and cats is their view of the world. It’s the basic difference between prey and predator and it underlies everything that a rabbit feels and does. As a prey animal, they have to disguise an injury or illness so as not to be targeted by a predator. What does that mean for our pet rabbits? By the time we can see the signs of illness, they are already in a critical condition.
Unlike with our other pets, there is no waiting or trying a simple home remedy. It’s always an emergency trip to the vet. And hope that it doesn’t happen at night since most emergency hospitals don’t have rabbit-savvy vets on staff 24/7. In fact, if you have a bunny, you should ask your vet what they recommend for emergencies. Some vets have their calls forwarded to their home and will handle emergencies themselves. Rabbits are a bit of a specialty! Sadly both my previous bunnies died within a day of my noticing they were not acting normally. So, when I woke up one morning to find diarrhea all over my rabbit’s room I knew that something was really wrong (observant of me, huh?).
Actually, although Nugget has had an upset bowel a couple of times before, I had no idea that a rabbit could have such a bad case of diarrhea. Usually it’s just a matter of a few butt-baths, giving fluids and upping her hay intake. But with this trip to the vet we came home with instructions to force feed Critical Care (a special food for sick herbivores) five times a day, give fluids two times a day and two different medications (a pain med and an anti-inflammatory) that each have to be given twice a day. The force feeding is important because another special thing about rabbits is that they have to have food in their system all the time. You never fast a rabbit and anything that slows down or stops digestion can be fatal.
Fortunately, Nugget seems to be responding well to her treatments. We’re on day three and she’s beginning to show interest in her herb treats and is a lot more active. Her poop is still not back completely to normal, but she didn’t need a butt-bath yesterday, so I consider that progress! What’s still baffling is what brought it on to begin with. That’s a question we may never get answered since there’s so many possibilities.
To be sure, I’m going to have to keep a close eye on my bunny as she seems to have a delicate digestive system. I’ve already stopped all fruit treats (too much sugar) and will stick to just the herbs she enjoys – parsley, dandelion greens, cilantro and occasionally dill. She gets all the fresh hay she can eat but I will cut back further on the oat hay (fattening and rich) and up the amount of timothy hay. She has free run of her bunny room and occasionally will join us in the evening in the family room which is good as movement is very important in keeping the digestive track moving too. When she is going through her heavy sheds (twice a year), I make sure to brush her often to remove as much fur as possible and reduce the risk of hairballs (did you know that rabbits, like horses, cannot vomit? So fur in the tummy can cause a blockage).
We can only do what we can do to help our pets stay healthy. More important is being able to read the signs of illness or injury so that we can get our pets the professional help they need to get well. Rabbits sure don’t make that easy!
No More Lost Pets – free microchips and pet ID tags for residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati City. Stop by the shelter during our open hours with your pet to get one! The shelter is open Wed. 1-6:30, Thurs.-Fri.-Sat. 1-5:30 and Sun. 1-4:30.
Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.