My rabbit, a tiny 6-year-old Netherland Dwarf named Nugget, just spent two days in the hospital.  Yes, a rabbit.  If you know anything about rabbits, you know that they don’t usually survive illnesses.  That’s because as a prey animal they excel at hiding any signs of illness until they are dying.  So, by the time you realize that your rabbit is not doing well, he is pretty close to the end.  Which is why at the slightest sign of things not being right – the biggest being a lack of appetite or poop output – it’s an emergency trip to the vet.

I was away over the holidays and when I returned everything seemed fine.  But the next morning I was surprised by the lack of fecal matter in her room, (rabbits graze continuously so always have a large amount of output).  I kept a close eye on her and gave her some of her favorite foods, fresh parsley and dandelion leaves, to see if she would eat.  When she only half-heartedly nibbled at one stem, I knew something was wrong and she spent the rest of the day at the vets.  I brought her home that evening with some medications and instructions to observe her carefully to see if she bounced back but the next morning her room was completely clean and poop free.  Darn.  Rabbit people must be the only ones who look forward to large piles of fecal balls in the morning!

GI stasis – when the digestive tract shuts down – is fatal to rabbits.  Since they are herbivores, they must graze continuously and they never have an empty tummy (in fact, rabbits are never fasted, even before surgery).  It doesn’t take much to disrupt the smooth operation of the GI tract though.  Too much sugar (carrots, apples, and store-bought treats can be very high in sugars) is one culprit, hay that has mold can be another, too many pellets (which lack the essential fiber that is in hay) or being too hot (rabbits are very temperature sensitive) can all disrupt digestion.  For a wild animal, rabbits are fairly delicate!

It’s important if you have a rabbit that you get familiar with a bunny-savvy veterinarian.  Not all vets treat rabbits and if they don’t see a lot of them, they most likely aren’t current on all their health issues.  It’s almost a specialty onto itself!  So ask questions to gauge the amount of rabbits seen before committing to a practice, or go to rabbit.org for a list of rabbit knowledgeable veterinarians.  Not to promote one vet over another but I was impressed and appreciative that Dr. Pfann, from Brandner Vet Hospital, took Nugget home with him to be able to keep an eye on her during the night.  

Knowing a good vet is especially important right now with the emerging disease – the RHDV, Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus.  This is a highly contagious disease caused by the calicivirus and it affects both wild and domestic rabbits, has a very high (almost 80 percent) mortality rate and is spread every way possible!  It’s often called by the nickname Bunny Ebola and it is recommended to keep all pet rabbits strictly indoors and to vaccinate against this virus.   

Fortunately, that is not what my Nugget had.  She’s not out of the woods yet but she’s home and happily back to chomping on her hay and parsley.  And pooping.  Now that’s a good sign!

Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at mzeldes@rpcity.org.

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