Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rabbit Emergencies

I was reminded again this week how important it is to have your rabbit examined at the first sign of it being unwell.

Rabbits are a prey species, and as such WILL NOT show signs of illness until they can't cope any more and often are about to die. If a prey species shows signs of weakness in the wild, they are more likely to be picked up by a predator, so those who can be stoic in the face of pain have a greater chance of survival.

The rabbit patient of note this week had been fine the previous morning. The previous afternoon it was "resting" in it's cubby and didn't eat its dinner. That was the point at which it needed to be examined. Unfortunately it didn't come in until the next morning by which time it was going into shock and died before lunch despite treatment for the shock.

Before he died, we had gotten as far as taking some radiographs and had identified a problem in the region of the liver/stomach. Fortunately the owners gave us permission to perform a necropsy (post-mortem examination) to find out what was going on. It turned out that this very-well cared for and well-loved pet had a torsed liver lobe: one of the lobes of the liver had twisted, cutting off its blood supply, and then ruptured, sending blood pouring into the abdomen and causing the shock.

I had never run into this condition before in rabbits, but an online literature search revealed it is "not uncommon" and often is identified in well-cared-for rabbit pets, often house rabbits. Those who survived had been given fluids and supportive care early and the condition had been diagnosed with blood tests (raised liver enzymes indicating damage to the liver) and ultrasound as well as radiographs. One even got as far as surgery in which the offending lobe was removed. Unfortunately our patient didn't live long enough for us to get to that point.

So the lesson for the week is to get your rabbit down to the vet's the minute it refuses food or behaves oddly, and be prepared financially if they ask you to allow some diagnostics - radiographs, ultrasound, blood tests - along with hospitalisation and fluid support. It may be a matter of life or death.