Dealing with Medical Emergencies
The following categories may serve as a guide:
- Coma, stupor: Any situation where your rabbit is recumbent and minimally or nonresponsive to voice and touch. The rabbit may be in cardiac arrest from chewing on an electrical cord or in shock from a dog attack
- Seizures or sudden neurological changes: Falling to one side, head tilt, nystagmus (eyes moving constantly in one direction). Possible causes are systemic Pasteurella infection or hypoglycemia.
- Severe continuous bleeding: This can result from any type of trauma; dog attack, fall, run-in with an automobile.
- Hypo- or hyperthermia: In the first situation your rabbit will be ice cold to the touch usually recumbent and nonresponsive. In the second, your rabbit will be burning hot, panting, and sometimes seizuring.
All of these situations require that you grab your rabbit, your car keys and go immediately to the emergency room. This is where your advance planning can save your rabbit’s life; you may have only minutes. Please find a good rabbit vet near you.
II. Serious Emergencies:
- All animal attacks: Even if your rabbit has only a small would and appears fine, he should be examined by a vet. Serious puncture wounds may be hidden under a thick coat of fur. Also, the trauma of the attack can cause extreme changes in your rabbit’s blood pressure and other homeostatic mechanisms; this is what is meant by “shock”.
- Maggots: Although far more common in rabbits housed outdoors, house rabbits are not immune. Maggots are fly larvae; flies lay eggs in open wounds, abraded skin, or areas where feces or urine have accumulated. Besides causing physical damage by burrowing into the rabbit’s flesh, maggots release toxins which can cause a severe infection or shock.
- Suspected poisoning: A wide variety of chemicals and plants can be toxic to rabbits. Many substances can cause delayed symptoms (such as daffodils), so do not be lulled into a false sense of security by apparently normal behavior. Be sure to take the suspected poison with you to the emergency room.
- “Minor” electrocution/drowning: These are lumped together because both of these accidents can cause pulmonary edema, fluid in the lungs. Pulmonary edema is evidenced by difficulty breathing and sometimes blue gums. Rabbits who nibble on electrical cords can also suffer severe burns. In the same vein, a rabbit which seems shaken but otherwise unharmed after being rescued from a swimming pool should still be examined by a veterinarian. The effects of pulmonary edema are not always manifested immediately.
III. Possible Emergencies:
- Respiratory problems, nasal or ocular discharge: Here the degree of distress your rabbit is showing must be evaluated. A minor snuffle or sneeze or a clear discharge from the eyes in a rabbit that is sassy and active can probably wait until regular hours. However, if your rabbit is breathing audibly with increased abdominal motions, she may well have an acute pneumonia.
- Diarrhea/constipation: Both of these can be extremely dangerous in a rabbit. A few soft stools just noticed today should not necessarily set off the alarm bell. But severe watery diarrhea may lead to dehydration even overnight. Conversely, scant hard fecal pellets indicate a possible obstruction or other gastrointestinal problem. If it has been two days since you have seen any pellets in the litter box and you know your veterinarian is closed for the weekend, the rabbit should certainly be seen at an emergency facility.
Many house rabbit owners are concerned about finding an emergency clinician with expertise in rabbit problems and this is certainly the ideal.
Do not hesitate to bring a critically ill rabbit to an emergency room because the doctor is not a “rabbit expert.”
Do these steps (if you can), if not go directly to the emergency room:
1. Pulse – Feel the pulse either by placing a hand gently around your rabbit’s chest or by placing a finger in the groin area. If you do not feel anything, do not assume the worst. A rabbit in shock may have a slow, faint pulse that is difficult to detect.
2. Check Gums – Lift up your rabbit’s lip to check her gum color. It should be a healthy pink. Bluish or pale gums indicate a severe circulatory problem.
3. Temperature – Take your rabbit’s temperature. All pet owners should have a baby thermometer. Apply some lubricant to the thermometer, insert it gently into the rectum, and hold it there for about 1 minute. Normal rabbit temperature is about 101 °F to 103 °F.
First aid equipment:
1. Hypothermia (rabbit is to cold) Heating pad or hot water bottles for shock or hypothermia. Never place a heating pad directly on a chilled rabbit, as it is quite possible to burn him. First wrap the rabbit in a towel, then wrap the pad or bottle around the towel. If your rabbit’s temperature is above 106 °F, a quickly use cold towel wraps can be helpful before dashing to the emergency clinic.
2. Bleeding wounds should have a pressure wrap placed using cotton pads and gauze wrap. Do not apply tourniquets; permanent damage can be caused.