Anesthesia Protocols for Rabbits

Nov 2, 2016

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Many veterinarians and pet owners believe rabbit anesthesia is always a high-risk procedure; however, when done properly the risks are low and do not outweigh the benefits. Important steps must be taken to ensure anesthesia is done properly and safely leading to a successful outcome. It must be noted that any patient undergoing anesthesia, no matter the age or health status, accepts some risk and/or chance of unplanned or unexpected complications that could arise. One study found the risk of a rabbit dying under anesthesia to be about 1.39% overall – which is fairly low, but higher than for dogs and cats.1

Pre-anesthetic evaluation is critically important and sometimes overlooked with rabbit patients and thus complications and death are blamed on the anesthesia rather than poor patient management. Sick rabbits should be stabilized when needed to be sure they are appropriate anesthetic patients.

Stress should be as minimal as possible considering the nature of rabbits. A good physical examination and appropriate diagnostic evaluation including: blood tests to evaluate health, renal function, and PCV etc., and radiographs and ultrasound exams could also be part of anesthetic planning.

Attention to analgesia is critical and especially important in the post-operative period. Fasting for more than 1 hour is unnecessary and should be avoided. Never hesitate to postpone or cancel anesthesia when it’s in the patient’s best interest.

Careful handling and restraint of rabbits is always necessary with both back support before and during anesthesia and monitored recovery after anesthesia. Make a “bunny burrito” by wrapping the rabbit in a towel when needed to facilitate IM injections that can startle the rabbit. Quiet cage rest after administration of pre-medications for 5-10 minutes is ideal to allow for sedation to take effect. Keep the head slightly elevated when in dorsal recumbency with the neck extended and never keep the rabbit on hard surfaces – use towels or padding and avoid v-trays. Taping the legs is preferable to tying the limbs for surgical procedures.

Some sample anesthetic protocols are shown below and are intended to precede gas anesthesia (isoflurane or sevoflurane) for maintenance. Practitioners are referred to Chapter 4 in the Textbook of Rabbit Medicine (Molly Varga: 2nd edition, 2014) for a complete overview of the principles of safe rabbit anesthesia.

Drug/Pre-medication Dosage Route of administration
Ketamine 5-10 mg/kg IM
Dexmedetomidine* 0.15-0.2 mg/kg IM
Buprenorphine 0.05 mg/kg IM or SQ q 12 hr x 24 -36 hr
Maintain on gas anesthesia following sedation with all of above
Meloxicam (post-op) 0.5-1 mg/kg SQ and PO q 12-24 hr x 3-5 d

*Reversal with atipamezole

Drug/Pre-medication Dosage Route of administration
Ketamine 15 mg/kg IM
Midazolam 0.5-1 mg/kg IM
Buprenorphine 0.05 mg/kg IM or SQ q 12 hr x 24-36 hr
Maintain on gas anesthesia following sedation with all of above
Meloxicam (post-op) 0.5-1 mg/kg SQ and PO q 12-24 hr x 3-5 d

 

Rabbit anesthesia when done safely and smartly should not be a hindrance to management of surgical patients and risks and fears should not outweigh the benefits. Practitioners should adopt protocols that work for them, perform appropriate pre-anesthetic evaluation, and develop an understanding of the unique characteristics of rabbits that make them such amazing animals!

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  1. Brodbelt DCBlissitt KJHammond RANeath PJYoung LEPfeiffer DUWood JL. The risk of death: the confidential enquiry into perioperative small animal fatalities. Vet Anaesth Analg. Sep;35(5):365-73, 2008.

 

by Anthony A. Pilny, DVM, DABVP (Avian)
The Center for Avian & Exotic Medicine

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