It Pays to Know a Good Radiologist

During the past several years, I’ve had some enlightening experiences involving x-rays. One instance involved my little Jerry. He is a rabbit who always waits until my vet has flown off to some foreign country and cannot be contacted, except by carrier pigeon, to get sick. Several years ago, Jerry suddenly began having trouble urinating and I rushed him to another vet who was reported to be experienced with rabbits. Suspecting something in Jerry’s urinary tract or bladder area, she took two x-rays. Both x-rays showed a single bright spot in his lower abdomen which she declared to be bladder stones. The vet recommended surgery to remove them.

A Sleepless Week

My instinct was telling me that something was wrong with this picture (or rather with this x-ray). I was terrified that if I didn’t have the surgery done and the stone tried to pass and got stuck, little Jerry could die. I debated with myself the next day, praying that a war might break out in the country where my vet had gone so that she would have to cut her vacation short. No such luck. With much trepidation, I opted to wait it out with antibiotics. I took Jerry to work with me; I slept with Jerry; I was afraid to leave his side since I might have to jump up at a moment’s notice to rush him to the emergency clinic for bladder surgery. I spent a very sleepless 7 days and nights until my own veterinarian returned.

When she arrived on Monday morning, Jerry and I were waiting on her clinic doorstep. She took one look at the x-ray and then a second one. How could she be chuckling, when Jerry might be dying at any minute? As she regained control of the corners of her mouth, she announced that both of the bright spots on the x-ray were in the abdominal cavity, not in the bladder and that the bright spots were most likely flaws on the film! A new x-ray showed no sign of a bladder stone! And so Jerry avoided an unnecessary surgery.

Although one would hope that the preceding example was an unusual occurrence, there are many unnecessary stomach surgeries (which have a very low success rate).1,2 These surgeries are the result of veterinarians who are unfamiliar with rabbit x-rays and the fact that most rabbits have some hair constantly present in their stomachs.

How can we guardians of our rabbits help to avoid these situations? If your vet was unable to attend the HRS Veterinary Conference, you will want to encourage the purchase of the conference proceedings. For some subjects, including radiology, the available videotape of the lecture is especially useful for a full understanding of the presented material. The Vet-to-Vet excerpt in this issue features radiology of the rabbit thorax. The lecture also covered comparative radiology of the rabbit abdomen and the skeleton, including dental problems. You might consider buying the tape yourself as a gift for your veterinarian.

by Sandi Ackerman

House Rabbit Journal Fall 1998: Volume III, Number 11

1. Anorectic Rabbit Protocol, Rabbit Health News, August 1993, Susan Brown, DVM.

2. Rabbit GI Physiology and Diet, Rabbit Health News, April 1994, Susan Brown, DVM.