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Drawing Blood from Rabbits
Cindy McBee, DVM
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Drawing blood from a rabbit is often time-consuming, because it can be difficult to utilize either the jugular vein in the neck or the cephalic vein in the front leg, common sites (with strong blood flow) for drawing blood from cats and dogs. Although these sites are possible with rabbits, assuming that 1-3 cc's are required (as they usually are for a chemistry and CBC), the most convenient place to phlebotomize the rabbit is the ear, using either the large veins or the central artery.

There is no reason to anesthetize the rabbit for this procedure, since as long as it is performed gently and slowly, rabbits tolerate it well. Restraint usually involves leaning lightly on the rabbit's back while encircling the body with one arm. If necessary, the rabbit can be wrapped gently in a towel. To make the rabbit feel more comfortable, the assistant can rub the rabbit's forehead with one hand while holding off the vein at the base of the ear with the other.

Any of the large veins around the edge of the ear or the central artery can yield a good supply of blood. I usually wet down the ears on light-colored rabbits and clip those on dark pigmented rabbits. While clipping is not necessary in all cases, it can help the veterinarian visualize the vein when it will not stand up well despite flicking and other tactics. While some veterinarians use alcohol, others feel it causes the vein to contract; I have used both methods with success. Similarly, I have had equal success leaving the needle attached to the syringe and inserting the needle alone and letting the blood flow into a tube; the method I use depends on the situation and the rabbit involved. I normally use a 25 gauge needle and a 3 cc syringe.

Several attempts are sometimes necessary to get enough blood, but the supply can be increased by "resting" the ear for a few minutes to let the veins refill. Actually, it is not always necessary to hold off the auricular veins at all; I have recently had success getting stronger blood flow by not doing so.

Most rabbits tolerate these methods very well, and I have never found it necessary to sedate a rabbit in order to draw blood. It is important to realize that the draw may take longer than is usual with a dog or a cat, and to schedule enough time to ensure that no one feels rushed during the procedure. As with all procedures, each veterinarian may feel more comfortable with one method than another after trying several different ways.

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