During the past 20 years rabbit medicine has come a long way. There are now many exotic animal veterinary (1) conferences, internet lists, and veterinary journals with articles on the latest medical treatments for rabbits. As a result, there is an increasing number of veterinarians experienced in rabbit care now practicing in most major cities all over the US. Whether you live close to one of these individuals or not, it is important to be able to evaluate your rabbit and gather information that will be invaluable to determine the urgency of veterinary care. Be both a knowledgeable caretaker and a medical advocate for your rabbit.
In the US, the term spay means the removal of the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Recently veterinarians at conferences in the US have been discussing the pros and cons of removing only the ovaries (known as an ovariectomy) in some species of animals such as dogs, cats, rats and guinea pigs. The idea has now spread to a discussion about using this procedure. In Europe, ovariectomies have been performed in cats for many years, but rabbits are not cats.
Will removing only the ovaries prevent all reproductive disease in the female rabbit? Dr. Susan Brown (Health Director for HRS National) states: “There currently is no scientific evidence that indicates removing only the ovaries is in the best interest of rabbits. Rabbits primarily develop disease in the uterus (most often cancer) not the ovaries. We do not know if removing only the ovaries will prevent future uterine disease particularly if the rabbit is sexually mature at the time of the ovariectomy. ”
Be aware of the type of surgery your veterinarian will be performing. Advocate for a complete ovariohysterectomy as it may add years to your rabbit’s life.
Veterinarians inexperienced in rabbit medicine may miss some common signs of dental problems, so it may be up to you, as your rabbit’s caregiver, to point your veterinarian in the right direction.
The following signs may not necessarily be dental problems, but all of these signs require a look at the teeth, particularly the molars: Not eating, wet chin, drooling, dropping food, grinding teeth when eating, weight loss, poopy butt (pain from molar spurs can cause the rabbit to be unable to reach his cecal pellets), choking (hay, etc can get caught on molar spurs), runny eyes (overgrown roots in upper incisors can cause pressure on the tear ducts). If your rabbit is experiencing any of these signs, ask that a thorough mouth exam be performed.
Common ear diseases include wax impaction and inflammation or infection of the ear canal. Pay particular attention to rabbits who cannot adequately clean their own ears with their back nails. This includes rabbits with arthritis or other mobility problems, overweight rabbits and some lop and dwarf breeds. They seem to be more prone to ear disease as a group, but any rabbit can get an ear infection. If your rabbit is at risk, talk to your veterinarian about how to keep your rabbit’s ears free of excessive wax.
If you notice your rabbit shaking her head or digging at her ears a bit more than usual, take a look in the ears with a flashlight and note if there is any excessive wax, redness, bleeding or discharge present. Also take a sniff for any unpleasant odor. An abnormal odor can indicate an infection or inflammation of the ear canal, however not all infections, particularly if they are in the middle or inner ear, will produce an odor. If wax builds up in the ear it can create a warm, moist environment perfect for the growth of bacteria. An infection might also start with a small piece of hay being lodged in her ear. If you ignore the head shaking and do nothing there may be no further obvious signs until you see her head begin to tilt.
Make it part of your weekly routine to look into and smell her ears. If you detect a problem you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. During this weekly routine it is also a good idea to feel the base of both ears. Use both hands and feel them at the same time so you can compare them. Checking this will get you used to the feel of a normal ear. If there is a lump on one side and not the other there is a problem that needs a veterinary examination.
There have been many excellent articles written on Head Tilt, and I won’t repeat that information here. Instead I’ll refer you to an article (2) on our HRS web site which includes a diagnostic approach for your veterinarian to use.
We stress that a diagnosis must be obtained, as there can be several different causes of head tilt. If head tilt is automatically diagnosed as an ear infection, without exploring all possibilities, valuable time can be wasted not treating the actual problem. An accurate diagnosis can mean the difference between life and death for your rabbit. At a minimum you can expect an exam with an otoscope, an x-ray and blood work.
The following quote is from proceedings of the Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference 2001, Karen Rosenthal, D.V.M., M.S. (3) “Antibiotics that are intermediate in their ability to incite gastrointestinal disease include parenteral penicillin, oral or injectable cephalosporins, tetracycline, and erythromycin. Antibiotics that are highly likely to cause gastrointestinal dysbiosis include amoxicillin, ampicillin, clindamycin, and lincomycin.” If any of these antibiotics are prescribed for your rabbit, you can discuss this information with your veterinarian and save your rabbit further problems that can be caused by the wrong antibiotic.
1. Exotic Veterinarian: A veterinarian trained in or experienced with animals other than dogs, cats or livestock.
By Sandi Ackerman
House Rabbit Journal Winter 2009: Volume V, Number 4