Visiting the vet hospital is always stressful to the patient (and sometimes the owner) and sometimes even the veterinarian! The goal of this article is to help you limit the stress for both rabbit and humans so that your visit results in a successful examination.
Preparing for Your Visit
If you need to choose a new veterinarian, the well-rabbit exam is an excellent way to get acquainted. Ask questions to get a feel for the doctor: If he/she routinely sees rabbits, ask how many are seen in a typical week or month. If the vet doesn’t routinely see rabbits, is he or she willing to work with you, or can they refer you to a facility that does see rabbits?
Once you have chosen a hospital and a specific veterinarian, preparing for your visit will help to expedite the service you will receive. Arrive early, at least 15 minutes, to fill out all of the paperwork and orient yourself with the facility.
Items to Bring
Here are some items that you will want to bring with you to help keep your rabbit comfortable. First, a well-constructed and easy-to-carry pet carrier. This will keep your rabbit safe in the car and help him feel safer at the hospital. Other animals in the waiting room might be frightening to your rabbit. Place a towel or fake fleece in the bottom of the carrier, and bring an extra one to replace it in the event it becomes wet.
Second, bring some familiar food items in case the animal needs to stay.
Third, bring in a stool sample that is no more than 24 hours old.
Lastly, bring a copy of all past medical records, as well as a specific written description of your pet’s diet.
Examining Your Pet
When entering the exam room, make sure the table and any equipment used (i.e. scale) is clean. Do not hesitate to ask the vet or technician to clean any items again if there is any doubt of cleanliness. Weight, and sometimes temperature, is usually taken by a vet tech, and stool samples can be examined at that time as well. Evaluating a fecal sample takes 10-15 minutes.
The next step is the veterinary evaluation and exam. First, a veterinarian will try to get a recent history of the pet. (This is when written information on diet and past medical problems will become helpful.) The second part of the discussion will cover any new problems, concerns or questions you may have.
After addressing history, diet, and any questions, the physical exam is performed. The physical exam is a methodically planned evaluation of your rabbit’s physical condition. This is to discover any abnormalities and to note healthy, normal conditions of the patient.
Each vet has his or her own routine, a pattern of examining the whole patient. Some start at the front with the teeth, some start at the back. Most vets have a consistent pattern of exam.
Beginning with the head, the incisors should be examined for malocclusion. The veterinarian should also check the lips for any sores, abrasions, drooling or swelling. If the rabbit is an adult, the molars should be checked for sharp points caused by malocclusion of the upper and lower arcade of teeth. To see the molars, your vet will use an otoscope with a long speculum.
The eyes can be a reflection of overall health and should result in a very thorough exam if they do not look perfect. Any discharge should be further investigated. Sometimes the conjunctiva can get swollen and infected and sometimes the tear ducts can become obstructed. This will be evident with excessive tearing.
The ears should be clean and not irritated. Any debris should be checked for mites, yeast or bacteria. The ear is swabbed and the material examined under a microscope. The skin and fur is also examined for parasites, shedding, any evidence that the rabbit has been scratching or biting at him/herself, actual hair loss and lesions. The doctor will check the back of the neck and under the tail for fur mites. The legs and toes are palpated for any abnormal lumps. The doctor will listen to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope and will palpate the abdomen to evaluate size and shape of internal organs.
The final area of the exam is to check under the tail. Is it truly a male or a female? If you have not had your rabbit spayed or neutered, your vet should discuss the benefits of this surgery with you.
After history and physical exam, the next step in the exam is laboratory testing. Rabbits can hide disease very well, and the physical exam may be completely normal. That’s when blood tests, urinalysis and bacterial cultures are helpful and often necessary in order to diagnose a problem. We recommend a routine Chemistry and CBC for any rabbit over 2 years of age. This will help foresee problems that could develop before obvious clinical disease. If the lab work is all normal, we will then have a good baseline for the future.
After the samples for the lab work have been taken, the final portion of your visit is the check out. The average cost-per-procedure depends upon where you live, lab work done, and additional services performed. If cost is an issue, discuss your limitations with your veterinarian before your appointment. Remember that health problems detected early are often less expensive to treat.
After paying your bill, you and your rabbit need and deserve a rest. When you get home, relax, write down any questions you forgot to ask or that were not answered during your visit. Offer your brave friend an extra treat, but don’t let him or her gorge on pellets when you get home. Offer a little hay, a small amount of a favorite treat and keep an eye on your little friend for any lingering effects of the visit.
How Often Should We Visit the Vet?
Rabbit exams should be done at least annually, often twice a year in rabbits over 5 years of age. Stool samples should be evaluated at the first three visits if the rabbit is kept only inside. If your rabbit is taken outside, a stool sample should be checked at every visit. Setting up a rapport with your vet, letting your vet examine your pet when he is healthy is good practice and prepares you and your vet when your pet isn’t healthy and needs vital medical attention.
Rabbit medicine is improving constantly, faster than many other veterinary disciplines. Veterinarians are learning and understanding more about the health and medical care of your pet, making it possible to prevent, treat and commonly cure disease processes your pet may develop. With mutual cooperation and support, you and your vet can hopefully keep your rabbit healthy and disease free for a lifetime of enjoyment.
Keith Gold, DVM
House Rabbit Journal Fall 1999: Volume IV, Number 1