Rabbit Examination

Bring your towel! – Rabbit Examination

Just like in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a towel is of great importance! Especially in a rabbit consultation!
This vital tool can really help you through those tricky consults with bouncy bunnies!
If you’d like to step away from the baytril / metacam one-two exotics cure-all, then this is the place for you! You’ll be pulling rabbits out of your hat before you know it!*
*Don’t pull rabbits out of your hat, especially in front of a client. Use the towel instead!
The Rabbit consultation can be broken down into components, just like so much hay in your rabbits mouth.
  • History
  • Physical examination
  • Preventative care
  • Take home messages and materials – your Better Bunny Bag!

If you’ve dealt with rabbits much in your practice, you would’ve come across the most important part of rabbit care.
I’ll repeat that again, what you feed your rabbit is going to tremendously effect your rabbits health!
So if it’s incredibly important, it must be really complicated right?
rabbit feed graph

Seems over simplified.
However, this is a KEY TAKE HOME POINT FOR YOUR CLIENT – so the easier to remember, the better it is!
if you have a white board, or note pad – draw it for your client!
If you have this hand out, point to it! Then hand it to your client.

  • Grass Hay – 80%
    • Keep it simple, the majority of your rabbits feed should be grass hay – oaten hay, timothy hay – Lucerne hay is okay but is higher in energy and proteins

  • Greens – 20%
    • Green leafy vegetables – the short list is :
      • Green carrot tops
      • Dandelion leaves
      • Parsley
      • Mints/herbs
      • Coriander
      • Celery
      • Grass
      • Bok Choy
      • Also to be offered in small amounts – cucumber, cauliflower leaves, cabbage leaves, brocolli
    • There are many other alternatives, however if you are changing your rabbits diet completely, best to start simple.

  • Pellets / fruits / treats – 0%
    • One tablespoon per day
    • Do not believe that a pellet diet is all a rabbit needs!
    • The other benefit to this breakdown is it will be cheaper than buying

If your bunny is buddies with a guinea pig or another undesexed bunny you need to know!
Breeding like rabbits is an idiom for a reason! If your client has an undesexed male and undesexed female, book them in for neutering! We’ll cover the best way to have a stress free surgery, for both you and your rabbit, a bit later.

Physical exam
Have your towel ready! That’s a wrap folks! Place your rabbit in the centre of a half folded towel.

Heart rate – 160-300 bpm
What differences are there between listening to a cat and rabbit heart? Mostly rabbit hearts beat much quicker than a cats. If you can’t count the heart beats as they speed into your stethoscope to your ears, then its good.

Respiratory rate–  40-160 brpm
Remember that rabbits are prey species? Everything is fast, and your rabbit is probably stressed. Minimalise handling and maximise your control with a towel!

Abdominal sounds are VITAL SIGNS in a rabbit, and you must, i repeat, MUST, listen to them each consult. The presence or abscence of gut sounds is the difference between life and death, and gut stasis needs to be treated as an emergency.
Feel that abdomen, has the rabbit been eating ?
  • Eating food?
  • Eating caecotrophs?
  • Defecating?
  • Does the belly feel bloated? or appear bigger to the owner

Temperature – 38-40.5 C – Get the towel, manual restraint of rabbits – a PREY SPECIES – will land you in a hot pot of rabbit stew!
Here is where your towel comes in really handy, place your rabbit in the centre of a half folded towel, then pass the diagonal points across the bunny one after the other
to create a bunny burrito! This will let you take a temperature with minimal handling, and if you fold in the back point you can vaccinate without worrying about your bunny hopping backward!
The other commonly known and scary part of rabbit examinations, is a rabbit’s ability to kick out and break their own spine.
Rabbits are prone to hindlimb paralysis from spinal trauma from their hindlimb pushing force, WOW. So support those hindlimbs and DONT LET THE RABBIT JUMP OFF THE TABLE!
The main consideration is to support the hindlimbs at all times, if you are picking a rabbit up here are two handy methods:

  1. Place your right hand under the hind paws, and your left hand under the fore paws and ventral thorax. Flip the front of your rabbit with your left hand so that the dorsal thorax is against you, with the hind paws supported by the right hand, with the bunny facing away from you.
  2. Scoop the rabbit up by placing your left hand under the hind paws, with the rabbits’ head toward or under your elbow. Hug the bunny to you and keep your right hand on the dorsum of your rabbit.

Teeth – Did you know rabbits teeth dont stop growing?
Check the incisors to make sure they are occluding well, not digging into the gingival muscosa. Check the molars by placing an otoscope head between the buccal surface and teeth to view the teeth and look for any sharp edges.
If you do notice sharp edges on the pre-molars and molars, this is known as malocclusion, and these teeth may be cutting into the the cheeks and tongue. Ouch!
Ears – check your rabbits ears for pus and mites  – pus from brewing abscesses and tooth root infections. And mites, might be there.
Abscesses and tooth root abscesses are common in rabbits. DONT REACH FOR THE BAYTRIL! Just put the bottle down.

I’m waiting.

Okay good, lets continue.

Preventative Care
The only vaccination for rabbits in Australia is the Rabbit Calicivirus, or Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV), Vaccination.
There are currently no myxomatosis vaccinations available for pet rabbits in Australia. The best defense is a good fence! Or a rabbit enclosure.

RHDV is transmitted between rabbits directly or indirectly via infected equipment, clothing and fomites. The main at risk group is young rabbits between 3-4 weeks old. Clinical signs may include lethargy, inappetence, pyrexia and GI stasis, and is infectious to all un-vaccinated rabbits!

The current label guidelines are two boosters for kits, at three and four months old, and now every twelve months for adults.
The method for vaccination is subcutaneous just like a cat or dog. 1 mL Cylap vaccination under the skin, get that towel out Arthur Dent!

However, due to recent concerns with the release of RDHV 1 – K5 and the discovery of RHDV 2, the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) and NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) recommend minimising exposure to Rabbit Calicivirus.
How you ask?

  1. Vaccinate your rabbit more frequently – 4 weeks, 8 weeks and 12 weeks, followed by every 6 months.
          Why? Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus primarily affects young rabbits, so by vaccinating more at a younger age you can decrease the risk of disease.

  1. The DPI recommends
  • Preventing direct contact with wild rabbits, and preventing indirect contact by not feeding cut grass
  • Maintaining quality hygiene prior to handling your beautiful bunnies – wash your hands with warm water and soap!
  • Providing your rabbit with an insect proof hutch, quarantining new or infected rabbits
  • Cleaning cages and equipment with 10% bleach, 10% sodium hydroxide or parvocide disinfectants

Please stress the importance of vaccinating your rabbit, it’s life or death!

Better Bunny Bag
Last but not least, your take home information and treats for coming in to the clinic with your rabbit!
Does your rabbit have some treats to go home with?
A Vaccination passport and guidelines about preventative care? (re read above)

To generate some Bunny Bag ideas; oxbow critical care,  bag of rabbit feed/hay (good quality hay remember!),  maybe some obstacles to jump through, rabbits do love toys!
Make it your own!

Finally, here is the important Rabbit Consult Checklist, a short summary of everything in this article and all you need to know for a successful rabbit consult.
Hop to it!

Rabbit Checklist EV

  • Meredith, A, Johnson Delaney, C. BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pets. 5th Edn. APA, Cheltenham, 2010.
  • Hillyer, EV, Quesenberry, K. Ferrets , Rabbits and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery.  WB Saunders, Sydney, 1997.
  • Melbourne Rabbit Clinic. Rabbit & Guinea Pig Emergency Manual. Melbourne Rabbit Clinic, Ferntree Gully, 2014.
  • AVA. Rabbit Calicivirus in Australia. http://www.ava.com.au/rabbit-calicivirus