999 - Recognising an Emergency
adapted from bunniwerks.org
Are we in trouble? - Recognizing an emergency
Although it is not always clear whether you have a
true emergency on your hands, the list below includes
the most common signs bunnies exhibit when they need
professional help fast. But remember, you know your
bunny better than anyone else, and WHEN IN DOUBT,
CHECK IT OUT!
- Unconsciousness / Inability to respond to
- Gasping for air / stretching neck and head
- Seizures / acting drunk / rolling
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Blow out diarrhea
- Known ingestion of a toxic substance / poisoning
- Nonproductive straining to urinate
- Limb dangling / Unwilling to bear weight
on a leg / Inability to use hind legs
OK, I have an emergency - What do I do now?
- Take a deep breath and FOCUS. You can help
your bunny most if you can stay calm and think clearly.
- Try to stabilize your bun. Remember that
rabbits are particularly sensitive to stress, and
try to minimize it. This will probably mean wrapping
your bun in a towel and placing him in a dark, quiet
carrier. Review this handout to see if there is any
home care you can start.
- Call your veterinarian. Tell them the signs
your bunny is exhibiting, what care you have already
given, and when you expect to arrive. Make sure you
have the vet's phone number and good directions with
you before you leave. Drive carefully! You do your
bunny no good if you do not get there in one piece.
What to do in case of an emergency:
Shock treatment: If you suspect shock because
the bunny is lethargic, limp, has a wobbling gait or
- Take the bunny's temperature. A shocked bunny usually
has a depressed temperature.
- Keep the bunny warm with a heating pad or a hot
water bottle to prevent the bunny's body temperature
from dipping lower. A heating pad should feel comfortably
warm against your bare skin. If you're worried, you
can put a layer of towel between the bunny and the
pad. Water bottles should be wrapped in a towel.
- Fluids can be administered as well. Pedialyte can
be given orally. Heat and fluids are the most important
things to stabilize shocked bunnies. Bunnies seem
to go hypothermic pretty fast when they are ill.
Rabbits have a relatively small thoracic cavity; in
contrast, they have a large abdominal cavity and breath
primarily by contraction of the diaphragm. These characteristics
allow for an efficient method of artificial respiration:
suspend the rabbit horizontally in midair, holding the
forelimbs in one hand and back legs in the other hand,
and gently rock the rabbit from a head-up to a head-down
for more on Animal CPR.
- Signs: Open mouthed breathing, panting, extended
head and neck, grayish blue tongue, big movements
of the chest and abdomen during inhale. Usually accompanied
by a reluctance to change position or lie down.
- Make sure your bun's nose is clear of any blockage.
If you see any "snot", hold a warm wet washcloth
against her nose for a minute or two (be careful not
to obstruct the mouth) and then gently try to remove
the blockage with your fingers or tweezers. Be sure
to go slowly - this is a sensitive area and you do
not want to add any stress!
- Once you're satisfied that her nose is as clean
as you can get it, wrap her loosely in a towel (be
careful not to cover her head) and place her in a
cool, dry, dark carrier. Go to the vet.
- Suspect heat stroke any time your pet has been exposed
to temperatures above 26-29.5°C and is non-responsive.
- Signs include weakness, in-coordination, seizures,
unconsciousness, and a rectal temp above 40°C.
- The ears may or may not feel hot to the touch.
- DO NOT use ice or alcohol! Instead, spray or immerse
your bunny in tepid water, paying special attention
to the ears. You can also aim a fan at your bun to
speed evaporative cooling.
- Monitor rectal temperature closely, as it can fall
to temps BELOW normal (below 38.4°C) quickly.
Discontinue cooling measures when rectal temp = 39.2°C
- Go to the vet.
- Can result from many different conditions affecting
- Signs include disorientation, collapse, paddling
motion of the legs, eyes rolled back in the sockets,
tremors, possible uncontrolled urination and defecation.
- Clear the area around the bunny to prevent him from
hurting himself. Do not put your hands near his mouth.
Talk soothingly to him. Most seizures resolve in 1-2
- Place the bunny in a cool dark place after the seizure
and go to the vet.
- If the seizure does not resolve in 1-2 minutes,
place the bunny in a well-padded box or carrier and
go to the vet. If you have easy access to them, put
cold packs around the outside of the carrier.
- If your bun is falling/rolling but not having a
seizure, he probably has a bad case of head tilt.
Wrap him firmly in a towel, call your vet and make
an appointment ASAP.
- Many kinds of trauma can cause bleeding, but most
bleeding stops on its own.
- To help it stop, apply direct firm pressure with
a clean absorbent cloth or gauze.
- Do not remove the cloth if it gets saturated - this
will dislodge the clot. Simply place another layer
on top and continue to apply pressure.
- Once the bleeding appears to have stopped, wrap
all the cloth/gauze with tape or adhesive bandage
to secure it in place, and go to the vet.
- For nosebleeds, apply a cold pack to the bridge
of the nose and call your vet for an appointment.
- For bleeding toenails, apply styptic powder, flour
or talc directly to the nail tip. You may have to
repeat the application several times. Despite the
way it looks, no rabbit has ever died of exsanguination
due to a toenail trim.
- Diarrhea comes in many types and degrees. Although
ALL diarrhea is a sign that something is wrong, the
more liquefied and voluminous the stool, the more
urgent the situation. Never "wait and see"
if your bunny has blown-out, soupy stool - take action
- Collect a sample of the stool in a zip lock bag
or other clean container.
- Go to the vet.
- We all know how much bunnies love to explore with
their mouths. This makes them particularly susceptible
- Signs are variable, but include coughing, seizures,
diarrhea, in-coordination, depression and/or excitability.
- Collect a sample of the suspected poison. If it
is a chemical, try to get the product label.
- Go to the vet.
- Due to excess calcium in their urine, bunnies can
form bladder stones which may get lodged in the urethra,
causing inability to urinate. This is most common
- Signs include straining to urinate, abnormal posturing,
vocalization, and teeth grinding.
- Check the litterbox to see if any urine is being
produced. If you're not sure, clean the litterbox,
then put a very small amount of litter in and observe
your bun closely for the next 30-60 minutes. If he
continues to strain, but no urine is produced, he
is probably blocked. Get to the vet.
- If small amounts of urine are produced, especially
if the urine is bloody, he probably has a bladder
infection. This is not as urgent, but you should still
make an appointment with your vet ASAP.
Inability to use a leg/legs
- First, try to determine which leg(s) are affected.
This may mean gently picking your bunny up (supporting
her rear) and trying to get him to stand in an area
with good footing.
- If your bunny is dragging himself around by his
front legs, with his hind legs trailing out behind
his, the most likely diagnosis is a back injury. Wrap
him snugly in a towel, with the hind end in a natural
position (no twisting/bending of the spine), put him
in a carrier, and go to the vet.
- If only one leg is dangling, it is probably broken.
Depending on how calm your bunny is, you can either
wrap him in a towel or try to place a splint. If he
struggles, just use the towel. To place a splint:
- Pad the leg by wrapping it with gauze above
and below the area of the break.
- Apply a pencil, popsicle stick, or other firm
support to the outside of the leg.
- Wrap securely with tape or self-adhesive bandage.
- Wrap the whole bunny in a towel, place him in
a carrier, and go to the vet.
- If your bunny is limping, but can still bear some
weight on the leg, he has probably sprained/dislocated/fractured/etc
his leg. If your bun is young to middle-aged and has
no history of kidney or liver disease, you can give
him half of a chewable baby aspirin orally. Apply
a cold pack wrapped in a towel to the affected leg,
and call your vet for an appointment.