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Healthcare
Emergencies

Bunny 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 stimulation
  • Gasping for air / stretching neck and head up
  • 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 is reclusive:

  1. Take the bunny's temperature. A shocked bunny usually has a depressed temperature.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Bunny CPR

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 position every
1-2 seconds.

Click for more on Animal CPR.

Breathing difficulties

  • 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.

Heat stroke

  • 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 or less.

  • Go to the vet.

Seizures/Convulsions

  • Can result from many different conditions affecting the brain.

  • 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 minutes.

  • 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.

Uncontrolled bleeding

  • 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

  • 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 immediately!

  • Collect a sample of the stool in a zip lock bag or other clean container.

  • Go to the vet.

Poisonings

  • We all know how much bunnies love to explore with their mouths. This makes them particularly susceptible to poisonings.

  • 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.

Urinary Blockage

  • 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 in males.

  • 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.

 

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