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Knowing When Your Rabbit Needs Emergency Treatment

Just like other pets (and people, too) rabbits can require emergency treatment. An illness or injury may mean that your rabbit needs immediate help, even before you take him to a veterinarian. Suddenly seeing that your bunny is sick or injured can be scary. Thinking straight in these kinds of situations is often difficult.

Before taking any other action:

  • Stay calm.
  • Keep critical information near the phone: Know the address and phone number for the vet clinic; and the phone numbers for the following:

• 24-hour emergency pet hospital

• ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center

• Your pet sitter

• Animal Control

One way to keep calm is to prepare for an emergency. Read through this article to figure out how to handle the most common rabbit emergencies. If you ever find that your rabbit needs emergency care, you may be surprised at how well your memory serves you.

Blood in urine

Red blood in the urine is a serious sign of disease. Causes include uterine disease (in females), bladder stones, bladder cancer, and trauma to the bladder. Blood that appears at the end of urination and as a separate puddle is most likely caused by a uterine problem. Excess blood loss can be a life-threatening condition. Bloody urine should be reported to your veterinarian immediately, particularly if it is associated with

  • Straining to urinate
  • Frequent urination
  • Weakness
  • Depression

Normal rabbit urine can range in color from yellow to rusty orange due to pigments produced in the bladder and from the plants the rabbit eats. However, blood in the urine is distinctly red. If you are in doubt about your rabbit's urine color, take a sample to your veterinarian for evaluation.

Diarrhea

True diarrhea in the rabbit is characterized by stool that is

  • Profuse
  • Watery
  • Sometimes bloody stool in the absence of normal stool

This condition is most often caused by a serious disruption of the flora normally in your rabbit's gastrointestinal (GI) tract. In addition, the pet will become dehydrated and go into shock. If your rabbit has diarrhea, don't attempt to treat it yourself. Take your bunny to a veterinarian as soon as possible. A serious disease of the gastrointestinal tract — not a change in diet — causes diarrhea.

Rabbits can also develop soft, pudding-like stools often mixed with normal hard, round droppings. This is not true diarrhea and, although it does represent a disease of the gastrointestinal tract that should be addressed, it's not a dire emergency. This condition is most often related to diet.

Excessive salivation

Dental disease is the most common cause of excessive salivation. If the rabbit is drooling because of dental disease, it means he's in pain and the condition should be attended to as soon as possible.

Signs of excessive salivation include

  • Not eating well
  • Quickly losing weight
  • Constantly wet fur around the mouth and neck

Excessive salivation can also be caused by certain types of poisons and if this condition is accompanied by generalized weakness you need to seek veterinary attention immediately.

Head tilting to side

If your rabbit is holding her head to the side, she may be suffering from an inner ear infection, trauma to the head, or a problem in the brain due to infection, parasitic disease, or other disease.

A veterinarian should see your rabbit right away. The problem may be treatable, depending on the cause.

Heatstroke

Rabbits are susceptible to heatstroke and can tolerate cold weather better than hot. A hot and humid day can be all it takes to send a rabbit into heat exhaustion. Signs of heatstroke include labored breathing, extreme lethargy, and an elevated body temperature.

If your rabbit has been exposed to high temperatures and you suspect she's suffering from heatstroke, do the following to help her cool down:

1. Get her out of the heat and into an air conditioned or shady area.

2. Wrap her ears in a cool, wet towel.

3. Rush her to a veterinarian immediately.

Labored breathing

A variety of serious problems can cause labored breathing (visible difficulty moving air in and out of the lungs) in rabbits. Anything from pneumonia to shock to heatstroke can cause labored breathing.

Labored breathing in a rabbit is a serious emergency. Rush your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible. If it's hot outside, run the car air conditioner first because hot air is difficult for the rabbit to breath and will cause further difficulties.

No stool

If a rabbit doesn't produce any stool for 24 hours, particularly if any of the following signs accompany it, he's in need of immediate medical attention. The most common cause is a complete or partial obstruction to the GI tract or a complete shutdown of the GI tract caused by a chronic GI motility problem.

  • Bloated abdomen (may feel tight or like it's filled with fluid, like a water balloon)
  • Constant tooth grinding
  • Dull appearance to the eyes
  • Hunched posture
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reluctance to move
  • Weakness

This is a dire emergency and medical attention should be sought immediately. These conditions are fatal within 48 hours if left untreated. If an obstruction is present, emergency surgery needs to be performed.

Pain

If your rabbit is in pain, he should be rushed to a vet immediately so the cause of the pain can be determined.

The following are signs of pain in a rabbit:

  • Depression
  • Excessive salivation
  • Frequent grinding of the teeth (Occasional tooth grinding can be normal.)
  • Inability to sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid or labored breathing
  • Reluctance to move
  • Sitting in a hunched posture all the time (particularly with dull, half-closed eyes)
  • Unexplained aggression
  • Unusual body posture

Sudden weakness

Any number of problems, all serious, can cause sudden weakness. Heatstroke, blood loss, shock, overwhelming infection, neurological disorder, intestinal obstruction, poisoning, trauma to the spine or legs, and metabolic diseases are just a few of the conditions that result in weakness.

If your rabbit can't stand up, don't try to force him. Instead, to make him comfortable, place him on a towel or blanket and take him to the veterinarian immediately.

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