Rabbit Medical Emergencies

based on a topic sheet for the Emergency Medical Care Seminar presented by Dr. Sari Kanfer, Medical Director and Cat Logsdon of Zooh Corner Rabbit Rescue on 15 June 2002.
modified April 2014 with information from the Rabbit Care Seminar Series 2014.
For more information, see the Rabbit 911 lecture from the Rabbit Care Seminar Series 2014

If you have any questions, please contact us.

1) VETERINARIANS

Know your normal vet’s schedule. Some vets only work a few days per week or have extended hours on certain days—know this, it will come in handy. Have a back-up vet for when your vet is out of town, busy, not in the office; know your local emergency vets, especially those who see rabbits. Keep names, addresses and phone numbers posted where you or anyone caring for your pets can easily find them. Know where all the vets are located, even if you have to do a trial “drive-by’. Getting lost or having to write down directions when you are panicked will lose precious time! If you cannot get to a rabbit vet during an emergency, get to a vet – period! Basic emergency care is similar for all animals (i.e., stabilize, assess, oxygen, wound care, etc.).

2) HEALTH BASICS

  • Home Health exam
  • Demo – taking bunny’s temperature (Normal is 101-103 degrees F)

3) COMMON EMERGENCIES

Proper diet, keeping a rabbit inside the home as a house rabbit, good healthcare/vet check-ups, bunny proofing the rabbit environment will help prevent most emergencies, but the unexpected can still happen. Always have a towel and carrier handy, in case you need calm bunny down (wrap in towel and put in secluded carrier) and get bunny to the vet! Don’t forget: If rabbit has a companion, it is important to always bring him or her along to keep bunny company, unless there is a possibility (as with a broken back or limb) for further injury, in which case it is a good idea to bring bunny along on a separate carrier. See also hand-out: The Rabbit Emergency Kit for more info as to what items you should have on hand.

  • Heat stroke - can occur at temps above 78 degrees F. Weakness, lack of coordination, seizures, unconsciousness, lying down/not moving…and incontinence.
    • DO NOT use ice or alcohol to cool your rabbit!
    • Mist or rub down rabbit’s ears with cool—not cold—water, put rabbit in carrier and get to vet.
  • Respiratory problems - stretching head/neck in the air, gasping for breath. Sudden onset pneumonia is not uncommon.
    • Put rabbit in carrier and get to vet immediately.
  • Bite wounds, scrapes, punctures - Shock, infection.
    • Small shallow wounds may be cleaned with a clean cotton or gauze pad and some Betadine (may also use Peroxide, but never in deep cuts or punctures!). May use Neosporin (with NO pain killer/lidocaine, which can induce heart failure in rabbits).
    • If cuts are large, ragged, deep, requiring stitches or if you are not sure – go to vet immediately.
  • Electric Shock - cord chewing. Rabbit is weak, incontinent, unconscious.
    • Wrap rabbit lightly in towel and get to vet immediately.
  • Back, leg, neck injuries – dragging a limb, inability to put weight on limb, dragging hind end)
    • Gently put rabbit in carrier and get to vet immediately.
    • Bring companion rabbit in separate carrier. This is why it is a good idea to have on hand one carrier for each rabbit.
  • GI Stasis - not eating, no feces, etc.
  • Eye Injuries - Eye injuries always need vet attention.
  • Shock – fear, animal attack, stress – temp below 99-100 degrees Fahrenheit
    • Lightly cover rabbit with towel and get to vet ASAP.
  • Diarrhea - Runny or liquidy stool.
    • True diarrhea (liquid stool) in rabbits is rare.  If your rabbit has true diarrhea, get to a vet immediately.
    • Do not give veggies to rabbits with diarrhea; take away pellets for a few hours and offer a variety of fresh hays.
    • If diarrhea persists for more than 6-8 hours, contact your vet immediately.
    • If there is blood in the stool or if bunny stops eating, is listless or in pain, get to vet ASAP.
    • If rabbit is under three months old, do not wait, call your vet.
  • Urine Scald – Generally a sign of underlying problems. Get to vet immediately.
    • If there are maggots (fly larvae, also known as “fly strike” ) DO NOT attempt to pull them off or deal with this on your own. Get to a vet ASAP.
  • Maggots – fly strike
    • DO NOT attempt to pull them off or deal with this on your own. Get to a vet ASAP.
  • Straining to urinate/inability to urinate - urinates frequent small amounts, grinds teeth when trying, postures to urinate often, but does not; extreme urination posture (back legs spread, bottom/tail high in the air))
    • Could be a sign of infection, bladder stones or blockage, get to vet ASAP.
  • Hock Sores - ottoms of back feet have no hair, open wounds, etc.
    • Clean wounds with warm water and Betadine and/or contact your vet ASAP.
    • Hock sores can become infected and quickly turn into abcesses which can penetrate the bone.
    • Aftercare: Clean pen or cage, make sure footing is solid and comfortable, such as industrial, low-pile carpet, rugs or untreated sea grass mats. Rabbits should never live on wire flooring.
  • Head Tilt - sudden neurological changes: rolling/spinning, nystagmus (eyes rolling), seizures, sudden paralysis.
    • Confine rabbit in small, padded box or carrier – or, if rabbit will allow (if there is a person to drive you), wrap lightly but securely in a towel and hold bunny while you are driven to vet ASAP.
  • Poisoning – symptoms can be delayed.
    • If poisoning is suspected, GET TO A VET and bring poison with you!
  • Blood in pen/cage/enclosure
    • Feel bunny all over and locate source of blood. If it is broken nail or small bite wound, scrape, etc., you can care for it yourself as mentioned above. Major wounds, undetectable blood sources, blood in the urine or feces all require immediate veterinary attention.
  • Broken incisor/Dental Problems
    • Call your vet, describe situation and make appointment immediately or as necessary.

*Also see Health Concerns for Your Rabbit.