I know this is a tough subject, but on behalf of ailing rabbits and the vets and owners who want to help them, please hear me out.
When your rabbit passes away it is always heartbreaking and emotional–devastating–but please don’t let it stop you from doing something that could potentially help your veterinarian, and through her or him, many other vets and their rabbit patients. If your vet has reason to ask for a necropsy, please say yes. If your bunny’s illness was unique, confounded the vets, or was something your vet had never treated before–please consider asking if a necropsy would be helpful.
I know this is hard, but it is truly a way to honor your bunny’s life. What your vet can learn from a necropsy could help save the life of another rabbit—even one of your rabbits.
I clearly remember the ﬁrst time I had a necropsy done. Because our Napkin passed away from an undiagnosed disease, Dr M asked me if she could do a necropsy and histopathology (lab tests of various tissues). My ﬁrst reaction was, NO WAY ARE YOU CUTTING OPEN MY BABY AFTER ALL SHE HAS BEEN THROUGH! I knew this was not logical, that she had moved on to a freer and more peaceful life. Yet, it hurt me to even think about it. Dr M asked me to think about it anyway. I was angry and nauseated, but I did think about it and I realized: What if someone else had said yes and that had given Dr M the information she needed to save my baby’s life? Could I deny that to another bunny? I knew it was just her body. I knew I would get her body back and be able to have her cremated. I knew it was the right and sensible thing to do. So I went back in, weeping and snuﬄing, and sobbed out my okay.
Her symptoms had been: bouts of dizziness, ataxia, hind end weakness speciﬁcally on the right side and eventual, constant “spinning.” We couldn’t stop it. We tried for two weeks. We had no idea what was wrong, despite the fact that I had been in contact with other vets. The few vets who said they had seen it or similar suggested euthanization. We eventually chose this route because we truly believed that no one knew what was wrong and that there was no
The lab found e. cuniculi in her brain. This was very early on and e. cuniculi in rabbits was virtually unheard of in the rabbit vet world, but with a little luck and a lot of research and many phone calls, I was able to locate information on possible treatments, the earliest of which was either steroids, which we had already tried and which had stopped working—and albendazole. If I had tried albendazole with Napkin would she have lived? I don’t know. (This haunts me to this day!)
A little over a year later another bunny began to show similar neurological signs. We did a blood draw for an e. cuniculi titer and started him on albendazole right away (titer pending). Within two days his head lost the slight tilt and the nystagmus (eyes darting form side to side) was gone. A day after that he was completely normal. The titer came back a strong positive (meaning that he had at least been exposed to the parasite and his body was mounting an immune reponse). This proved to be a pattern with him. He would occasionally begin to get a little “dizzy” – I would catch it quickly, start him on a course of albendazole, and within a couple of days he was right as rain. And as the years went on many others were treated with albendazole, and still others are now treated with the current best treatment, fenbendazole (Panacur).
This bunny, Ande Oakley, was part of litter who all eventually showed signs of and tested positive for e. cuniculi. All had varying degrees of symptoms and with the albendazole treatment all but one, Mammy, lived fairly long lives (7-10 years). Ande himself (my Pokeroo, my very ﬁrst heart bunny, my love) lived to be nearly ten and died of congestive heart failure.
As far as I knew/know, I was among the very ﬁrst to start using the albendazole. And we never would have learned about it had it not been for that necropsy.
Please consider my words: The life you may save could very well be that of one of your own bunnies.