Self-mutilation

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Some rabbits are prone to self-mutilation, especially on the forefeet.[1]:292 Self-trauma can be so severe that digits may be lost.

Symptoms

  • lesions and skin irritation
  • reddening of the skin
  • excessive licking
  • excessive "air boxing"
  • removal of digits

Causes

The cause of self-mutilation is not clear, and it is likely a number of conditions can result in this type of behavior.

Some conditions that have been considered as causes:[1]:292-293

  • obsessive/compulsive behavior
  • hypersensitivity
  • mites
  • contact dermatitis
  • allergies
  • psychological disorder
  • genetic predisposition
  • intramuscular injections of ketamine and xylazine in the thigh near the tail (caudal)

A genetic predisposition for compulsive self-mutilation has been identified in one particular strain of laboratory rabbits.[1]:293 The symptoms begin with a reddening of the skin on the front feet digits, and rabbits would lick their feet and "air box" frequently. There appeared to be a seasonal incidence in the late summer and autumn.[1]:293

Symptoms due to intramuscular injections of ketamine and xylazine appeared 2–3 days post-injection, and while lameness was not observed, skin irrition was obvious, and the rabbits would shake their paw with every step. Post-mortem examination showed axonal degeneration in the sciatic nerve.[1]:293

Many rabbits carry Cheyletiella parasitovorax and/or L. gibbus mites and hypersensitivity is a possibility.[1]:292

Sometimes hay seeds or grass awns can be embedded in the skin and cause intense irritation.[1]:293

Treatment

Treatment should always include a parasiticide such as ivermectin or selamectin in case of mites.

If the self-mutilation appears to be a psychological disorder, some methods of treatment are the following:[1]:293

  • environmental enrichment such as exercising opportunities and a bonded companion.
  • neutering to prevent frustrations associated with finding a suitable nesting site or receptive companion.
  • a high fiber diet because chewing through hay or grazing grass can prevent boredom.
  • strategies such as scatter feeding (pellets are scattered through hay or another toy)
  • toys such as cardboard boxes or branches

For laboratory rabbits with a genetic predisposition for compulsive self-mutilation, treatment with haloperidal was successful.[1]:293

Further reading

See also

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Varga, M. (2013). Textbook of rabbit medicine. (2nd ed.).