First aid for rabbits
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If your rabbit has an open cut on their body, you can do the following at home:
- Make sure the wound has stopped bleeding. If it has not, use a sterile gauze to apply constant and firm pressure. If the bleeding has not stopped after 5 minutes, please proceed to an emergency veterinarian immediately.
- Rinse the wound with sterile saline solution if there is debris such as a fur or dirt.
- Disinfect the wound with a disinfectant such as diluted Betadine or chlorohexidine.
- Apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment such as plain Neosporin (no Plus with steroid-based pain relief).
If the wound is minor and surface level, monitoring at home should generally be okay. Make sure it scabs and heals without any other signs of infection such as redness, swelling, and pus.
If the wound is large or on a sensitive area like the ears, it is likely a good idea to make an urgent veterinary appointment for additional stitches or glue for better healing.
If the wound was caused by another animal like a cat or dog, especially with saliva, please visit your veterinarian to receive antibiotics to prevent further infection and possible abscessation of the injury.
The following are a few helpful articles on first aid wound care for rabbits:
- Disabled Rabbits. Skin Injuries
- Gail N. (2016). Wound Care in Rabbits [PDF]
- Vetlexicon. Wound: management
Please see First aid kit for rabbits#Wound care for a list of supplies.
Rabbits that eat too fast without chewing or try to eat a sticky object and struggle to swallow can be prone to gagging and choking. Common food culprits include small pellets and fruits like bananas, blueberries, and grapes.
Gagging can be observed when a rabbit pauses, squints their eyes, and makes sudden ear motions momentarily. Lop rabbits will raise their ears to a helicopter position. Radar-eared rabbits will lay them against their back. If you notice your rabbit gagging on a certain food, it should be scatter-fed, cut or mashed into smaller pieces, or removed from feeding entirely for their safety.
Rabbits that are choking will likely display some of the following symptoms:
- Respiratory distress - lifting their heads up in the air to try and breathe around the blockage.
- Making gurgling and whistling noises.
- Excessive mucus production and drooling out of their mouths.
- Throwing their heads around and pawing at their face to try and dislodge the food.
If you notice your rabbit is choking, this is an immediate emergency. Please do your best to dislodge the blocking food/object and take your rabbit to a rabbit-savvy veterinarian afterwards for antibiotics to prevent infection from aspiration.
The following are some more pages with details on how to help a choking rabbit.
- Megan Schommer, DVM. (2021). Choking in rabbits
- vgr1. Choking
- Special Bunny. Choking
To prevent future choking incidents, especially with pellets, it is advisable to adjust feeding methods:
- Use a puzzle feeder to slow down the rate that rabbits can gobble down foods.
- Scatter feed your pellets on the floor instead of feeding them in a small bowl.
- Switch to a larger pellet, like an extruded brand such as Science Selective and Burgess.
- Water down the pellets to make them into a mash like Critical Care that may slow down consumption.
- Cut fruits into tiny bites.
- Have your rabbit checked out by a rabbit-savvy vet to make sure that dental issues aren't predisposing them to choking incidents.
The following are a few experiences with choking rabbits.
- Bunny Wonderland. (2022). Kovu's story with choking on pellets
- u/bittersweetlemonade. (2022). Rabbit fatally choked on a piece of grape (RIP)
- u/bjorkkk. (2021). Rabbit fatally choked while eating banana (RIP)
- u/Tayloren52. (2021). Rabbit fatally choked while eating banana (RIP)
- River Road Rabbit Rescue. (2021). Extremely food-driven rabbit chronically chokes often when eating pellets but otherwise given all-clear by rabbit-savvy vet
- big_cocoa_puff. (2020). Cocoa Puff was found choking on an unknown object
- u/murkylotus. (2019). Pepper story with choking on pellets
- u/SuckinLemonz. (2016). Rabbit has choked on pellets multiple times
- u/Oncidiinae. (2015). Rabbit developed pneumonia after choking and spent multiple nights in an oxygen cage. Unfortunately his condition deteriorated. (RIP)
- u/blackxdahlia. (2014). Rabbit choked on plastic
- u/caffeineassisted. (2013). Rabbit choked on pellets
E-collars (AKA elizabethan collars or ecollars) are occasionally used for rabbits to prevent them from chewing on stitches, incisions, or the rest of their body in general. Most of the time, a hard e-collar is not very practical due to the inability to eat their cecals and movement difficulty. Other alternatives made with socks and other objects are often more comfortable for rabbits.
Some more resources on using e-collars and alternatives for rabbits:
- Special Bunny, Surgeries
- Jänis Jrabbit Abel. (2020). Sophie's bunsie
- u/CandidDeer. (2019). Marilyn sporting her mint green Medical Pet Shirt a few days after her spay. Her surgery was last Wednesday. Mary is happy to have had her onesie and sutures removed today. Here's to further good recovery!
- u/CandidDeer. (2019). Before her mint green onesie, Mary had been wearing this here, made out of one of my leggings. So cute looking, but it wasn't practical.
- Columbus HRS. (2018). Skipper after his neuter
- Ana Luisa Suarez. (2018). Make This Adorable DIY Sock Onesie For Your Kitten
- Francis & Charlie. (2013). Medical Pet Shirt: alternative to an e-collar (recommendation/review)
Some e-collars and alternatives available for purchase:
When a rabbit needs nutritional support, assisted feeding with a liquid food in a syringe is often effective. Oral nutritional support provides calories, nutrients, electrolytes, and fluids as well as help to rehydrate stomach contents and stimulate normal GI motility. The recommended intake for recovery food is 50ml/kg body weight divided into 3-5 meals per day.
Oxbow's Critical Care is what is commonly fed to rabbits requiring nutritional support. This product can be obtained from your vet or some pet stores and online retailers. Otherwise, you can use your rabbit's normal pellet feed and grind it to powder and mix 1:1.5 with water to form a paste for feeding. Any remaining formula may be refrigerated for 48 hours.
Common rabbit recovery food brands include the following:
- Oxbow - Critical Care - You can find more tips and tricks here and detailed feeding instructions here.
Apple-Banana is the most popular flavor and more palatable, however, some rabbits may also eat the original anise flavor. Oxbow also has a fine grind version in papaya flavor that rabbits may also like.
- Supreme - Science Selective RecoveryPlus - You can find feeding guidelines here.
- EmerAid - Sustain Herbivore - You can find detailed preparation instructions here.
- Sherwood - Timothy Recovery Food for Rabbits - You can find the label instructions here.
- Vetafarm - Crittacare Herbivore - You can find instructions on the product website.
For further instructions and tips for syringe feeding methodology, see Medicating your rabbit#Syringe feeding.
An electrolyte solution is also good to have on hand in case of dehydration, and you are unable to give subcutaneous fluids.
While unflavored Pedialyte can be bought from most grocery stores, the following products may be more useful as they have been formulated for rabbits:
- Appetite Restore by Sherwood Pet Health
- Vitamins & Electrolytes Plus by Agrilabs
- Vitamins & Electrolytes Powder Concentrate by Durvet
- Hydra-Lyte Pro-Defend by Rowe Nutrition
- Aqua-Lyte Blue by Kammalop
- Petfinder, Mary E. Cotter in consultation with Gil Stanzione, DVM, Help! My rabbit is sick and I can’t reach my vet!
- Kinenchen, Is my bunny sick?
- Laura K. Lathan, DVM, First Aid For Rabbits
- Margaret A. Wissman, D.V.M., D.A.B.V.P., First Aid for Rabbits
- Georgia Williams, Bunny First Aid
- SmallAnimalChannel.com, Quick First-Aid Rabbit Care
- Jay E. Hreiz, VMD, First Aid in the Domestic Rabbit
- Designer Bunnies, Rabbit First Aid
- Bunnies and Sunshine, River's tummy troubles. - How to trick a sick rabbit into drinking water.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Keeble, E. & Meredith, A. (2006). Rabbit medicine & surgery: Self-assessment color review.