Wednesday, December 22, 2010

One Sick Rabbit

A healthy rabbit

Having farm animals can be an adventure, especially if you have not been raised with them.  So when an animal gets sick or injured it is frequently a learning experience.  The other day Eldest Daughter came in to tell me that one of her rabbits was very sick.  She is in charge of daily rabbit chores and I do weekly checks to make sure that everything is being done well and mainly take care of the breeding, butchering, and baby care when called for.  Eldest Daughter takes excellent care of her rabbits, so my intervention has been infrequent. 

I asked her to bring in the rabbit more than a little concerned.  Rabbits are very easy care animals but when they do get sick they go downhill fast and generally are not curable.  This is exactly because rabbits are so easy to care for.  They generally do not make noise and you wont know they are sick until they reach deaths door.  This makes diagnosing them difficult.

When she brought in the female rabbit I was shocked.  The rabbit had lost an alarming amount of weight.  I could see her hips and back bone.  I knew this was a illness problem and not a feeding issue because I had just checked on her less than 5 days before and she looked good.  My outlook for her recovery dropped to almost zero as I checked her over.  She was weak, covered in urine (when they get sick they stop taking care of themselves) and her bottom was swollen. There was no snot or wettness on her face or eyes so I didn't consider snuffles or some other upper resperatory illness. I instantly thought abscess with a possibility of hutch burns, and at that advanced stage I knew there would be little hope.  If it was an abscess or tumor she would almost certainly die, if it was hock burns she could survive.  I was just shocked at the rapid deterioration of her condition in such a short time.

While looking her over my daughter and I discussed her recent eating and drinking habits and those all were normal. That is a very good sign because once they stop drinking you cant treat them with meds.  Her cage was clean and dry.  So what to do?  Should we just put her down and stop the suffering?  But she was one of our best females with years of breeding ahead of her.

I instantly resolved to treat her with antibiotics and see if that helped.  I desperately wanted to bathe her to remove the urine but with how weak she was I worried that the stress might do her in.  But if it was sore hocks not removing the urine would only cause further deterioration.  Looking down at her I made the decision to risk it and filled the sink with warm water and a few tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide to help treat any possible infections.  I ended up changing the water out 4 times before it was clean.  The rabbit thankfully was too weak to do much struggling as that might only hurt her more.  After she had soaked for awhile I used some dawn dish soap to clean her some more and then filled the sink again with warm water and a little witch hazel to ease swelling and discomfort. 

Then I dried her off and examined her again.  I could see better now that the dried urine was removed and had much more hope for her recovery.  I now was able to see that her feet had the tell tale scabs of sore hocks.  This is fairly common in large rabbits from the pressure of sitting on wire cages.  The heavier the rabbit the more susceptible they are to the condition.  We try to prevent this by providing sheets of wood for the animals to sit on but even then you can get them.  Doe rabbits are even more likely to get them because they are generally larger than the males.  And since our rabbits are meat breed they are very big.

I prayed that this was the problem because it was possible that she would recover.  After I applied antibiotic ointment to her soars I put her in a cardboard box with a towel so she would dry completely before going back outside.  And gave her some oats (rabbit candy).  I was happy to see her start eating right away.

Now to consider what to do about her cage.  She obviously couldn't go back out on wire because it would just cause more problems.  The usual treatment was to let her run on grass or ground in a secure rabbit run.  But we have about 2 feet of snow so that wouldn't help.  After thinking about it for a few minutes I decided to pull the chicken run Husband built into the garage and put a thick layer of clean wood shavings down for her to run on.

We instantly set out to do it and had it done in about a half an hour.  I also put some grass had down for her to sit on.  As soon as she was dry I took her out and set her into her nice big run.  She obviously was still in Major pain.  I gave her a generous ration of oats and antibiotic laced water.  Nothing to do but wait and see if it was sore hocks or a tumor.

The next morning I went out to see if she had survived and was glad to see her happily grooming her feet (very good sign) and she had eaten food and drunken a normal amount of water!  Big sigh of relief, first hurdle over.

For the past week I have been watching her closely and feeding her lots of oats on top of grass hay and rabbit food.  She is putting on weight already so I think we are over the worst.

It just goes to show you how fast an animal can go downhill and that sometimes the good guys win!  Hopefully by this spring she will be ready to have a new littler of babies and the health problem will not cause her to be sterile.  Most people would have said I wasted my time as rabbits are easy to replace.  But I always try to save them if there is hope.  Many times I put an animal down out of mercy when they are too far gone, but many times I have saved an animal others would have given up on.  Plus our rabbits are Champagen De Argents and very difficult to replace.

The sick rabbit one week later.  Amazing recovery!  Before you could clearly see her back bone and hip bones.


  1. Thank you for this post, we are going to be raising meat rabbits starting mid-January. I have read so much n the web about raising them, but your story was "close-up".
    Great blog, by the way!

  2. Good job! I'm glad you caught it in time!


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