The Importance of Having a Rabbit Knowledgeable Vet BEFORE You Need One

We always urge our clients to be prepared with rabbit-knowledgeable veterinarians prior to bringing their rabbit home, along with the information of at least two after hour vets who can care for your rabbit's special needs. What follows is the sad story of what can quickly go wrong when rabbit care is desperately needed.

Amy J - Big Bunny @ HCB

2/19/20247 min read

It's easy to get lost in the internet world of cute baby bunny pictures and dreaming of bringing one of those sweet balls of fluff home with you. As a breeder and a fellow bunny lover, I am here to beg you to do something for the life of your bunny before it ever sets a paw inside of your home. Find a knowledgeable rabbit veterinarian NOW.

Far too many people think a vet is a vet. If it's furry and has a heartbeat, any veterinarian will be able to care for it. This is not true. If you have a heart problem, you would research well-respected cardiologists who have specialized in treating your particular condition, right? Do the same thing for your bunny, NOW, before you encounter a life-threatening emergency and can't find someone to help.

Most rabbit vets are listed as doctors specializing in "exotic" pets. So if you see a practice offering services for exotic animals, call and ask if they treat rabbits, specifically. If you want to cut to the chase and go right to a list of vets recommended by the House Rabbit Society, click here.

Here is a list of questions compiled by the House Rabbit Society to help you screen any vet before deciding if he/she is the doctor to whom you will entrust your bunny's care.

What screening questions should I ask?

  • Ask how many rabbits are seen at the clinic each week. Ask how many rabbits are spayed or neutered each week.

  • Ask whether most of the rabbits are show animals, “stock” animals, or companion animals.

  • Ask what kind of a diet the veterinarian advises their clients to feed to their rabbits.

  • Ask if they know which antibiotics are dangerous for rabbits (amoxicillin and most of the “…cillin” drugs like oral penicillin.).

  • Ask what they recommend to their clients to prevent GI stasis.

  • Ask what is the recommended treatment for GI stasis.

  • Ask what are the most commonly prescribed antibiotics for rabbits.

  • Ask what is their recommended treatment for head tilt.

  • Ask what is their recommended treatment for flea infestation (ask for product name).

  • Ask whether they routinely give analgesics after surgical procedures. If yes, what do they routinely use?

  • Ask if food has to be removed the night before surgery.

  • Ask if they are a member of House Rabbit Society.

  • Ask what continuing education seminars they have attended that have included information on rabbits.

What shouldn’t I do?

  • Do not make your choice based on how close the veterinarian is to your home (unless that veterinarian is the clear “winner”). Paying money to a veterinarian who does not know anything (or very little) about rabbits is just throwing your money away and can cost the life of your companion.

  • Don’t assume that just because a veterinarian works with breeders or local 4-H clubs, that they are experienced with house rabbits or the medical needs of older rabbits. Unfortunately, such veterinarians often tend to approach rabbits as stock animals rather than as beloved companions. They may never have done a spay or neuter and “treatment” of any difficulty may amount to euthanasia (when dealing with stock or show animals, the financial bottom line may be the primary consideration).

  • Antibiotics that should never be given to rabbits. Even one dose of the following can be deadly: Amoxicillin, lincomycin, clindamycin.

In order to know if the vet is answering these questions correctly, you need to know your stuff. Do your research now. Print off a list of antibiotics that are safe for use in treating rabbits now, so you know if you are comfortable with the vet's recommendations or not. Keep it with you to show the vet if you are concerned that a particular antibiotic could harm your rabbit. Oral antibiotics can kill the necessary bacteria in a bunny's digestive tract, which can cause the rabbit to go into GI Stasis and die.

Print a list of medications that can be safely used on rabbits. Here is a good one.

You need to prepare yourself to be your bunny's healthcare advocate and educate yourself as well as possible. If you have any doubts or concerns about what the vet says or does, trust your judgement and leave with your bunny.

What follows is a very heartbreaking story of one of our beloved Buns who died all too soon because too much time was lost in trusting the wrong vet.

Many of you may remember Paisley. She was called Blossom while at Hot Cross Buns and was adored from the moment her new family met her. She had two delightful doggie brothers and a neutered buck brother named Pepper.

Paisley had been seen by a vet shortly after going home, after developing a bit of a cold. She was prescribed a bunny-safe antibiotic and was fine thereafter. When it was time for her to be spayed, however, things took a turn that may have led to her demise. The vet wanted Paisley to "fast" prior to surgery. In many animals, this is standard procedure because of a concern that the animal could vomit and aspirate while under anesthesia. However, rabbits are physiologically incapable of vomiting and any interruption to their normal eating pattern can be detrimental to their digestive system. This was a huge red flag for me and, had I known that the vet suggested doing this, I would have told Paisley's owners to either find a different vet or ignore that order and go ahead with her normal feeding. The second thing that concerned me was that the vet prescribed a course of antibiotics to ward off any chance of an infection developing. post surgery. It is my theory that the fasting. combined with the oral antibiotic, created a perfect storm that led to Paisley's digestive system shutting down later on, leading to her untimely death several days later.

A few days post surgery, Paisley didn't eat much of her dinner. The following morning, her family awoke to find her sitting still, rocking herself with her eyes closed while grinding her teeth. She had not been eating, and had gone to the bathroom where she was sitting. Very alarmed, her family tried to contact the vet who had performed the spaying, only to be told that their vet wasn't going to be in. Desperate for help, they decided to try a vet they had used in the past. At this point, things turned ugly for Paisley.

They contacted Wellington Animal Hospital and were told to bring her in. Their vet was to check her over and would get back to them later on, after they both went to work. (Paisley's family had texted me, asking for advice, but I was away from my phone and didn't receive the news until 2.5 hours after they had discovered her doing poorly. At this point I texted them, suggesting Avon Lake Animal Hospital because I have used Wellington in the past for our farm animals and didn't believe they had a rabbit vet on staff. I am beating myself up for not keeping my phone with me and keep wondering "what if I had gotten their message sooner?") After having her in her office for a couple of hours, the Wellington staff determined they could not help Paisley (because they don't treat rabbits) and suggested her family pick her up and take her elsewhere. After calling around to other recommended vets, finding no one available to help in an emergency, they tried Avon Lake and were able to talk with someone who agreed to see her. Paisley was picked up from Wellington, where her family was charged $250 to see a vet who could do nothing to help her. If they had been told over the phone when they had called that the practice didn't treat rabbits, valuable time could have been saved and Paisley would have been under a knowledgeable vet's care much sooner.

After arriving at Avon Lake Animal Clinic, Paisley was examined by one of their three vets qualified to care for rabbits. They admitted her, started her on fluids, and pain meds to make her more comfortable. They took an x-ray, determining that her heart and lungs looked good. They were hoping to get her digestive system working again, to alleviate the gas pain, and to avoid surgery. They felt if they were able to keep her going overnight, she wouldn't need surgical intervention. This was early in the afternoon.

(Think about all of this from the bunny's perspective for a minute...she had major surgery days before, her tummy hurts, she's afraid and in pain. She knows her beloved family is worried and scared for her, which only adds to her stress. She is taken on a long car ride to a strange place, surrounded by strange people who do nothing to help her. She is then taken on another long car ride, to another strange place, but here she is given some relief.)

At about 7:00 that evening, Paisley went into cardiac arrest. They used epinephrine to restart her wee heart, got her back, put her on the IV, and she arrested again. The staff did CPR on her for 40 minutes before having to pronounce her dead.

What went wrong? We will never know. Paisley's family decided to forego a necropsy (animal autopsy) because they couldn't bear the thought of her being cut open. I don't blame them. I see so many things that should have gone differently for this sweet little Bun who brought so much joy to those who knew her. Her family had a vet they trusted, but needed help when their doctor wasn't available. This is why I BEG of you to find a dependable, knowledgeable rabbit vet BEFORE you need one. Don't let your bunny suffer while you spend time, combing the phone book for a vet who will be able to treat him at 10 pm on a Sunday night. Be prepared now and have a backup plan in place for those times when you know your trusted vet won't be available. Your bunny's life depends upon what you do now to prepare.

We adore Paisley's family and are going to make certain they have the opportunity to love another Bun when they are ready.

Go with God, sweet Paisley.