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Caring for a Disabled Rabbit

Amy Spintman
Educator, San Diego House Rabbit Society
Cats & Rabbits & More

My sweet little Bijou crossed to the Rainbow Bridge on March 29, 2007

Bijou is a female fuzzy lop I adopted from the Chula Vista Animal Shelter in November 1999. In January 2004, she started having limited mobility problems, including occasional limping and a "heaviness" in her back end when she hopped. X-rays were inconclusive and she was started on meloxicam and albendazole (for potential e.cuniculi). By February, no improvement was seen, and she began to have problems with urine scald. We continued her on the meloxicam and started her on fenbendazole (panacur). On March 8, I came home to find that she could no longer walk at all.

I have taken steps to make her more comfortable, and although she can no longer hop, she has an interest in the events around her and gets very excited about food.

Above is a picture showing how she postures herself now. Both legs stick out to the left, and her back appears to be a bit twisted. If you didn't know any better, you'd think she looks very relaxed and content (and in fact, she is acting that way). But when she does try to move around, it's clear that there are problems. She does try to scoot herself around with her front legs, but can't get very far. Looking closely at her x-rays, two of the vertibrae on the upper part of her spine appear a bit closer together than other vertibrae, which may indicate some compression. Back surgery would be recommended for dogs and cats with this problem, but due to their muscle-to-bone ratio and the difficult recovery involved, it is generally not recommended for rabbits. We are therefore trying other treatments, which, although they will probably not cure her, will at least help her lead a comfortable life.

Bijou had her first acupuncture treatment on March 16 and will continue these weekly for the time being (scroll down to see pictures from her acupuncture appt. on March 24). We will also probably try chiropractic treatments.

Caring for Bijou has been a learning experience for me as she is the first disabled rabbit I've personally cared for. I'm hoping that by sharing my experiences I can help others in the future care for their disabled rabbits.

Here are some things I've done for Bijou:

- I express her bladder 2-3 times a day. This has tremendously improved her urine scald; in fact, her fur is already growing back in the areas it fell out.

- She used to be in a 3-story condo with her bonded pals Casey & Burnie. I have switched them to a large exercise pen. The bottom is lined with a large dog orthopedic bed; on top of that is a lined "puppy pad" and then a towel.

- Although she can somewhat pull herself around in the pen, I make sure that she has hay right in front of her, and regularly bring her water bowl to her face so she gets enough fluids. The water bowl has a low lip so she can easily get her mouth into it (see picture below).

I'll regularly update her condition on this page.

Acupuncture Session

Bijou had her second acupuncture session on March 24. Her regular veterinarian, Dr. Rosanne Brown of the Rancho San Diego Animal Hospital in El Cajon, CA is also a veterinary acupuncturist. During the session, Bijou had thin needles inserted into specific points on her legs, along her spine, and her foreheard. These were kept in for 7 minutes, during which time soothing music was played (partly for her, and, according to Dr. Brown, partly for the owner!). Below are several pictures taken during the session.

Dr. Brown inserts needles near Bijou's spine.

You can see the two needles inserted near her spine in this picture.

In addition to the two needles along her spine, if you look closely, you can see one on her forehead.

Update 4/4/04: Bijou had her third acupuncture and first chiropractic appointments this past week. In some ways, she is better, and in some ways worse. If I help her to stand up, she can sometimes stay standing (albeit awkwardly) for up to 10 minutes. If she tries running, she falls down, and once down, she cannot get up on her own. She has a good attitude and a great appetite. The fastest I've seen her "scoot" is when I walked into the bunny room with a banana! Although I express her bladder several times a day to help keep her dry, she still urinates on her own at other times, and is having problems with scald and wetness since she doesn't move around. She is already housed on several layers of cushioning, and I have added some synthetic sheepskin to see if that will help absorb the wetness. I bathe her every one to two days, as needed. I only bathe her bottom area, but even so, drying her is quite a chore! As a fuzzy lop, she has long fur. I've clipped much of it away on her back end, and some has fallen out, but there's still a lot there.

Update 4/9/04: Bijou is showing some gradual improvement. When I help her to stand up, she can now stand up for 30 minutes, and can sometimes take a few hops before falling. Last night she made it about 4 feet! I have seen her hop into her (low wall) litterbox twice from a standing position and remain standing. Her feisty personality is returning; she is now grunting and has bitten me a few times. While this may not sound like a good thing, this is what she was like before, so I think it means that she's feeling better :-)

I got the new book, "The Relaxed Rabbit: Massage for your Pet Bunny" earlier this week and have been giving Bijou massages each evening. (The book is available through this website; go to the "Products" page). I think the massaging helps loosen her muscles and increase the blood flow. Perhaps her improvement this week is a direct result of this massage?

Update 4/16/04: After giving Bijou her medicine and a massage last night, I put her back in her pen and propped her up into a standing position. And...she thumped at me! And stayed standing up! I've never been so happy to have been thumped at by one of my rabbits.

Update 4/28/04: Bijou has been worsening somewhat, but is still happy and feisty. Her back seems to be twisting more making it more difficult to stand up. She can stay standing while eating, but it's a struggle and she really has to work at it. She requires daily baths, and has been losing more fur around her underside. The advantage to this is that it's easier to clean a naked bunny butt. I tried her again in a cart loaned by a friend, and had a bit more success than previous attempts. She was able to make it across the room several times before running into a wall or getting caught on something. I do not think that this particular cart is structured best for her disability and am looking into other alternatives.

Update 5/8/04: Bijou had an evaluation by a veterinary chiropractor this past week. The only spinal abnormality he found was a subluxation at C6 (neck area). However, this is secondary to her back end weakness, a result of her always having to work to hold her head up and move around. Someone has suggested that she may have toxoplasmosis, which is rarely seen (or at least diagnosed) in rabbits. She does have some of the same symptoms. I will be exploring this possibility with her veterinarian.
In general, Bijou is doing about the same. The other day she stood for at least an hour (I had to go work, so don't know how long she stayed up). She requires daily baths and I also give her daily massages (lucky bunny!). I have been getting creative with towels, and have found that she is sometimes more comfortable laying across a folded over/bunched up towel. I think it takes some pressure off her back and helps her keep her head up. I also sometimes bunch up towels next to her when she's standing to help her stay up longer. My washing machine has been getting quite a workout! Bijou has been steadily losing weight (going from 3.8 pounds in March to 3.0 pounds at her last weigh-in) so I have significantly increased the amount of pellets I feed her. I try to sneak them to her when her companions Burnie and Casey aren't around, but am not always successful, so they've been very happy and are obviously gaining weight :-) Bijou continues to have a great appetite, and is frisky and happy.

Update 5/19: Bijou had an appointment with Dr. Jeffrey Jenkins on 5/17. The new set of x-rays showed more clearly that her T7/T8 vertebrae are fused. She has been started on prednisone. Some rabbits have significant side effects from steroids, including GI stasis, so I need to watch her carefully. So far, so good. If the prednisone works as hopes, she may regain some strength and add some weight which she has lost. She will never be "normal" again, but if she can stand on her own for longer periods of time I'll be happy.

Update 6/16: Bijou did not improve on the prednisone. I have weaned her off it and have her back on metacam. In general, she's gotten a little worse as her muscles continue to atrophy. However, she's still spunky and happy. She can sometimes stand for brief periods of time, but it's difficult for her so I don't push her to do it often.

Update 8/2: Bijou can no longer stand on her own at all. I now keep her in a round "donut" dog/cat bed with  rounded edges which she can use to rest her chin on or lean her head against, depending on her position. For a few days in July, she lost most use of her front legs, but acupuncture helped her get some strength back. Despite her disability, she is still happy and content and has a great appetite.

Update 10/8/04: Bijou has remained fairly stable. She pretty much lives in her donut bed, but continues to have a great attitude. While giving her baths, she frequently has brief seizures which last about 10 seconds. I'm not sure why this is the case; in discussions with others with disabled rabbits, this seems to not be too uncommon. I can tell that her acupuncture treatments help with overall well-being, circulation, and strength in her front legs. People who see her now are shocked by her physical appearance; because of muscle atrophy, she has lost a lot of weight, and is missing a lot of fur on her back end. However, each of these people, after getting over the initial shock, are amazed at how interactive and responsive she is with me and can see that she still has a zest for life and a will to live. As long as this continues, I will continue to do all I can to care for her and make her life as comfortable as possible.

Update 2/11/05: First, I apologize for the delay updating this page! Bijou has remained very stable since the last update. She continues to spend most of her time in her donut bed and has a great appetite and a great attitude. I give her a "butt" bath each evening. About once a week she will have a seizure while being given a bath. She usually comes out of the seizures within 10-20 seconds, although a few have been several minutes long (and very scary, to say the least).  She doesn't have enough front-end strength to stand up or pull a cart, so I improvised and a few months ago I started to get her to "run" around by using a towel like a sling and placing it under her belly. Holding her up, she'll run all over for several minutes. Even though I'm doing most of the work holding her up and moving her forward, her little legs are going, going, going, and she has such a proud look on her face :-) The cutest thing is that when we get to the three stairs which lead to the landing outside the bunny room, she knows to raise her paws up at each stair. I have noticed that since she's started running around with the towel sling she has regained some front-end/upper body strength and seems to be more comfortable. She has been having problems with pressure sores. They don't seem to bother her, though. They are like large, thick scabs, but don't pull off as easily as scabs do. I've tried different things to help prevent these sores. She is already on a foam orthopedic dog bed on top of which is a towel and then her donut bed, giving her lots of cushioning. I often place an opened diaper underneath her. So far I haven't found anything which really helps, so I continue to just keep her clean and make sure the sores do not become infected. Unfortunately, another of my rabbits, Dolce, has also become disabled. He is a six-year-old lop mix and has spondylosis and arthritis. He had had symptoms since the summer (a bit of hind-end weakness, incontinence), but significantly worsened in November/December. He is not nearly as disabled as Bijou. He can still stand when propped up, and even when he isn't standing, has enough front-end strength to scoot around the room and his pen. He also requires daily baths and has the towels and synthetic sheepskin pads lining his pen changed out 1-2 times a day. Between Bijou and Dolce, and my older pair (9 + 10 years old, who don't always feel like getting up to go to the litterbox), I do 2 loads of wash a day of towels, blankets and synthetic sheepskin pads. It's been a lot of work caring for my disabled and older rabbits, but they all continue to have a good quality of life. As long as they are happy, I will continue to do whatever is necessary to keep them clean, comfortable, and happy. Since becoming disabled, Bijou and Dolce have become "kissers" so I know that they appreciate it :-)

Update 10/21/05: Bijou continues to remain relatively stable, all things considered, but also is slowly physically worsening. She is content when resting and has an amazing appetite. She eats everything I put in front of her with great gusto! She is uncomfortable when needing to be bathed and moved around, so I try to do that as quickly as possible. I contacted an animal communicator a month ago, and Bijou relayed to her that she is still happy and loves her food and is not yet ready to be helped to the Rainbow Bridge. She said that the sign that she is ready is when she stops eating. So until that time, I will continue to care for and spoil my special little girl.

Update 10/18/06: Has it been a year since I updated Bijou's story? How time flies! Bijou is still hanging in there, although she has been battling chronic eye ulcer issues and there have been occasions where I've thought it was time to help her cross. But I still see her fighting spirit, and her desire to live. In March she had a bad upper respiratory infection and spent several days on IV antibiotics and oxygen. She recovered fully than that, which was proof to myself and my vet that she still wants to be around.

Update 3/29/07: My sweet little Bijou just crossed to the bridge, with the help of a mobile vet who came to my home to euthanize her. She began to weaken about a week ago, and was fading away. Fortunately, she was not in any pain, and her crossing was very peaceful. Bijou had been disabled for three years, and was my inspiration for starting the Disabled Rabbits list. Thanks to the list, many disabled rabbits have had better lives and we've all been able to learn from each other. Bijou was such a special little girl, so tough and so brave. Despite her disability, she continued to be happy and spunky, in her own little way. She was an inspiration to me, and will be greatly missed but always in my heart.

Some Pictures from Home

"Look, Ma, I'm Standing!"
Bijou can now stand for up to 30 minutes at a time. As you can see, she's not positioned quite normally, and it takes a lot of effort for her to remain balanced. But she seems to feel better being able to stand.

Another picture of Bijou standing

I use a low-rimmed water bowl so that she can easily get her head into the bowl to drink.

Yummy Hay!
From left to right, Casey, Burnie & Bijou munching on hay. Bijou's standing here.

"I love my veggies!!"
Here's Bijou (top left), Casey (top right) and Burnie (bottom) enjoying their dinner of fresh veggies.

"I'm cute and I know it!"

Getting kisses from Burnie

Here's what Bijou's butt looks like these days :-( In the bare areas, the fur has come out on its own. I've done a lot of trimming to keep the other fur short to make it easier to clean and dry.

Lounging in her pet bed.

Resting her head on Burnie :-) You can see her bare belly here -- all the fur has fallen out.

What a moment I caught! Burnie (top) is grooming Bijou (middle) who in turn is grooming Casey.
(picture taken 6/10/04)

Some Helpful Links

Products For Disabled Rabbits

Bunny-safe creams for urine scald:

Silvadene Cream [known as Flamazine in Canada]; available from most vets and also online from various sources, including:
CEH Ointment (Calendula/Echinacea/Hypericum)
Rescue Remedy Cream
Neosporin (but not Neosporin Plus)
Bactoderm (mupirocin) ointment
Calendula Gel/Cream
A + D Original (not with added zinc)
Oxyfresh PetGel
Bag Balm
Aloe Vera Gel

Note: Although some people have used Desitin without problems, it contains zinc oxide which may be dangerous if ingested.

Do you have a disabled rabbit? You are invited to join an online list of people caring for disabled rabbits.To join, send a blank e-mail to:  

San Diego House Rabbit Society

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