How to Give Medications to Guinea Pigs/ Rabbits

Today I thought I’d do a tutorial on how to give medications.  Here I show you with Carl, my guinea pig, but it’s a similar method with hamsters (though they are much more wriggly!), rats, degus and rabbits.

 

Along with this blog, I have filmed a basic tutorial of how I do this with, of course, Carl demonstrating! I need to up my game both with speaking to a camera and editing!

 

Carl currently is not on medications so I gave him water.  I would not have given him anything he didn’t need and I would not have done this if he minded!

 

Step 1; Get a Syringe and the Medication

Prescribing medications usually come in a bottle which you can fit a syringe into.  Your vet should also have given you an appropriately sized syringe.  Usually, with rodents, this is a 1ml syringe but it may be bigger if you have a rabbit.

A 1ml syringe; the size used for most medications in rabbits and rodents

If you have a medication called Metacam (the active ingredient is Meloxicam which is also sold as Loxicom) this may come in a special bottle with its own syringe; follow the instructions from your vet.

Make sure the syringe is clean.  The first time you use it it will be sterile.  You should clean it after each time you use it.

 

Step 2; Fill the syringe with the medication

To fill the syringe, submerge the end into the liquid and pull the plunger back.

Put more of the medication in that what they need.

Drawing up the medication into the syringe

Take the syringe out of the medication, and then carefully press the plunger to put any extra medication back in the bottle.

Make sure you check the bottle; your vet should have put a label on it to say how much your pet wants and how often.  Give them the amount they say; if you’re unsure how much to give then contact your vet.

Often when a syringe is first used there is an air bubble in it.  This takes up space that should have the medication in so if you leave the bubble there your pet will get less medication than they need.

You my see a bubble in the middle of the picture; that is normal when using a syringe for the first time

To get rid of the bubble(s) put the syringe upright with the nozzle at the top and the bubble should rise to the top.  If it doesn’t rise then flicking it and pulling the plunger back may help it to rise.

Once the bubble is at the top of the syringe, pull back on the plunger to suck more air in then push the plunger until there is no air left in the syringe (don’t worry, it doesn’t matter if there is a small amount due to it just going into their mouth).

As you put in more medication than your pet needed, push the plunger until there is only the prescribed amount of medication in the syringe.

If you end up with not enough liquid left in the syringe then don’t worry, suck some more back up.

Certain medications have a specialised syringe fits a nozzle on the bottle. If this is the case, attach the syringe to the bottle, turn the bottle upside down then pull the plunger back until the desired amount is in the syringe.

Step 3; secure your pet/ get someone else to hold them

Try to get someone else to hold your pet whilst you give them their medication.

Your pet should be held ideally on the floor so they don’t fall if they get away.  Otherwise, they could hold them over a table or on your lap.

They should hold them with 2 hands if they are guinea pig or rabbit sized, one hand over each shoulder, and hold them firmly but not tight.  They should allow you to take your pets head if need be.

Make sure the guinea pig is held in both hands

Another option is to wrap them in a suitably sized towel.  Depending on the size of your pet and towel it may help if this is folded in half first.

Then place the towel over the surface

Put your pet in the middle of the width of it with their head at the front of the towel.

Placing your guinea pig in the centre of the towel

Place 1 half over their back then the other side.

Make sure their front legs are tucked into it

Have both sides of the towel over them and firmly t the top near where both sides meet

Hold it by the top firmly but not too tightly; they need to be able to move their heads and not have their chests squeezed.

I’m securely and firmly holding Carl in a towel

If you’re just doing in by yourself, hold them in one hand with 1 or 2 fingers between their legs and the rest of your hand around their side and back.  It may be easier if you lift them up and rest their back against your chest.  Make sure they’re not lifted far above the surface though in case they get away.

Place your hand around one side of them with a finger or two between their front legs

Step 4; Place the Syringe into their mouth

Pick up the syringe with the medication in your free hand.

How I’d recommend syringing medication if without a towel and on your own

 

They have a gap in the side of their mouth between their front teeth (incisors) and cheek teeth (premolars and molars).

Place this syringe into this gap pointing towards the back of their tongue.

Put it in some distance but don’t force it back too far.

Carl is calmly allowing me to give him his medication (in this case water as an example)

Don’t worry if your pet chews on the syringe, it won’t harm them.

Step 5; Press the Plunger

Press the plunger before removing the syringe from their mouth.

Step 6; Give them something nice and tasty or give them a fuss

Though some medication tastes nice, most of it doesn’t.  Most animals get stressed when you give medications to them.  To make sure that they are as happy as possible and to make it as easy as possible give them a stroke in their favourite spot or maybe a treat or piece of food they like.

 

Be careful when you give medications; it will take a while to get used to.  You don’t want to scare your pet.  Take it steady and if you’re struggling and only manage to get half their medication into them stop, give them a break, and then try again.  You’ll be more successful and have an easier time in the future if you don’t allow yourself or your pet to get too stressed.

 

 

Do you have any further questions? Leave them in the comments below or contact me directly.  If your animal rabbit or guinea pig has an illness causing pain then check out my guides on signs of pain in those species to help you monitor that.

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Guinea Pig Accessories

Pet shops sell a large number of items for small mammals, some of which are suitable, others just aren’t. Sometimes it can take a while to find items which not only suit your pets but also yourself.

Here I’m going to say what Carl has and also, perhaps more importantly, what he doesn’t have and the reasons I don’t endorse these products.

For various reasons right now his set up isn’t completely how I want it; I plan on getting him a larger cage soon but most of it I’m happy with.

Hay

I’m the first to admit, Carl’s hay isn’t the cheapest option. Hay (and grass) should make up at least 70% of a guinea pigs diet (the next biggest component should be fresh fruit and vegetables followed by a concentrate food, ideally pellets). If you’ve got a rabbit then 90% of their diet should be hay or grass due to them not needing as much fruit or veg.

The hay carl has

I want him to be as healthy as possible which means I would prefer to spend money on good quality hay which suits him. Cheaper hay often has a lower nutritional value (it hasn’t got as much good stuff in) and may be full of dust and, in worse cases, mould.  This is more likely to cause them to be ill so may end up being false economy (alongside it not being nice for your pet).

When I first adopted Carl drank huge amounts of water, a sign of kidney damage/ failure. He hadn’t had the best upbringing and had a large amounts of medications and serious infections which took their toll.

I feed Carl Burgess Feeding Hay with Dandelion and Marigold. I was aware Marigold is supposed to help with Kidney Disease in rabbits and so I decided to give it a try.  The worst it could do is not help (and cost me more!). Gradually over the next six months he began drinking less, he was no longer drinking the huge amounts he previously had.  His improvement could be for a number of reasons, some being that he gradually recovered from his previous problems, however, I like to believe the hay helped.

But would I always recommend this hay? No

Burgess Dandelion and Marigold Hay when out of packaging

Though it suits Carl, it isn’t perfect. One of the main functions for hay is for rabbits and guinea pigs (as well as farm animals) to grind their teeth. Hay should, therefore, ideally, be in large strands. With this product, the hay has been cut shorter. If your pet has this hay they don’t have to grind the hay as much and therefore, especially in those prone to dental problems, this hay may cause more issues. Instead, some other products, including some made by Burgess (eg. long stem feeding Hay), may be more appropriate.

This hay is not designed to be used as bedding, partly due to the expense of it.

Some other types of hay are very dusty. Guinea pigs, like many rodent species, have very sensitive airways. Dust can irritate them and therefore causing them to sneeze, cough or breathe with more difficulty. Along with this, some types are quite old or made from low-quality grass and therefore do not contain all of the goodness they otherwise could have. These should be avoided.

One of these is the Pets at Home brand Timothy Feeding Hay which I’ve always found to be very dusty.

It is also possible in some cases to buy hay directly from a farm. Whilst this may be good a high quality, it must be remembered that this has not been dust extractors like hay from many companies producing products for small mammals. This means that the hay is more likely to contain dust and therefore, irritate their airways more.  If this appears to be the case you should avoid hay from this supplier.

Concentrate Food

Carl is on a pelleted diet.  He’s on Burgess food with mint and he seems to really like that.

Recently a relative fed him for a night.  She couldn’t find Carl’s food so bought him another brand (unsure which) and he left most of it.  With Burgess Nuggets, throughout the course of a few hours (he eats his vegetables in preference to it much of the time), he eats every single nugget.

Burgess Excell nuggets with mint seem to suit Carl

With rodents there is usually a choice of pelleted food or the more traditional muesli style.  I would strongly recommend avoiding the muesli form and instead going with pelleted versions.

Pellet foods are slightly more expensive but they tend to be the better quality diets and with the length of time they last the extra cost shouldn’t be that noticeable in the long term and reduces the risk of other problems.

Muesli style foods tend to have parts which your guinea pig/ rabbit will eat and other things they’ll avoid.  Often people feed them too much leading to them picking out the bits they want.  Owners quite often leave the uneaten bits in the bowl and when these seeds accumulate over a few days they leave their pet with just these to eat.  Their pet will often still refuse these and go without concentrate food for a day or more.

Muesli-style foods tend to be higher in fat and sugar, especially the parts most pets find tasty.  This puts them at higher risk of diseases such as diabetes which affect small mammals and are quite common in hamsters.  These foods also often lead to obesity, causing animals to become unfit.  Therefore, when possible, muesli-style foods should be avoided if there is a pelleted version.

Bedding

Carl has space Back2Nature litter as his bedding/substrate.

This is very much like cat litter (in fact the company produces cat litter which looks identical) and is both very absorptive and good at reducing odours. This is great for a male guinea pig as these often smell more than females and, I found that larger areas of this remain dry compared to other substrates.

Carl has Back2Nature bedding which is 100 recycled, dust extracted and reduces odour

 

I have tried CareFresh bedding before, in fact, Carl was on that when I first got in. Though I liked the low amount of dust as well as the odour control properties, I did find  Back2Nature, this was less absorptive. This was a problem for a guinea pig who urinated a lot and meant I was often cleaning out large amounts of his bedding in one go so it cost a fortune.

Personally, I don’t like the use of shavings or sawdust. These are sometimes produced from pine which is toxic to many small animals so they could become ill if eating it.

The main reason I don’t like shavings is that I have seen many eye injuries caused by shavings getting under their eyelids.  This causes damage to the surface of the eye which can be both painful and, in more severe cases, can cause permanent, severe damage to the eye. Carl had one eye removed when he was only eight weeks old and therefore, wherever possible I aim to reduce the risk of him having injuries to his remaining eye. Therefore, I choose not to use wood shavings or sawdust.

Another downfall of shavings is they don’t contain the odour as well leaving cages with this substrate smelling worse.

 

Hay rack

Carl has a hay rack which came of his cage.

This is solid and attaches to the outside of his cage.

The reason I use a hay rack is to ensure that this hay remains as clean as possible and does not get mixed with his urine or droppings. I like the use of a solid hay rack as this reduces the amount of hay spilling out.  It is also more stable and therefore is less likely to cause problems if Carl somehow gets his leg stuck in it.

Carl eating from his hay rack

I have got a metal ball that can be used to feed both treats and hay to him. This is more of an enrichment activity rather than something which wouldn’t contain all of his food as it’s really small. I do sometimes use this though due to its size I don’t use alone for his hay.

A metal wire ball that you can put hay or treats such as veg) in

You can also buy hay nets for small mammals. These are not too dissimilar from the metal ball above however, these are much softer and, often larger. These, like the hay rack, prevent the hay from touching the floor and therefore help to keep it dry. I have never personally used these and therefore cannot fully endorse them however I thought there were worth a mention.

 

Tunnel

All guinea pigs need somewhere to hide.  Even the most confident of guinea pigs spend a large proportion of their lives hiding.  One of the most common hiding places is a tunnel.

The Tunnel Carl Currently Has

Personally, I like using either Sea Grass tunnels or hay based tunnels.  These give Carl something safe to chew which not only means there’s less of an issue if they chew on them but also gives them something to do; enrichment is very important.

The hay tunnel Carl has once gnawed on

It’s very common to see plastic based tunnels.  Though these last longer they will likely get gnawed upon leaving a risk of the plastic cutting their mouth.  There’s even a small risk of them swallowing some plastic which could cause them a lot of damage.

 

Carl also has a log tunnel.  This comes flat and is pieces of wood connected by  wire.  It can then be bent into a circle to create a tunnel or, like Carl’s, bent to create a bridge going onto a raised area of his cage.  This not only is used for him to climb up onto but he can also hide underneath it.  It is also safe for him to chew and he’s had it since I got him over 18months ago and it will last him for years to come.

This is the log tunnel when straightened
Kong

Kongs were originally designed to fill up with treats/ biscuits for dogs to chew on when you’re out at work/ at night.  Ones for small mammals/ birds are similar and it just gives them something to do.

You can put treats or food into a kong and small mammals chewing it or moving it to release food keeps them busy and mentally stimulated

Carl has a Kong.  I put some of his treats in there and occasionally some of his veg.  He doesn’t tend to use it much though and leaves things in it and I end up just emptying them back out.

Though you can use these it is important to check them daily for things stuck in them and empty them out.  If you don’t, food or treats stuck in them will go mouldy causing you guinea pig to become ill from breathing in the mould particles or eating mouldy food.

 

Wooden Toy

Carl has a weird wooden toy.  It is like a cage on the outside with a wooden ball inside.  He doesn’t play with it much but does chew on it.  This gives him something to do and some animals enjoy moving them around.

The chewing helps to grind their incisors down and allows them to carry out normal behaviour whereas moving it around and exploring helps engage their brains.

Chewing this toy helps to grind their incisors and moving it around keeps them stimulated further. Note; it’s becoming well gnawed!
Beds
One of Carls beds. Its pretty big but very comfy

As mentioned previously, I am worried, perhaps overly so about Carl’s eye becoming damaged and that lead to me buying him beds to place in his cage instead of using hay/ paper bedding/ shredded straw.  He doesn’t always sleep in a bed but he does have the option.

Carl lives in my house where it’s kept warm enough for him.  He also does take some of his hay and create his own bed.  I see this as a normal behaviour and a form of enrichment.  Yes, it’s expensive hay for him to use as bedding but if this is what he chooses to do then it’s up to him.

 

Water bottle

All animals need water.  In the case of mammals, this needs to be given in a way they can drink it.

Usually, small mammals are given water from a bottle or bowl.  Personally, with Carl, I use a water bottle.  This gives him constant access to clean water.  I ensure it is changed daily to make sure it’s fresh and the bottle is clean.  I also make sure that there are no issues with the bottle not working.

Carl likes to play with the nozzle and ball within it.  Though this sometimes causes parts of his cage to be wet it does give him something else to do so I don’t mind replacing some of his Back2Nature a bit more often.

 

Large Classic Crystal De-Luxe Water bottle. Potentially the most popular water bottle for rabbits and guinea pigs.

 

Water bowls are more natural for them to drink from.  However, both guinea pigs and rabbits tend to poo in them which causes the water to quickly become very dirty.  They also, often, tip these over or walk through them leading to their substrate becoming wet too and them having no water left.

 

Using a bottle or a bowl comes down to preference.  So long as animals have water in a form they will drink from is the main thing.  Some animals will refuse to drink from a bowl whereas others refuse to drink from bottles.  The main thing is finding out what your pets will drink from and providing them water in that form.

If your pet is ever going to spend time at the vets (either when ill or being neutered) it is important you inform the staff the way that your pet drinks their water.  This will ensure they will be given water in the way they are used to and so they are more likely to drink which will improve their health and healing.

 

Finally
Kitchen roll holder; a free toy

1 of Carl’s favourite toys and free is the inside tube from a toilet roll or kitchen roll.  He throws this around and chews them.  You can also stuff them with hay (or goodies) and hang them up to the sides of the cage using parcel string if you wish; I’m yet to try this with Carl but it is on my list of enrichment activities.

To End

So that’s a bit of a summary of what he has and why.  I haven’t included his cage in this (he’s getting a new, bigger, cage soon) or his vegetables, I will likely cover those at a different time.; in short, Carl gets a variety of veg and fruit on a daily basis.

To find out more about Carl then click here.

This blog post is a bit different to most of the others but I hope you found it educational and enjoyable.   To discuss anything then please write a comment below, especially if you have any questions.  If you’re interested in reading further animal-related blog posts then please put your email address in the subscription box in the box in the right sidebar to get emails when new blog posts come.  To discuss something with me more privately then feel free to contact me directly.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (RHD2)

Introduction to Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Type 1 (RHD1) is a disease affecting rabbits first which was discovered in 1984 in China and causes sudden death in rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus).  RHD1 spread quickly but overtime was controlled by a combination of improved hygiene and a vaccination program, one which is still available today.

Fast forward until 2010, a new version of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease, this time Type 2 (AKA RHD2), appeared. By 2014 RHD2 had spread to the UK and from there it spread as far away as Canada and Australia.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Type 2

RHD2 affects European rabbits of all ages and, unlike type 1, also affects hares.  In 2015 it also started to really cause problems among shows, breeding colonies and in rescue centres where it spread quickly between animals sharing a small space and where rabbits were coming and going. The presence of it in shows also accelerated it’s spread across the UK.

Unlike RHD1, Type 2 can affect many species of rabbit/ hare

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Type 1 tends to cause sudden death with nothing much else seen otherwise.  RHD2, however, only causes sudden death in a minority of cases, in fact only killing approximately 20% of affected rabbits (though it can kill as few as 5% up to as many as 70% dependent on the area and the timing). Instead, RHD2 often leads to a longer period of illness followed by a recovery.

Between a rabbit catching RHD2 and showing signs of illness there, is approximately 3-9days, known as the incubation period.  During this period, the rabbit can pass it to other rabbits without you even knowing they had it.  Therefore, RHD2 is often spread before you have the chance to improve or alter your cleaning practices and therefore you need to be prepared. It is important you improve your methods and act as if your animal may have it right now; clean their cages to the best of your ability all the time and, perhaps the best prevention, keep rabbits vaccinated against RHD2 to protect them from catching it.

The signs of RHD2

The virus can cause your rabbit to become ill in three different forms;

Percute type
  • This looks similar to RHVD1 in terms of it just leads to sudden death
Acute Type
  • Fatal in a lot of cases, often within the space of 36htrs.
  • Signs of it are
    • collapsing,
    • large amount of bleeding; blood in their urine, any discharge from their body, bleeding gums and nosebleeds.
    • Some show signs of brain and nerve problems
    • collapse,
    • seizuring,
    • poor balance,
    • falling over, or,
    • walking like they are drunk (Ataxia).
    • crying out a lot.
Subacute/ Chronic Form
  • This sometimes causes rabbis to die but often not for over a week and is due to liver failure, the main organ affected by RHD.
  • During this time they have
    • severe jaundice (meaning their skin and the white of their eyes, along with other places, looks yellow),
    • they refuse to eat
    • very quiet
    • lethargic.

Treatment

Firstly if you suspect one of your rabbits has RHD2 it is important for you to contact your vet straight away.

When rabbits have Subacute/ Chronic RHD2 they often stop eating and drinking. To prevent rabbits becoming dehydrated, make them feel better and increase their odds of survival you should make sure they’re kept warm (be careful using heat pads or hot water bottles; these can burn their sensitive skin. Only use heat pads if they are no warmer than around 40C and they are able to move away from them on their own). If they are very unwell or not drinking your vet may want to put them on a drip until they are drinking and eating enough.

How it’s Spread

RHD2 is highly contagious meaning it can spread from one rabbit to another very easily.

However, it’s not just rabbits you have to make sure don’t pass it on, if any of the virus gets on the bowls, cages, your shoes etc, anything another rabbit may come into contact with it can be passed along.

The main things the virus is passed on in is the tears, saliva and nasal discharge but it also stays in and on any of the rabbit’s bodies who died from it.

Indoor rabbits may be affected by RHD2 too. Image; Twitter @SarahTait123

To make it worse and even less predictable, if a fly has been near an infected rabbit they can pass it to another rabbit they spend time near/ bite.

Finally, RHD2 is spread in the rabbits urine and faeces throughout the whole time they are infected until around one-two days after the infection has resolved.  The risk is if one cage is stacked on top of another then it could be spread easily if they are not completely waterproof and any urine seaps from one cage into another, infecting the second group of rabbits.

It is unknown how long the virus survives to reinfect other rabbits when it’s in the environment.  One thing to watch out for is later infections if a previous rabbit had one such as a rabbit catching it from bits of virus left in its cage.

Therefore, if you are keeping rabbits near/ in an area where a rabbit has been previously infected with RHD2 it is important you keep up with high levels of hygiene, vaccinate all of the rabbits and be vigilant for signs of infection.

If your rabbits have previously had it or you own a breeding colony/ similar leaving rabbits your rabbits are at high risk of getting it.

Preventing the Spread of RHD2

If you have several rabbits and one has come down with RHD2 you should isolate the affected one and look after that one totally separately. Your hands should be thoroughly cleaned and/ or alcohol rub used to clean your hands and you should wear different clothes when looking after/ interacting with your healthy rabbits to try and prevent its spread.

RHD2 is a very difficult virus to kill and prevent its spread so often doing this isn’t 100% effective especially with rabbits spreading the disease before they show any signs of illness.

One any affected rabbits have been separated from the healthy ones it is important you get the healthy rabbits vaccinated against RHVD2.  A vaccine for type 1 has been shown to now really help against type 2 (though in some cases may offer a small amount of protection). Your rabbits will then need to get boosters at least every year, ideally every six months if your rabbits are at a higher risk of catching it such as you show or breed them or you’ve owned affected rabbits near where your current rabbits are housed.

Really young rabbits are at risk of RHD2 and, in high risk areas, vaccinating them at four weeks old should be considered

With the disease spreading very easily and being difficult not only to save rabbits but to prevent others from becoming infected, rabbit shows are now cancelled in an affected area. You should not take a rabbit to a show if you suspect they are infected or if you have another rabbit who has it or recently did.

To prevent RHD2 from spreading you should use plenty of good quality disinfectants when cleaning their cage and anything they come into contact with. Sadly, the RHD2 virus is difficult to kill so not all disinfectants are effective.  The use of alcohol skin rubs rather than a disinfectant called Chlorhexidine (either within a rub or as a soap with water) is more effective.  Other than that, when cleaning their cages diluted household bleach may be one of the most reliable things. If you use bleach make sure the cage is thoroughly rinsed out afterwards to prevent it burning your rabbits skin or the inside their mouth if they gnaw on a treated area.

 

Vaccination

For rabbits at high risk, it is worthwhile considering vaccinating kits from four weeks old.  Prior to this age if their mother has either had RHV2 or has been exposed to it the kits will get immunity from their mother’s milk, however, this immunity wears off at four weeks.

At four weeks old these rabbits no longer are protected by their mother and are very susceptible to it due to their underdeveloped immune system. If they’re not vaccinated at four weeks and are exposed to RHD2 they will likely get it.  Current vaccines have a licence to be used from 10weeks of age but are believed to be safe to use from four weeks of age.  However, if given the vaccine at four weeks old, young rabbits will need a second vaccination when they are ten weeks old as it hasn’t been shown to last longer than this 8n such young rabbits.

It is still important they have vaccines against myxomatosis which, itself, is often lethal

Vaccinations, once given at ten weeks of age or older last for a year in mild-moderate risk areas.  However, if your rabbits are at high risk of an infection it is recommended they have a booster every six months.

RHD2 vaccines are on top of Myxo-RHD1 vaccinations which are the normal vaccines given annually in the UK against myxomatosis and RHD1.  This vaccine is very important for rabbits to still get as RHD2 vaccines do not work against myxomatosis or RHD1 and vice versa. Myxomatosis in its own right is a very common and often fatal disease which can be easily prevented by annual boosters s9 these should be unavoided as other methods o& prevention are less effective.

Currently, there is no evidence of whether the Myxo-RHD and the RHD2 vaccines interfere with each other if given at the same time and, therefore, it is recommended that at least two weeks is given between a vet giving your rabbit each of these vaccines. Though, it doesn’t matter if the vaccines are separated by a longer period of time, or which is given first.

The new vaccine in the UK by Filavacs however, does cover both types of RHVD. However, it must be remembered that this vaccination still doesn’t cover myxomatosis at all so getting that vaccine too is still highly recommended.

In Summary

There are two types of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease; type one tends to cause sudden death. Type two however can cause a more long-lasting disease.

Both types can be prevented by vaccination and Filavacs does a vaccine protecting against both but rabbits should also be vaccinated against Myxomatosis in a separate vaccine.

Rabbits at high risk should be vaccinated from very young (4weeks of age) and maybe twice a year as well as thorough cleaning and prevention strategies.  Shows should be avoided in high risk areas too.

If you believe your rabbit may have RHD then contact your vet immediately.

 

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Fourteen Signs of Pain in Rabbits

I have commonly met owners who’ve told me that rabbits don’t feel pain.  As rabbits don’t show easily obvious signs of pain these owners completely believed this.  They believed that like people or other vocal species, rabbits in pain and act totally different which often isn’t the case.  The truth is, the signs of pain in rabbits are similar, just more subtle, than in other species.

Not only did I constantly hear this from owners but I also noticed a lack of recognition of pain amongst my colleagues in rabbits.  As a result of many vets not being able to recognise pain in rabbits I suspected they underestimated the amount of pain relief rabbits needed after injuries or  operations.

One day after being frustrated with these thoughts and after meeting another owner stating the same to me, a lightbulb shone in my head.  My brain woke up and said,

“If they don’t recognise it and there’s few studies demonstrating pain in rabbits then why not study it yourself”

A few enquiries to different universities later and, to make a long story short, my Masters Degree dissertation developed.  I spent several months reading about the recognition of pain in rabbits (amongst other species).  This was spent many many hours filming, watching and analysing video clips of rabbits who may or may not have been in pain from potentially being castrated; I say potentially, some clips were filmed before rabbits were castrated!

So, you could say detecting pain is an interest of mine, especially with my favourite rotation at vet school being Anaesthesia which included Analgesia (the posh word for painkillers!).  Some people think it’s a bit of a weird interest and that I maybe have a morbid fascination with pain.

The reality, if we are in pain we take a couple of paracetamol tablets or see a doctor for stronger painkillers.  If animals are in pain they can’t do this (well, ignoring research studies where Chickens have both normal feed and feed laced with painkillers in their pens.  Then chickens who’re in pain will likely eat the feed with painkillers in… yes I’m a geek!).

Given the choice, chickens select food with pain killers in.

How do Rabbits Show Pain?

  1. Hiding or laying more
    1. This is seen in most species
    2. Rabbits in pain tend to hide or sleep more.
    3. You may not see them at all or as much.
    4. This is to protect themselves both from predators (our pets believe there may still be one) and make sure their injuries don’t get worse.
  2. Less Active
    1. Rabbits in pain move around less as they avoid doing anything that hurts.
    2. This may not be as obvious as them stopping moving completely; many are still active at times.
    3. However, if you scare them or go to pick them up (something which most rabbits hate) painful rabbits will usually still dart away.

      Rabbits in pain eat and drink less
      Like many animals, rabbits eat and drink less when in pain
  3.  Eat and Drink Less
    1. Studies have consistently shown that rabbits in pain eat and drink less.
    2. To see if your rabbit is in pain you can just compare how much they eat and drink compared to what they usually have.
    3. If you have two rabbits it may be impossible to tell as if one rabbit eats less due to pain the other may just enjoy the extra food it has left to eat so you don’t notice.
    4. It’s not always the case, some rabbits don’t change their eating patterns at all.
    5. Also, if your rabbit stops eating there may be a reason other than pain such as stress or feeling ill.
    6. Not eating can, in itself, make a rabbit very unwell.  A rabbit’s digestive system is designed for them to eat almost constantly.  If they stop eating or eat very little this can actually stop their guts from working.  This can be life-threatening so if your rabbit stops eating for whatever reason get it checked out ASAP; sometimes even just leaving them a few hours to get checked may be fatal.
    7. An advantage to checking their food and water is that you don’t have to disturb your rabbit.  This is definitely a bonus as they don’t want to be messed with when ill or in pain.
  4. Limping
    1. If your rabbit has a sore leg they may limp.
    2. Not all rabbits that are in pain will limp, even if their legs hurt, and not all rabbits limping are in pain.  Limping rabbits may have something affecting their brain or an old injury which cause them to limp despite not causing pain.
    3. However, if your rabbit starts limping and they weren’t before it is likely they are in pain.  Just don’t rule out pain because they’re not limping.
  5. Stand differently
    1. Rabbits with bellyache may stand with their backs arched up similar to what a dog or cat may do.
  6. Move Differently
    1. Rabbits in pain, when stood, may writhe a bit.  This is often seen with belly ache where they are twisting and stretching their bodies to relieve the pain.
    2. This is not always obvious as it often is done very quickly, each time lasting only a second or two.
  7. They may sleep more
    1. Being in pain is tiring.
    2. Often they sleep more due to having less energy left
    3. This means they may be in their bed more.
    4. Rabbits may also lie with their eyes shut when in pain, even if they’re awake.
  8. They may become more aggressive
    Rabbits in pain may be aggressive
    When it pain often rabbits stay away from each other or become aggressive
    1. Rabbits often don’t want to be played with or lifted by people even when they’re not in pain.
    2. When they’re in pain this is even more likely as they don’t want people making that pain worse.
    3. To try to make sure they’re not in more pain, rabbits do all they can to stop people handling them and stop playing with other rabbits.
    4. This may mean your rabbit becomes more aggressive and may even scratch or bite especially if someone is touching a sore area.
  9. High Breathing or Heart Rate
    1. Most owners don’t constantly check their rabbit’s heart or breathing rates. But, when a rabbit is in pain, you may notice their chest rising and falling as they breathe quicker.
    2. Them breathing quicker or their heart beating faster is both a sign of pain and stress so it can be difficult to use this as a method of detecting pain.
    3. This is especially so for rabbits who become stressed when around people or if people decide to lift them to check their heart rate.  In these cases, their heart or breathing rates would rise when lifted even with no pain.
    4. A vet may notice high heart or breathing rates when examining your rabbit BUT it may be hard to tell if this is due to pain or simply stress.
  10. Changes in Grooming Habits
      1. If your rabbit is in pain it will tend to clean itself less.
      2. However, if they’re in pain in an area of the body they can get to they may lick it more.
      3. Sometimes if a rabbit has surgery and they are in pain they may remove their stitches from nibbling at the area.
  11. Screaming
    Pain in rabbits can be seen by them lying down
    Rabbits may lie down more when in pain
    1. As a rule, rabbits do not cry out when they are in pain.
    2. However, there are exceptions to every rule.  In this case, rarely and when in severe pain, a rabbit may scream out.
    3. It is unlikely that they will scream but it is heard in some cases.
    4. Sometimes rabbits can be heard making slight whimpering noises but again this is uncommon and is very quiet.
  12. Grinding Teeth
    1. This may be seen with tooth pain and, uncommonly, with gut pain.
    2. Sometimes very ill or stressed rabbit’s abdomens bloat up.  This may also be caused by certain foods. Bloating is a result of your rabbit’s digestion slowing or even stopping.
    3. This is incredibly painful and can, sometimes, cause them to grind their teeth, especially if you’re feeling over their belly.  Bloat also causes rabbits to writhe.
  13. Weight Loss
    1. Rabbits in pain over several days or longer may lose weight.
    2. Your rabbit will both eat less and use up more energy from stress and having higher heart and breathing rates.
    3. If your rabbit appears to have lost weight then it may be due to pain but there are many other causes too.
  14. Change in Facial Expression
    This rabbit is just resting rather than in pain. His ears are back but his nose is a U shape
    1. Pain causes us to screw our eyes shut and open our mouth.
    2. Many mammals do similar with pain and rabbits aren’t an exception.  Some of the signs they show are subtle but all of them together may be due to pain.
    3. Eyes Closed; rabbits in pain, even when awake, may have their eyes closed or only partially open.
    4. Tense Whiskers; their whiskers may become tense and instead of pointing outwards from their face and moving quite a lot, they may be held very close to the face, together and be held downwards
    5. Nose Changes; Rabbits normally have a U shape to their nostrils when relaxed.  When in pain, however, this alters as the bottom part of their nose is tensed causing it to become smaller and leaving their nostrils to form a V shape.  This is very subtle though
    6. Ears Closed; Rabbits normally have nice open dome-shaped ears which are help upright.  When in pain this completely changes. Their ears may be held back, sometimes lie along their backs.  Their ears also close leaving the opening very narrow.
    7. Cheeks may flatten.  This is very hard to spot.  Rabbits cheeks are usually very rounded and easy to see.  However, when they’re in pain these become tense and no longer stick out but, instead, flatten and may even curve inwards.

What Should I do If My Rabbit Is in Pain?

The first step is recognising pain.  Once you’ve noticed your rabbit may be in pain you should take them to your vet.  As rabbits stop eating when they are in pain and them notIf your rabbit stops eating you must take them to a vet straight away as not doing so could, along with the pain, make them severely unwell.

Vet checks may be scary for both you and your rabbit but they are the only way to find out exactly what is wrong and treat it.  As rabbits don’t like being handled they may find it even more stressful than other pets but if they’re in pain then getting them checked is definitely the best thing.

If your vet finds out what is wrong with your rabbit and they need medications, don’t worry the majority of thse for rabbits are liquids.  These medications can be squirted straight into their mouths and your rabbit may like the taste of some of them.  The quicker you find the cause of their pain and start their treatment, the better and the less stressed and ill they’ll become overall.

 

Quick Recap

The main signs of pain in rabbits are changes in their facial expression, an increase in their heart and rates, them eating less, wanting to be left alone, sometimes becoming aggressive, and being quiet.

If they’re in pain take them to the vet to find and treat the problem.

 

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Photo courtesy of Sarah Tait (Twitter.com/ SarahTait123)