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Hind Limb Weakness in Rabbits

The following contains some information from an article from the Small Mammal Health Series written by Susan Brown DVM.

There are many causes of neurologic disease in bunnies. This can lead to difficulty in ambulation, grooming and eating their cecotropes.

Spondylosis of the lumbar spine:

This is a problem we are seeing more of as our pet rabbits’™ longevity increases. The bones of the back start to bridge and fuse and therefore become less flexible. The spinal cord, as well as the nerves leaving the spine to innervate the rear legs, can become damaged, leading to loss of function and increased discomfort. Rabbits that are obese and/or inactive are at greater risk to develop this. As a rabbit “parent” you may notice a change in your bunny’s gait, more shuffling than hopping for example. Litter box habits may worsen due to the inability to use the box as a result of pain or weakness. The bunny also may not be able to groom as well and you may notice an accumulation of cecotropes stuck to the tail area. Another symptom of grooming difficulties could be waxy buildup in the ears and resultant head shaking.

Diagnosis is based on changes seen on spinal images.

The best treatment is prevention by maintaining a healthy bunny weight and activity level. Even the best cared for the rabbit will develop this with aging and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have been used with great success. Compounding pharmacies can make almost any flavor of oral liquid medication. Myristol pellets are a supplement containing cetyl myristoleate fatty acid complex, glucosamine, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), DL-methionine, ascorbic acid (Vit C), manganese, zinc and copper and can be fed at a rate of 1 to 2 pellets twice daily. Chiropractic or acupuncture treatment, as well as back muscle massages and gentle heat compresses, may be beneficial as well. You can help your bunny by using a litter pan with a low side for easy access or by using a jelly roll pan. You may need to keep the bunny’s outer ear canals free of bothersome wax and keep the rear area clean and dry. In extreme cases where the rabbit cannot eat its’ own cecotropes, you may have to collect some and offer them to your bunny.

Degenerative Joint Disease

House rabbits are receiving better care than ever with the advancing awareness of their husbandry and medical care requirements. A positive outcome of this better care is that rabbits are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. With the advancing age of our house companions, we are seeing more bunnies developing degenerative joint disease. Like our canine and feline pets, we want to be able to do what we can to keep our bunnies happy and comfortable in their golden years.

Being the prey species that they are, bunnies are especially adept at hiding their discomfort from us. Often the first thing they will do is exhibit a change in activity level, eating habits or grooming habits. A previously litter trained bunny may avoid the litter pan due to discomfort hopping in and out of it or the bunny may not be able to posture comfortably in a smaller pan to relieve him/herself. Grooming habits may go by the wayside, as well as the bunny’s ability to ingest its’ cecotrophs as the body flexibility required to do so may not be achievable anymore. A normally active bunny may suddenly become subdued and move slowly, stiffly or minimally.

There are several options to help give these special pets relief and increase their quality of life. Besides maintaining good body weight and providing soft bedding there are natural joint supplements that are available to give orally. Myristol is a nutritional supplement that supports joint health and contains cetyl myristoleate fatty acid complex, glucosamine, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), methionine, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and a few other things. It comes in pelleted form. Chondroitin sulfate (Cosequin, Nutrimax) can be used at the feline dose as well.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as meloxicam and carprofen can also be used to reduce pain and inflammation.

Acupuncture and holistic medications/supplements certainly should be considered and may offer relief as well.

Bunny Aggression Directed Toward People

The most common reason for true bunny aggression is likely territorial behavior by sexually intact rabbits. Rabbits can be really quite bossy and I hate to admit it but I think the girls can be worse than the boys.

If your bunny is neutered and still showing aggressive behavior you need to rule out pain as a cause especially if this is a sudden change from normal for your pet.

Neutered bunnies that are physically healthy (not in pain) will show aggression, ie nipping and chasing, if they are frustrated or fearful. Make sure your bunny gets 2 to 3 hours of exercise and playtime each day. Offer a variety of physically and psychologically stimulating toys that you change up on a regular basis so he/she does not get bored. Untreated willow baskets are fun for them to chew on and throw around as are hay burritos (hay stuffed in empty toilet paper tubes). Make simple obstacle courses out of boxes and cardboard tubes. Toys that make noise can be fun just make sure they are rabbit safe. A bored, under-exercised and under-stimulated bunny will become cranky.

Rabbits like to “call the shots” with the amount and type of human interaction they will tolerate with us. Sometimes it is best to get down on the floor at their level and just be in their presence and let them come to you if they wish. You can gently roll or toss toys on the ground for them to explore or chase. If your pet has a favorite type of fresh green or veggie that it loves set that next to you. Do not hand feed as that may only encourage more nipping. Only offer that special treat when you are interacting with your pet. This is a great way to try to bond with shy, fearful rabbits. You need to let them choose to come to you. When your bunny is enjoying this special treat gently reach over and stroke it on the head. This can mimic the grooming another bunny would do and may be better tolerated.

Don’t forget rabbits also need to know they have a safe haven or space they can retreat to if they want to be alone. There is no reason why they couldn’t have certain times of the day they want to be social with us and times they want to be left alone. It is up to us to try to figure this out.

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