• Gail Petersen

Caring for a sick rabbit

Rabbits can suffer the same type of illnesses that people do. Like arthritis, heart disease and glaucoma. Some conditions and diseases are more specific to rabbits like rabbit hemorrhagic disease and myxomatosis. See our website Rabbit Care/Links page for more information about these specific illnesses.


Introducing Astrid

One of our volunteers, now living in northeastern PA, Astrid Hesse loves animals. She has had rabbit companions for 16 years and dealt with many illnesses in her fluffle. Right now,

she is working with several veterinarians to manage the health of her adorable little dwarf rabbit Finnegan (aka Finn). Astrid agreed to share her experiences and story about her little guy for this post.

Finnegan’s Story

Finn is 5.5 years old and weighs about 3 pounds. I have been his human companion for 5 years and he has quite a personality. He is spunky, adventurous, and loving. He is bonded to Gracie who is more than twice his size. They adore each other!


Two and a half years ago he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart) and most recently with thymoma (a cancerous mass in his chest).


That is a lot to deal with for a little rabbit, but Finnegan is a fighter, and he hasn’t let his health issues slow him down. He is being his loving and energetic self each and every day and clearly shows no sign of giving up. So, neither am I! As long as there is hope, I will provide him with the best veterinary care possible. I’ve had rabbits live through many health problems and based on the vet’s perspective and my experience with that rabbit, we make sure they have a positive chance and are pain-free for however long is humane.


The Current Conditions

For his heart disease, Finn has been treated with three medications twice daily since his diagnosis and receives echocardiograms once or twice a year to monitor the progression of

his heart disease. When Finnegan was first diagnosed his condition was so severe that the outlook was bleak. The vet couldn’t give me a clear answer as to what his life expectancy might be. Months? Weeks? His face almost seemed to say “days”. Since then, Finnegan has proven just how much of a will to live he has. His heart condition is stable, and he is no longer in heart failure. If you saw him running and jumping you’d never suspect anything was wrong with him.


For his cancer, Finnegan has received three rounds of radiation. The procedure wasn’t without risks, as the initial CT scan to pinpoint the location of the tumor and each radiation

treatment required anesthesia, during which his heart condition could cause complications. Luckily all went well. Two weeks after his last treatment, Finnegan went back to the hospital for an xray to see how much his tumor had shrunk. The news was good all around. The tumor appears to be mostly gone except for a small remnant of scar tissue. Going forward Finn will go for periodic rechecks to monitor any developments of the tumor and reassess future treatment if needed.

Ever since his radiation Finn thinks he is Superbun and that he has superpowers. He has more energy than ever before. He jumps onto the couch, from there onto the table (no matter how far away you move the table) and to top it off he flies from the couch right over the table (four feet or more). He also discovered he can go up the stairs. Every day he comes up with new shenanigans!



Finding Qualified Vets

It hasn’t been easy finding vets that are knowledgeable dealing with Finn’s problems so driving a long way and waiting for appointments has become the norm. There is a shortage of vets right now, especially exotic vets, just like many other professions.


Finding specialty hospitals that offer specialized care in the treatment of cancers, eyes, heart etc. often requires driving a good distance as smaller vet offices are not equipped with the technology and staffing required to provide that advanced level of treatment. Finding a good exotic vet is important as veterinary care for rabbits differs quite a bit from that for cats and dogs and requires specialized training.


Hard on a Relationship

Rabbits, no different than humans, have to manage their relationships with their bonded buddy. Being ill can mean time away from home, being cranky when they are home, not eating, and causing stress for the mate. Rabbits know when their mate isn't feeling well and

show it through grooming, snuggling and kindness. Or sometimes, the opposite by being aggressive because their partner smells different all of a sudden. Gracie remained a loving and devoted girlfriend throughout Finnegan’s many trips to the vet. Yet her first concern was always getting a hold of any food that Finn hadn’t eaten! So, for a day or two following any treatments, Finnegan and Gracie needed to be separated to give Finnegan the chance to eat at his pace while regaining his strength and his appetite.


A Suggestion or Two

One thing that became clear dealing with the many medical challenges Finnegan faced, is that having pet insurance is a must. Specialized treatments such as radiation or even an overnight stay at the hospital for treatment of GI stasis are very expensive. We are talking thousands of dollars. Having pet insurance takes the pressure off having to make the hard decision between opting for life saving treatment that few of us can afford and not doing any treatment due to financial limits. Another important thing is to really get to know your rabbit. Know what is normal for your rabbit and learn to pick up subtle changes in behavior or eating habits that might signal a medical problem. Rabbits are prey animals and as such will hide any illness as long as they possibly can. Taking your rabbit for an annual exam with an exotic vet will also help identifying any possible health issues early.



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