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  • Writer's pictureGail Petersen

Operation Observation

My husband, Bill, gets up earlier than me – about 5 a.m. He feeds the buns their breakfast pellets and hay. Usually, I get up a few hours later and give them their meds, scoop up their bowls to wash them and refill their water in clean bowls. Then everyone gets a snuggle and one by one they are given freedom in the house over the course of the day. Pretty easy for a regular day.

How Do You Know When Something is Wrong

On the fourth of July this year, Bill woke me up early with Lena in his arms. “I don’t think she feels well,” he said. It went like this:

Me: What’s up? Did she eat her breakfast?

Bill: No. She is sitting by the side of her house and not interested in hay either.

Me: Did she finish her salad from last night?

Bill: Yes. But she is hunched up and not excited for her breakfast.

Me: How does her tummy feel?

Bill: A little hard. I got the simethicone ready but she is being difficult about taking it. Can you help me give it to her?

Me: Yep. Let me listen to her tummy first.

Bill: I got the stethoscope out already.

Now What?

Rolling out of bed, I put my glasses on and trundled out to the bunny room. Lena was curled up in her daddy’s neck, her safe place. I listened for the “popping” noise that gas makes in a bunny tummy, confirmed the hardness of her tum, and I took the syringe and gave it to her over his shoulder with no problem…she sucked it up. He sat on the rocker with her for the next 20 minutes to give her a belly rub. Light, very light, finger massage on her belly. Lena is no larger than Bill’s hand. She’s just 2.5 pounds. We have to be very gentle rubbing her tummy.

Settling her back down in her house/exercise pen, I set myself up to watch her for a while. I keep my computer portable so I can move around the house and still work. I bring it into the bunny room to watch them when someone is not feeling well or seems not “right.”

I watched as she raised her bottom and made a slight grunting noise. A little gas I thought. Then it continued and she kept lifting her bottom. Not normal for her. Got closer. Heard a slight gassy sound. A bunny breaking wind perhaps? If you haven’t heard one, it is very quiet and quick. You have to be aware and close by. Watching the movement of their body is more important.

Observation Revelations

I’ve had many rabbits as fosters, short-term stays, and four of my own. The thing that I’ve learned is that the key to keeping them healthy and safe is…observation.

You can’t put rabbits in a cage or an exercise pen or a room and walk away. Most of them sleep during the day while you are at work. At dawn and dusk they are up and about eating and grooming. You’ve got to be there. It is so important to observe them as much as possible to recognize signs of normal behavior and signs of illness. Rabbits don’t meow like a cat or whine like a dog when they don’t feel well.

Rabbits hunch over, lay flat on their bellies, hide in their box, hang their heads, close their eyes, don’t eat, don’t poop, don’t want to be in the light and so many other behaviors that you wouldn’t suspect are signs of discomfort. Every bun is different.

My Breezy sits in the shape of an “A” hunched up when her tummy hurts. Lena raises her bum like she has the hiccups in it. Gigi hides. Rocky doesn’t want to be held (which he usually does). After 7 years with Breezy, I have her discomfort patterns memorized. I’m still learning Gigi’s and Rocky’s after one year.

What Do I Do?

If you are an inexperienced rabbit owner. Call your vet NOW. Don’t wait. It could be very serious by the time you recognize strange behavior.

If you have had your rabbit for a while and know their behaviors, mannerisms and postures, you can take some precautions like giving them some simethicone (baby dose) if

they have gas or give them a tummy rub if their belly feels hard. Try giving them some fresh hay or a different hay like oat hay or orchard grass hay. Sometimes a temptation will help them eat or pass gas. Write down when you first noticed the new behavior and if there were any unusual circumstances, food, house visitors, noise or smells like household chemicals.

Whatever you do, don’t wait to call your vet if they stop eating or pooping. The rabbit is in desperate need of help and your observations may be the only thing that will keep them alive.

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