Dahlia and Whitebunny were my first pair of rabbits, and the beginning of my obsession with bunnies. I learned a lot from them as a pair, but it was Dahlia that taught me over the course of 24 hours - some of the most important lessons of rabbit care.
Dahlia, a brown and white mini-lop, had been with us for about 3 years when I came home one day after work to let her out with Whitebunny for their daily playtime. But something was different this dayDahlia had not bounded out to enjoy her new-found freedom as normal. At the time, I chalked it up to the all too familiar bunny mood swing, and left her on her own for a moment. When I returned to check on her, she still had not budged and this time I noticed her body position seemed odd, almost hunched. I grew more concerned when it dawned on me that she was not eating as much as usual either. I grabbed a carrier and quickly rushed her over to Tufts Veterinary Hospital, where I was employed at the time.
Dahlia was initially triaged by a veterinary student who clearly was not comfortable with rabbits. He had simply peered inside the carrier, and stated that she “looked ok” before taking her back to the ER. It was late in the evening, so I knew that the exotics doctor, who also happened to be Dahlia’s regular vet, was gone for the day. The veterinarian on call that night was well regarded, and I waited anxiously for his update. After a few hours he came out to let me know she was in stasis, and that her x-ray showed a blockage. She was on pain medications and fluids, and was stable at this time. The goal was to keep her stable overnight, and wait for the exotics doctor in the morning. I went home feeling apprehensive, but still hopeful.
In the middle of the night, my phone rang - it was the ER doctor. My heart sank. Dahlia was getting worse - her temperature was low and she was becoming dangerously close to going into shock. The ER doctor recommended immediate emergency surgery to remove the blockage. Knowing how risky surgery could be for a stable rabbit, let alone a rabbit in Dahlia’s condition, surgery seemed like a death sentence to me. I declined the request, opting to wait for the exotics doctor, and just hoped that Dahlia would make it through the night.
Dahlia did pull through, and when the exotics doctor came in the next morning he was glad I had not elected surgery. Dahlia’s prognosis, however, remained grim. According to the doctor, this was the worst blockage he had ever treated. The fluids, pain medications, and hope continued to flow throughout the day. It looked like we were waiting on a miracle. As the day drew on, and Dahlia did not improve, euthanasia became an option. There was no need for her to suffer futilely if this was not going to pass. Still, I could not give up on her.
At 4pm, the doctor came running over to excitedly deliver the news: “...there is poop!!” We ran back to the wards and there at the bottom of the cage were a few small poops. Although it seems odd to write this, I was never more excited to see poop (a statement bunny owners everywhere can relate to). Dahlia, now looking brighter, started nibbling on some hay. By the next morning, she had worked her way through all the hay in her cage and was much more active, thumping at any of the technicians who came in to check on her. She came home that night, already back to her old self. Everyone involved marveled at her miraculous recovery.
Throughout the ordeal, the lessons I gained from Dahlia were priceless. First, spending time with your bunnies every day is more than just fun - it can save their lives. Rabbits, being prey animals, are programmed to hide any illness or pain. The time I spent with Dahlia allowed me to recognize all the nuances of her normal behavior, and therefore realize more quickly when something was abnormal. Second, never underestimate the importance of a rabbit-savvy veterinarian. While many general practice veterinarians are excellent, having a veterinarian who specializes in rabbits is invaluable and in some cases the difference between life and death. Finally, never give up hope on an animal. You will be amazed at what their spirit can pull them through, as well as what you can learn from them...like sometimes a few poops can be something to celebrate.
Copyright 2007 Lisa Evelyn Murphy
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