A recent stray is examined by a "rabbit savvy" vet
When your rabbit is sick and needs urgent care, it’s an inopportune time to start looking for a vet. Whether you have moved away from your previous vet, adopted a new bunny or want to switch vets for whatever reason, the best approach is to research and find a vet you think you might like and then schedule a routine physical. Any medical issues, current or potential, can be identified and a medical treatment plan made if necessary. Also, having your bunny as an established patient at a clinic facilitates getting an appointment if any issues requiring immediate attention arise a vet can be more amenable to wreaking havoc on their appointment and personal schedule for someone who is not a demanding stranger. Make sure you have the right veterinary match lined up for you and your bunny before an emergency strikes.
Finding a vet who is knowledgeable about rabbits and who can counsel you in making appropriate decisions for routine preventative care, as well as advanced medical and surgical therapy in the case of a potential health crisis, is very important. You need a vet you can trust and with whom you can communicate. However, while bedside manner is important, medical and surgical skills can be more critical (ideally, you’ll be able to find both personal warmth and professional excellence in the same person). A good resource to start with is a list of rabbit-savvy vets provided by a local rabbit rescue group; many breeders, unfortunately, don’t believe in bringing even a sick rabbit to a vet and can be a poor resource. Often there are only one or two vets at a particular hospital who have a special interest in rabbits, so go by doctor name and not hospital name. You can also call a number of local vets and ask to whom they refer rabbits, and see if the same name is mentioned repeatedly often it will be a general practitioner with a strong interest in rabbits, or sometimes a specialty hospital with an exotics department.
A general practitioner with a commitment to rabbits may be a good option for more routine care. In the U.S., after earning an undergraduate degree and making it through a
rigorous and highly competitive veterinary school acceptance process, veterinary students spend four years learning about several core species, usually dog, cat, cow, and horse, with a smidgen of pig/goat/sheep/llama thrown in. They are then licensed to treat all species except humans, although most will restrict their practice to only certain species. Some vet schools teach an overview of lab animal medicine, which bears about as much relation to pet rabbit medicine as it does to car mechanics (in my opinion). Most veterinary students gain rabbit experience only if they actively seek it out through externships with “exotics” vets, conferences, professional journals and forums, and textbooks.
While there is no such thing as a specific rabbit “specialist,” there are some vets who may or may not be part of an exotics or special species department at a large referral vet hospital who do have additional formalized residency training in exotic species (yes, your rabbit is exotic and lumped in with birds, sugar gliders and iguanas). Appointments and care are often expensive, but any advanced care your rabbit might need, be it MRI or CT or radiation therapy, can be performed. Currently the only board certification is “Diplomate American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP), Avian Practice” for a bird vet who has often done a two-year residency covering all exotics species; although work is in progress for an exotic small mammal ABVP board (which will still lump your rabbit in with hedgehogs, degus, prairie dogs and their ilk). Specialists may be hard to find in your particular area and tend to be more expensive than a general practitioner, but they’re probably well worth it for difficult problems.
Hopefully an empathetic and competent support staff will come along with a vet who is willing and able to see rabbits. Most likely the nurses or technicians will be taking blood and X-rays, monitoring anesthesia and providing treatment care, as well as filling medications and answering your questions. The staff’s level of dedication to rabbits is almost as important as the vet’s, since they are on the front lines and possibly handling your bunny more than the vet. Make sure that you get the sense that your rabbit is just as valued as a cat or dog, and never “just a rabbit”!
I recommend setting up a routine physical exam appointment to meet the vet and to have him or her meet your bunny. Be ready with a list of questions, in case you have any doubts. Some possibilities: How many rabbits do you see in an average week? How many rabbits do you spay/neuter in the average month? How many rabbit dentistries do you do in the average month? Should rabbits be spayed (absolutely “yes”)? Do you recommend that rabbits be kept indoors (“yes”)? How important is hay (“as important as air and water”)? Do you fast rabbits before anesthesia (“no”)? How often do you treat gastrointestinal stasis successfully in rabbits? Do you use penicillin (answer should be “yes, injectable only”)? How important are pain medications (“very”)?
With a bit of effort, you will hopefully find a vet with whom you and your bunny have a good rapport and can develop a long-term relationship. If you’re lucky, you might see your vet only once or twice a year. If your bunny faces health challenges, you both may get to know your vet more closely through frequent visits. Having a trusting relationship with a caring and knowledgeable professional is invaluable.
Copyright 2008 Astrid M Kruse, DVM
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