Rabbit emergencies can come up very quickly. Your rabbit might seem perfectly fine in the morning, but then by the evening they are sick and refusing to eat. Maybe you came home in the evening to realize the AC stopped working during the day, or your rabbit somehow managed to eat your azalea plant, which you were sure was out of their reach.
You’ll need to evaluate the situation to get your rabbit the help they need as soon as possible. It’s always best to try to get in contact with your vet first, but you don’t get to choose when an emergency happens and your regular veterinary office might not be open.
Some emergencies will also require you to take steps right away, and you can’t wait the hour it would take to drive over to your veterinary office. You need to do what you can to give your rabbit the best chance of survival.
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Is this an emergency situation?
The first thing you need to do when you suspect an emergency situation is to perform a basic check up. Your goal is to determine if your rabbit is in critical condition and requires emergency care by giving a quick check on their vitals and behaviors.
This will be important to both assess your rabbits situation, and to know if it’s a false alarm. You will also have the basic information you need when you call the your veterinarian. They can give you instructions for immediate care at home, or instruct you to take your rabbit in for an urgent care appointment.
How aware is your rabbit?
If your rabbit appears unconscious or is sitting in an odd position, reluctant to move, you will want to test how aware and responsive they are to their surroundings. Sometimes in these scenarios the rabbit is just sleeping, and all they need is a little nudge to become alert and get up.
Gently pet and nudge your rabbit to see if they respond and how they respond. It’s a good sign if the rabbit immediately becomes aware, gets up, moves around, or nudges you to ask for more petting. If they immediately return to their normal behavior and there are no other signs of illness, then they may have just been sleeping.
If your rabbit does not immediately recover, then you should attempt to check their vitals:
- Feel for a pulse by gently wrapping your hand around their chest. It’s possible that the pulse is too faint for you to feel, so no pulse does not necessarily mean the worst.
- Check for breathing by looking to see if their sides move at all.
- Check the color of their gums. They should be a pink color, and blue or pale gums can mean that your rabbit is likely experiencing heart problems.
- Take their temperature. Use a rectal thermometer to take your rabbit’s temperature. The normal body temperature of a rabbit should fall between 101ºF and 103ºF
When was the last time they ate? Pooped?
To maintain their health, rabbits need to have a moving digestive system. That means that they should frequently be eating and pooping. If your rabbit hasn’t touched their food or gifted you any poops in the last 12 hours, then there is most definitely something wrong.
When you’re unsure what time your rabbit last ate, you can test their appetite by offering one of their favorite foods. If they turn down their treats or the leafy greens they always gobble up, then it likely means they haven’t been eating their hay either.
How is your rabbit breathing?
Rabbits are obligate nasal breathers. A healthy rabbit should only be breathing through their nose. If you notice they are wheezing or panting through their mouth, then they require urgent care. This is especially an emergency if it is also paired with a lack of appetite and energy.
Are there open wounds or blood?
Small cuts, such as a broken nail, are not dangerous situations and can be treated at home. Open cuts on a rabbit’s skin can be initially treated at home, but it is still best to bring them in for a followup, non-emergency vet visit to prevent infection. Large cuts, broken bones or wounds that cause pooling blood should be treated as emergency situations.
What signs are there in the immediate environment?
It’s important to check signs in your rabbit’s environment to give you clues about their condition. Are there any chewed up wires nearby? Or a flower pot that’s been knocked over? Look to see if there is anything around that can tell you what happened to your rabbit so you can respond accordingly.
When to call your veterinarian?
As soon as you determine that your rabbit is in an emergency situation, you should call your veterinary office. Your vet can also give you specific advice for how to treat your rabbit if they need immediate care.
If it is after hours and they are closed, call anyway. Your vet’s answering message may have information about a 24-hour clinic you can contact. You can also leave a message so that your vet can get in contact with you as soon as they get in the next morning.
When you call, it’s important to emphasize that you believe this to be an emergency situation. Using the words emergency or urgent can help make sure whoever is on the other end of the line understands the situation and will be able to get you into the clinic as soon as possible.
I have found that this is especially important to emphasize at clinics that see mainly cats and dogs with only one doctor who sees other animals, since the receptionists don’t always know what a rabbit emergency looks like.
Of course, sometimes you won’t be able to get a hold of a vet right away, and you will need to do what you can to help your rabbit make it through the night or through the long car ride to make it to the veterinary clinic.
Determine what kind of emergency it is
Different types of emergencies will call for different responses. Depending on the situation, you can give your rabbit care and comfort to help them temporarily.
Remember, these are not cures! They are only basic steps to take while you figure out how to get your rabbit to a veterinarian. These suggestions are not “instead of” going to the vet, they are to give your rabbit the best chance of surviving before you get there.
If your rabbit has an emergency, you need to take them to the vet!
One of the most common reasons you may have to make an emergency vet visit is because your rabbit suddenly stopped eating or pooping. This means that their gastrointestinal tract has slowed down or stopped completely. This is called GI Stasis, and it can be a symptom of many other illnesses, or it can develop on its own.
Keep your rabbit warm
If you cannot get to the vet immediately, then you will need to keep your rabbit warm. Stress tends to lower the body temperature of rabbits, so you can help them stay warm by placing a heating pad (not too hot and wrapped in a towel) next to your rabbit.
Use baby gas drops
The cause of distress in your rabbit could be gas. In these cases, often times rabbits will press their belly into the floor. If you believe your rabbit is experiencing a gut slowdown because of gas, you can give them Simethicone (also called baby gas drops). You can purchase bottles of this at most grocery stores. To administer these to your rabbit give them 1 cc/mL per hour orally for 3 hours.
Get their digestion moving
You can also encourage your rabbit to eat and drink by enticing them with their favorite leafy greens or treats. Make sure they have ready access to everything they may need or want, including water, pellets, hay, and their enticing yummy foods.
If your rabbit is still pooping and nibbling, but not anywhere near a healthy amount, you can feed them a critical care solution to keep them fed and hydrated. However, a gut slowdown can be caused by any number of illnesses, including a blockage in the digestive tract. If your rabbit has completely stopped pooping do NOT attempt to force feed them.
True diarrhea in rabbits is very rare, but it is cause for immediate concern. There are actually two different types of mushy rabbit poop, but only true diarrhea needs to be treated as an emergency.
Mushy and unformed cecal pellets (cecal dysbiosis) will have a clay-like texture and will usually have some form to them. They are an indication of an unhealthy diet that needs to be corrected, but do not generally require a trip to urgent care. I do still advise making a regular appointment with your vet to discuss the underlying cause of the mushy cecotropes.
Diarrhea, on the other hand, is liquid fecal pellets. In adult rabbits, this is almost always caused by a poison or parasite that got into your rabbit’s system. If you can’t get to urgent care right away, help your rabbit stay hydrated by encouraging them to drink water. If they will not drink on their own you may have to patiently syringe feed your rabbit pedialyte or water.
Wounds or broken bones
If your rabbit had an accident and has open wounds or broken bones, you may need to stop the bleeding and immobilize their limbs using some basic first aid. Using gauze and self-adhesive bandages, wrap your rabbit’s wound and put some pressure on it to stop the bleeding.
Depending on the type of broken bone your rabbit has, you may be able to create a temporary splint for them. Otherwise you will need to keep your rabbit still and comfortable to prevent them from moving around. Hold your rabbit, or keep them in a small carrier that will not allow much movement.
Shock happens in rabbits when they get so scared or stressed that their body starts to shut down. It is brought on by sudden sounds or situations that seriously scare a rabbit. When a rabbit is in shock, you will need to do what you can to help them calm down and stay warm.
Signs of shock include:
- Fast breathing
- Fast heart beat
- Pale gums
- Unmoving or not responding to external stimuli
- Glazed-over eyes
- Cold ears
To help your rabbit recover from shock, you need to:
- Bring your rabbit to a safe, stress free environment. It’s best if you can bring your rabbit someplace that is familiar to them so that they can feel safe and be more likely to calm down.
- Stay calm. Pet your rabbit and speak softly to them. You can cuddle your rabbit or place them on the floor and lay next to them. If you’re panicking, your rabbit will be able to sense it, so make sure you take deep breaths and stay calm.
- Wrap your rabbit in a towel to keep them warm. Shock will cause your rabbit’s body temperature to fall dramatically. Use your body heat or a heating pad to help your rabbit stay warm.
- Offer your rabbit their favorite treats. Encourage your rabbit to eat and drink and stay with them to help them feel safe and comfortable.
A rabbit can catch hypothermia from being out in the bitter cold, or from wet fur if they are given a bath. They can also develop hypothermia as a result of shock, as their body temperature declines. If your rabbit is suffering from hypothermia, you need to do what you can to get their body temperature back up right away.
- Wrap your rabbit in a towel.
- Bring your rabbit to a warm area of the house.
- Make sure your rabbit is completely dry.
- Place your rabbit next to a heating pad or hot water bottle (wrapped in a towel).
- Provide lukewarm water for your rabbit to drink.
Rabbits are susceptible to heat stroke when they are exposed to temperatures above 80ºF. You may be faced with this situation if you come home at the end of the day to find that the AC broke and the house became too hot for the rabbit.
Some immediate actions you can take to help your rabbit include:
- Bring your rabbit to a cooler part of the house
- Spritz your rabbit’s ears with cold water
- Wrap your rabbit in a damp towel (NOT soaking wet)
- Make sure your rabbit has access to fresh, cool water
- Place an ice pack (wrapped in a towel) next to your rabbit
Rabbits like to chew on everything and that means if we’re not careful about keeping electrical wires out of the rabbit’s reach, they stand the chance of being electrocuted. If your rabbit gets electrocuted, the first thing you should do is unplug the cord or turn the power off.
If your rabbit is conscious, continue to watch their behavior and take note of anything unusual. If your rabbit is unconscious, check their vitals:
- Check for a heartbeat
- Check for breathing
- Check the color of your rabbit’s gums
Whether or not your rabbit is unconscious after they have been electrocuted, you should bring them to the vet as soon as possible. The electric shock may have damaged internal organs, causing damage that isn’t visible. They may also have been burned or have tooth damage in their mouth.
Rabbits cannot vomit to get rid of ingested toxins, so anything poisonous can be very dangerous to rabbits. This can be caused by anything from toxic plants, to lead poisoning, human foods, and household insecticides.
From home, what you can do is try to keep your rabbit’s body temperature normal. Some toxins may cause the rabbit’s body temperature to raise and others will cause their temperature to lower. You will need to take your rabbit’s temperature using a rectal thermometer and respond accordingly.
If their temperature is too high, (above 103ºF) then respond as if treating heat stroke. If their temperature is too low (below 101ºF) then respond as if treating hypothermia.
Rabbits who have been infested by fly strike or other similar afflictions, need to be treated immediately. If the infestation is far along, and there are already thousands of maggots worming their way into your rabbit, then you might not have time to get to the vet if the clinic is not nearby.
If you need to take action at home, you will need to attempt to rinse off the maggots. Fill a tub with enough water to submerge the affected area. Try to keep as much of the rabbit dry as possible. As the tub fills with maggots, empty it and refill with fresh water. Do this with a partner so that one of you can hold the rabbit and the other can clean out the maggot infestation.
After you’ve finished, dry your rabbit as much as possible and get them to the vet to make sure all of the maggots have been removed. The vet can also provide any medicine to help your rabbit recover.
If you notice your rabbit has cold-like symptoms, they are probably suffering from snuffles. Rabbits will try to hide their sicknesses as long as possible, so if you see noticeable signs of a cold in your rabbit, that means they are already far along in their illness and require emergency attention.
They will have symptoms such as:
- Watery eyes
- Wet or snotty nose
- Difficulty breathing
- Sores around the eyes and nose
If you cannot get to the vet right away, you should help make sure your rabbit stays warm and is able to breathe. Wrap a heating pad in a towel and place it next to your rabbit to keep them warm. You should also pay attention to your rabbit’s nose. If it is snotty, use a damp cotton swab to gently clean it so your rabbit can breathe a little more easily.
If your rabbit is wheezing or panting through their mouth, they are having severe respiratory distress. If you notice that your rabbit is having trouble breathing, you should help your rabbit stay calm so that they don’t have a heightened respiratory rate. Pet them and keep them in a cool, calm environment. Then get your rabbit to the vet as soon as possible.
Rabbits don’t choke very often, and even when they do they are usually able to dislodge the offending piece of food. However, it occasionally does happen that a rabbit will choke and be unable to clear out their airway.
How to know if a rabbit is choking:
- Lifting their head in the air
- Gurgling or whistling sound
- Eyes popping
- Gums turning blue
In an emergency, you may need to use the rabbit heimlich maneuver to help your rabbit dislodge the particle from their airway. This is an extremely dangerous technique and should only be used in an emergency situation.
- Drape your rabbit over your forearm, supporting their chest in your hand. Make sure their head is below the chest and lungs.
- With your other arm, cover the back of the rabbit and support their head and neck with your hand.
- Keeping your arms straight, bring your arms up and then quickly swing them down to create a force that will push the food out of the rabbit’s airway.
Seizures or comatose
If your rabbit is weak, having seizures, make sure there is nothing in their environment that will hurt them. If they are completely unconscious, there is little you can do at home except try to keep your rabbit’s body temperature from falling. Place a heating pad or hot water bottle next to your rabbit and get them to an emergency clinic as soon as possible.
Rabbit’s have unique anatomy and require specialized care. That’s why most of the time I advise people to find a veterinarian who specializes in rabbits. However, when it comes to after-hours emergency care, that may not always be possible.
Obviously it’s ideal if you can find a 24 hour clinic in your area that has rabbit veterinarians, but if there are no best-case scenario options available, you should still go to a regular emergency clinic.
Most urgent care situations require very similar care across species. 24-hour clinics are equipped to handle many different emergency scenarios and will be able to help your rabbit much more than if you stayed at home.
- Dawson, Bronwyn DVM. “Dealing With Medical Emergencies.” House Rabbit Society. July 10, 2011. https://rabbit.org/dealing-with-medical-emergencies.
- Harcourt-Brown, Francis FRCVS. “Critical and Emergency Care of Rabbits.” Veterinary Nursing Journal Vol. 26 Iss. 12. November 21, 2014. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.2045-0648.2011.00119.x?scroll=top&needAccess=true.
- Harrimen, Marinell. “Fly Strike.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/journal/2-12/fly-strike.html.
Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian and recommend getting advice from a qualified rabbit or exotic animals veterinarian when your rabbit is having an emergency.
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