Although the principles of emergency medicine critical care are universal for all species, this approach must be balanced with an understanding of the unique aspects of small mammal medicine. Use this summary page to review the basic approach to the exotic companion mammal patient and select additional links to supplement your knowledge base.
The approach to analgesia and sedation in exotic companion mammals faces special challenges, including small patient size and unique features of the prey species mentality. Recognition of pain is more difficult in rabbits and rodents because many small mammals are very good at hiding the signs of pain commonly observed in predator species. Instead pain in a rabbit or rodent is often inferred from the patient’s clinical condition as well as the absence of normal behaviors. The diagnostic and therapeutic plan frequently requires some form of chemical restraint in exotic mammal medicine. When compared to general anesthesia, sedation is a safer option for the debilitated or critically ill small mammal.
Rabbit intubation can be accomplished using either an orotracheal or nasotracheal technique. Both intubation methods can be challenging in rabbit patients and require patience and practice. Nasotracheal intubation may be the preferred approach in situations where maximum access and maneuverability is required in the oral cavity. Nasotracheal intubation is also preferred where an extended recovery is expected.
Welcome to LafeberVet’s Basic Rabbit Care Teaching Module! Upon completion of this learning aid, the participant will have a basic clinical understanding of what defines a rabbit, common rabbit breeds, anatomy and physiology, behavior, restraint and handling, as well as husbandry needs.
Part of LafeberVet’s Basic Rabbit Care Teaching Module, the Rabbit Anatomy Basics slideshow is a 22-minute recording designed to impart a basic understanding of rabbit anatomy for the veterinary technician and veterinary nurse. This slideshow may also be of use as a basic learning aid for veterinary medical students and as a basic refresher for the clinician.
The domestic or European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, is descended from wild rabbits of Europe and northwestern Africa, where free-ranging Oryctolagus are still found. Rabbits come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. The American Rabbit Breeder Association currently recognizes 49 rabbit breeds, and the number listed by the British Rabbit Council is even higher. Many house rabbits have several different breeds in their background. View this 8-minute slideshow to review common rabbit breeds seen in clinical practice as well as their associated disease predispositions.
With the help of a handy infographic, this client education handout reviews the basics of a good rabbit diet as well as housing, including “bunny proofing”, and handling.
The approach to a prey species like the rabbit often calls for a profound paradigm shift for clinicians used to dealing only with cats and dogs. Rabbits can stress very easily in a clinical setting and the challenge of managing a small mammal like the rabbit increases exponentially when they are presented for illness or injury.
Head tilt or torticollis, also known as “wry neck” and uncontrolled or episodic rolling are common presentations in the pet rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). There are two common causes of head tilt or torticollis and rolling in the rabbit…
Exotic small mammals can be challenging to safely induce, maintain and recover from general anesthesia. View the recording of this AAVSB R.A.C.E.-approved webinar, which explores clinical anesthesia in exotic companion mammals from patient assessment and anesthetic induction to monitoring and recovery. The use of common premedications, induction agents, maintenance drugs, and post-operative analgesics will be compared and contrasted in exotic companion mammals. Multimodal anesthetic techniques, such as epidural anesthesia and constant rate infusions, will also be discussed. After reviewing the recording, take the brief post-test to earn 1 hour of continuing education credit.
Gastric dilatation or “bloat” and gastrointestinal obstruction is an acute and life-threatening condition of pet rabbits commonly caused by an obstruction with pellets of compressed hair. The discussion portion of this Case Challenge reviews onset, clinical signs, and diagnostic test results of obstructive and non-obstructive gastrointestinal disease. This condition is considered a surgical emergency and key points of urgent care strive to stabilize the patient through analgesia, decompression when indicated, and supportive care. Surgery is discussed as well as recommendations for patients that cannot go to surgery due to clinical or financial constraints. Follow-up care as well as homecare recommendations, disease prevention, and prognosis are also explored.
Gastrointestinal obstruction and a stomach distended with gas and fluid or “bloat” is a serious health problem of pet rabbits. Use this client educational handout to answer owner questions: What causes bloat and obstruction? Why is bloat a serious condition? What does bloat look like in the rabbit? This handout also explains the basics of a diagnostic workup, treatment, follow-up care, and prevention for this critical condition.
A 5-year old female spayed lop rabbit presents with a history of acute anorexia (<24 hours) and lethargy. Use history, physical examination findings, laboratory results and survey radiographs to solve this case challenge.
Manual restraint of exotic companion mammals is a challenging but necessary part of veterinary practice. In the recording of this R.A.C.E.-approved webinar, Ms. McClellan reviews the approach to predator and prey species as well as the principles of capture and handling of several species of small exotic companion animals in a hospital setting including from rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas to small rodents, hedgehogs, and sugar gliders.
Released for National Veterinary Technician Week 2014, Nursing Care for Exotic Companion Mammals is part of an Exotic ICU series providing advice on the management of small exotic companion mammals in a critical care setting. Specific recommendations on caging, medicating, feeding, and monitoring the critical small mammal are explored as well as important potential sequelae to the stress of hospitalization.
Should I have my pet rabbit “fixed”? In most cases, the answer is an unqualified YES. In this client education handout, the benefits to spay or neuter of the house rabbit are explored. Recommendations for pre-surgical preparation for companion animal castration as well as aftercare are also discussed.
The following chart shows the calcium content in 1 cup of selected foods. Select treats for adult rabbits and rodents that are high in fiber, low in calcium, and low in carbohydrates and sugars.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, and the majority of total body calcium is found within bones and teeth. Most mammals make only one or two sets of teeth in a lifetime, however rabbit teeth continually grow throughout their lifetime. This continual tooth eruption plays an important role in the rabbit’s long-term calcium needs.
Neurologic diseases are relatively common in companion rabbits, and recognition of these conditions by the exotic animal clinician is very important. Encephalitozoonosis is endemic in the pet rabbit population worldwide, and is an important cause of neurologic disease in this species.
Urolithiasis is characterized by single or multiple calculi throughout the urinary tract or by the presence of sandy material within the bladder and urethra. Uroliths are fortunately more of a historical disease in the ferret, while calculi are still an important problem in rabbits and rodents.
Antibiotic therapy is a challenge in rabbits. The rabbit digestive system depends upon a healthy population of microbes to function properly. In normal circumstances, normal commensal bacteria completely overwhelm the small numbers of opportunistic pathogenic bacteria present and keep them safely in check. Certain antibiotics, particularly when given by the oral route, however, have the potential to disturb this crucial balance by killing off the commensal bacteria…
Although some diseases are merely arranged alphabetically, other lists are based on the mnemonic acronym DAMNIT. This commonly used veterinary medical record scheme divides disease mechanisms into the following categories: degenerative, anomalous, metabolic, neoplastic or nutritional; infectious, inflammatory, idiopathic, immune-mediated, or infarct/vascular; and traumatic or toxic. Exercise professional judgment when evaluating this information. Differential Diagnosis in Rabbits is designed as an aide or reminder system for use by qualified veterinarians and should never be used for diagnostic decision-making.
As in other species, to manage pain successfully, one must know when pain might occur. Several common medical disorders can result in acute pain such as otitis, conjunctivitis, and acute gastrointestinal disease. Chronic pain can arise from conditions such as arthritis, which commonly develops in older…
Herbivore nutrition separates animals into two main categories, depending on where food particles are broken down and fermented prior to absorption. The categories are foregut and hindgut fermenters, with the hindgut group being broken down into colonic and cecal fermenters.
A variety of agents may be used in small mammals with ectoparasites. Download this easy-to-use table for a list of agents used to manage lice, flea infestation, mange or acariasis.
Rabbits are prey species. Their survival depends on the ability to be alert and respond quickly, and they possess acute senses of smell and hearing. Approach rabbits in a calm, quiet manner. Stressed or critically ill rabbits may not tolerate prolonged handling. Evaluation and treatment may need to proceed slowly in stages.
Small mammals, such as rabbits and rodents, are stoic by nature and have evolved to mask their illness to avoid predation. This behavior can create a false sense of security in owners and a clinical challenge for veterinarians. In some cases, an animal that appears clinically normal may in fact have a terminal illness. Use hematology and biochemistry analysis to characterize the true physiological status of these species and aid in disease diagnosis.
Rabbits and rodents may suffer from a wide range of dental problems. Although the vast majority of cases are related injury or to lack of wear and tooth elongation, dental caries, a bacterial plaque-associated disease, may also be seen.
Lethargy, total or partial anorexia, a reduction in fecal output, or scant fecal size can all indicate critical illness in rabbits. Problems that slow the gut are often uncomfortable, however rabbits tend to mask pain and discomfort, especially when frightened. Signs of fear and pain in the rabbit can include…
Providing nutrition to the hospitalized small mammal is a fairly straightforward process. Encourage owners to bring their pet’s “regular” diet to minimize the risk of food refusal or gastrointestinal upset. Also consider keeping the following food items available…
Abnormal urine in the rabbit typically appears white and chalky or pigmented. These changes can be related to the unique metabolism of calcium in the rabbit. Rabbits absorb nearly all calcium ingested; therefore blood levels vary substantially with the calcium content of the diet…
Insufficient dietary fiber can turn a happy, healthy rabbit into a HUGE, potentially catastrophic, clinical problem. Read about the basis for a healthy diet in Hay: Feeding Small Herbivores, reviewed by forage extension specialist, S. Ray Smith.
Dental problems in rabbits and rodents are often related to either trauma or lack of normal wear and tooth elongation. When herbivores like rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas receive concentrates, in the form of grain or pellets, with only limited access to hay and natural vegetation this diet provides too little tooth wear to compensate for the natural growth of the teeth.
Physical examination in exotic small mammals is performed similarly to examinations in dogs and cats, however many small mammals can easily become stressed. Approach these patients calmly, gently, and quietly. Gather all items that may be needed during the physical exam beforehand since it is essential to keep time to a minimum. Ideally schedule examination of nocturnal species such as sugar gliders, rats, and mice during the evening hours. It can also be helpful to dim the lights while examining these species.
The principles of fluid therapy are basically the same in exotic companion mammals as in other species. The biggest difference is that changes can occur very rapidly in these tiny patients. For instance, fluids should almost always be warmed or your patient will cool down quickly. Intraosseous or intravenous fluids can be heated with…
Encephalitozoon cuniculi is an obligatory intracellular microsporidian parasite that can infect a wide range of mammals, including humans. The primary host for E. cuniculi is the rabbit. Infections in rabbits are typically subclinical…
Eye problems are common in both laboratory and pet rabbits, and flushing of the nasolacrimal ducts is frequently performed in rabbits with heavy tearing or epiphora. The goal of a nasolacrimal flush is…
More hay please…Prolonged chewing of tough, abrasive foods such as hay causes rapid tooth wear in rabbits and herbivorous rodents. To compensate for this, these species have permanent teeth that grow and erupt continuously, never producing anatomical roots. Learn more in Dental Anatomy of Rabbits and Rodents by Dr. David Crossley.
Hematological and serum chemistry tests are considered part of the minimum database, yet collecting blood samples from small mammals can be extremely challenging. This review article reviews the recommended venipuncture site in popular exotic companion mammals including many rodents, rabbits, ferrets, hedgehogs, and sugar gliders. Sample collection from peripheral vessels including the cephalic, saphenous, tail, jugular, ear, and submandibular vein is discussed.
Blind venipuncture sites such as the cranial vena cava and femoral vessels are also described. Veterinary health professionals are also acquainted with the potential risks associated with blood collection from these small species, especially those presenting in advanced diseased states. Tips for clinical success are also shared.
Rhinitis or sinusitis, sometimes called “snuffles” in laymen’s terms, is usually characterized by unilateral or bilateral, mucopurulent nasal discharge, sneezing, and congestion. A subtle sign of upper respiratory tract disease can be discharge matted on the paws or the medial aspect of the forelimbs. Discharge may collect here as the rabbit fastidiously cleans its face with its forepaws. In the early stages of disease, discharge may not be evident on the nose or even on the paws, however close examination of…
The most common presentation of P. multocida infection is upper respiratory tract disease. Pasteurella multocida was identified as a cause of mucopurulent rhinitis in rabbits or “snuffles” in the 1920s. Clinical signs include mucopurulent nasal discharge, sneezing, congestion, and/or snoring. Infection of the nasolacrimal duct may extend to the conjunctiva causing ocular discharge and nasolacrimal duct obstruction. Affected rabbits may also have…
External reproductive anatomy is obvious in some adult small mammals such as the ferret, sugar glider, hedgehog, rat, guinea pig, and hamster. Gender determination or sexing can be challenging in some species like the chinchilla, and in many neonatal rodents. In these cases, reliance on anogenital distance or the distance between the rectum and the urogenital region is considered best practice.
Download LafeberVet’s Rabbit Dental Chart for use during clinical procedures ranging from standard dental examination to major orofacial surgery.
Most species of mites are host-specific, however take special precautions, such as wearing exam gloves, to minimize the spread of potentially zoonotic pathogens. Humans that become infested with Sarcoptes scabei may develop wheals, vesicles, papules, and intense pruritus. Pet owners, especially children, may become infected with…
Can’t quite recall the dental formula of the African pygmy hedgehog–or perhaps you never knew? Use LafeberVet’s “Small Mammal Dental Formulas: Cheat Sheet” as a quick and easy clinical resource.
Acquired dental disease is an important problem in pet rabbits and rodents. Clinical management of dental disease is complex, frequently involving invasive technical procedures, therefore it is preferable to promote dental health, rather than treating dental disease.
This brief article was created to serve as a synopsis of LafeberVet’s longer, more detailed “Analgesia in Small Mammals” authored by veterinary anesthesiologist, Dr. Paul Flecknell.
Gastrointestinal problems are common in the pet rabbit. A thorough history, including a detailed dietary history, can provide invaluable clues to the problem at hand. Signs of gastrointestinal discomfort in the rabbit may include bruxism, reluctance to move, and anorexia. If there is a history of anorexia, it is imperative to differentiate whether the rabbit is not eating because it has no interest in food, or if it is showing an interest in food but unable to eat. A complete lack of appetite is most commonly seen with physiological problems such as renal failure, whereas a reluctance to eat is a classic presentation in rabbits with dental disease.
An important differential for lumps and bumps: Mammary gland tumors are relatively common in rats and mice, and are also seen in African pygmy hedgehogs and guinea pigs. Get the facts about mammary tumors in small mammals. Review diagnostics, management, prognosis and prevention of this important condition.
Most small herbivores like the rabbit, guinea pig, and chinchilla possess a simple, non-compartmentalized stomach paired with a large cecum and colon. To feed the small herbivore gastrointestinal tract, provide insoluble dietary fiber to stimulate gut motility and maintain gastrointestinal health. A balanced small herbivore diet contains adequate fiber (minimum 25%), minimal starch, and moderate protein levels. Among small herbivorous non-ruminants, the gastrointestinal tract of the rabbit is the most specialized and this manuscript will focus on unique features of this species’ anatomy and physiology.