Diagnosing and treating common neurologic diseases in rabbits - Veterinary Medicine
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Diagnosing and treating common neurologic diseases in rabbits
To identify the source of neurologic signs in a rabbit, use the same diagnostic process as you would in a dog or cat. Here are some disorders to include in your differentials and how they can best be treated.



3. A rabbit with posterior paralysis resulting from luxation of the spine. The patient was fitted with a cart, permitting daily exercise periods.
If treatment is delayed, rabbits with broken backs can become azotemic or uremic because of urine retention in the bladder. Occasionally, mildly affected rabbits respond to conservative medical management if the spinal cord is not transected. In cases of urine retention, supportive therapy must include manual expression of the bladder. Although spinal surgery is a possibility, it is still in its infancy in rabbits compared with in dogs and cats13 and is seldom performed. Thus, euthanasia is often indicated in rabbits that do not respond to medical management. Alternatively, some house rabbits have been fitted with a trolley or cart to support the hindquarters (Figure 3). If the owners are attentive enough to prevent such complications as urinary retention and pressure sores, some of these rabbits can lead a life of reasonable quality.


4. Splay leg in a rabbit unable to adduct three of its legs.
Splay leg is a nonspecific term used to describe any condition affecting the limbs that prevents standing.13 This condition is generally a developmental musculoskeletal condition and is commonly seen in pet rabbits ranging in age from a few days to a few months. These rabbits are unable to adduct from one to all four limbs, so they cannot ambulate effectively (Figure 4). Hindlimbs are more commonly affected, with femoral neck anteversions, femoral shaft torsion, and subluxations of the coxofemoral joint.

Because splay leg is considered to be inherited in a simple autosomal recessive pattern,5 breeding of the affected animal and its parents should be discouraged. Although a few animals recover some limb functions, euthanasia is advisable for most.14 Occasionally, older rabbits are presented for evaluation of similar clinical signs, often resulting from a traumatic insult.


Pregnancy toxemia can manifest neurologic signs in rabbits. Although primarily a problem of late gestation, toxemia also occurs in postpartum and pseudopregnant does. Neurologic signs may occur as a result of ketosis or other metabolic derangements and include weakness, depression, incoordination, and convulsions; coma may also occur. Death may occur within a few hours after the signs are first noted. Obesity and fasting are predisposing factors.

Treating the associated ketosis includes intravenously administering lactated Ringer's and 5% glucose solutions. Owners can prevent toxemia by avoiding fasting and preventing obesity in pregnant does and by providing a high-energy diet during late gestation.5


Rabbits are tolerant of low temperatures but are particularly susceptible to heat stroke or heat stress, in part because of their dense fur and the fact that they do not sweat and cannot pant effectively.13 Signs of heat stroke include anorexia, increased respiratory rate, prostration, pulmonary edema, cyanosis, shock, and seizures. Signs are accompanied by an elevation in rectal temperature to greater than 105 F (40.5 C) (normal temperature = 101.3 to 104 F [38.5 to 40 C]).7

Treatment includes slowly reducing the body temperature by spraying the rabbit with or immersing it in tepid water or wrapping the patient in cool wet towels and administering intravenous fluids.5 Treatment may also involve the control of seizures, mannitol to reduce cerebral edema, and, if necessary, tracheal intubation and artificial ventilation.

Closely monitor rabbits that recover from heat stroke for several days for metabolic abnormalities or renal failure. Rabbits with heat stroke usually do not respond well, and the prognosis is poor. Pet rabbits housed outdoors during the summer when the ambient temperature can exceed 85 F (29.4 C) require shade, good ventilation, and an adequate supply of cool drinking water.


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