Pre- and Post-Surgical Care for Rabbits
By Chandra Moira Beal
When you decide the time is right to spay or neuter your rabbit, a little planning can make the experience easier for you both and speed your bunny's recovery.
If possible, schedule your appointment for a time when you can closely observe and care for your rabbit for several days. Keep in mind that many veterinarians' offices are closed on weekends, so choose an appointment early in the week in case your rabbit has complications after surgery.
No matter what you are told, never fast a rabbit prior to surgery! This is a common misconception. Even rabbit-savvy vets employ staff that mistakenly instruct their clients to withhold food from rabbits. It is common to fast dogs and cats before surgery because they often experience post-anesthesia vomiting. Rabbits cannot vomit, so there is no need to remove food.
In fact, rabbits will actually recover from surgery faster if they continue eating until just before they are anesthetized. Rabbits are designed to have a constant flow of fiber through their gut. It can take several days for their gastrointestinal tract to become totally empty, and even if you remove your rabbit's food, they will continue to reingest their cecal pellets. Fasting prior to surgery is not practical nor is it beneficial.
While you're at the vet's office, obtain a pre-operative blood panel to check liver enzymes, kidney functions, and cell blood counter. A blood panel helps establish baseline information from which to work should your rabbit become ill in the future, and may alert your veterinarian to potential problems that may have otherwise gone unsuspected.
Surgeries are often performed in the morning, and your rabbit should be ready to go home the same afternoon.
As soon as you get home, offer your bunny something to eat. They should start eating as soon as possible to prevent an interruption in the digestive process. One of the best things to feed your rabbit at this time is alfalfa hay. The leaves are rich in digestible protein and nutrients and the stems provide fiber to aid digestion. Also offer them a variety of their favorite vegetables and fruit treats. This is one time when you can spoil your bun. If they don't eat right away, don't panic. Leave the food for them overnight. Most of the time they will have been eaten by morning.
Start with a fresh, full bottle of water and make sure bunny is drinking normally. If they seem reluctant to drink, try adding a little apple juice to the water, or consider replacing the water with Pedialyte which contains electrolytes to help prevent shock. Some rabbits prefer to drink from a shallow dish after surgery to minimize their movements.
Provide some peace and quiet for your rabbit away from noisy children or other stressful situations for a day or two following surgery. Put them in a freshly cleaned cage even if they normally have free roam. A cage provides a safe haven from children or other pets, and will help you monitor any changes. It also keeps them from overdoing it. Keep an eye on how they are eating and eliminating. If you normally keep a litter box in the cage, remove it temporarily. This will prevent irritation or possible infection of the sutures. Offer a towel or soft bedding to sit on. Some rabbits enjoy resting on a heating pad on a low setting wrapped in towels (make sure the cord is protected!).
Avoid lifting and handling your rabbit for several days except to check their sutures. They will be feeling some discomfort and will not be their usual self. Spend lots of time petting, comforting, and letting your rabbit know that you understand their discomfort.
Some vets use glue or stitches that melt into the flesh and don't require removal. If your vet uses traditional stitches, be sure to keep your appointment for having them removed.
Every rabbit is different. Some come home from surgery and romp about like nothing has happened. Others take a few days before they feel like moving around. Their hormones will begin to dissipate within 2-6 weeks. If your rabbit does not eat or drink within 24 hours, consult your veterinarian immediately. This is a potentially life-threatening situation.
Rest assured that within a few weeks your rabbit will be back to their normal self, minus the manic digging, chewing, and spraying that goes along with unaltered rabbits.
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