State-of-the-art improvements in how we feed and provide medical and surgical care for the pet rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) has resulted in a greater lifespan for this beloved family pet. The rabbit is the most popular exotic patient seen in the
author's small animal and exotics practice and many rabbit owners are dedicated to the health and well-being of their pets
and expect the best in medical care. All hospital team members need to be aware of anatomical and physiological parameters
unique to the rabbit when a rabbit is presented for illness or surgery. Hind-gut fermentation, an unusual calcium metabolism,
teeth that continue to grow for most of the rabbit's life, a very small thoracic size in comparison to body mass, high metabolic
rates, and being a catecholamine driven prey animal that stresses easily; are all factors that need to be taken into consideration
when practicing rabbit medicine.
As a general rule, rabbit owners are educated and well informed and appreciate a discussion on rabbit gastrointestinal physiology
and how diet affects the overall well-being of the rabbit. An understanding of the rabbit's unusual digestion as a hind-gut
fermentor and the role of fiber in maintaining balance, helps to explain the potential complexities involved when considering
the proper way to provide nutrition.
Ultimately, a diet with 20-25% fiber, low starch, and appropriate protein levels will help prevent many gastrointestinal problems.
As a general rule, a maintenance diet of one ounce of high fiber pellets per kg of body weight and ad libitum grass (timothy,
oat, orchard grass, meadow) hay is recommended. High fiber pellets that are over 20% fiber and less than 16% protein are
recommended. Keeping fresh, leafy greens on hand is not only a great way to show clients appropriate produce to provide herbivores,
but also serves as an aid in testing patient inappetence in suspect ileus cases. For nutritional support of anorexic rabbits
Oxbow Critical Care for Herbivores can be syringe fed and is an excellent source of fiber and nutrition.
Upon completion of the history and physical exam the rabbit veterinarian may choose to initiate a diagnostic workup which
benefits from the availability of diagnostic equipment well suited to the exotic mammal. Maximal rabbit safe blood sampling
amount is 1 ml/100g body weight with the blood volume of the adult rabbit being 55-65 ml/ kg. Venipuncture options include
the jugular, lateral saphenous, cephalic and marginal ear veins. For most rabbit blood draws the author prefers to use 1
ml tuberculin syringes with 25-ga x 5/8 inch (0.50 x 16mm) needles for lateral saphenous venipuncture. Alternatively, Monoject
(Tyco Healthcare Group, Mansfield, MA) has available 0.5cc tuberculin syringes with attached 28-gauge (0.36mm) needles that
may allow for easier collection from cephalic or lateral saphenous veins in the smaller dwarf breeds
Most commercial labs use enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) to aid in serologic diagnosis of rabbit disease. Several
labs that serve primarily the laboratory animal research community offer DNA based assays including DNA amplification polymerase
chain reaction (PCR) and multiplex fluorometric immunoassay in addition to ELISA testing to screen for disease in research
and biotechnical facilities. The sensitivity and specificity of serologic diagnosis varies both with the disease in question
and the modality used. For the pet rabbit practitioner, single rabbit samples are accepted by several labs including the
University of Miami Comparative Pathology Laboratory and Sound Diagnostics, Woodinville, WA for serological testing (Table
1). Paired titers to demonstrate active disease are ideal.
Table 1.: SOUND DIAGNOSTICS, INC. offers ELISA serologic screening for detection of antibodies to the following infectious
diseases of rabbits.