Neglect is a Killer

A rabbit was brought to me a few days ago, the owner telling me, “Something is not right, do you think you can help?” There have been very many very important human medical things happening at my house all this week, so I told the owner the rabbit was low on my list to get to during the day and would be caged outside with the other rabbits.

That first evening when I finally got to the rabbit, the outlook was poor. Prior to coming to me, the rabbit had been eating less and less and was bony, very lethargic, and it’s toenails about an inch long. First thing, trim its nails! Flipped the rabbit to trim nails, and lo and behold, it has a giant hard, crusty poop ring encircling and encrusting it’s privates, matted to the skin. It smelled very bad and you could see where skein of infection enmassed in the fur. It was a miracle it could poop at all. The owner was horrified and I was horrified by the owner. We got part of the poop ring cut out of the fur and it’s nails trimmed before I had to leave for work, so I put the rabbit in the cage prepared for it’s arrival. Food, water, and hay were provided for the night.

The next day, near evening, I went out to the rabbit and carefully scissored off the rest of the poop ring, spraying her down with an iodine mix to help kill the infections. The fur had clumped and torn the skin around the uro-genital area, and many injuries were revealed with this cleaning. After cleaning the fouled skin and fur–to the point of clipping mats of fecal-encrusted fur off the rabbit–I gave her a grooming with my bunny brush. I finished by coating her uro-genital area with Blu-Kote, to prevent more infection. She hadn’t eaten much that day (the owner saying she was a picky eater) and so I checked her teeth–way overgrown, no wonder she was eating less and less! She couldn’t open her mouth wide enough anymore!!! I clipped them to an appropriate length and gave her several medicinal plungers of water to drink. Who knows when she drank last? The rabbit was much more animated after all these medical administrations, grooming her Lionhead self for the first time that I’d seen. I gave her several more plungers of water, strips of peeled carrot, lots of rolled oats, and a healthy dose of gel probiotics. Thinking that maybe she might have trouble with the water bottle with her freshly trimmed teeth, I put in a bowl, and she drank deeply.

Day Three rolls around. More medical things happening at the house. It’s hot outside, but after watching all the buns in their cages at different intervals, everyone seemed to be handling it, just stretched out and chilling in their cages. Evening came and I gave the Lionhead a glance over, and she seemed to be doing all right. The Lionhead has a few bunny berries in the waste pan. More water gone from the bowl. It was at that point the owner told me it was a good thing there was a bowl, since she didn’t use a vacuum bottle, but a Lixit. This steamed me, since I had Lixit bottles in my cupboard and this could have made a huge difference the first day of having the rabbit. The rabbit had not touched the oats, the hay, or the fresh willow, but had nibbled at some grass and carrots since they were gone, her belly plumped up. She was alert and looking around, which I considered a positive thing, progress.

Today was Day Four. The rabbit was lethagic, and didn’t blink very often. There was no new poop or pee in the waste pan but her belly was plump. A vast majority of the human medical things I had to do was done and I could devote more time to the rabbit. I took her out of the cage and flipped her over to inspect her healing wounds. They were scabbed over and clean, so I cut away a few more fecal mats on her legs and started to groom the sheared hair around the uro-genital area, when I noticed white granuals deep in the fur. Brushing them out, I was horrified (again) to realize they were moving–maggots. I sprayed the area with the iodine water, grooming frantically, cleaning a few tucked away poop mats from the bunny. Then I happened to look down and wached a large grey maggot emerge from and then disappear back into the rabbit’s anus.

There are few things that make me nearly puke, blood-laden dentistry and discovering rehydrated dead mice being at the top of my list. I now have a new thing to add to my list. I never want to have to expel a live, wriggling maggot from the anus of a lethargic living rabbit ever again.

Immediately I dosed the Lionhead with oral ivermectin, followed by probiotic, and more plungers of water. I diced apple into teeny, tiny pieces, and shoved them into her mouth, hoping she’d chew them. If a rabbit quits eating, you’ve got 24 hours to restart their guts or they will die. Some carrots and grass from the day before isn’t going to be enough to push the ivermectin through. The Lionhead mouths the apple pieces, making a grinding sound, and dribbles them out of her mouth. It then occurs to me that perhaps her molars are too long also, and she can’t chew, despite her front teeth being trimmed. I am not a rabbit dentist and it may be too late anyway. I do what I can to make the Lionhead comfortable as possible in the cage because there is nothing more I can do and I am now I am late for work.

On the ride to work I call the owner. “Your rabbit will likely die before Sunday.” I explain all that I have done for the Lionhead. “The problems started long before you brought her to me because you didn’t have the time for her. When she started to regularly eat less was the time to say something. I don’t know if I can save her, and I don’t think I can. I can try some kit formula on her when I get home from work since it’s high in protein, fat, and liquid. But the fact that there are maggots feasting in her bowels means her organs are dying. The maggots are not the cause, they just eat flesh that’s already necrotized.”

The owner then tried to blame it on me since I have exposed her house rabbit to an outside cage and flies. I retorted angrily that all my other rabbits are exposed to flies and NONE of them have this outcome since they are not neglected. Their teeth are not overlong. They don’t have giant crusted poop-rings attached to their behinds for who knows how long. They don’t have Edward Scissorhand claws. Their diet is monitored daily. I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS. The owner was quiet and now sad, since she really liked her Lionhead.

So as I write this I wonder if it wouldn’t be kinder to euthanize the Lionhead, rather than waiting for her to die on her own time. I wonder if I can yet pull a miracle out of the bag and save this rabbit. I wonder if it’ll be alive by the time I leave work tonight. I wonder if there’s a little bit of mercy for the Lionhead, one way or another.

I hope, but I don’t think so.


An hour after I originally posted this, I made it home and checked on the Lionhead. She was dead. I buried her immediately.