What is Back and Neck Pain?
The prognosis may vary depending on the underlying factor that is causing the pain for your pet. As there are many potential causes your pet may need extensive diagnostic investigations, to improve your pet’s chance of full recovery it is important to seek treatment as soon as pain is suspected.
Back and neck pain is common in rabbits and can be due to a range of conditions. As rabbits have powerful hind limbs, injury to their back can easily occur due to kicking out during improper handling. Other causes that may lead to back and neck pain are trauma, pain caused by infection, or chronic conditions such an osteoarthritis.
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Symptoms of Back and Neck Pain in Rabbits
Back and neck pain can often be difficult to recognise, however often owners notice that their rabbit’s gait changes from hopping to stepping due to reluctance to place even pressure on their hind limbs, reduced range of motion of their neck and back and reluctance to be held. Other signs may be urine scalding due to improper positioning while urinating or inability to groom, aggression or agitation when handling or depression. Other symptoms may include:
- Anorexia due to pain
- Grunting while moving
- Signs of pain such as hunched position, teeth grinding, reluctance to move or groom
- Fever, purulent discharge and a hard, mobile mass may be noticed in cases of abscess
- Paralysis of the hind limbs
Causes of Back and Neck Pain in Rabbits
- Trauma to the vertebrae such as luxation and subluxation, fracture or disc disease following kicking out during improper handling or following a startling event such as fireworks, thunderstorm or unfamiliar pets
- Trauma to the soft tissue due to trapped limbs in cage, road accidents or attack from predators such as foxes or dogs or improper handling
- Spinal nerve damage caused by neoplasia, bacterial or protozoal meningitis
- Arthritis caused by osteoarthritis, a chronic, degenerative form of arthritis that causes the cartilage to deteriorate over time
- Septic arthritis, caused by injuries to the joint that introduce bacteria into the joint capsule
- Abscess caused by bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, proteus, bacteroides, pasteurella multocida
Diagnosis of Back and Neck Pain in Rabbits
Your veterinarian will discuss your pet’s clinical history with you and ask if there is a known history of trauma or attack. The physical examination may indicate the cause of pain. Your veterinarian will examine your pet’s back by gently palpating the spine. If your rabbit has reduced sensation to the legs or feet, an inability to urinate or defecate with control, or is suffering from paralysis of the hind legs, a broken back may be suspected.
If your pet is suffering from an abscess your veterinarian will likely feel it as a hard, palpable mass and may be able to visualise discharge. She will carefully examine your rabbit for other abscesses or wounds. As abscess can cause osteomyelitis, the infection of the bone and bone marrow. Your veterinarian may choose to perform radiographs. If abscess or septic arthritis are suspected, an analysis of the fluid from the area may be performed. This sample will be obtained by fine needle aspiration. Presence of bacteria would mean infection, further cultures performed by your veterinarian will be able to identify the bacteria and most effective antibiotic treatment.
Radiographs will be taken to check for conditions of the spine such as fractures, luxation, narrowed disc spaces or tumors. Your veterinarian will need to sedate your rabbit in order to perform these.
Blood chemistry may also be performed, in cases of diseases that affect the muscle creatine may be raised. These results will also provide an important baseline for renal health prior to the prescription of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain relief.
Treatment of Back and Neck Pain in Rabbits
The treatment your pet receives will depend on the cause of pain. During recovery, your pet will be kept confined to prevent further damage if spinal trauma or disc herniation has taken place.
In order to manage your pet’s pain, he will be be given non-steroidal anti-inflammatories to reduce pain and inflammation. If infection is suspected antibiotic therapy may be started, your veterinarian will use the results from the culture and sensitivity to select the most effective medication.
It is common for rabbits to refuse food when in pain. It is vital that your pet eat during the diagnostic and treatment period. Anorexia in rabbits can cause gastric stasis, hepatic lipidosis, and intestinal ileus, making it a potentially dangerous complication. In order to encourage eating provide your pet with their favorite food along with appetite stimulants such as parsley. If your pet requires syringe feeding, your veterinarian may choose to give pellets moistened with water, pureed vegetables or banana.
If your pet is presenting with pain due to an abscess he may require surgery under a general anesthetic. There are risks involved with surgery, so your veterinarian will ensure your pet is in a stable condition before operating. Fluid therapy will be given to stabilize your pet. Isoflurane gas is considered the safest method of anesthetic for your pet due to it’s reduced effects on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. In cases of abscess, the mass will require full excision.
Recovery of Back and Neck Pain in Rabbits
The management for your pet will vary depending on the condition causing the pain. You may be given pain relief for your rabbit companion and instructions to restrict exercise and monitor him for signs of deterioration or complications. To support your rabbit’s healing the following steps can be taken to increase his comfort:
- Clip the hair around the perineum to prevent urine scalding and infection, if movement is limited it may be necessary to regularly bathe the area
- Provide your rabbit with soft, absorbable bedding to prevent pressure sores and reduce urine scalding
For rabbits suffering from a broken back unfortunately the prognosis is grave and euthanasia may be recommended on humane grounds.