What are Dislocation and Paralysis?
Dislocation and paralysis in rabbits are often caused by trauma to the spinal cord. As there are other causes of paralysis in rabbits, your rabbit will require a comprehensive exam to determine the cause and type of his paralysis as well as an appropriate treatment. Pain and secondary effects of the condition may necessitate extensive therapy. Consult your veterinarian if you suspect that your rabbit is experiencing paralysis.
Dislocation and other physical trauma may cause paralysis, leading to the inability to move a portion of the body, and possibly including the loss of bladder and bowel control.
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Symptoms of Dislocation and Paralysis in Rabbits
A fracture or dislocation in your rabbit’s back will cause compression on or severing of the spinal cord. Symptoms include:
- Paralysis (inability to move) of the hind quarters
- Loss of bladder and bowel control
At the time of the injury, there will be swelling around the spinal cord. As the swelling goes down, paralysis may or may not be resolved.
Mild to moderate damage/partial paralysis - The spinal cord has sustained mild to moderate damage; your rabbit may have feeling in his toes as well as bladder and bowel control.
Severe damage/complete paralysis - When the spinal cord is completely severed or seriously bruised.
Causes of Dislocation and Paralysis in Rabbits
Possible causes of dislocation and paralysis in rabbits include:
- Struggle during restraint; your rabbit may be afraid and fight the restraint, suddenly kicking or twisting to free himself
- The force of your rabbit’s kicking or twisting can lead to a fracture or dislocation
- A more aggressive restraint will lead to an increased likelihood of injury to the spinal cord
- When a caged rabbit is surprised or scared, his reaction may cause his hindquarters to twist in such a way as to cause atypical stress on the spine, leading to dislocation
- Rabbits who do not get daily exercise will lose bone density which will increase their risk for trauma
Diagnosis of Dislocation and Paralysis in Rabbits
Your rabbit should be handled very carefully so as to not cause further injury. In some cases, your rabbit may be experiencing shock and should be stabilized prior to anesthesia being administered. The veterinarian will ask for information regarding your rabbit’s history in order to get an idea of what may be causing his paralysis. When paralysis happens gradually, it is often due to inflammatory, degenerative or neoplastic disease. Sudden paralysis is usually a result of external trauma.
Your rabbit will be examined to determine if he has deep pain sensation. Rabbits are often good at hiding signs of pain, so this may not be conclusive. The diagnosis of paralysis will be confirmed through radiography. Myelography, in which a contrast medium is used to determine the location of the spinal cord injury, may be used if necessary.
It is important to obtain a diagnosis quickly so that your rabbit can begin treatment. If your rabbit is not able to urinate on his own, without treatment he may become azotemic or uremic.
Treatment of Dislocation and Paralysis in Rabbits
Your rabbit will likely be hospitalized for the beginning of his treatment, which will include pain management, IV fluids, cage rest and assistance with nutrition. For the first few days after the injury, your rabbit may be given anti-inflammatory medication like a corticosteroid in order to reduce damage due to swelling. Depending on the injury, the paralysis may resolve in three to five days as the swelling around the spinal cord decreases.
Rabbits who have experienced mild to moderate spinal cord damage, perhaps having some feeling in their toes along with bladder or bowel control may see their symptoms slowly diminish during three months of treatment. Their treatment should include six to eight weeks confined to their cage to help the fracture heal and as the caregiver, you must assist the rabbit in waste elimination. In these cases, rabbits can progress to where they can walk and hop.
In rabbits whose spinal cord is completely severed or severely bruised, there is no intervention that will enable the rabbit to return to typical function. Euthanasia is often recommended in these cases as quality of life may be poor. In some cases, the owner will be able to provide extensive care for their rabbit, including fitting him with a cart for mobility, doing what is necessary to prevent pressure sores and helping him eliminate waste.
Recovery of Dislocation and Paralysis in Rabbits
Whether your rabbit has experienced a mild to moderate spinal cord injury, or a severe injury, you will want to keep him confined to his cage for six to eight weeks in order to let the fracture heal. Depending on the injury, you may have to assist your rabbit by helping him eliminate waste and moving him to avoid pressure sores. Follow up appointments will depend on the veterinarian and the severity of the injury.
Rabbits with a mild to moderate spinal cord injury may or may not experience a full recovery, while those with a severely damaged spinal cord will not regain normal function.
Dislocation and Paralysis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My rabbit is on pain meds and an antibiotic. His cage is pretty big he can fully extend his legs and stand up fine in it. I was wondering if he should be on cage rest. Since he's recovering from a skin infection and has slight muscle weakness from the pain. He has seen a vet already just wanted to know if I should keep him in his cage with food and water for the mean time.
Cage rest is an ideal way to help an animal recover from injury; but as you mention, if the cage is too large it may defeat the object of cage rest. If Chubbi isn’t moving around too much, then it wouldn’t be a problem; if he is an active bunny, then it may be a case of blocking part of the cage to make the space smaller whilst he recovers. Always make sure that food and water are close by and that he has a clean area to lay down. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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