What is Limping Due to Pain or Injury?
Often owners notice that their pet’s gait changes from hopping to stepping due to reluctance to push from both hind limbs. Other signs may be urine scalding due to improper positioning while urinating, aggression or agitation when handling, or depression. To improve your pet’s chance of full recovery it is important to seek treatment as soon as limping is noticed.
Limping due to pain or injury is common in rabbits. This is most commonly due to trauma, improper handling, pain caused by infection, or chronic conditions such an osteoarthritis.
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Symptoms of Limping Due to Pain or Injury in Rabbits
- Anorexia due to pain
- Grunting while moving
- Signs of pain such as hunched position, teeth grinding, reluctance to move or groom
- Localised swelling in cases of fracture, the distal limb may have the appearance of “hanging” and if an open fracture has occurred wounds may be visible
- Fever, purulent discharge, and a hard, mobile mass may be noticed in cases of abscess
Causes of Limping Due to Pain or Injury in Rabbits
- Trauma such as fracture or injury to the soft tissue – commonly caused by rough handling, trapped limbs in cage, road accidents or attack from predators such as foxes or dogs
- Arthritis caused by osteoarthritis, a chronic, degenerative form 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, and Pasteurella multocida
Diagnosis of Limping Due to Pain or Injury in Rabbits
Your veterinarian will perform a full physical examination on your rabbit. She 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 lameness. Your veterinarian will examine your pet’s limbs for range of movement, check for deformity and swelling of the limbs, ataxia, crepitus of the bone, or skin lesions.
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 pet for other abscesses or wounds. As abscesses can cause osteomyelitis, the infection of the bone and bone marrow; in order to verify this your veterinarian may choose to perform radiographs.
Radiographs can be taken to confirm assist in diagnosis. Your veterinarian will need to sedate your pet in order to perform these. Fractures will be evident in radiographs, while “haze” or “fuzziness” present in the radiographs around the joints indicate arthritis.
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 can mean infection; further cultures performed by your veterinarian will be able to identify the bacteria and most effective antibiotic treatment.
Blood chemistry may also be performed, which may indicate infection and provide an important baseline for renal health prior to the prescription of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain relief.
Treatment of Limping Due to Pain or Injury in Rabbits
The treatment your pet receives will depend on the cause of lameness.
If your rabbit is presenting with lameness due to abscess or fracture, he will need surgery under a general anesthetic. There are risks involved with surgery so your veterinarian will need to 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 due to it’s reduced effects on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. In cases of abscess the mass will require full excision. If your pet is suffering from a fracture. internal fixation may be necessary.
In cases of infection your veterinarian may take samples for bacterial cultures prior to commencing antibiotic treatment, however as rabbits can deteriorate very quickly, the prognosis is drastically improved by early treatment. Due to this, your veterinarian will most likely give enrofloxacin while awaiting results. When culture results become available your veterinarian may choose to change antibiotic treatment. For pain relief, your veterinarian will likely give either NSAIDs or opiates.
It is vital that your rabbit eat during his illness. Anorexia in rabbits can become dangerous in as little as 24 hours, and can cause gastric stasis, hepatic lipidosis and intestinal ileus. Appetite stimulants such as parsley, carrot tops and kale may be recommended along with any of your rabbit’s favorite foods, alfalfa hay, fresh vegetables, and pellets.
If your pet is still refusing food syringe feeding may be necessary. Your veterinarian may choose to give pellets moistened with water, pureed vegetables, or banana.
Recovery of Limping Due to Pain or Injury in Rabbits
Your rabbit should be kept indoors and confined with soft, warm bedding. Ensure the environment is clean to prevent infection developing or progressing. Monitor your pet’s diet and fecal output closely. Rabbits’ can deteriorate within 24 hours of anorexia, providing effective analgesia is an essential factor in encouraging a recovering rabbit to eat. Discuss a pain relief plan with your veterinarian.
In cases of fracture your veterinarian will request your pet return for 2 weekly examinations. If your pet’s lameness is due to osteoarthritis, the recovery is unfortunately limited. However, there are things you can do to help manage the disease:
- 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
- Ensure your rabbit maintains a healthy weight as extra weight adds strain to their body and exacerbates arthritic symptoms
- If a diet change is needed this must be a gradual change, and discussed with your veterinarian