What is Spinal Column Disorder?
The prognosis may vary depending on the type of spinal column disorder your pet is suffering from. As there are many potential causes, your rabbit 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.
Spinal column disorder is a common occurrence in rabbits, due to their powerful hind limbs, injury to their back can easily occur due to kicking out during improper handling. Other causes of disorder of the spinal column may include trauma due to an attack from another animal, accident, or fright caused by a startling incident such as a thunderstorm.
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Symptoms of Spinal Column Disorder in Rabbits
Spinal column disorder may be difficult to spot. In severe cases, complete paralysis of the hind limbs may be seen, along with fecal and urinary incontinence. However, in less severe cases it is often change in their pet’s gait, reduced range of motion of their neck and back, and reluctance to be held that owner’s notice. Other symptoms may include:
- Anorexia due to pain
- Grunting while moving
- Aggression or agitation when handling or depression.
- 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
- Urine scalding due to improper positioning while urinating or inability to groom
- Paralysis of the hind limbs
Causes of Spinal Column Disorder 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 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, or pasteurella multocida
Diagnosis of Spinal Column Disorder in Rabbits
Your veterinarian will perform a full physical examination of your rabbit. They 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.
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.
The best practice diagnostic tool for spinal cord diseases is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which enables visualization of the spinal cord and both soft tissue and bone, showing any abnormalities such as fractures, cervical spondylosis, abscesses, tumors, or ruptured discs.
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 Spinal Column Disorder in Rabbits
The treatment your pet receives will depend on the cause of pain. During recovery, your rabbit will be kept confined to prevent further damage if spinal trauma or disc herniation has taken place. If your rabbit has suffered from mild to moderate trauma to the spinal column, can maintain urinary and bowel continence, and has sensation in the toes, cage rest may be indicated for treatment. Your pet may require cage confinement for 6 – 8 weeks. During this time, corticosteroids will be used as needed for pain relief and your pet should be provided with supportive care to encourage nutrition and ensure pressure sores do not occur.
It is common for rabbits to refuse food when in pain, however It is vital that your pet eat during the diagnostic 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.
In order to manage your rabbit’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.
Recovery of Spinal Column Disorder in Rabbits
The management for your pet will vary depending on the condition causing the pain. You may be given pain relief for your pet and instructions to restrict exercise and monitor your pet for signs of deterioration or complications. To support your rabbit’s healing the following steps can be taken to increase their 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 conditions that require long-term pain management such as spondylosis, there are a range of treatments that may reduce the need for pharmaceutical pain relief including acupuncture and chiropractic treatment as well as gentle massage of the muscles of the back
For rabbits suffering from severe spinal cord trauma or severance, the prognosis is poor and euthanasia may be recommended on humane grounds.