What are Weakness?
Hind leg weakness or paralysis is a common disorder that is seen in rabbits and can have many different causes. It is a particularly harsh disease for rabbits as it affects their ability to pass cecotropes through their system, which can severely inhibit their capacity to get enough nutrition if it is left unaddressed. Many rabbits live long lives without the ability to move their hind legs with just a few changes to their environment.
Hind leg paralysis is characterized by the inability to effectively use the back legs. This can have a number of origins which have a variety of symptoms.
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Symptoms of Weakness in Rabbits
Some symptoms specific to the paralysis include:
- Lack of balance
- Loss of bladder control
- Loss of bowel control
- Pain along spine
- Reluctance to exercise
- Trembling legs
- Weakness of one or more limbs
Diseases like cancer and spinal osteoarthritis can wear down the components of the spinal cord over time and inhibit the ability of the rabbit to move its hind legs.
Parasitic, bacterial, and fungal infections can cause a number of disorders that can lead to weakness or paralysis in rabbits. One of the more notable parasitic infections is known as Encephalitozoon cuniculi.
Paralysis can be caused by several toxins, both natural and man-made. Weakness and paralysis caused by toxins must be handled by a veterinary professional. Rabbits are not capable of vomiting, so to remove any toxins from the stomach, they have to be forcibly removed by activated charcoal and gastric lavage.
Trauma to the spine can cause sudden weakness or paralysis by damaging the nerves. Rabbits have been known to jump erratically when frightened and break their own back.
Causes of Weakness in Rabbits
Many diseases and disorders can lead to hind leg weakness and paralysis in the hind legs.
- Age-related weakness
- Bacterial infection
- Chronic illness
- Parasitic infection
- Encephalitozoon cuniculi (e. cuniculi)
- Spinal trauma
- Vertebral disc disease
- Vitamin deficiency
Diagnosis of Weakness in Rabbits
When you bring your rabbit into the veterinarian, a physical examination will be completed, with particular attention being paid to the spinal column. Standard blood tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC) and a biochemistry profile can be used to determine if any infections or toxins are present in your rabbit's system.
An x-ray will also be taken in order to get a better idea of the status of the spine, usually after an opaque dye is injected into the spinal column to help spot anatomical changes in the spine itself. This procedure is called a myelogram. In some cases, a computerized tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan will be able to spot changes that weren’t visible with the traditional x-ray imaging system. If any growths are found, samples will be taken for a biopsy so that the clinic can determine what kind of cancer it is if it is cancerous.
Treatment of Weakness in Rabbits
If your animal is transported to the veterinary clinic in an emergency state, then supportive treatment will be started right away. This generally includes IV fluids to maintain hydration and to ensure that the proper balances of sugars and enzymes continue circulating, and can also include oxygen if respiration is threatened. Treatment beyond supportive measures will be dependent on the underlying condition that is causing the paralysis.
In the case of infection, the appropriate antibiotic or antifungal medication will be prescribed and should be taken for as long as directed to prevent a reoccurrence of the infection. Rabbits who have broken their backs may be able to heal if only the bones are broken and the nerves are still intact, although a pin may be needed in some situations. If the paralysis is due to a toxin that was ingested recently, your veterinarian may administer vitamin E and activated charcoal as well as perform a gastric lavage, especially since rabbits are unable to vomit to expel the toxin themselves.
Recovery of Weakness in Rabbits
The prognosis for rabbits with rear limb paralysis depends on the amount of damage that has occurred to the spinal cord itself as well as the underlying cause of the disorder. In some cases, it is kinder to euthanize the animal, and there are cases where the rabbit’s range of motion is fully restored. There are also situations in which the rabbit lives on, but remains paralyzed. A rabbit that has paralyzed back legs will need special bedding and a low entry litterbox in its enclosure, as well as assistance in cleaning their ears. Common disorders of paralyzed rabbits to be aware of are urine scald, sore hocks, and pressure sores. These disorders should be minimized or avoided with the appropriate preventative measures.