Spine Fractures - Rabbit
Vertebral fracture can easily occur if a rabbit is incorrectly restrained or suddenly kicks out in fear or defence.
If the heavy hindlimbs are allowed to thrust unsupported, they can exert significant stress upon the animal's lightweight skeleton which can result in skeletal and spinal cord damage.
It is a common condition of indoor reared, poorly fed rabbits. The close confinement leads to weakening of the bones and muscles due to disuse atrophy, and the absence of sunlight can exacerbate a vitamin D3 deficiency in a poor diet along with calcium deficiency creating metabolic bone disease.
It also occurs in normal rabbits that are improperly handled without controlling the hindquarters.
Paralysis of the hindlimbs and inability to control urination and defecation indicates severe spinal cord trauma or transection.
The rabbit will be alert and responsive with a normal mentation and normal forelimbs.
Haematology, biochemistry and urinalysis should be performed to check for metabolic bone disease.
Radiography helps to assess trauma to the vertebrae. Fractures most commonly occur at the level of the 7th lumbar vertebra.
If the rabbit retains control of its urination and defecation, it may respond to cage rest and anti-inflammatory therapy, but this may take weeks to months.
The quality of life for these animals should be taken into account, and euthanasia may be the best option in some cases.
The prognosis is poor when the spinal cord has been severely damaged or severed and when vertebral alignment is not maintained. Where there is only severe bruising and inflammation, supportive care and time may lead to an improvement in signs and an adequate quality of life.
As responses vary, each case should be treated individually.
Proper handling and restraint techniques should be taught to any potential rabbit handler. The hindlimbs should never be allowed to fully extend and kick.
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Laber-Laird, K. (1996) Handbook of rodent and rabbit medicine Elsevier Health Sciences
Rosenthal, K. (2008) Rapid review of exotic animal medicine and husbandry Manson Publishing
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