"Vertebral Fractures and Paralysis in Rabbits
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"Vertebral Fractures and Paralysis in Rabbits

Rabbits
Health & Safety

Rabbits usually boast having strong and powerful hind legs which they need for hopping around and escaping any predators they have to get away from in the wild. With this said one complaint they often suffer from which affects their mobility and in particular their back legs, is a vertebral fracture. This can cause weakness and in a worse case scenario, paralysis of their hind limbs. Our domestic pets are fragile creatures and if dropped, they can break bones very easily which is why they need to be handled and lifted up with great care.

When it comes to dislocations, (luxation), this too can cause weakness in a rabbit's back legs and again, if left untreated may even cause paralysis. Rabbits can often twist the base of their spines (the sacrum) and this may well result in them suffering a vertebral fracture which is far more common than most people think. The trauma this causes often means rabbits will lose bladder control and in some cases they may even lose control of their bowels too.

Signs a Fracture May Have Occurred

Symptoms and signs there may be a problem really does depend on how bad the fracture actually is. With this said the more common symptoms to watch out for include the following:

  • A strange stance - showing signs of not being able to hop
  • Dragging back legs
  • Unable to sit up or get up
  • A marked decrease in the movement of both hind limbs and tail
  • A weakening and paralysis of hind limbs
  • Trauma to spine or hind legs
  • Lethargy and depression
  • Incontinence
  • Loss of muscle around their back-ends
  • Increased muscle tone at their front-ends to compensate for hind leg weakness
  • Pain and discomfort

The Causes

There are a lot of reasons why a rabbit might suffer a spinal fracture or an injury to their back legs but the more common causes include the following:

  • Incorrect handling – it is really important to hold both hind and front legs when handling a rabbit because if just one set of legs are held, it may well result in a fracture or a dislocation simply because the rabbit has twisted in an attempt to get away.
  • A nervous and dramatic reaction – rabbits by nature get spooked very easily which means they have often have a reflex reaction to something that's scared them and it's this jerky movement that may well result in a vertebral fracture.
  • Trauma – rabbits can suffer an injury when they are undergoing a medical procedure and this includes when they struggle against being handled or when being given an injection. Children often drop rabbits by mistake which is why it's very important to teach children not to pick their pets up but to pet them on the ground by sitting next to their rabbits.

Diagnosing a Vertebral Fracture

Due to the fact there could be a variety of reasons why a rabbit appears to be weak or suffering some level of paralysis to their back legs, a vet would need to carry out a few tests to rule out probable causes before establishing a correct diagnosis. The vet would then recommend the right type of treatment but you would need to give the vet a complete background of what happened right up until you noticed there was something wrong with your pet.

Other Causes of Paralysis & Hind Leg Weakness

There are other reasons why a rabbit might show signs of paralysis or a weakness of their hind limbs which includes them suffering from certain infections:

  • Encephalitozoon Cuniculi
  • Central nervous systems infections (CNS)
  • Lesion on their central nervous systems
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Damaged spinal cord

Vets would want to carry out a spinal reflex test and take X-rays to establish just how much damage is present on the spine or limbs and whether it is a fracture or a dislocation before deciding on a treatment and offering a prognosis.

Treating Vertebral Fractures & Paralysis

If you find your rabbit is showing signs of severe weakness or paralysis of their hind limbs, you may also find their bladders and bowels are compromised too. A vet would typically recommend keeping your pet at the clinic in order to be treated because it is really important for rabbits to kept in a quiet environment with restricted movement. The care needed is quite intensive as a rabbit would need to be turned at regular intervals to prevent any bed sores from developing during the recovery period.

Once your pet is allowed home, the after care given to them is crucial if they are to made a full recovery and this would include the following:

  • Changing bedding frequently to ensure cleanliness
  • Feeding a careful diet that's been specifically formulated to avoid your pet becoming too frail and therefore slow down the recovery period
  • Many rabbits need to be hand fed when they are recovering because they are not able to feed themselves

Your vet may also prescribe a gastrointestinal medication as a way to protect your rabbit's stomach lining and which would help reduce the chances of an ulcer developing. They may also recommend pain killers to help your pet through the often painful recovery period so they remain comfortable. Antibiotics may also be prescribed if the vet finds a secondary infection is setting in otherwise they would not normally prescribe them.

When it comes to the final prognosis, it really does depend on the severity of the fracture and whether a rabbit is able to eat properly and their general condition. More often than not, a rabbit that's suffered some sort of spinal injury that results in paralysis will not regain total mobility in their hind legs which is why in some instances it would be kinder to put them to sleep.

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