[rabbits] Looking after a sick bunny

Looking after a sick bunny.

Last weekend, we tried to introduce Sebastian and Fifer to each other. They were doing ok – they were in an enclosed space of neutral territory, and I was in with them while my husband manned the exits, so we could stop them at the first signs of a scuffle.

Fifer has a history of bad behaviour towards other male rabbits. He was very well behaved, just sat there ignoring Sebastian, which is a good sign in rabbits. Sebastian seemed to be ignoring him too. Then, after ten full minutes of being side by side, ignoring each other, Sebastian tried to bite Fifer. Fifer, being much younger and also a wild rabbit, reacted very quickly to dodge the attack, and the next thing we knew, Fifer appeared to have most of Sebastian’s head in his mouth (they’re approximately the same size so I have no idea how he managed this except that I watched him do it). I broke them up and put Fifer back in his run, he had lost some fur, but seemed ok, then went to see to Sebastian. He didn’t actually seem hurt, his eye was a tiny bit scratched but there was nothing major going on. I was more worried about their emotional states.

Fast forward one week, to Saturday afternoon, and Sebastian’s eye has a lot of what we thought was catarrh on the surface, as well as being red and irritated around the eyelid. Since our vet closes on Saturday at midday and doesn’t re-open until Monday, we thought we’d wash it out with warm salt water and keep checking on him, but there wasn’t a lot else we could do and we didn’t think it was an emergency.

Monday came, and we got stuck with another job out of the house all day, and didn’t get to check on him until five o’clock. Luckily our vet’s is open until 7. By now, his eye was still covered in the white stuff and also was swollen almost shut, the edge of the eyelid was even more red and inflamed than before. I got him an emergency appointment at 5:30 and got him straight there.

His eye is so badly hurt that the vet can’t actually see into the back of it to know how badly it has been affected. She gave us antibiotic eye drops and anti-inflammatory painkiller, and some rabbit-safe wormer in case it’s caused by a parasite that can cause them blindness. We were told he should be kept separate from all the other bunnies. He has a big ulcer on the surface of his eye and inflammation under the eyelid and in the tear duct, and these could all be masking further symptoms inside the eye that would make it clearer as to whether it was trauma related or parasite related.

That is how poor, elderly Sebastian came to be staying in the bathroom again. We always put sick bunnies in the bathroom because the houserabbits aren’t allowed in there (unless they are sick) so it’s neutral territory, and we can cover the door with a whiteboard so the rabbits can’t get to each other, and it’s a small enough space that is bunnyproofed that means we can get at the sick rabbit when it’s time to administer medication. But it’s still large enough that they have enough room to hop around (it’s 2.7m by 3.5m, so even though we’ve narrowed it a bit with cardboard there’s still loads of floorspace because we don’t confine our rabbits in small spaces unless it’s during a car ride). The room is very easy to control environmentally as well – temperature and flooring are easily changed to keep rabbits comfortable when they are ill, injured or recovering from neutering.  This time round, we blocked off the toilet with this cardboard so he didn’t get behind the toilet as I don’t think it’s very hygienic and he seemed to make a beeline to hide behind the toilet last time we had him in, which was with his brother Neville before he died.

This is Sebastian's setup in the bathroom.
This is Sebastian’s setup in the bathroom.

We have given him the carry case box as we know that bunnies are often scared when they are sick, and he doesn’t have his brother with him for comfort any more, so we need to make sure he has somewhere to hide. Also it makes it easier to get him back to the vets. We have also given him a hay box that he likes to sit in when he’s not being scared.

Here you can get a good look at Sebastian's eye - it's swelled shut, and he's turning it towards us because he's disoriented and scared, and doesn't want to lose his other eye in case we're predators.  This was immediately after we brought him back from the vets last night.
Here you can get a good look at Sebastian’s eye – it’s swelled shut, and he’s turning it towards us because he’s disoriented and scared, and doesn’t want to lose his other eye in case we’re predators. This was immediately after we brought him back from the vets last night.

We have given him a big bowl full of food and fresh vegetables because we know it’s crucial for him to keep eating – as soon as he stops eating, the situation will get a lot worse very quickly. We also gave him a water bowl. We have found that having water in bowls is much better for all our bunnies and makes them feel less like dependent lab animals and more like independent explorers who happen to live with us. Which is how we like it because there are much better ways to get any rabbit to behave than to treat them like an object of lesser intelligence.

At first he just hid in the red box and we were worried that he wasn’t going to be able to find his food and water.  Sebastian came out of his box in the night, and has spent most of the day in his hay box, although when I went upstairs to get a photo, I found him chilling out here on the blue shower mat, which he likes to use as toilet space (I have no complaints since it’s water tight and easy to clean). As you can see, he has pulled the newspaper out of the red box and tipped his food out, in typical bunny style, making himself at home!

Sebastian on the shower mat, having rearranged his living space to his satisfaction.
Sebastian on the shower mat, having rearranged his living space to his satisfaction.

We have given him his medication twice so far, and will give it him again tonight before it’s time for bed, so that he is comfortable overnight.  He wouldn’t accept the syringe in his mouth at first, but when he realised he wasn’t going to be put on the floor again until he swallowed it all, it mysteriously disappeared into his tummy.  I think he just wants to register his discontent.  If he’s well enough to complain about the room service, he’s probably going to be ok.  I hope.

The vet is going to see him again tomorrow morning first thing, even though she’s got other things to do since it’s school holidays. Our vet is brilliant and I know that, whatever happens with Sebastian, she will do her best to help him. She said that if the eye ointment and anti-inflammatory medication don’t resolve the problem, he might lose his eye, but she also said that this might not have been caused by Fifer. It might have been caused by a parasite that can affect both his eyes and cause head tilt. If that’s the case, he might just be suffering needlessly, as he might never be cured, at which point we will have a very difficult decision to make about euthanasia.

My personal standpoint is that it is unfair and cruel to force an animal to keep living and to go through long and invasive medical intervention for our selfish benefit – because, when the time comes that the animal can’t live a happy and wholesome life any more, it’s best to just let them go. Having said that, this will be a difficult decision because at what point do you decide that an animal is suddenly unable to enjoy life or live a fulfilling life? I worry that some people give up on their pets too soon, but I also worry that some people leave it too long and either way, unpleasantness is caused and it’s not fair on the animal. Another part of me knows that as a species, we don’t really have any right to say whether an animal lives or dies, even when they live with us, and even when we have their best interests at heart. So it is still difficult and I don’t think anyone can know what call to make until the individual circumstances of the animal and the extent of their illness or injury are there, in front of them, demanding a decision.

I hope Sebastian will be okay, but I’m ready to hear the worst. I’m just hoping he’ll get better on his own. In the meantime we have made him comfortable, and I hope that we are enabling him to live his life to the fullest until we know what’s going to happen in the long term.  He is ten years old and has had a very happy life, but we would still be very sad to lose him because we love all the rabbits that share life with us and live in and around our house and garden.

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