Have You Found The Right Vet, Yet?

I have had an awful lot of very sad email this past month from desperate bunny owners whom are seeking advice from me about their sick bunnies. While I enjoy educating the public, I am not a rabbit veterinarian. Even with my dozens of years of rabbit experience, I am nowhere near an expert on rabbit medical issues.

Rabbit specialist veterinarians are Avian Exotics trained. They are technically bird doctors, but this is the specialty that is formally acknowledged as rabbit experts. I could never be anything close to that, because these vets often spend decades learning and working with ill bunnies.

This leads to another issue, which is that dog and cat vets often only see 5 or 6 bunnies a year. This is not the way to gain experience with bunnies. Having your vet searching for the right medication or treatment on the internet, is not a comforting feeling and when it comes to rabbits, experience is everything.

I work as a rabbit educator every year at the National Veterinarian’s Convention held here in San Diego and get to speak with hundreds of vets and their assistants from around the country. It is amazing how little some of them know about rabbits. What is even scarier is that if you brought them a sick bunny, I am sure most of them would try to treat him… BUT, do you think that your rabbit would be getting the finest in medical care at that point?

The truth is I have made this same mistake. The first time I took my bunny to my dog’s vet to ask why he always had mushy poop stuck to his butt. I asked if it was anything I was feeding him and the vet told us to just feed him unlimited pellets and he would be fine. I got a big hopper feeder and did exactly that. Of course, it only made his problem worse.

That poor bunny had almost daily butt baths and eventually died in this vet’s office. I will not go into the gory details. This illustrates to need to qualify the vet that you bring your rabbit to visit, which means you want one who sees a lot of rabbits, all of the time. You do not have to be an Avian Exotic Specialist to be a good rabbit vet. Instead, a vet needs to do a lot of study and work with rabbits to be up on the latest antibiotics and treatments for common rabbit ailments. Rabbit medicine is changing rapidly and so this is important.

It is easy to find a rabbit specialist vet in my area, because we have a couple dozen of them. Our local chapter of the House Rabbit Society lists all the bunny approved vets on their website and publications. Other House Rabbit Society Chapters also publish their own local lists. Go to the national HRS website to find a list of local chapters. They even have a vet list of their own, but the local chapter’s website will probably be more up to date and have more options.

If you happen to live in an area that does not have a House Rabbit Society affiliate, then search out your local rabbit rescue people. You may even be able to contact your local Humane Society to find who in your area is active with rescuing rabbits. These are the people who are going to know whom the good bunny vets are locally. It is a highly effective method to home in on a good rabbit specialist. Searching on your own, can be disappointing and a good reference is important when seeking medical treatment.

I highly recommend that you find your vet before you ever get a bunny. If you already have a rabbit, but still do not have a regular vet for him, then what are you waiting for? After your rabbit is already sick, is not a good time to frantically be searching for one. This will lead you to taking your bunny to the wrong vet almost every time. Again, I speak from experience. As our local bail bondsman says in his local TV commercials, “Better to know me and not need me, than to need me and not know me”.

Another really important thing to do with your bunny and his vet BEFORE he ever gets sick is to get a blood panel run on him while he is HEALTHY. Rabbit blood test values can vary dramatically from rabbit to rabbit. When your rabbit’s vet does not have anything to compare a test with, he is only guessing as to what is out of whack. This can waste precious and valuable time when trying to diagnose a sick bunny. When you know what the healthy values are, it is a lot easier for your bunny’s doctor to diagnose and treat him.

The last issue I would like to address is that you should learn how to tell when your bunny is sick. I always tell people that if you think your rabbit is sick, HE IS. Rabbits hide the fact that they are sick, because they are prey animals. Any break from a normal daily routine should may you suspect something.

Don’t jump right to conclusions and get dramatic, but if your rabbit normally never sits and hides in an out of the way place and now he is doing it, that should be a red flag. Now you should be paying attention to see if he truly is not feeling well. I will offer a small healthy treat to my bunny at that point, like his favorite dried herb or a sprig of parsley. If he refuses that, I am not super aware that something is just not right.

I may watch him for a few minutes, noting his posture and body language. I will feel his ears to see if he is cold or warm. Rabbits should not have ice cold ears, if indoors at room temperature. As soon as you have determined that your bunny is not OK, it is time for a call to his vet. The clock is now ticking.

I have written before about how to tell from body posture, if your bunny is hurting or ill. I cover this topic in Rabbit Communication, extensively in my new book, “The Bunny Lover’s Complete Guide To House Rabbits”. Get your copy for a lot more detailed explanation of what your rabbit is trying to say to you.

Meanwhile, you have got all the basics and if you still have not found the perfect vet for your rabbit, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

The Bunny Guy

No Such Thing As A Pet Rabbit?

I was informed this week that an event that I have attended as an educator for the past three years would not allow us to bring our bunnies this year. The Paw-In-The-Park held in Escondido is put on by the Escondido Humane Society and numerous sponsors. When the permits for the event were issued, it was stipulated that ONLY dogs would be allowed. We were basically told that our rabbits would not be welcome, even though they had done this many times before.

It reminded me of something that happened last summer. I have a group of friends who like to go out to dinner with our rabbits each week. We call it “Bunny Night Out”. Often, we just go to a local street fair and eat the street food, but during the summer it gets too crowded to push the buns in their strollers. During these times, we will all meet at a restaurant with a “dog friendly” outdoor patio.

Our favorite was a Japanese place that we had all been to many times before. One day after we had all ordered, the manager came up and told us we would have to leave. It appears that a complaint was made to the CA Health Dept. about our previous visit. This prompted a visit by a Health Inspector who informed the restaurant that they would be fined if we were allowed to return.

Not to get into the mental state of a person who would make such a complaint, my point is that while dogs are considered pets and therefore welcomed on pet-friendly patios, rabbits are still classified as “livestock” in the state of California. This was a technical violation of Health Codes that forbid “livestock” in dining areas.

These recent examples are just my personal experiences in the past year. Multiply this across the tens of thousands of people who have pet rabbits in California and we now have a much larger issue. It is time that we re-classify pet bunnies to be what they truly are… companion animals, no different than a pet cat or dog.

We are fighting a major battle trying to educate the public about how to properly care for and house their pet bunnies, but when the government is institutionalizing all the wrong ideas and myths, it is part of a much deeper problem.

It makes our job of educating people a lot harder, when even the government does not recognize our pets as such. It creates skepticism and even worse, resistance to our ideas. I have heard people I meet in the public rationalize that rabbits do not deserve a better life because they are not truly meant to be pets and belong on the farm (or dinner table).

I have not even heard of any kind of movement in California to change these laws. I am certain that any attempt at change would be met with stiff resistance by the farmer’s unions and lobbies. That is why I think that the best compromise would be to create a dual classification. At least it would acknowledge that many thousands of rabbits who are pets in homes across California exist and that is a good start.


The Bunny Guy