So, here I am in a hotel room in Edinburgh, hoping that everybun is still ok back home. It seems an opportune time to start writing some blurb about what has happened, in the hope that it might help someone else in the future.
I have a pair of pet rabbits of my own, and I rescue and rehome rabbits sort of as a hobby I guess. It’s pretty small scale and I only have low numbers at any one time. I don’t advertise for intake, they either just sort of find me, or come via other rescue contacts who need a bit of extra capacity to help out with emergency situations. I have low turnover, maybe several bunnies in and several bunnies out each year, and they all have large enclosures in line with RWAF guidelines of 60 square feet, mostly via sheds and aviaries. The latest ‘intake’ was a single female rabbit who had been rescued from a house by a rescue contact of a rescue contact, she had been living in a vivarium. She was a bit snuffly so was on antibiotics and was booked in for her spay at the end of the course. Before we got to that point, however, to everyone’s surprise, she popped out a litter of 7 babies. In my wardrobe.
So at this time I have my main bunnies living down the garden (2 pairs and 1 single) and I have the family of mum plus seven babies up near the house.
We do live on a large, countryside plot of around 2 acres and there are plenty of wild rabbits in the area, including 2 active warrens and a number of nursing stops in the garden. We are visited by foxes, badgers, deer, squirrels and the like, and we also have 2 cats, meaning that even with the best will in the world, it is pretty impossible to stop disease from spreading around the garden and indeed into the house. If it’s in the garden, the cats will ensure that it gets trampled in and all over the carpets, sofas, bedding etc…
I’m not a paranoid person as a rule, but RHD2 has been something I’ve been fearful about ever since it became a ‘thing’. My paranoia was heightened when a friend who lives about 20 miles away sadly lost all four rabbits to RHD2. Time passed, all mine seemed fine and I breathed a sigh of relief. Until one day a few weeks ago, when I had a day off work to rest after a traumatic incident completely unrelated to all of this.
7.30am…bunny breakfast as usual. Mum and the babies were still all together, babies approx 6 weeks old, had been vaccinated against myxo-RHD the week before. I always do a head count at mealtimes to ensure that everybun is present and correct. All seemed normal.
11.30am…took a break from my gardening (trying to enclose my main rabbit area to prevent access by wild rabbits). Cup of tea and go say hi to the family. Quick head count reveals that one of the babies, Lily, does not appear along with all the others. I open up the hutch and find her inside their little hidey hole. She looks very dazed and collapsed. I run to grab a carrier and pick her up to put her in it to rush her straight to the vets. As I pick her up I can feel that her undersides feel extremely abnormal and very hard in places that they don’t normally feel hard. As I pick her up, she screams and screams, and doesn’t stop for a good few minutes. Knowing that you have a rabbit in pain and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it is the most heartbreaking thing. I ring the vets as I set off so they know that I’m coming. I wasn’t really expecting her to survive the journey, but she did. When I arrived I couldn’t find anywhere to park, so I ring the practice and the receptionist comes running down to collect her from the car and takes her up straight away. When I finally get to the practice, she’s been put on oxygen by the RVN while waiting for the vet to come out of surgery to have a look at her. After examining her, he comes out to see me and says that her stomach feels extremely impacted and that she is in a lot of discomfort. There are two options: either PTS straight away or take her straight to surgery to operate and remove the blockage, and hope for the best. He thinks the prognosis is extremely poor, but I say give it a go anyway – if the other option is that she is definitely going to die, might as well give her a chance. I mention to him that I have been in contact with someone who has had confirmed RHD2 and at that point, he didn’t feel as if her symptoms suggested that, but that he could take a look at her liver while he was doing the surgery, just to check.
I had rushed out of the house so quickly that I hadn’t brought my purse with me. The receptionist lends me some of her own money so I can go to M&S next door and buy myself a drink while I wait to see how the surgery goes.
I return about 45 mins later and to everyone’s surprise, she survives the surgery. The vet tells me that her stomach was full of hard, impacted materials but there was no obvious blockage causing it to be like that. He says that her liver, however, was very concerning as it was full of little haemorrhages which are consistent with RHD. He took a liver biopsy while he was doing the surgery and recommended sending it off for testing. I said yes. At this point I drive home. About half an hour later I get a call from the RVN to say that she had passed away shortly after coming round from the anaesthetic. We agree that the sample should be sent for testing anyway. In the space of just a few hours, Lily goes from being a normal, bouncy baby bunny, to a dead one. It’s just heartbreaking.
I get home and paranoia takes over. I find myself looking at all the rabbits and trying to decide if they look ill or not. I think one of the babies, Jeremy, looks very slightly odd, but I can’t put my finger on why. I try to take his temperature but it’s all too small and I can’t quite manage it. I ring the vets and speak to the RVN. She tells me that if I’m worried I should take him in. I spend a bit longer monitoring, and decide that he’s eating and bouncing around as normal so I must just be being paranoid and am imagining things. I think I was also reluctant to go taking bunnies to the clinic if there is a possibility they might be infectious, and with hindsight, this may have clouded my judgement somewhat.
Sunday morning, I decide that I’m not being paranoid and that Jeremy is not quite right. He’s still eating, but he’s a little vacant, and his eyes just don’t look quite right. Maybe not quite as open and alert as the others. This is confirmed for me when one of my cats comes strolling past – mum stamps and she and the babies all go running for cover, apart from Jeremy who just stays where he is, munching away.
Off to the vets we go with Jeremy. My normal vet is on holiday, so I see a vet who has been on maternity leave and is covering as a favour. I bet she was hoping for a weekend of vaccinations and revisits, not ‘hello, this rabbit might have RHD2’. She was excellent. She gave him a good feel over and confirmed that she could feel organs that didn’t seem quite right – she thought it was his liver and spleen she could feel. We discussed what to do. Unlike Lily, Jeremy didn’t seem to be in pain, he was just very…vacant. So I brought him home again with lactulose to support his liver and septrin in case of infection/coccidiosis. He was 7 weeks old at this point. As I understand it, lactulose helps by sucking toxins (mainly ammonia) out of the blood, which would normally be dealt with by the liver. We discussed milk thistle, which is also another liver support. She went away and checked, and came back saying it can be given from 8 weeks. So something to potentially add to the armoury from that point.
I’m tired now, I’ll continue with part 2 tomorrow. So far all is stable – Jeremy had a rough few days (more about that when I continue) but has rallied and at the time of writing is doing ok. Sleep well everyone x