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Rabbits/My bunny died under anaesthetic :(


My Tilt
My Tilt  
I am so sad in writing you this letter. My 7 month old dwarf rabbit died under anaesthetic a few days ago. A few months prior to that he recovered from a VERY aggressive case of Ecuniculi. 2 vets wanted to "let him go", but I wasn't ready to give up so I searched for an exotic specialist. After 2 months of just rolling uncontrollably in his cage, he was showing signs of improvement. He was diagnosed of it at only 6 weeks old. All in all, it took 3 months, a lot of different medications and a whole lot of love and attention, before he was back to being a rabbit, still tilted, but nonetheless happy and perfect in his imperfect way.
He recovered beautifully, and he lived with his twin sister throughout his illness. I think that helped.
At 7 months of age he started showing signs of aggression and being territorial, spraying, all the normal things intact rabbits do, and of course, he shared the same cage with his sister.
I made an appointment to see the same rabbit savvy vet that saved his life. I wanted someone that knew his history. I asked him whether the risks are higher because he had Ecuniculi, the answer was slightly, but only because of the stress so he would operate on him first to minimise that, and he castrated Ecuniculi rabbits before without problems. The second question was about his size ( I have attached a picture of him, very small breed of rabbit ), vet said that does not matter if the testicles are present, which after some digging around, they were.
I handed him the food I brought with me so he can eat straight after the op, his favourite blanket and a heat pad. His sister was there with him as well, I wanted to neuter them both so they can recover together and won't have to be separated. I thought about everything.
I signed the papers and put on a brave face as the last words I heard were, "he will be fine, we do this all the time".
This vet is about an hour away from where I live so it was quiet a drive and my Tilt did look a bit stressed out because of the journey.
I went and sat in my car and called my parter to say that it's all done and now I will just have to wait. I was scared.
40 minutes into the conversation, I see the vets number pop up on my phone. My heart dropped and I instantly felt sick. My Tilt died, he said that his heart slowed down as soon as he was given the anaesthetic, after which he was administered a shot of adrenaline which brought him back, but as he was stitching him up, he had a heart attack.
It all felt like a bad dream, the only thing I remember saying was don't operate on her too, I don't want to lose 2 rabbits.
I went to get him and he was wrapped up in a blanket, looking as he was still alive, his belly was very bloated, I am still unsure as to why ??
Again I just listened to the vet speaking, whilst I was sobbing out of control and crying without being able to speak or ask anything. He kept saying "We use the safest of anaesthetics".
I came back and done a lot of research and the % of rabbits that die under anaesthetic is less than 1%. And then the questions started arising. Was he overdosed on the anaesthetic, was the long journey too stressful, did they give him too much adrenaline, was he monitored properly, was he too small to go through this, was he damaged from all the medications he was under whilst being ill, was he just a weak bunny, was the story even true, why was his belly so swollen and hard, could this have been preventable, are there some anaesthetics safer than others?
If anyone could help me with these questions I would be so grateful, as I don't feel strong enough to ring up the vet in question yet, also when time comes it will feel right, what are the right things to ask and how should I ask them?
I am so sorry about my lengthy email, my Tilt was the most loved house bunny in the whole world and after everything he's been through I can't believe it was his time.
Thank you in advance.

ANSWER: Hi Jessica

So sorry to hear about your bun :(

Sadly it does just sound like some very bad luck. It does happen sometimes and it may have been a side effect from the EC. That parasite can cause all sorts of internal problems and it does tend to be different for every bun effected.

Don't beat yourself up and it sounds as though your vet did everything they could. The belly bloat could simply be a post mortem symptom. One consolation should be that your bun felt no pain at the end and simply went to sleep.

Such a sad situation but honestly it just sounds like some very bad luck :( sometimes buns just go and we don't know why. At the rescue we lost one bun during a routine operation, he was healthy but just went, the only reason we could think was that he was a monstrous 8.5kg giant bunny and his heart just couldn't handle his mass and the anaesthetic. It was a sad day at the rescue when we lost him.

So sorry for your loss but don't beat yourself up about the end, remember the good times and concentrate on his widow to make sure she doesn't mourn too badly.

Hope I helped a little?

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


Thank you so much for your kind words, it is exactly what the vet said, that these things happen and he didn't know why. He said it is very rare these days with modern anaesthetics, like that was some sort of consolation.
I am having troubles dealing with the guilt, as it feels I played a part in the outcome, maybe I took him to be neutered too young, and giving his history, maybe I should have left him alone all together, but it's too late for that now.
His widow is not doing too good either, the dynamics are just not the same, her enthusiasm for food is not the same, she is not as keen to see me as before, and it feels as if she hates me and since it happened she started being stompy and runs away and hides in her house which she never did before. She digs and bites when you go near her so she is either aggressive or completely withdrawn. I feel like a failure in whatever I try to do.
She also has 80% chance of getting cervical cancer but how could I spay her after all that's happened? What if she has the same weak heart as him? They are twins afterall. What would you suggest?
I am so sorry to hear about your BIG man ! I know giant rabbits have special requirements when it comes to anaesthetics. If only the machines were like for humans to monitor them properly and a dedicated anaesthetist to take care of things when they start going downhill and not for the surgeon to be both. Of course that would mean higher costs, but I reckon a lot of people would take that option if presented. I know 100% I would have for my little man. I am so sorry for your loss, it must have been a horrific day ! :(
You've helped a lot Cat, thank you so much for that !
Keep up the good work, we need more people like you in the world. I really appreciate your time, sympathy and efforts.
God bless you !

Hi Jessica

Get your vet to give your girl a good check over and listen to her heart and lungs. May be worth having her tested for EC too just in case, unless she was treated the same time as him as precaution anyway? I'm sure she would survive the operation as she hasn't been weakened with sickness like her poor brother was.

Get your vet to check her over first.

Good luck!


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I can answer questions around the welfare of pet rabbits, basic health queries including gut stasis, diet worries, bonding questions and the proper welfare standards around housing rabbits (i.e. no wire floors, no small cages and they should be kept in properly bonded de-sexed pairs in very large enclosures). I cannot answer showing questions nor complex breeding issues as I do not agree with either, seeing the other end of the story in the world of rabbit rescue.


I have two 7 year old rescue rabbits and volunteer for a well established rabbit rescue here in the UK, both physically doing cleaning out etc and I am also their events and awareness co-oordinator, helping educate the general public on proper rabbit keeping, this means I have to ensure all information I give is correct and matches current welfare standards.

I belong to the RWAF (Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund) and volunteer for a major rabbit rescue.

I have no formal education on this subject, however read everything I can to keep up to date with current welfare standards and health problems. Both my rabbits have sensitive guts and constantly keep me on my toes.

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