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Rabbits/issues with weaning age and mothers

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QUESTION: Hi, I raise show rabbits and recently had an issue of babies around 6 weeks old to start having poor fur quality, getting very scrawny skinny in their backbone and hindquarters though stomachs remain full. They eat and drink but get weaker then fall over dead. This has been from 3 litters and couple did not seem to be affected. I saved 2 but I am not sure what saved them as I gave them gas drops, LA-200 and pedialite in their water. I thought maybe feed issue as I spoke to others who fed theirs purina complete also and was having issues but purina tested and said they found no problems with it. Everything seemed to be find past couple weeks with no other appearing to get sick but then a mother doe who has 3wk old babies is appearing to get bony and grinding her teeth. One of the weaned babies that died a couple weeks ago i cut open and checked the insides. I consulted a couple friends whom have butchered their own rabbits for over 35yrs. Everything appeared normal, good liver, stomach was full of food, no worms present and the only thing seemed off was there was a really small amount of bloat in intestines. One of my friends though said it was hard to believe that small amount of bloat would do that as they have had rabbits to seem just fine when they butcher and have that small amount. The purina rep sent me info on ERE but besides the age group doesn't seem like the same symptoms. All of them eat and drink till the end. Everyone i speak to is at a loss and the vets around here just doesn't seem to know much about rabbits even the more simple stuff. I am hoping you have suggestions of what could be going on or if it appears as though I could lose more if there is a university in nc that would test it. Thank you for your time.

ANSWER: Hi Charlie,

I have not had much experience with babies that young but if you are seeing any bloat in the stomach I suspect it could be a couple different things.  As you are probably aware rabbits can get coccidiosis.  The 5 to 6 week age group is about the right time from for them to get it from their mother.  Babies that young will usually not get diarrhea because it will kill them quickly and you usually will have no outward signs.  Regardless of whether it is coccidiosis or another internal issue there is a good possibility that they could be overloaded with clostridium.  Have you noticed any mucous in their dropping?  Clostridium is an opportunistic agent.  When an animal gets sick regardless of the cause they become overloaded with clostridium.  This causes painful gas which then leaves them unwilling to eat.  It also causes the belly to bloat and the stomach to slow down or stop working completely.  We have worked with young rabbits over the past few years and developed some treatments that seem to help.  

The most important thing for these animals is pain control.  Banamine is medication used on horses that seems to work well on bunnies without causing as many issues as it does on other animals.  It has to be given by a shot and not orally though.  Even if your vet is not fluent in rabbit care it is important that you find a way to get some pain medicine if you want any of the teeth grinders to survive. Most vets carry metacam which can help but it is oral and I don't like giving oral medications to rabbits that are not eating because it tends to sit in their stomachs.  If you have any friends that have horses ask them if they can get you some banamine from their vet.  Most horse owners have vets that will prescribe them the medication without seeing the animal.  If farm vets had to go out every time a farm animal had a sprain or a strain they would be visiting farms weekly.  If you can't get banamine then I suggest talking to your local dog/cat vet and telling them that you need metacam.  Even if they aren't fluent in rabbits they should realize that pain treatment is very important in the treatment of any animal.

The other medication I suggest is Baycox (toltrazuril).  This can be ordered from pharmacies in Australia without a prescription.  I can't really tell you where or how to use it but if you go on any of the rabbit breeders forums they can help you.  If you are a member of the ARBA you can contact Dr. Jay Hreiz.  His email is on the ARBA website under committees.  He is the chair on the veterinary committee and is very willing to help ARBA members.  We use a medication called ponazuril which is the sister drug to toltrazuril.  You need a prescription for it though and without a horse vet you probably won't be able to get it.  The Baycox is much cheaper anyway.

Another drug we use regularly is called metronidazole.  This drug is used on humans who have a C. diff infection.  C. diff is an overload of clostridium.  We experimented with the metronidazole on rabbits that developed bloat and it worked very well.  Bloat used to be a death sentence here but we are now at a 75% save rate with the incorporation of this medication.  You need a prescription for it but there is a way around that.  Metronidazole can be used legally on fish!  It is called Fish-Zole and it is the EXACT same thing.  You can buy human grade Fish-Zole on Amazon and it is the same thing your doctor of vet would give you.  Vets will not recommend that you use Fish-Zole because it is marketed for fish and they can't.  I am not a vet and I can't treat your animals for you but I sure can tell you what I do.  I would contact Dr. Hreiz if you have any questions about metronidazole or clostridium infections.

Quite honestly the most important drugs from rabbits that are grinding their teeth or not eating, after pain management are GI stimulating agents.  There is a very slim possibility that you will be able to obtain these without a prescription.  The one that works the best is cisapride but it is not used on humans anymore so the only place you can really get it is at a veterinary clinic.  Another drug that seems to help is Reglan.  This is prescribed to humans and it is used on people who have GI problems.  It helps to stimulate the gut to keep moving.  If you can't get it from your vet try asking your friends that have frequent heartburn or other stomach issues if they happen to take it.  It is often prescribed to people with chronic reflux to help keep the stomach moving in the right direction.  You never know you may know someone that takes it.

If you do not have Critical Care in your rabbitry then you should order some.  Many vets carry it but so do most of the show vendors.  Rabbits that are sick are not going to eat.  You must force feed them or they will not recover.  If you do not have any Critical Care at the moment you can smash some rabbit pellets and mix them with canned pumpkin.  Then put them in a feeding syringe (usually 10 cc's with a pointed end) and give adult rabbits at least 10 cc's two to three times a day.  This will help to push the bad stuff out.  Babies you will just have to use your judgement.

As for your babies I really can't tell you what is wrong with them.  If they are going to die without treatment then treat them.  I am probably going to get slammed for giving you this advise on the internet but I look at it this way, I know that rabbit breeders are not going to take their animals to the vet!!  Whatever you do at home is better than doing nothing and letting them die a slow painful death.  

I wish you luck and I do strongly recommend contacting Dr. Hreiz if you have any follow-up questions.  He is by far one of the most experience rabbit vets that is willing to work with breeders.

I hope you get to the bottom of this.

Pam


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

QUESTION: All i can say is thank you so much that makes a lot of sense and all honesty i don't think i could have gotten half that much help with a vet. If I do need to go to acquire the right medications so be it but at least now I have an idea as to what i need and not get the jerk around and taken advantage of. Only thing I would like to know is it contagious even after treatment? I have been told there are somethings they can get that treatment might save them but they will still be carriers. Thank you again.

Answer
It used to be that coccidiosis was not curable and if a doe carried it she could pass it on to her babies.  The toltrazuril has been proven to actually kill it with 3 to 5 days of treatment.  You need to clean all surfaces with a 1/10 ammonia solution.  Bleach does not kill cocci.  The other coccidiosis medications such as Sulmet and Albon do not kill it.  They just slow it down so the bunny can become immune to it.  I have never been able to save a bunny with cocci by treating them with Sulmet or Albon.  Many people treat their rabbits a couple times a year with these drugs.  Some people swear by them but there are much better treatments now.  If you can kill it and get it out of your rabbitry that is the best choice.  I would rather wipe it out than just slow it down.

Clostridium is deadly and it is also contagious.  I have no idea what to use to kill it.  I know that if one rabbit in a litter has it they probably all will.  I do not believe that they are carriers.  Clostridium can be a normal part of the rabbits GI system but they don't get sick until it over takes the good bacteria.  If you email the ARBA vet you should ask him if they can be carriers.  

I really hope you get to the bottom of this.  Good luck.

Pam

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Paula Murdock-Briggs

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I am a licensed American Rabbit Breeders Registrar. I do not show rabbits anymore nor do I breed them. I do believe it is important that people that chose to breed rabbits do so with only purebred and genetically sound animals or that they have a thorough understanding of genetics prior to breeding. I have chosen to keep my registars license to help the 4H youth in my area. I do stay current on all breeds, varieties, show rules, regulations of the ARBA. I have spent the past 8 years focusing on rescuing and caring for PET bunnies who were no longer wanted. I am the current CEO of Little Angels Animal Sanctuary, Inc. I was appointed CEO of the rescue organization and sanctuary in 2008. We gained our 501(c)3 IRS tax exemption status in 2012. We have taken on the task of rescuing unwanted PET rabbits as well as some farm animals. I teach genetics and health to the local youth as well as register and promote the breeding of only purebred and genetically sound animals. I rescue PET rabbits. These are rabbits that lived in peoples homes and were either surrendered to us or sent to the auction for meat. While I believe that all bunnies should be pets, I understand that people raise them for other reasons. I will answer questions from anyone, regardless of their purpose. I will reject any questions that are considered unethical or inhumane.

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Little Angels Animal Sanctuary.

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President and CEO of Little Angels Animal Sanctuary, Inc. I have over 10 years of experience working closely with a veterinarian that treats rabbits. We have studied and treated nearly every illness that can affect rabbits.

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