Owners, caretakers, shelter workers and rabbit society personnel often use the words “rabbit savvy”. Rabbit savvy refers to someone who has enough consistent, hands-on experience with (and credible knowledge about) pet rabbits to be considered a domesticated (pet) rabbit expert.
Are All Exotic Pet Veterinarians Rabbit-Savvy?
No. Unfortunately, lumping rabbits into the too-broad category of “exotic pets” has caused some confusion. Here in the United States, it is true that most pet owners should seek out exotic animal veterinarians for domesticated rabbits. However, not all exotic animal vets have rabbit expertise. In fact, many exotic animal vets have little or no consistent, hands-on experience with rabbits that are bred to be pets. That distinction is important.
Even with a shortage of rabbit-expert vets, some do have a great deal of day-to-day experience with pet rabbit treatment and care. In those cases, the vets (and their staff) understand the unique nature of these animals and keep themselves up-to-date on the latest and greatest pet rabbit information. Some vets (or their staff members) are pet rabbit owners themselves. If that is the case, you have an ideal situation!
To be very clear, rabbit-savvy vets do not become rabbit experts simply because they completed an exotic pet specialty program or certification. They are rabbit-savvy when they have ongoing, direct, hands-on experience having pet rabbits as patients in addition to being an exotic pet veterinarian.
How To Choose A Rabbit-Savvy Veterinarian
It is important to know exactly how to choose a rabbit-savvy vet. There are many reasons why this is true, but two of those reasons immediately stand out. 1) You are emotionally tied to your pet, so you want to do everything possible to provide responsible care; and 2) Veterinary services are not free. In fact, they can be quite expensive. You should get what you pay for and also have confidence that the person operating on (or treating) your pet rabbit knows exactly what they are doing.
Knowing what to look for in a rabbit-savvy veterinarian can be somewhat daunting. Jana Brock’s paperback book, “Bunny Conversations – The Entertaining Dialogue of Pet Rabbits” (available on Amazon by CLICKING HERE) has easy-to-learn, credible information on this and many other pet rabbit ownership topics.
Bunny Conversations book sales (when you buy the $9 paperback) go directly toward supporting rescue, rehabilitation and care costs for rescued animals. Your purchase will help rabbits in need.
Signs That A Vet Is Not A Rabbit Expert
The information in the prior section will help you choose the right veterinary clinic for your pet rabbit. Are there any signs that a veterinarian might not be a good fit for you and your rabbit? Actually, yes.
The following is a brief list containing advice that is not in the best interests of your rabbit. This advice was given to pet rabbit owners directly from exotic pet veterinary clinics. We could include much more here, but in the interest of space, it has been shortened. The information below was researched using online rabbit communities, forums, articles, published information, rabbit owner groups and by direct experience. Rabbit owners getting bad advice is not uncommon.
- Fast your rabbit prior to surgery (FALSE. Rabbits cannot vomit. There is no reason to withhold food/water and, in fact, it can harm them or even cause the loss of your pet).
- Feed your rabbit nothing but alfalfa hay and pellets for the entire first year of life. (FALSE. Rabbits should have a mix of hay which is higher in alfalfa while very young, but phased out as they grow. They also need fresh, organic greens. If pellets are used, they should be high-quality and not have unhealthy fillers). For more about feeding hay, PLEASE CLICK HERE.
- Force-feed your rabbit if he or she isn’t eating normally within a few hours of returning home. (FALSE. Rabbits usually retreat and want to rest post-surgery. Experienced veterinarians will typically syringe-feed rabbits just prior to sending them home. Most rabbits might “nibble” on fresh greens a few times during that first night following surgery, but typically resume eating the following day. Wrestling them down to force-feed them only causes more pain which could damage their incision area and/or cause more unnecessary pain).
- It is okay to keep smaller breeds of rabbits confined to large cages. (FALSE. Rabbits are sprinters and jumpers. If cages are used for primary living spaces, rabbits need access to larger areas several times each day to exercise and play. It is cruel to keep any rabbit constantly confined to a cage).
- Rabbits do not need pain medication after surgery or otherwise experiencing pain. (FALSE. Rabbits are quiet and usually do not verbally complain even when seriously injured. In response to untreated pain, they will refuse to eat/drink and go into Gastrointestinal Stasis, called the silent killer). NOTE: Any veterinarian that denies a post-surgery or injured animal daily pain medication to administer at home is not someone you want to trust with your pet.
- It is safe to pick up rabbits by their scruff, ears, legs, et cetera (FALSE. The old methods of picking rabbits up in such a way are known to cause pain and injury and are considered to be cruel. Qualified veterinarians know how to safely and properly handle rabbits).
- Some rabbits are just hay snobs and there is nothing the owner can do. (FALSE. Specific and rare circumstances aside, there are excellent tricks to coax picky, sick or injured rabbits to starting eating hay again. Some reliable and effective tricks are documented in Author Jana Brock’s book, Bunny Conversations).
- Treating rabbits (or operating on them) is easy. (FALSE. Rabbit-savvy veterinarians know first-hand that rabbits are very fragile, unique creatures. Many things about their care and treatment is not “easy”).
- Rabbits can have antibiotics and medications that are used for other animals such as Amoxicillin or Clindamycin. (FALSE. Rabbits can die after being given certain medications that most other animals tolerate).
- Because rabbits are prey animals, they die quietly. (While this is true of some, a one-size-all statement that all rabbits die quietly is FALSE. Plenty of rabbit owners have witnessed their rabbits literally screaming just prior to their final breath).
- Rabbits cannot be scared to death. (FALSE. Many rabbit owners have witnessed their pet’s sudden death when a loud barking dog rushes up to them or they hear other loud, sudden noises which caused sudden heart failure).
- Rabbit trancing is safe practice. (FALSE. This is a big topic that requires a lot of research. Credible, succinct information based on scientific documentation about trancing is contained in the article entitled, Rabbit Trancing: Apparent Death. To access this article, PLEASE CLICK HERE).
- Rabbits can use the same flea/tick treatments as other pets. (FALSE. Rabbits do not respond the same way as more “hearty” pets. Their skin is very fragile, as are their biological systems overall).
- Treating rabbits used for agricultural purposes is the same as treating pet rabbits. (FALSE. People who use these animals for purposes other than human companionship typically have a different perspective than pet rabbit owners. Rabbit-savvy vets have consistent experience with domesticated/pet rabbits).
Veterinary Expertise Versus Day-To-Day Rabbit Experts
Remember, we cannot expect our rabbit-savvy veterinarian (or his/her staff) to know all about pet rabbit ownership unless they themselves are experienced rabbit owners. There are veterinary experts, and then there are day-to-day rabbit experts.
Day-to-day care experts are people who have long-term, day-to-day experience caring for these animals. In other words, they own pet rabbits, work in rabbit rescue facilities/rabbit societies or have other hands-on experience providing day-to-day care. They know where their expertise stops and the expertise of the veterinarian begins.
To understand the realities of day-to-day pet rabbit ownership, it is helpful to defer to the correct expert. For example, things like rabbit/pet fencing, setting up primary living enclosures, safe outdoor rabbit play areas, rabbit-safe toys, rabbit-safe herbs and greens, alternatives to high-quality pellet feeding, medicinal plants, socialization, litter box training, tips and tricks to use at home, digging boxes – that sort of information would be best obtained from people who have current, long-term experience with rabbit ownership.
Providing a happy and healthy home for your pet rabbit requires a willingness to learn at least some basics. Successful rabbit ownership is like a partnership between you, your animal, a rabbit-savvy veterinarian and credible rabbit owners who have long-term experience caring for these animals 24 hours a day. When it comes to the veterinary part of that partnership, ask some questions about their level of experience with pet rabbits and then choose wisely.
PLEASE NOTE: This article has been written assuming that there are rabbit-savvy vets within driving distance of your home. Since rabbit-savvy veterinarians are not common in many areas, some rabbit owners must see local vets who may not have consistent experience with domesticated (pet) rabbits. Seeing a vet that does not have a lot of experience with pet rabbits, especially in an emergency situation, is sometimes necessary. If at any time you feel your rabbit’s health is in danger or you deem it necessary to get emergency or other medical care/treatment, you should seek the help of an available veterinarian immediately. Rabbits are fragile creatures and their health can decline rapidly. Love Your Rabbit, its affiliates, owners, authors and writers do not give veterinary advice, nor are we veterinarians. Some information provided here and by other sources might vary or may not apply to unique or rare situations.
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