Rear end paralysis care may seem daunting, especially if this is the first time you are faced with this disability. Fortunately, it's not as complicated as it first appears. This series of articles will explain four important aspects when caring for a rear end paralysis bunny. In this article, I will talk about the first two points.
While you are planning your own routine with your disabled rabbit, keep in mind these three questions which will guide you through the topics mentioned above:
The answer to these questions will guide you as to what you need to do. A more detailed discussion about what these questions mean can be found in Senior Rabbit Care.
Since there are many reasons why a rabbit develops rear end paralysis, it is important to bring your bunny to a vet as soon as you notice mobility issues. An experienced rabbit-savvy vet can better determine the cause and guide you in the next steps. The damage may be temporary or long term, depending on several factors such as age of the bunny, type of injury or disease, and the ability of the vet and owner to provide adequate supportive care.
Regardless of the reason for the immobility, pain management will be essential. It will be up to the owner to carefully monitor their bunny's discomfort and update their vet accordingly. There may be alterations to dosages or additional medications prescribed.
Your vet may even refer you to an animal physical therapist, who can show you different exercises and stretches that will make your bunny feel more comfortable. They may even provide acupuncture and massage services.
If you are interested in using homeopathic medicine, talk to your vet and see if you can be referred to a homeopathic vet. Never start a medication or treatment without consulting a vet first, as not all natural or organic therapies are harmless.
Petra (above) and Diamond (left) had rear end paralysis for different reasons, but their pen set-ups were similar.
The housing will depend on the reason for the disability. Some bunnies will move very little, however, if your disabled bunny is relatively young, he may surprise you as to how eager and determined he is in wanting to explore his surroundings.
There are a few things to keep in mind when creating a space for your rear end paralysis bunny.
One thing to keep in mind is that a bunny's comfort and needs are always changing, so don't worry about being "perfect" right away. Personally, I start with what I know and what has worked for me in the past. If I feel that the bunny is still uncomfortable, I will adjust his environment as I can. If I need more ideas, I may discuss other options with my vets or even with friends who have dealt with rear end paralysis or similar disabilities currently or in the past.
It's important to realize that there isn't a lot of items on the market sold specifically with rabbits in mind, and whatever is available, is not usually appropriate. Don't be afraid to wander down the dog and cat aisle at the pet store or go into a thrift store to see if you can find the perfect dish, blanket or pillow. Keep an open mind as to where you could purchase an item or if you can make it yourself.
If your bunny has suffered from a broken leg, your vet will most likely recommend a confined space for a number of weeks until the fracture heals.
That means reducing the pen size to include a litter box (or stack of hay), a hidey box and a bowl of water. The flooring should have some padding. Ideally, foam pads on the bottom, especially if the floor is hardwood or tile. Layer the bottom with blankets and towels. Keep in mind that the floor is unforgiving. If you have spent any length of time lying on the floor watching TV, reading a book or playing with your bunny, your back and joints become quite stiff in a short time. The very top layer should have some absorbent bedding like vet bedding, microfiber fleece mats (or something similar to wick away urine). The absorbent bedding should be changed twice daily to help keep the bunny dry.
If the bunny is still a baby (6 weeks of age or younger), this would be one of the very few instances in which a pet store cage is useful. Depending on the size of the cage (and the baby), you can pad the bottom with some fleece and reduce the amount of exercise space even further by adding a pillow or rolled up towel.
Your long-term pen set-up will depend on the situation. You do not automatically need to separate a disabled bunny from his bonded friends, unless the disabled bunny is bullied. That will depend on the personalities involved. Some elderly bunnies are entirely able to keep others in line, despite their lack of mobility. You need to monitor meal times to make sure everyone gets their fair share of dinner and treats. Sometimes separating the disabled bunny for meals is necessary.
There are many benefits for keeping disabled bunnies together with their friends. Here Nat was snuggling with Petra.
Although most bunnies like to flop on a bare floor, bunnies suffering from arthritis or any other joint ailment will find this painful. When figuring out how to set up a pen, keep comfort and cleanliness in mind. Pillows, blankets and stuffed animals can provide support, while pee pads and fleece can help keep the urine away from the bunny. Pee pads can also protect the bedding, so you don't have to change everything entirely - just the top layer.
Some of the things you can use while building your bed:
Microfiber fleece blanket. Even if you don't have a sewing machine, you can hand-stitch the sides together.
Polyester batting is more durable than cotton. Once the batting is stitched closed within the fleece, you have a nice bed for your bunny.
A bath mat can be a good choice, if your bunny does not have an interest in chewing it. This particular mat is excellent in drawing moisture away from the bunny.
Vet bedding can come in different sizes and colors. The fleece is thick, which ensures the bunny is comfortable and dry.
In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of microplastic pollution in our rivers and oceans. Microplastic originate from many different products, but a major source is synthetic fibers found in textiles, which include nylon and polyester. These tiny fibers break off in the washing machine and pass through the filters in the machine as well as the filters in the water treatment plants. These fibers make their way to rivers and oceans, where they damage the environment.
You may want to try and use natural fibers for your bunny's bedding, but that has the drawback in that these pillows and blankets can be harder to clean and are not as durable.
An alternative is to use a garment bag designed specifically to catch microplastic, such as the Guppyfriend.
Pressure sores can form when a rabbit lies in one position and is unable to change into another. The skin becomes damaged where the blood circulation is interrupted too long. Areas where the bones sit close to the skin, such as the hips, shoulders and ankles, are particularly vulnerable to sores. If left alone, the skin breaks down and becomes necrotic, thus introducing an infection into the body.
Pressure sores can form quickly and take a long time to heal. The best way to avoid them is to add several layers of bedding and to change the bunny's position often.
Usually, a bunny with rear end paralysis has a favorite position, and will panic if he finds himself on the opposite side. Do not force him to lie on his 'bad' side if he doesn't want to as this will stress him out. However, you can avoid pressure sores by handling him or getting him to exercise (if he is still able). Eddie is still active enough that he does not stay in one place on the bed, and occasionally, he'll twist himself around to lay on his opposite side on his own.
Make sure his bedding is clean. If he is lying in urine, that will only increase the likelihood of damage to the skin.
Carefully inspect the skin twice a day. If there is a spot that is red, blistered or bleeding, clean the wound and add a small amount of neosporin (original version only) or silver sulfadiazine cream (prescription only) onto the wound. Allow the wound to completely heal before allowing your bunny to lie on that side again. You can use egg crate foam underneath a towel or fleece, or you can twist a towel into a donut. Both methods relieve pressure on the wound.
Disabled bunnies still enjoy social interaction with both other bunnies and with you, their caretaker.
In my experience, I've found this true for every rear end paralysis bunny I've met. Even those bunnies, who were very shy around people in their younger years, easily let themselves be fussed over. I like to think that they realize their limitations and welcome the extra attention and love that goes into their care.
As mentioned previously, a disabled bunny can still live in the same pen with his more able friends, provided they do not become aggressive or steal food. Aggressive behavior may include biting, nipping and/or mounting. Sometimes this may happen, especially with a bigger group of rabbits. If it's constant or if the attacks are particularly aggressive, your disabled bunny may need to be separated all or at least part of the time. The best way is to maintain the bond is to create a smaller pen within the larger, so your disabled bunny can still be near his friends. You may even try short supervised interactions. The separation may be temporary or permanent, depending on the personalities involved.
Even if your disabled bunny has a bunny friend, give him something new to look at. If I know I will be spending the day in the office, I will set up a little bed next to me so I can keep an eye on Eddie as I work. If I want to spend the afternoon binging on Netflix, I will make room on the couch.
The temporary set-up (or daybed as I like to call it) does not have to be elaborate. I will place a pee pad on the floor (or couch), then put a cat bed on top of it and place a towel or small fleece blanket inside.
This change of scenery will help stimulate your bunny mentally, and it can also be a great time to bond with him.