The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines analgesia as 'insensibility to pain without loss of consciousness'. Your veterinarian can prescribe various medications to relieve pain and discomfort for your house rabbit or other small pet, and a variety of adjunct therapies are also available that can work with those medications to further provide comfort for your pet.
Common indications for pain relief in the house rabbit include:
- Gastrointestinal (GI) disease. Painful gas distention of the GI tract requires the use of pain medication in order to allow the rabbit to regain his appetite, begin eating again and thereby stimulate GI motility and avoid potentially fatal GI stasis. Pain relief in this instance is usually only indicated until bunny is again eating and passing stool normally.
- Dental disease is painful. When bunny’s bite is off, when overgrown teeth have formed sharp points or spurs, or when tongue ulcers or even abscesses have formed, pain control can allow bunny to continue to eat while the condition is being treated.
- Arthritis, sore hocks, middle ear infections and other ailments involving inflammatory processes are examples of conditions where pain control (especially NSAIDS with anti-inflammatory properties) are indicated.
- Obviously pain relief is indicated in cases of injury, Fractures, injuries necessitating sutures, or situations where bunnies have been terribly frightened are all examples where pain medications – especially those with sedative effects – will be of immense benefit.
- Abdominal diseases, including cystitis, uroliths, cancers, and liver disease are painful conditions for which adequate pain control is a humane necessity.
Pain medications come in several categories, including but not limited to local anesthetics, NSAIDS and narcotics. Local anesthetics are used when veterinarians wish to perform a superficial repair (some sutures) or perhaps take a skin biopsy. In this way, the veterinarian prevents the pet from feeling pain but does not need to render the animal completely unconscious with the use of a general anesthesia. Depending upon the pet and the procedure, your veterinarian may wish to lightly sedate your pet prior to the procedure with a drug such as midizolam, a drug that calms your bunny but does not ‘knock him out’.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) include carprofen and meloxicam, among others. These drugs not only relieve pain but alleviate inflammation and swelling as well. Your exotics veterinarian will prescribe the proper type and dose of medication, depending upon what type of pain your pet is experiencing. Use of NSAIDS over a lengthy period of time may have negative effects on the GI tract or the kidneys, so you will need to be alert for any changes in your pet’s intake or output, and some veterinarians may wish to re-examine your rabbit and run bloodwork to make sure she is not suffering any ill effects. If she is, there are other drugs that may be prescribed. Note: corticosteroids and NSAIDS should not be used concomitantly due to the increased risk of GI ulcers.
Narcotics are the strongest and most pain-killers but there can be side effects, of course, and since most of these drugs are highly controlled by the Federal Drug Administration, they are difficult for veterinarians to prescribe for home use. Buprenorphine is a narcotic pain reliever commonly used for bunnies.
Of course, just as with humans, not all pain medications work exactly the same for every patient, so if your pet is still experiencing signs of discomfort despite the pain medication prescribed, you need to call and consult with your veterinarian.
Regardless of the type of medication prescribed, there are ways to optimize your pet’s pain control and comfort level.
A quiet place to rest and recover is essential. Bunny will appreciate a place to hide (although make sure you will still be able to easily observe bunny in order to monitor his comfort level). Rabbits recover more quickly back in their familiar home environment, and of course you will likely be better able to monitor your pet than the veterinary staff, especially as most veterinary clinics have no overnight staff.
Speak to your recovering rabbit in soft tones. Most rabbits will generally want to be left alone at this point, although some may appreciate a few comforting strokes of their fur. Make sure your pet has access to their favorite greens, pellets and hay (within any given dietary restrictions of course – not all rabbits will be allowed alfalfa hay, for example). If you must handle your rabbit (to give medications for example) do so gently.
Arnica Montana is a homeopathic remedy that may be used as an adjunt therapy for pain control – 3 drops applied to the skin on the inner ear or dropped onto a banana slice twice daily (or more often) can provide additional relief from discomfort.
Rabbits have the same neurophysiological mechanisms as do humans for producing pain and thus have the capacity to feel pain as we do. Although a rabbit may be well-socialized, once it is in pain and stressed it will revert to the responses of its wild ancestors; severe prolonged pain and stress can result in death in the house rabbit, even if the injuries themselves are not severe enough to produce death. Pain control measures must be utilized in order to optimize quality of life and success of treatment. It is your right – and duty – as a responsible pet owner to demand some pain relief for your pet if warranted. Your veterinarian should work with you to keep your pet as comfortable as possible during treatment and recovery.
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