I can remember starting off my veterinary career being terrified to anesthetize rabbits. I had always heard that they did not do well with anesthesia, it wasn’t safe, they were impossible to intubate (get a tube into the trachea to provide a secure airway), and most of them would die!! I used to be scared to anesthetize my rabbit patients, and I completely understand why many rabbit owners come into Ohana Animal Hospital afraid of anesthesia.
Anesthesia is required to perform surgery on a rabbit (spays, neuters, mass removals, etc.), to appropriately evaluate the teeth and perform occlusal adjustments (trim the teeth into normal alignment), and occasionally for x-rays and diagnostic sample collection (blood collection, mass cytology, skin tests). We can perform most x-rays, blood samples, and other tests with injectable sedation, but occasionally general anesthesia is needed to limit the stress for the patient.
I learned early on that anesthesia could not be avoided, so I made it a focus of mine to learn how to make it safer for my patients. I remember when rabbit anesthesia was no more than holding a facemask over the rabbit’s nose to administer gas anesthesia, listening to the heart with a stethoscope, and then hoping luck was on my side that day. Many of those procedures went just fine, but I can still remember a couple of cases where that was not the case, and those cases are what drove me to be better.
I am proud to say that here at Ohana Animal Hospital we are practicing at a whole new level. Rabbit anesthesia still has it risks, but we have found ways to make it much safer. We have special in-house lab equipment so we can make sure your rabbit is healthy before moving forward with anesthesia. We have a special exotic animal hospital ward, which allows our rabbits to be housed away from dogs and cats, which can be very scary for a nervous rabbit. All of our rabbits are given pre-anesthetic medications which help us provide more balanced anesthesia, and not have to use too much of any one drug. All of our patients have an intravenous catheter placed so we can provide fluids during anesthesia to help maintain blood pressure, and also so we can give emergency medications if needed. Our rabbits are all intubated with the help of an endoscope, which allows us to make sure that we can breath for the rabbit if needed (most rabbit anesthetic deaths are the result of failure of the respiratory system). Our rabbits all have their blood pressure monitored, heart rate and rhythm monitored, end-tidal CO2 monitored, and body temperature monitored while under anesthesia, and until fully awake. We use heated surgical tables and warm air devices to keep our patients warm while anesthetized. There is also one technician dedicated to monitoring anesthesia, one technician dedicated to assisting the surgeon, and at least one doctor on the case at all times during the procedure.
The majority of our surgical patients are awake and eating within 1-2 hours. I can now honestly say that I do not fear rabbit anesthesia, but I still maintain a healthy respect for each case. I know that in the future we will be even better than we are now with anesthesia, but I know that I personally am so much better now than I was at the beginning of my career. I look at each patient as a member of the Ohana Animal Hospital family, and that means they get the best care that can be provided.
Thanks for reading today! I’m off to play with an Angora rabbit who is now happily recovered from mass removal surgery and eating some fresh greens.
Feel free to call Ohana Animal Hospital anytime at 925-394-4990, or email me at DrZsteffes@dvm.com with your questions. And check out our website to see all the surgical services we offer for exotic animals!
Zach Steffes, DVM