Help! My Rabbit Has Been Attacked

Pippin is a bunny who lives with her mate in an outdoor tunnel home they have excavated by themselves.

Pippin the rabbit at the vet

Pippin came to us last week with a history of an inability to use her hind legs, which seemed to happen overnight.


When we examined her, she was unable to walk, seemed paralysed on her hind legs, and as a consequence was heavily urine-soaked.

Closer examination showed she did have some voluntary movement in her hind legs, although they were too weak to use. Her front legs were also affected. It looked like she’d had an injury.

Why Do Rabbits Get Injured?

  1. Fractures which occur inside are usually the result of falls from handling
  2. Beware also of fights with other rabbits or attacks from other pets
  3. If a rabbit is injured or killed while outside overnight a fox is the likely culprit- foxes are common in all suburbs of Adelaide
rabbit chest xray

Trauma was suspected and so we took survey xrays of her whole body to help determine the cause. The chest xray is pictured. It shows fractured ribs on the left side, with subcutaneous emphysema (air under the skin) and disruption of the thoracic wall at this point. There is also a pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs).

Her skull, spine, legs and pelvis all seemed intact.

A diagnosis was made of a bite injury to her chest, causing the rib fractures, punctures with air leakage, and introduction of infection into the chest space. The problems with the legs result from spinal trauma, fortunately more likely bruised than completely severed.

Those who read my recent blog at Myth 5: My backyard is safe at night will already know who is the culprit.

A fox.

On further discussion, it emerged that although the rabbits have lived outside for some time, the owner started keeping chickens a week earlier. No doubt the fox was attracted by the chickens, although they do often find rabbits without help.

We started antibiotics and pain relief. This week, Pippin is now able to move around, is no longer having trouble toileting, and seems comfortable. She still has a long recovery ahead and may take months to regain full use of her legs.

One question remains. How did she escape? We will never know why she was able to get away from the fox and survive. This makes her unique in our experience.

Please also read: Other causes of paralysis in rabbits

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet has has a problem, please seek veterinary attention.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Andrew

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