General nursing care and hospital management

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Appropriate nursing care for rabbits greatly aids their treatment and recovery from illness and surgery. This chapter looks at the set up of the rabbit ward, patient assessment, nursing clinics, supportive and postoperative care. An example rabbit hospitalization form is included.

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8.1 A rabbit-conscious ward where no ‘predator’ species (e.g. cats, dogs, ferrets) are hospitalized. Enclosures are side by side with enough space between cage fronts so as not to instigate territorial disputes. Note the large examination table, wall-mounted otoscope/auroscope and easy-to-clean flooring.
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8.2 Examples of disinfectant products suitable for use in a rabbit ward.
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8.3 A typical rabbit hospital cage containing an appropriately sized hide box, a bundle of hay 1–2 times the size of the rabbit, a litter tray, and food and water provision.
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8.4 Toys may be used as ‘companions’ for rabbit patients, and should be considered when setting up the cage furniture.
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8.5 Bonded companion rabbits can be an important part of the treatment plan for hospitalized rabbits. Interactions and social time should be carefully monitored when the rabbits have experienced any time apart. Note the soft blanket, which is often given to giant breeds experiencing skeletal discomfort and pododermatitis.
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8.7 A cage set up for a patient with dental disease or oral pain, showing the provision of easy-to-eat food items (shredded and grated vegetables, softened and hard pellets and wet critical care formula). A favourite toy and the patient’s own bowls are also included.
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8.8 Rabbit patients can be maintained and monitored in an incubator during recovery from sedation/anaesthesia or if collapsed. Care is necessary with the use of heating devices (hot water bottles or heat packs) and with some synthetic bedding (e.g. Vetbed, towels) when patients are more coordinated and lively, to avoid potential ingestion and foreign body or choking risks.
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8.9 A suggested set-up of a rabbit cage if a free-catch urine sample is required. The plastic side of an incontinence pad can be used to line the cage and/or an empty litter tray for rabbits used to using them. Once the urine has been collected the cage should be reset up appropriately.
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8.10 A rabbit with ocular disease and blindness just prior to anaesthesia for diagnostics and treatment. Note the rabbit’s body language suggesting stress: it has backed into a corner and its ears are held forward. Prior to anaesthesia these patients should have minimalistic cage furniture.
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8.11 A cage set up for a rabbit with vestibular disease. Note the rolled blankets and towels in the cage corners and edges to prevent the rabbit rolling and getting stuck. Food and water must be safe and easy for the rabbit to reach.
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8.12 A cage set up for a rabbit with hindlimb paresis. Note the use of soft bedding to avoid the development of sores and ulcers.
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8.15 Examples of heating devices that can be used with hypothermic rabbits or patients in recovery from anaesthesia. Monitoring is essential when using these devices to prevent scalding, heat loss or potential foreign body threat when the rabbit is more active and investigating its environment.
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8.17 Baby-bottle warmers can be used to keep fluid boluses at body temperature to assist with fluid and heat therapy and to prevent uncomfortably cold fluids being administered. Any fluid boluses used must be checked by squirting on to the handler’s skin for the ideal temperature prior to administering them to the patient.
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8.18 Wrapping the rabbit in a towel can be helpful for administering critical care formulas to anxious and lively patients, as it provides added support to their backs.
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8.20 Rabbits can be placed in specifically designed ‘oxygen tents’ to administer accurate oxygen concentrations to patients in respiratory distress.
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8.21 A nasal catheter is a useful method for administering supplemental oxygen.
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8.24 An example of a cage set up for a rabbit undergoing wound management. The rabbit is wearing body bandage and an Elizabethan collar. Note the tape used to hold the catheterized ear out of the rabbit’s face, and the lack of furniture, including no litter tray to cause any obstruction to movement. Food items have been provided as large easy-to-reach pieces to facilitate feeding.
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8.25 Pododermatitis. Typical presentation of linear (hocks towards toes) pododermatitis often seen on the hind feet in rabbits.
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8.26 A rabbit receiving a blood transfusion via a marginal ear vein. Ideally an in-line filter should be used but direct injection can be employed in an emergency if no other suitable equipment is available.


An example of a rabbit hospitalization form.

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