Rabbits and hares

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Rabbits are one of the most common wild mammals found free-living in the British countryside and are widespread throughout mainland and island Britain. Hares are markedly less common; the brown hare is found well distributed throughout the UK, except northern Scotland. Common reasons for presentation include apparently abandoned neonates, trauma (predator attacks and road traffic accidents) and diseases such as myxomatosis. This chapter covers: ecology and biology; anatomy and physiology; capture, handling and transportation; clinical assessment; first aid and hospitalization; anaesthesia and analgesia; specific conditions; therapeutics; rearing of kits and leverets; rehabilitation and release; and legal considerations.

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16.1 European rabbit.
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16.2 Brown hare. (© Rob Barnett Photography)
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16.3 (a) Mountain hare with moulting of the winter coat in early springtime. (b) In late autumn the winter coat is almost complete, but provides poor camouflage on snow-free lowland ground. (© Rob Barnett Photography)
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16.6 Topographical anatomy of the ventral abdomen of a female rabbit. Note the large ileocaecocolic complex that occupies most of the ventral abdomen. 1 = liver; 2 = stomach; 3 = small intestine; 4 = caecum; 5 = small intestine; 6 = uterus; 7 = bicornuate cervix; 8 = caecum; 9 = proximal colon; 10 = omentum.
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16.7 Two rabbits grazing together. When lagomorphs live in groups or congregate to graze, this provides the extra advantage of multiple fields of vision to detect predators.
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16.8 The lateral position of the eyes in rabbits and hares allows an extensive range of vision, with the horizontal visual streak promoting predator detection.
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16.9 (a) Rabbit kit, approximately 2 weeks old. (b) Leveret in a ‘form’. (b, Courtesy of K Richardson)
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16.12 Intravenous catheterization using the marginal ear vein. Photographs of a domestic rabbit are used to illustrate this procedure. (a) The fur is clipped over the marginal ear veins of both ears and EMLA® cream applied and left for 15–20 minutes. Clipping both ears allows for a second attempt to be made at catheter placement should there be a complication with one vein. (b) The catheter is pre-flushed with heparinized saline to reduce the risk of blood clotting in it. The vein is raised by occluding the vessel at the base of the ear. The vein is very superficial and when the bevel of the catheter is through the skin, the angle of the catheter should be almost parallel to the ear. Once in the vein, the stylet and catheter are advanced approximately 0.3–0.5 cm before the catheter only is advanced further. Flashback of blood is not always seen due to the small vessel size. Holding a finger under the ear prevents the ear from bending whilst the catheter is advanced. (c) Once the catheter has been fully advanced into the vein, the stylet is removed and a bung fastened to the catheter. Tape is used to secure the catheter. (d) A rolled-up swab can be placed in the external ear canal to support the catheter and maintain the natural shape of the ear. The catheter is flushed to double-check correct positioning and patency. The fluid can often be seen running through the vessels of the ear or can be palpated entering the vessel at the level of the catheter. (e) If required, further bandaging material can then be added, but this is often less well tolerated in wild lagomorphs compared to domestic species.
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16.13 Intraosseous catheterization of the proximal tibia. The photographs illustrate intraosseous placement in the proximal tibia on a cadaver of a wild rabbit. (a) The site is clipped and surgically prepared. The procedure should be performed under sterile conditions. In a live rabbit, a sterile drape should be used. (b) Lidocaine 2% is infiltrated into the skin, muscle and the periosteum. A small incision can be made in the skin with a scalpel over the site of needle placement if needed. One hand should stabilize the target bone while the dominant hand inserts the needle along the long axis of the bone. Steady downward pressure is required, with a sudden release of pressure followed by a lack of resistance once the medullary cavity has been penetrated. The stylet is removed and the catheter flushed with heparinized saline. There should be no resistance to flushing and no swelling of surrounding soft tissues if the catheter is correctly placed. (c) A T-port or catheter bung should be attached and (d) butterfly tape can be applied to the hub and taped or sutured to the surrounding skin to secure the catheter.
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16.14 A typical hospital cage set-up for an injured lagomorph including the provision of a disposable hide box.
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16.17 Lateral radiograph illustrating a comminuted fracture of the distal tibia and fibula (with a temporary supportive splinted bandage placed). This rabbit was euthanased based on radiographic findings.
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16.18 Corneal ulceration. This rabbit had an old healing ulcer with penetration of the corneal surface and purulent material visible in the anterior chamber. This animal would be unlikely to be suitable for rehabilitation and release.
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16.19 A young wild rabbit with myxomatosis. Note the swollen eyelids and subdued demeanour. Infected wild rabbits pose a serious risk to unvaccinated domestic pet rabbits.
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16.20 Mountain hare with clinical signs of infection including crusting lesions around the eyes and mouth. (© Elizabeth Mullineaux)
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16.21 Tick () attached to the nose of a rabbit.
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16.22 (a) The sucking louse, (magnification X). (b) (magnification X). The body of the mite can be up to 0.4 mm in length. The legs are short and stubby and there are normally six long hairs present on the body. These create dandruff from disruption to the skin surface. (c) (magnification X), previously known as , are fur mites. They are visible with the naked eye and have short legs, with a single rostral projection extending from the head over the mouthparts. (d) (magnification X). This oval shaped non-burrowing mite can have a body length of 0.75 mm. The legs have funnel-shaped suckers on the distal portion.
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16.23 Pinworms () clearly visible in faeces from an infested rabbit.
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16.25 Orphaned litter of hybrid wild rabbits in a large outdoor enclosure. Individuals with a dark coat colour are more susceptible to predation and should not be released.
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