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Nursing a sick rabbit or caring for a rabbit after an operation can be difficult and should always be done in consultation with a vet...

Nursing a sick rabbit is difficult and time consuming.  It should always be done in consultation with a vet and it may be necessary for your rabbit to have expert care in an animal hospital.

Pre operative

Rabbits don't need to be starved before an operation.  In fact, the more your rabbit eats the better as it may take a while after the op for it to eat again.  They cannot vomit so there is no risk they will choke under anaesthetic.  Ensure your rabbit is eating before taking it to the vet for an op; if it is unable to eat, for example if it has teeth problems, you may need to syringe feed it liquid food and always advise your vet of the fact before the operation.

Post operative

Your vet should ensure that your rabbit is eating and passing droppings before allowing it home.  You will need to keep a close eye on this to avoid gut stasis (where the digestive system shuts down).  If your rabbit does not eat straight away don't worry but if it still hasn't eaten after 8 to 10 hours contact your vet.  You may need to syringe feed your rabbit until it starts eating again.

Your rabbit will be feeling very stressed and probably sore.  It is very important to keep it warm, quiet and hydrated.  For outdoor rabbits, you will need to keep them indoors overnight to ensure they are warm enough.  You can check whether your rabbit is warm enough by feeling its ears - if they feel cold to the touch wrap your rabbit in a blanket or place a well wrapped hot water bottle near it.  Ensure it is not sitting in a draught.  Place its water bowl or bottle close by it and observe it hourly.

Syringe feeding

Syringe feeding your rabbit liquid food may be necessary if they cannot or will not eat.  You will need to do this every 2 to 4 hours until your rabbit starts eating solid food again.  You can get a syringe and specialist packets of powdered food from your vet - this needs to be mixed with water - or at a pinch you can make your own liquid food by mashing up some dry rabbit food with a little warm water.  The syringes provided usually have a too narrow neck so simply cut the end off.  It is worth trying to feed your rabbit with a spoon first; some rabbits will accept this, especially if the food is mixed with a little baby food or apple sauce.

The easiest way to syringe feed is to kneel down on the floor with your rabbit facing away from you, backed in between your knees.  Or if you have someone to help you, you could wrap your rabbit up in a blanket and have your friend hold it while you syringe feed the rabbit.  Hold the rabbit's head firmly with one hand and work the syringe into the side of its mouth i.e. just behind the front teeth.  Slowly depress the plunger and check that your rabbit is swallowing.  Many rabbits will dribble the food out of the other side of their mouth or hold it in their mouth and spit it out when you release it.  There is also a risk of the liquid food entering the windpipe and suffocating the rabbit.

Hold your rabbit until you are sure it has swallowed the food, give it a chance to get its breath back, then repeat the exercise.  Feed it as much as it will take - 3 or 4 syringe fulls is the usual tolerance for most rabbits.  If any food has dribbled down the rabbit's chin, clean it up as your rabbit is probably not grooming itself very well at that moment.

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