How to Choose a Vet for a Rabbit

 by Jeffrey R. Jenkins, DVM

Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital

Perhaps in an effort not to sound self-serving by writing this column, I'd like to devote this issue's article to a discussion of how to find a good veterinarian for your rabbit.

The time to find a veterinarian is now, not when your rabbit is sick and you are forced to take what you can get.

My philosophy is based on how I shop for professional services from persons who help me care for my family and home (doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs): I evaluate their ability to communicate, their knowledge and experience, and their reputation among their clients and peers.

A good place to start in finding your rabbit's veterinarian is to ask for recommendations from pet shop personnel, other rabbit owners and rabbit special interest groups (such as the House Rabbit Society).

Then move on to interviewing the veterinarians. The secret here is not to ask "Do you see rabbits?" but, rather, "Who in town should I take may rabbit to?" If the vet volunteers "We see rabbits," jot down his or her name. Take the time to call around in a radius from your home that you feel would be close enough to take your rabbit in case of a problem. It's one thing to travel a distance to get a good price on a routine procedure (such as spay/neuter); it's quite another to face a medical crisis and think that you have to travel miles to the vet who has your rabbit's history.

From that list of vets in your area who treat rabbits, select two or three and call for an appointment to meet them. Most hospitals charge for an office visit, but some waive the fee for a quick non-medical consultation. Remember, like all other professionals, veterinarians sell their time, and you are asking to use some of that time. Don't disregard a vet who does insist on an office charge. In the long run, this investment could be well worth it for you and your rabbit. Bring your rabbit (or one of your rabbits) to the "interview" so you can see how the vet and hospital staff handle your friend.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. You need to have a way to discern his or her level of knowledge and experience with rabbits and, just as important, your ability to communicate with each other.

A good rabbit veterinarian will have a working knowledge of rabbit anatomy and physiology, nutrition and the common diseases and syndromes of rabbits. Rabbits should make up a sizable part of the vet's practice. Unless you find a specialty practice, it is unlikely that rabbits will make up a significant portion of the patients, but 10 percent would be an acceptable minimum.

Ask what special equipment and services the hospital offers for rabbits. The "standard of care" should include the use of isoflurane anesthesia, the ability to trim incisor teeth using a dental drill (not toe-nail trimmers) and, preferably, the ability to house the rabbits away from barking dogs and the odors of cats.

When seeking details, ask open-ended questions. For example, don't ask, "Do you use isoflurane?" Instead ask, "What type of general anesthesia do you use for rabbits?" "How would you fix overgrown incisor teeth?" "What housing arrangements do you have for rabbit patients in your hospital, particularly in relation to other animals?"

A critical questions is "What oral antibiotics do you commonly prescribe for rabbits?" If the answer ends in "-cillin" (penicillin, ampicillin, etc. ), beware. Oral (but not injected) "-cillins" are deadly to rabbits and you need a vet who knows that.

Finally, ask about prices, but don't let this be a deciding factor. Finding a knowledgeable veterinarian with whom you feel confident and who can communicate well with you can be worth paying the extra price. After finding a vet, your next goal is to maintain a relationship with this doctor. Although rabbits don't require regular vaccinations, they should have an annual physical exam. This exam can help detect problems early and help you plan health management as your furry companion ages.

Unless you've adopted through the House Rabbit Society, which provides companion animals who are already spayed or neutered, you will need a vet to perform these non-emergency surgeries.

Male rabbits should be neutered (also called orchectomy or castration) to alleviate urine marking and sexual mounting (mounting may recur intermittently as a behavior to demonstrate dominance).

Female rabbits have a high incidence of uterine cancer when they are not bred regularly, hence they should be spayed (also called ovariohysterectomy or OHE). This procedure is safer and easier on the rabbit if performed while she is young. We recommend surgery between the ages of four months (when most rabbits become sexually mature) and one year. Rabbits may be spayed at an earlier age; however, no studies have been done to show the effects of spaying prior to sexual maturity.

Whomever you choose as your veterinarian, for the sake of your companion rabbit, be sure that vet has a good knowledge of rabbits.


by Jeffrey R. Jenkins, DVM

Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital

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