Why is first aid important?
Knowledge of basic first aid allows you to provide care in the event of an injury (whether mild or serious) before veterinary treatment can be reached. It may save a life or could stop a condition from worsening. Being able to provide basic first aid to a pet rabbit in an emergency can be the difference between life and death, and allow you the time to get to a veterinary practice for treatment that may be essential for their survival.
First aid at home should never be an alternative to veterinary treatment, but if used correctly alongside it can be a big help.
Knowing how to apply first aid in an emergency situation means that you are more likely to stay calm and make a real difference.
What’s the risk?
All rabbits are at risk, accidents do happen and, due to their stoic nature, you may not always get much of a warning that something is about to go wrong but you do need to act quickly.
Emergencies that may require first aid before reaching a vet can include: cuts/scrapes, collapse, broken bones, broken nails, breathing issues, heatstroke, and low body-temperature to name a few.
What happens to the rabbit?
This depends on the situation - in most emergencies, successful treatment will be started once your pet reaches the vet. However, as we all know, in some emergencies there won’t be a positive outcome even if everyone tries their best.
In most situations that require first aid there will be a level of stress for the rabbit and possibly pain which needs addressing. Any stress/pain can lead to life-threatening complications such as gut stasis, so even issues that appear mild can progress to serious conditions.
How do you know what’s going on?
In the event of an accident, if it is safe to do so then take a few moments to assess the situation, check for signs of bleeding and injury. Being able to deal with emergencies in a calm and controlled manner can be very important.
ALWAYS make sure that you are not about to put yourself, or anybody else, in danger.
My rabbit is bleeding
This depends on the flow and amount of blood, you may just need to get to the vets for assessment, or it may require you to intervene to try and stop the bleeding first.
If it is trickling or pumping, cover the area with a clean cloth or bandage material and apply pressure (a clean towel/flannel is appropriate, don’t use tissue). Secure this in place with a bandage or your hand and keep it in place until the vet can assess it.
My rabbit has a wound
These may need covering, or it may be a case of moving the rabbit to a clean box for transport to the vets. If there is something sticking out of the wound do not remove it, as it may be stopping the bleeding.
It will be obvious to you that some wounds require treatment, possibly even surgery to clean and stitch. Be aware however that even small puncture wounds can become infected and form abscesses that can cause severe illness and be difficult to treat, so don’t ignore them.
My rabbit is limping or has broken bonesPlace the rabbit into a secure carrier/box for safe transport to a vet. Do not chase to catch them as you may make things worse. If required place a towel over them and gently lift them into the carrier. If there are any limbs that appear to be broken/hanging try to gently support these.
My rabbit has broken nailsDo not cut these yourself unless you are confident that you know how. There is a sensitive ‘quick’ that runs through the centre which will hurt and bleed if cut incorrectly.
My rabbit has collapsed
Check the ABC: Airway, Breathing, Circulation.
Check the mouth for debris (don’t get bitten), watch for breathing, put your hand UNDER the chest and feel for a heartbeat. If you think your rabbit isn’t breathing, or hasn’t got a heartbeat, phone your vet IMMEDIATELY for advice.
There could be many reasons why this might happen – heat stroke, breathing issues, heart issues, stress/fright, pain, gastrointestinal (gut stasis/blockage complications). You might have an idea about what has happened, or none at all. As soon as you can, transport the rabbit to your vets.
What do I do next?In the event of an emergency, when you need to get your rabbit straight to the vet for treatment, try to call ahead if you can (if this doesn’t delay you and it is safe to do so). This may give your veterinary team a head start – to get equipment and people ready for the arrival of the patient so they can start treatment immediately and offer the best chance of recovery.
What can I do to protect my pet?
You can keep a basic first aid kit at home to include:
Always try to keep calm in an emergency - panic is non-productive.