Rabbits make amazing pets and quickly become members of the family with their unique personalities and loveable nature. It, therefore, is incredibly hard when they are injured or unwell. A particularly difficult injury to deal with is a broken leg.

Why are broken legs in rabbits so troublesome?

Rabbits are agile creatures. Made to jump, leap and thump, and feel secure knowing they can move quickly away from potential predators. They rely on their limbs to keep them mobile and happy. But, rabbits also have particularly fragile bones which means they are more prone to breaking.

When they break a leg they are unable to express these natural behaviours, and as a result, can become very stressed. As well as being stressed, broken limbs are of course incredibly painful. Stress and pain in rabbits can be very troublesome as they can result in other health issues including but not limited to gastrointestinal stasis (also known as gut stasis) which can be potentially fatal if not treated.

What are the options for treating a broken leg in rabbits?

The most common options for treating broken rabbits are as follows:

  • surgical repair
  • non-surgical repair
  • amputation

Surgical repair

This involves a veterinary surgeon performing surgery on the rabbit’s leg to keep the broken leg in place. often including a combination of surgical pins, plates and screws in the leg to hold the pieces of broken bone together.

Pros:

  • The broken leg is fixed in place

Cons:

  • Rest and rehabilitation – your rabbit will need to be confined to a small space with limited movement to prevent the pieces of bone, which have been fixed in place, from moving for a prolonged period of time, often several weeks at least. Rabbits can become very stressed under these conditions which as discussed above can lead to other health complications. 
  • Infection in the leg is possible after surgical repair of fractures especially if the fracture is an open fracture, where the bone has come outside of the skin. 
  • The rabbit will need an anaesthetic for this procedure, all anaesthetics carry some level of risk. 

Non-surgical repair

This involves the veterinary surgeon using bandaging materials and splints to keep the rabbit’s leg in place and keep the pieces of broken bones in line to allow them to heal.

Pros:

  • Surgery not needed 
  • The broken leg is fixed in place

Cons:

Vetster option 01 (Blog)
  • Not all fractures can be fixed in this way – in particular, hind limb fractures in rabbits. Your veterinary surgeon will discuss with you what type of fracture your rabbit has and whether this is a suitable solution.
  • Rest and rehabilitation – your rabbit will need to be confined to a small space with limited movement to prevent the pieces of bone which have been fixed in place moving for a prolonged period of time, often several weeks at least. Rabbits can become very stressed under these conditions which as discussed above can lead to other health complications.

Amputation 

This involves the veterinary surgeon performing surgery to amputate the broken limb. Not all rabbits will be candidates for this procedure. The rabbit needs to be able to adapt to living with three legs. Rabbits with underlying conditions such as arthritis and obesity are not good candidates for amputations as they are less likely to cope well without a limb. 

Pros:

  • less recovery time as the broken leg is removed and therefore does not need to repair, (some recovery time for the surgical wound will still be needed, however)

Cons:

  • Studies have shown amputation in rabbits has been associated with a high level of long-term complications. This includes pododermatitis, due to the change in mobility and pressure on other limbs, which can negatively affect their welfare.
  • The rabbit will need an anaesthetic for this procedure, all anaesthetics carry some level of risk.

Rest and Rehabilitation, why is it so important and so challenging?

One of the most difficult aspects of treating broken limbs in rabbits is the need for an extensive period of rest and rehabilitation. 

This is vitally important to allow the broken limb to heal. If your rabbit moves around or uses the limb too much, they risk the pieces of bone, which have been realigned, moving apart. This can result in the leg re-breaking and not healing.

After the break has healed, a careful slow build-up in exercise will be needed to allow the muscles to rebuild. It will also prevent the limb from re-breaking as it will be a weak area in the limb for some time.

Being confined to a small area and not moving around or using limbs will not suit all rabbits. If your rabbit is particularly flighty, stamps their feet lots and becomes very stressed or agitated quickly, they may not cope well with this.

It is important to discuss with your veterinarian all of the options and take into account your
individual rabbit’s situation, behaviour and temperament when deciding which treatment option is most appropriate. In some cases some individuals may not cope with any of the treatment options, and sadly for these individuals euthanasia may be the kindest option to prevent further suffering.

What to do if you are worried your rabbit may have broken its leg?

If you are concerned your rabbit may have broken their leg, it is vitally important you take them to your veterinary surgeon as soon as possible. If your rabbit is limping or not moving around as normal it is possible they have a broken leg.

Broken legs are very painful and your rabbit will need pain relief prescribed by your veterinary surgeon. This will make them comfortable and help prevent other health conditions, such as gastrointestinal stasis from developing. Your veterinary surgeon, after stabilising your rabbit and getting their pain under control, will be able to discuss options with you for treatment and investigation. This includes performing x-rays to investigate the broken leg more thoroughly. After performing these tests your veterinary surgeon will then be able to advise you how severe the damage is, and what options are available for treatment.

Vetster option 02 (Blog)

Summary:

  • It is important to take your rabbit to the vet as soon as possible if you suspect your rabbit has broken a leg
  • Broken legs in rabbits are very challenging to treat and the prognosis for recovery is guarded in many cases
  • There are a number of treatment options available. But these often involve a long period of rest and rehabilitation which is not tolerated well by all rabbits
  • Amputation is an option but not all rabbits are suitable candidates for this procedure 
  • Your veterinary surgeon will be able to advise you best on which options are most suitable for your rabbit. These will depend on your rabbit’s current health status, behaviour and temperament and the severity of the broken limb

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