Making the difficult decision as to when to put a beloved pet to sleep is never easy. No two decisions are ever the same and, therefore, it will not get easier with experience. You need to trust that you know what is best and trust the advice you are given from veterinary professionals regarding quality of life and prognosis. We have built a few tips in order to help guide your decision making.
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Monitoring your rabbits’ behaviour is key
Remember that you know your pet better than anyone else. You will notice key behaviour differences, be they gradual or immediate. Think about things your rabbit used to do and if they still do them… This could be things as simple as stomping their foot when they are hungry or easily hopping up and down the slope in their run. Or are they maybe eating more slowly, or even not grooming themselves as appropriately as they used to?
Changes in behaviour are great ways to monitor pain and even emotion. Changes in activity levels may be a sign of orthopaedic or muscular pain, but could also be a sign of urinary issues or lethargy. Slower chewing could be a sign of dental disease, whether that be in the mouth or gums. Your vet would need to perform a clinical examination to find out. A lack of grooming could be hormonal issues (affecting the hair shedding cycle), joint pain or lethargy amongst many things. Some of these changes we veterinary professionals may be able to help with, and therefore with the correct care and patience, we may be able to reverse them.
Unfortunately, sometimes these mild behaviour changes can be the only symptom we have for really nasty diseases. And therefore the history you provide to a veterinary professional is vital in helping with problem solving. When thinking about behaviour changes, it is very important to give as much detail to your veterinary professional as possible. This is so we can analyse and look at the rabbit’s clinical signs alongside the clinical exam to decide upon the next best step.
Keep an eye on their appetite
Not eating could be a sign of dental disease and this can often be seen in rabbits because their teeth continually grow. This means a common problem that we see is overgrown teeth, which we can usually help with a dental procedure. Sometimes, not eating can be associated with a systemic disease.
Regularly recording the weight of your pet is important as you will then be able to spot any weight changes. This is important in bunnies as they are prey animals; therefore they often do not show as many clinical signs as other pets may do. If your rabbit is not eating, it is vital that they see a vet. If they do not eat, a rabbit’s gut can stop working (Gut Stasis) and it can be hard to restart the system. Your veterinary professional will perform a body condition score on your pet rabbit too. This helps us to look at the body condition rather than weight; which is more accountable for muscle coverages, especially helpful if you have recently been trying to help your bunny lose weight.
With so many different things to monitor, keeping a diary can really help
This will help you to notice any subtle changes. You should pick 3 things your rabbit really loves to do; for example, having cuddles, going out in their run, eating their favourite food, playing with another bunny, playing with a toy etc. Regularly mark how often you noticed them doing these normal things. You should also mark down 3 things they should be doing in order to survive; such as eating, drinking and toileting. You could go into more detail adding the volumes of water drunk, the volume and type of food eaten and the quality of their stool. Additionally, scoring their day out of ten to show how you feel their day has been can help to show any gradual deterioration.
Having regular statistics helps when you make any big decision. This is because you can see that you are making a decision based on lots of information; rather than just how you perceive your rabbit has been feeling for a few days. It helps to support you in knowing it is the correct decision as you can evaluate more accurately over a longer period of time without emotion impacting the scoring too much.
If you do become concerned about anything at all, please bring your bunny to the vets
With rabbits, we recommend bringing them soon after noticing a problem because rabbits’ health can deteriorate rapidly. Discussing your concerns with a veterinary surgeon and having regular health checks will help us to spot any diseases in early stages. And will also allow for us to have more in-depth conversations.
Quality of life is the most important thing. We need to think about the bunny and whether we can make their quality of life worth living. All the things mentioned above are different ways to assess and monitor quality of life over a period of time to avoid difficult decisions having to be made without enough preparation time as you may have liked.