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Thread: Rabbit Choking 101

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    Wise Old Thumper Georgeypudding's Avatar
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    Feb 2010

    Default Rabbit Choking 101

    Before I start, may I stress the point that I am NOT a vet. If your rabbit chokes please consult a vet! It is best to consult your vet on correct techniques, as although I have consulted a vet for this post it is difficult to explain the methods of dislodging.

    As most of us know, rabbits are greedy animals. Itís a general fact of life that all rabbit owners know! Sometimes, a rabbit's greed can be its downfall. Sadly, there seems to have been a massive increase of cases where a rabbit has choked on its feed.
    Most of us know, rabbits have no gag reflex. This is the reason rabbits cannot be sick (like horses!) but it also means that they are unable to bring food up which has become stuck in the throat. It is a scary moment when you realise your rabbit is choking, but it is possible to help them out if such a situation were to happen.
    As I said above, rabbits have no gag reflex, and we know choking is caused by something lodged in the throat. The 2 together make for a pretty bad mix, what can we do to prevent it from happening? The majority of chokes are from pellets, there is a mixture of pellets being fed in the rabbits who have choked and very few cases of rabbits who eat muesli choking. We feed pellets as they prevent selective feeding and are generally much better for our rabbits as they contain less sugars. If you choose to feed muesli instead of pellets you need to make sure that your rabbits arenít picking and choosing which bits to eat (as this means that they will be missing out on some nutrients!)

    I cannot say whether certain rabbits are more at risk than others, I am not a vet after all! It is down to you to assess your rabbit's risk factors, for myself a couple of things I would consider are:
    ē Is my rabbit a gobbler, or does he take his time to eat?
    ē Does my rabbit have dental issues? Do these issues mean he is more likely not to chew his food fully before swallowing?
    Most of the cases we have seen across the forum have been from rabbits who rush to eat, end up not chewing their food correctly and end up with a blockage.

    Feeding Methods which may help prevent choking:

    Pellets turn mushy once wet. This is absolutely perfect for those worried about a whole pellet not being chewed and then becoming stuck. The rabbit wonít be able to gobble its food quite as quickly and no risk of pellets becoming lodged (provided all pellets are softened). Itís also really very easy to do. Take your rabbit's ration of pellets, place them in a bowl and cover with boiled water (still warm) and let the pellets soak and cool before feeding. I personally like to mix the pellets once soaked as some stick to the bottom of the bowl.

    Scatter Feeding is a really simple way of feeding, take your pellets and throw them around your rabbit's enclosure! The wider spread the better! Having to search for their pellets will mean they take more time between eating (and hopefully chew more!). As the pellets will still be hard I advise watching your rabbits just in case!

    Treat balls are another way of getting rabbits to take their time between each pellet. They are a small ball with a hole in, you fill it with pellets and the rabbits have to roll it to dislodge the pellets. Some rabbits can become excitable when using a treat ball: I again advise that you supervise your rabbits when using it just in case their excitement causes them to forget to chew properly.

    Mixing your rabbit's pellets into their hay is yet another way of slowing down their pace. It is similar to Scatter Feeding, in that your rabbit will have to search for their food. If you are feeding hay in a rack, the occasional pellet will be discovered amongst the hay. This method does make it difficult to monitor which rabbit in a pair/group is getting the most pellets, also as the pellets are still hard it presents a risk of choking.

    Hand feeding, is as it sounds! You feed your rabbit by hand. This way you can give each rabbit 1 pellet, make them wait for the next and monitor who is getting what. You will be around to make sure no-one chokes and if they do you will be able to act immediately.

    Some people have asked what symptoms you will see in a choking rabbit. Having read accounts here and on the internet and consulting with my vet, it seems there are a few signs to watch for:
    • Rabbit lifting its head and pointing its nose to the air Ė this is them trying to breathe, it is also seen in rabbits with heart issues.
    • Making gurgling or whistling sounds.
    • Laboured breathing, panting and gasping type breaths (like youíd see in a human choking)
    • Turning blue - their gums that is, not fur! This is lack of oxygen, and again something you might see in a human.
    • Rabbit pawing at its mouth and moving around whilst chewing

    Some owners also report seeing fluid while their rabbit is choking. This is because the rabbit has aspirated, (breathing something in) and the fluid is a reaction from the lungs.

    Once you have dislodged the blockage, your rabbit should pink up and stop gasping for air. If once you have removed the blockage you see a lot of fluid coming from the rabbits mouth and nose, it is likely the rabbit has aspirated. You MUST tell your vet this as it can go on to cause something called Aspiration Pneumonia. In any case of a choking rabbit please take your rabbit to the vet immediately!

    How to dislodge the blockage:
    This is a direct quote from my vet:

    'You will struggle to dislodge anything stuck with your finger (and struggle to fit it in there anyway). The best technique would be to try swinging (this sounds crazy, and is not a literal swing) the rabbit upside down, using centripetal force , making sure the head, neck and spine is supported and immobilised. Care needs to be used as rabbits do not like being upside down, especially inverted, and the head/neck/spine needs to be supported. This should only be used in a life or death situation. Rabbits in veterinary circles are well known for having pretty rubbish lungs in ratio to body mass. It is hoped with this technique the pressure on the diaphragm from the force of their other organs is enough to expel the obstruction.'
    To support the rabbit, place him on your forearm. Brace his spine, neck and head with your other arm. Point your rabbit upwards and in a smooth movement bring your arms down so he is nose towards the floor.
    Please consult your vet and ask them to show you the correct technique, it is better to know what to do and not need it rather than not knowing and needing it. They will also be able to show you what to do with a giant rabbit (as obviously you canít lift them in the same way as a small bun!)
    If you think your bun isnít breathing - check! Can you see or feel the stomach moving? Is his nose twitching? If you put your hand in front of his nose, can you feel anything? If you are absolutely sure he isnít breathing it is possible to do rabbit CPR, gently breathing into his nose. Be sure to do VERY SMALL breaths as a rabbit has tiny lungs. Again, please consult your own vet on the best way to do this, and only use if you really have to.
    Once you have dislodged the blockage it is incredibly important to see a vet within the day (if not the hour). Once you arrive at the vets, they will check him over and put him on oxygen, if needed. If your rabbit is blue, this is important! Checking the airway for any remaining blockage and removing if possible. If the rabbit isnít breathing they may intubate the rabbit, which involves putting a tube down the throat, this keeps the airway open and helps them breath for the rabbit.
    Your vet should check the lungs with a stethoscope in case the rabbit has aspirated. If your rabbit HAS aspirated your vet will need to prescribe antibiotics to treat any infection or pneumonia that may occur, some vets will give antibiotics just in case, even if the rabbit hasnít aspirated. Painkillers may be prescribed, as the rabbit may be sore from choking leading to a reluctance in eating or drinking. Vets all treat animals in their own way but these are possibilities to suggest if your vet is non-rabbit savvy!

    Once again I must stress, I am NOT a vet and this information is not a substitute for veterinary care. Please seek medical attention after any choke or suspected choke.
    Last edited by Georgeypudding; 17-01-2013 at 09:38 AM.



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