Lapis ISSN 2398-2969

Clinical examination

Contributor(s): Aidan Raftery, Livia Benato, Susan Brown, Brendan Carmel, Jill Pearson

Introduction

  • Obtain a detailed history from the client before the clinical examination. Many illnesses in rabbits are due to inadequate husbandry.
  • Weigh all rabbits presented for examination.
  • Observe the rabbit unrestrained if possible, before performing a detailed clinical examination. Watch the rabbit in its traveling box, and then, in an area where it can move about safely such as the floor of the consultation room.
  • The rabbit is a prey animal and much of its behavior is related to this.
  • A frightened rabbit can easily injure itself. Fractures of spine, pelvis or limbs are possible if not examined or restrained correctly, so very nervous individuals should not be allowed the freedom of slippery floors.
  • The ease with which any rabbit may be examined will depend on the rabbit's upbringing.
  • House rabbits that are well used to human company are often easy to handle and examine.

Print off the Owner factsheets Choosing a rabbitHousing your rabbitLiving with a house rabbitWhy does my rabbit...?Samples - how they help your vet and Xray and Ultrasound to give to your clients.

The rabbit at rest

  • Observation of the rabbit at rest will give an indication of:
    • Relative resting respiratory rate and of respiratory distress (rabbits are 'on alert' at all times out of their environment).
    • Abnormal posture, eg head tilt Head tilt: otitis media Head tilt, abnormal sitting posture.
    • Abnormal limb position.
    • Signs of pain that may cease when the animal is handled, eg tooth grinding, 'glazed eye look' or 'star-gazing' (can be sign of shock or distress - the hiding reflex).
    • Signs of normal coat care. Ill animals may fail to groom. Very obese rabbits and those with spinal pain or dental disease may be unable to turn and groom the lower back and perineal region.

The ambulatory rabbit

  • Observation of the rabbit moving at liberty may indicate:
    • General willingness (or not) to move.
    • Presence or absence of normal exploratory behavior.
    • Lameness.
    • Lack of balance or head tilt Head tilt.
  • This can be difficult to assess in a consulting room, especially if the floor is slippery. Place a large blanket on the floot and let the animal get used to the environment before observing. This will make it easier to assess any obvious problems. The general character of the animal should be taken into consideration.
  • The rabbit can then be examined in detail. For details of safe handling see Handling/restraint Handling / restraint.

General condition

  • Circa 28-30% of UK pet rabbits are considered overweight Obesity.
  • Body condition score of the rabbit is an essential part of the clinical examination. An estimate of body condition can be made by determining the amount of fat overlying the ribcage, the presence of skin folds around the dewlap, abdomen and rump area.
  • The coat should be assessed for general quality, matted fur, molting, flaky skin and wounds. The back and the flanks should be observed first and then the coat and the skin of the ventral aspect should be examined to rule out urine scalding and alopecia due to nesting behavior.

Examination of the head and neck

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The forelimbs, hindlimbs and tail

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The thorax and abdomen

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The inguinal and perineal regions

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Taking the temperature

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Mancinelli E, Keeble E, Richardson J et al (2014) Husbandry risk factors associated with hock pododermatitis in UK pet rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Vet Rec 174 (17), 429 PubMed.
  • Harcourt-Brown F (2009) Dental disease in pet rabbits. 2. Diagnosis and treatment. In Pract 31 (9), 432-445 VetMedResource.
  • Brown S A (2001) The domestic rabbit - husbandry and clinical techniques. Comp Cont Educ Pract Vet Suppl 23 (2A), 15-22.
  • Brown S A (1997) Clinical techniques in rabbits. Semin Avian Exotic Pet Med (2), 86-95 ScienceDirect.
  • Hillyer E V (1994) Pet rabbits. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 24 (1), 25-65 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Richardson J & Keeble E (2014) Physical examination and clinical techniques. In: BSAVA Manual of Rabbit Medicine. Eds: Meredith A & Lord B. BSAVA. pp 80-107.


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