The phrase calls up images of rabbits with various permanent disabilities: deaf, blind, splay-legged, paralyzed. Without doubt, such rabbits belong in this category. Yet any one of our rabbits could become a special needs rabbit should it become ill or if it should simply live until it develops some of the infirmities of old age. This is a bit of a sobering thought, but the good news is that more and more rabbits with disabilities are living happy and fulfilled lives. Many people who never dreamed they would be capable of caring for a special needs rabbit are finding it to be a tremendously rewarding experience.
In fact, contrary to what one might expect, caregivers often report that their special needs rabbits are the happiest and most affectionate of their rabbits. This is simple enough to verify: ask yourself what the behaviors of a normal happy rabbit are – they are playful and affectionate, they tooth purr, dance, lick, and toss their heads. If you see those same behaviors in a special needs rabbit it means the same thing. Rabbits do not dissimulate. All special needs rabbits are basically like any other rabbit; they just require a bit of extra love and care.
Open your heart and let go of your assumptions about disabilities if you find yourself caring for a special needs bunny. You will find it endlessly rewarding and will most likely develop a deep and lasting bond with your special bun, far deeper than you ever developed with one of your normal rabbits. Nor will your rabbit be the only one who benefits. K. Marie Mead, author of a forthcoming book of true stories about house rabbits, cares for Kali, a rescued rabbit with multiple disabilities. “Kali is a teacher, a healer. I’ve gained a depth of compassion that I never had before, and that new-found strength has enabled me to work with humans and non-humans in a different and better, manner. Kali is a cherished gift, and more – she is a paradox of the highest level, from which I’m still learning.”
Rabbits with Genetic Splay-Leg
A rabbit suffering from this condition loses gradually the ability to adduct one to all four limbs. It can affect the fore- and/or hind limbs, which become twisted, so that the animal has a double-jointed posture. The rabbit can no more put weight on its limbs and ambulation becomes difficult due to the inability to adduct the limbs. The severity of the condition ranges from light to paralysis.
Young rabbit suffering from unilateral splay leg of the hind limb (arrow).
Various causes can lead to splay-leg in rabbits. The condition is frequently inherited in one or more recessive genes with reduced expressivity and possible involvement of environmental factors. Other causes have a traumatic or iatrogenic origin. They include does that have few newborn and overfeed them, or newborn that are in a nest on a slippery surface due to lack of bedding.
Rabbit suffering from three splayed limbs. Sore lesions are observed on the skin of the inner side of the posterior limbs and tail.
There is no treatment for splay-leg, so each case should be evaluated on an individual basis. Indeed, rabbits showing light deformities can move around quite well and thus have a good quality of life. In other cases, amputation of the affected limb may be considered. For rabbits severely affected by splay-leg, euthanasia may be overweighed.
Secondary skin complications may develop, in areas that wear the body weight. Skin ulceration (sore lesions) and pododermatis are most frequently observed.
Footnotes and further reading:
For info on General Care, Long Term Care, Types of Special Needs, and Treatments Used please see the weblink: http://www.houserabbitga.com/?page_id=2172
"Caring For Bijou": http://www.catsandrabbitsandmore.com/bijou_the_bunny