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Anesthesia: preparation


Patient evaluation

  • Prior to any other preparations for anesthesia the owner should be questioned about the rabbit's husbandry and medical history, followed by a thorough physical examination.
  • A clinical evaluation of the rabbit's health status prior to anesthesia should help detect underlying medical conditions. Undetected subclinical pathology may cause problems during anesthesia.
  • The most frequent pre-existing problems arise from the respiratory tract (bacterial infections, eg Pasteurella multocida Pasteurella multocida causing reduced function of lung tissue) and the gastrointestinal tract, eg motility disorders. Many rabbits have latent infection with Encephalitozoon cuniculi, but the influence of this infection on health and anesthesia is still a subject of debate.
  • Thus, special attention should be paid to signs such as:
    • Respiratory noises.
    • Changed respiratory pattern Dyspnea.
    • Nasal and ocular discharge.
    • Sneezing.
    • Coughing.
    • The status of teeth and buccal mucosa Dental examination.
    • Appetite.
    • Weight loss Weight loss and body condition score.
    • Appearance of fur on forelegs and around the anus, eg discharges, uneaten cecotrophs.
    • Consistency and volume of feces Sticky bottom syndrome.
    • Fluid homeostasis (skin turgor, moistness of mucous membranes).
  • Older (3-5 years) entire female rabbits can develop uterine adenocarcinoma Uterine adenocarcinoma, which often metastasizes to the lungs and other organs .
  • As evaluation of the lung by auscultation can be difficult in rabbits, thoracic radiographs Radiography: thorax can help to assess pulmonary disease (although this procedure will necessitate sedation in most individuals).
  • The rectal temperature should be taken:
    • While most of the literature suggests normal rectal temperature in rabbits is 38.5-50°C/101.3-122°F, actual readings with a thermometer or rectal probe are usually lower.
    • In fact, a temperature of 40°C/104°F may suggest fever.
  • Gut sounds should be auscultated on both sides of the abdomen.
  • Heart rate (same as respiratory rate, gut sounds and rectal temperature) should be obtained in a quiet and relaxed environment. Heart rate is very variable in rabbits, ranging from 150-300 bpm.
  • Blood samples, eg for hematology and biochemistry, are useful to identify some pathologies not detectable on clinical examination.
  • Abnormalities or disease conditions should be corrected prior to anesthesia if possible (if postponement of anesthesia is not detrimental to the patient) to minimize risks during the procedure. Chronically ill rabbits often benefit from fluid therapy and supplemental feeding for 24-48 h before anesthesia is induced.
  • In a practical situation, rabbits with unremarkable medical history and physical exam, ie rabbits that are apparently healthy, may not need radiographs or bloodwork unless the veterinarian thinks otherwise. However, information on weight, gut sounds, rectal temperature, respiratory rate and heart rate should be collected from all rabbits.
Gut sounds, rectal temperature, respiratory rate and heart rate may not be completely reliable in very stressed rabbits.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Uzun M, Kiraz H A, Ovali M A et al (2015) The investigation of airway management capacity of v-gel and cobra-PLA in anesthetised rabbits. Acta Cir Bras 30 (1), 80-86 PubMed.
  • Johnson D H (2010) Endoscopic intubation of exotic companion mammals. Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract 13 (2), 273-289 PubMed.
  • Grint N J, Smith H E & Senior J M (2008) Clinical evaluation of alfaxalone in cyclodextrin for the induction of anaesthesia in rabbits. Vet Rec 163 (13), 395-396 PubMed.
  • Bateman L, Ludders J W, Gleed R D et al (2005) Comparison between facemask and laryngeal mask airway in rabbits during isoflurane anesthesia. Vet Anesth Analg 32 (5), 280-288 PubMed.
  • Orr H E, Roughan J V & Flecknell P A (2005) Assessment of ketamine and medetomidine anesthesia in the domestic rabbit. Vet Anesth Analg 32 (5), 271-279 PubMed.
  • Avsaroglu H, Versluis A, Hellebrekers L J et al (2003) Strain differences in response to propofol, ketamine and medetomidine in rabbits. Vet Rec 152 (10), 300 PubMed.
  • Aeschbacher G (1995) Rabbit anesthesia. Compend Contin Educ Pract Vet 17 (8), 1003-1011 VetMedResource.
  • Flecknell P A, Liles J H & Williamson H A (1990) The use of lignocaine-prilocaine local anesthetic cream for pain-free venipuncture in laboratory animals. Lab Anim 24 (2), 142-146 PubMed.
  • Sedgwick C J (1986) Anesthesia for rabbits. Vet Clin North Am Food Anim Pract (3), 731-736 PubMed.
  • Bonath K, Hirche H & Lange S (1980) Einfluss der Ketamin-Hydrochlorid/Halothan-Sauerstoffnarkose auf Atmung, Blutgase und Saeurebasehaushalt des Kaninchens. Berl Munch Tieraerztl Wochenschr 93, 462-468.
  • Greene H S & Saxton J A (1938) Uterine adenomata in the rabbit. J Exper Med 67 (5), 691-708 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Flecknell P (2016) Managing and Monitoring Anesthesia. In: Laboratory Animal Anesthesia. 4th edn. Academic Press, Elsevier, London. pp 77-108.
  • Flecknell P A & Thomas A A (2015) Comparative Anesthesia and Analgesia of Laboratory Animals. In: Lumb and Jones' Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia. Eds: Grimm K A, Lamont L A, Tranquili W J, Greene S A & Robertson S A. Wiley Blackwell. pp 754-763.
  • Hawkins M G & Pascoe P J (2012) Anesthesia, Analgesia and Sedation of Small Mammals. In: Ferrets, Rabbits & Rodents: Clinical Medicine & Surgery. 3rd edn. Eds: Quesenberry K E & Carpenter J W. Saunders. pp 429-451.
  • Flecknell P (2006) Anesthesia and Peri-operative Care. In: Manual of Rabbit Medicine & Surgery. 2nd edn. Eds: Meredith A & Flecknell P. BSAVA. pp 154-165.
  • Brodbelt D C, Young L, Pfeiffer D et al (2005) Risk Factors for Anesthetic-related Deaths in Rabbits. In: Proc BSAVA Congress. pp 29.
  • Harvey R C & Walberg J (1987) Special Considerations for Anesthesia and Analgesia in Research Animals. In: Principles & Practice of Veterinary Anesthesia. Ed: Short C E. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins. pp 380-392.

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