Safe carrying of a rabbit

 

 

Esther van Praag, Ph.D.  

 

 

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During a visit at the veterinarian, the rabbit must be taken out of the carrier and carried to the examination table.

The bones of rabbits are fragile. House rabbits, furthermore, are often confined in small hutches or cages with little opportunity to exercise their muscles and develop strength as do their wild brothers and sisters. This will, inevitably, lead to systemic underdevelopment of tissues and/or organs (hypoplasia) and to fragile bones.

Rabbits should never be held by only the scruff or the ears; many other ways exist to transport a rabbit safely. Suspension and/or struggling of the rabbit can lead to fracturing of the spine. Carrying by the ears can, furthermore, trigger reflex hypertension, which can be fatal in rabbits.

 

Carrying by only the scruff, without support of the lower spine and posterior limbs is dangerous. Suspension of the body can lead to vertebral column luxation or fracture at the lumbar level (more specifically, the 7th lumbar vertebra).

Carrying a rabbit by the ears is particularly cruel, causing needless pain as well as damage to the cartilage that supports the ears. Suspension of the body or a violent struggle can lead to vertebral luxation or fracture of the spine or neck.

Safe methods of transport

Several methods are available for proper and safe transport of rabbits from the carrier to the examination table. All include firm hold of the rabbit, to avert escape, and support of its lower spine region and hips to prevent fracture. As a rule, one hand supports the chest of the rabbit, with fingers resting under its axilla (armpits). To prevent compression of the chest, the front limbs of the rabbit are placed over one hand. The second hand or elbow supports the rabbit's weight and is placed underneath its rump. A rabbit kicking against a hard surface when held may injure or fracture its spine. Hind limbs pointing away from the human's body will reduce struggling by the rabbit and scratching of the human by sharp nails.

"Safe Handling", video by Debbie Hanson, with the help of registered vet technician Melissa and the rabbit Skyler:

 

The following illustrations show common and safe methods of carrying rabbits. Depending on the experience of the carrying person, veterinarian, and the size and weight of the rabbit, the way in which the rabbit is held may slightly differ.

 

"On the arm". The lower part of the body is supported by the elbow, while the hand gives support to the front limbs of the rabbit to prevent compression of the chest. The second hand is placed over the shoulders or grasps the loose skin of the neck to enable a good level of control of the rabbit and stop it from attempting to escape.

 

Note: This particular rabbit likes to hang her posterior limbs when feeling relaxed during transportation. It does not relate to lack of support in this specific case.

"Head in the crook of the elbow". Shy rabbits prefer to be carried without seeing their surroundings. Their head can be tucked into the crook of the elbow, while the weight and the lower part of the body are supported by the arm and the hand.

If the rabbit tends to struggle, the hand can be placed between its hind legs to support the rump. In this way the body of the rabbit can be turned sideways slightly, so that the hind legs point outwards.

The second hand is placed over the shoulders. This allows a good level of control of the rabbit, preventing it from attempting to escape.

A nervous or aggressive rabbit can be lifted and carried by holding it firmly by the scruff good support of the lower back and hips is essential. The hand will support the rump of the rabbit, with fingers surrounding the buttocks and a thumb placed on the inner side of the hind limb. This way of transport should be used for short distances only.

If this method is chosen, the rabbit's hind legs should point away from the body of the carrying person, or the rabbit may start to struggle and strike with its feet. Kicking against a hard surface while being held increases the risk of spinal fracture.

 

To examine the ventral abdomen the rabbit is held firmly against the chest, with support of the lower part of its body.

 

Thanks to Yara and Stampi, for demonstrating the various carrying and restraint methods.

 

 

 

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