Due to the reduced staffing numbers our opening hours have changed and we are open MONDAY to FRIDAY 8am to 5pm and SATURDAYS 10am to 1pm. We continue to provide 24/7 emergency care as well as some essential care. Please be aware it may take us longer than usual to respond to queries that you send us.

Please DO NOT turn up at the practice unannounced, you MUST phone first and DO NOT COME TO THE SURGERY IF YOU ARE DEMONSTRATING CLINICAL SIGNS OF COVID-19!

Further advice can be found here. We thank you for your patience.

How risky is a general anaesthetic?

Overall, the risk of general anaesthesia is low, but rabbits have a higher risk than other pets like cats and dogs. The results of a 2 year study (CEPSAF), showed that in the UK the fatality rate from anaesthesia is 0.73% for healthy rabbits and 7.37% for sick rabbits. This is improving all the time with more experienced vets and safer drugs and procedures. The need for an anaesthetic needs to be weighed against the benefits of the procedure. For example, if your rabbit has severe respiratory disease it may be considered too unsafe or they may need to be stabilised prior to the anaesthetic. Other times, the risk of not performing the procedure is greater than the anaesthetic risk, for example in obstructive gut stasis (bloat) or routine neutering.

Top anaesthetic risks:

  1. Age – very young rabbits are less capable of maintaining their temperature and older rabbits may not be able to process drugs as efficiently.
  2. Weight – small rabbits have more difficulty maintaining their temperature and drugs may persist for longer. Whereas overweight rabbits can be more difficult to position and are more likely to experience breathing difficulties.
  3. Pre-exisiting medical conditions – any conditions affecting the cardiovascular system, lungs, liver, kidneys or hydration all have the potential to compromise anaesthesia.
  4. Stress – anything that causes stress can stop a rabbit eating and risk gut stasis which can progress to a fatal condition post operatively. See our ‘Bringing Your Bunny to Orchard Vets’ checklist to see what you can do to help us minimise the stress of a vet visit for your rabbit.

How can it be made safer?

We will never be able to completely eliminate the risk of anaesthesia, however there are multiple ways we can make it substantially safer. The more information we have about your rabbit’s current health status, the better we can recognise, prevent and treat any potential anesthetic complications. Furthermore, rabbits need to continually eat and defecate or they risk experiencing gut stasis, so any stress which stops them eating can become fatal. Pain from a surgical procedure, a visit to the hospital and separation from companions, combined with the residual sedative effect of an anesthetic, are all potentially stressful. Here at Orchard we aim to minimise the stress of their visit and prevent this occurring.

Below are steps that we take to minimise anesthetic risk:

Veterinary nurse or animal technician: A trained member of staff will be assigned to your pet. Their sole job is to continuously monitor your pet’s vital signs throughout anaesthesia, from induction to recovery, alerting the vet to any changes and making adjustments quickly.

Pre-anaesthetic assessment: Your vet will take into account your rabbit’s history, current conditions and medications, lifestyle and other relevant history. Every rabbit will undergo a thorough veterinary exam prior to the anaesthetic to identify any underlying conditions that may need to be addressed.

Intravenous catheter placement: Every rabbit has an intravenous (IV) catheter placed prior to the procedure. The catheter can be used to provide anaesthetics and fluids to keep your pet hydrated; additionally, if needed, it would serve as a pathway to directly administer life-saving medications should a crisis arise.

Intubation: Here at Orchard we have species-specific rabbit V-Gels which are devices that slot into the mouth to open and protect the airway. During anaesthesia this allows careful adjustment of anaesthetic gases and the ability to easily provide ventilation should your rabbit stop breathing.

Intravenous fluid therapy: Fluids are administered during the procedure via the IV catheter to maintain or correct hydration and blood pressure. This keeps sensitive organs like the kidneys functioning optimally and aids recovery by helping the liver and kidneys clear the body of anaesthetic agents. This also ensures your rabbit’s gut contents do not become dehydrated and risk gut stasis.

Pain relief: Pain relief is an essential part of all of our rabbit procedures. We are very aware that pain and stress can cause a rabbit to stop eating and risk gut stasis. Our vets are experienced at using multiple different methods of pain relief to give your rabbit the most comfortable experience possible. Many rabbits will go home with pain relief prescribed by their vet to continue at home, depending on the procedure being carried out.

Housing away from predator species and with their companion: We make sure that your rabbit is housed away from other predator species in the hospital. Removing this source of stress allows them a peaceful recovery and encourages them to start eating quickly. We encourage any companions to stay for the day too, to provide moral support and further reduce stress.

Assisted feeding, if required: We aim to see our rabbit patients eating independently before they travel home after their procedure. Some rabbits can take longer to regain their appeitite, so we make sure that these individuals get special syringe feeding to stimulate their gut and prevent gut stasis. Lots of rabbits will go home with this food too.

Other diagnostic tests may be recommended on an individual basis.

How is my rabbit monitored throughout the anesthetic?

There are many ways in which your rabbit will be monitored, enabling quick action to rectify any changes. They include:

  • Heart rate, rhythm and respiratory rate – this is monitored by a nurse or animal technician every 5 minutes.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) – this monitors your rabbit’s heart rate and heartbeat pattern. It can detect abnormal rhythm patterns called arrhythmias. If an arrhythmia is detected, your vet can make suitable changes in anaesthesia or administer life-saving drugs. Because ECG machines are designed for larger animals (and people), for some of our smallest bunnies we may opt not to use this machine to protect their skin from the harsher attachments.
  • Body temperature – this is especially important for rabbits. Heat pads, blankets, warmed fluids and bubble-wrap jackets can be used to maintain their temperature.
  • Blood pressure – when used together with other monitoring equipment, blood pressure provides detailed information on your pet’s cardiovascular condition. If this falls too low, your vet can address this quickly using your bunny’s IV catheter.
  • Pulse oximetry – this monitors the amount of oxygen in your rabbit’s blood as well as pulse rate.
  • Carbon dioxide – this is monitored via a machine called a ‘capnograph’ attached to the VGel. It helps determine if your pet is receiving the right amount of oxygen during anaesthesia.

If you have any other questions about anaesthesia or specific questions relating to your pet, don’t hesitate to speak to one of our vets.