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Regurgitating Rabbits

Rabbits Canít Vomit! Or can they?
Sandi Ackerman
Washington HRS Chapter Mgr

Before I begin this short article I want to emphasize that we continue to believe that rabbits will NOT vomit during surgery and that food should continue to be feed at least through the morning of the surgery.

I have personally observed 3 different rabbits in the process of vomiting. The first time involved one of my foster rabbits who is just a pig and always claimed that he hadn't eaten in weeks. And so he gobbles, or literally inhales his food. I had just placed his and his mates pellet bowl on the floor when he dashed over, stuck his head in the bowl and started chewing. After only a couple of seconds he started vomiting and then just as suddenly got up on his back feet with his front feet stretched high above him on the wall. It then appeared as though he were "dancing" on his back legs and it took me several seconds to realize that he couldnít breathe. By the time I reacted and had picked him up he had apparently cleared the obstruction and was beginning to calm down. In only another few seconds he wanted to get down, shock himself and started eating again. There was no additional signs that anything had been amiss.

The other two rabbits were from Rabbit Meadows (our feral rabbit sanctuary.) I feed veggies to those rabbits by throwing handfuls of greens and fruits in as many different directions as I can (usually going through a total of 4-5 *cases* of veggies at a time) then I stand back and watch the "hoard of hungry rabbits" come running! Even though there is plenty of food for all of the rabbits, they are very competitive and act as though they will not get their share. As a result, they eat rapidly. It appeared to me as though food got stuck and they begin to choke and then vomit. The two feral rabbits I observed on different days both died after arriving at the vet clinic.

My own vet didn't believe me when I brought her the first rabbit to autopsy. When I brought her the second rabbit and reported the same occurrence (vomiting) she took a closer look and was able to move food back and forth *from* the stomach, up and out.

Obviously we do NOT want some scientific study to confirm this! Don't worry about it, just be aware that it is possible. We can't do a hymlick maneuver on our rabbits, but there is a "swinging" motion, using gravity, that is used on human babies that can work with rabbits. Unless you have a pig in rabbits clothing, I wouldn't bother to even find out about this procedure from your vet. Continue to feed rabbits up to a "short while" before surgery, as advised by your vets.

Case Historyís:
Hobbes: I wanted to add to this discussion as well. We'd always been told that rabbits canít vomit too. A few years ago we had a very scary episode with one of our buns. For a few weeks he kept vomiting. When I talked to vets, they said it wasn't possible. We took him in to our regular rabbit savvy vet and to Tufts emergency clinic. Both were shocked to find out that he actually was vomiting. After that, every time Hobbes went in to our vet for a check up, she always greeted him with, "well if it isn't the amazing vomiting bunny!" So yes, although rabbits are not supposed to be capable of vomiting, some of them can.
Melissa Golembewski Wilson, Massachusetts HRS"

And yet another case:
Emily: Ironically, even as I was writing this article, I received a frantic call from Alayne. Her rabbit Emily (a beautiful, opinionated, American Checkered Giant) was running frantically through the house vomiting. Emily had been relaxing on the floor and was not observed to be eating, when she suddenly shot up and began running throughout the house vomiting and appearing unable to breathe. By the time I spoke to Alayne, only a few minutes later, Emily had calmed down and was busily grooming the mess off of herself. Covered with saliva and chewed up greens on her paws face and chest.

Followup: When Emily finally passed, the postmortem indicated that she had experienced numerous heart attacks. It is now thought that the pain from the heart attack caused both the running and the vomiting.

Postmortem examination report:

In April, 1999, 3 sanctuary rabbits died suddenly. Shortly before, they were observed eating and then gasping. Food was found in the mouth and nose of the dead rabbits. Post mortem examination revealed food obstructing the larynx, and tracheal hemorrhage in all 3. In one rabbit a leaf obstructed the airway; in one a mass of food had passed from the esophagus into the airway. The esophagus was packed with food of the same normal consistency as that in the stomach. The cause of death in the 3 rabbits was asphyxiation resulting from aspiration of food into the airway. At least 2 of the rabbits apparently vomited or regurgitated food. Since rabbits reportedly are "unable to vomit because of anatomic arrangement of the cardia and stomach," the question is: Did they vomit?

Barbara Deeb, DVM, MS
AllPet Veterinary Clinic
Seattle, WA

Rabbit Meadows
aka Best Little Rabbit & Rodent House

12487 Old Military Rd NE
Poulsbo, WA 98370

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