Can a Rabbit Survive a Broken Back?

What could be more heartbreaking than seeing your beloved pet rabbit paralyzed or dragging its hind legs across the floor, unable to hop and play? Spinal fractures in rabbits are sadly all too common, yet they aren’t necessarily a death sentence. With lightning-fast first aid and dedicated veterinary care, recovery is possible in some cases. This comprehensive guide explores everything you need to know if you suspect your rabbit’s back is broken. Get vital facts on causes, symptoms, emergency treatment, surgical options, rehabilitation, quality of life concerns, and most importantly, realistic chances for recovery. Don’t lose hope, but also arm yourself with knowledge, as we delve into the crucial topic of rabbits surviving devastating spinal trauma.

Rabbit Broken Back Recovery

Rabbits can sometimes survive and recover from broken backs, but their prognosis depends on the severity and location of the spinal injury. With proper emergency care and ongoing treatment, some rabbits are able to regain partial or full mobility. However, spinal fractures often lead to permanent paralysis or death.

If a rabbit sustains a spinal fracture, it is crucial to get immediate veterinary attention. Stabilizing the spine and addressing any swelling or bleeding can help prevent further damage. The rabbit will likely need surgery to realign the vertebrae and implant hardware like pins or plates to support the spinal column. Strict crate rest and medications will be necessary during the recovery period to allow the bones to heal.

Even with surgery, recovery is an uphill battle. Physical therapy, assisted mobility devices, and attentive nursing care at home are key to restoring function. But the spinal cord may be bruised or severed, making paralysis permanent. And broken vertebrae increase risks for related issues like bladder infections, bowel impactions, and self-injury. Sadly, euthanasia is often the most humane option if the rabbit is incontinent or unable to move.

With time, some rabbits can regain mobility after back fractures. But full recovery is rare, and most will have lifelong disabilities. Success depends on the spinal location, nerve involvement, surgical results, aftercare, and the rabbit's will to survive. Talk to your vet about your rabbit's specific injury and options before making any decisions. Don't lose hope, but also prepare for potential paralysis or the need for euthanasia if your rabbit's quality of life is poor. With patience and effort, though, some rabbits do get a second chance at mobility.

Do Rabbits Break Their Own Backs?

No, it is highly unlikely for a rabbit to break its own back. Rabbits spines are quite flexible, and they do not put enough pressure on their backs through normal movement or activity to cause a spinal fracture. There are a few possible ways a rabbit's back can break:

  • Falls – If a rabbit falls from an elevated height like a table or hutch, the impact can potentially fracture its spine. The fall has to be from a significant height though to generate enough force.

  • Improper handling – A rabbit's back can break if a human improperly handles the rabbit. For example, holding a rabbit with one hand under its ribcage can put ample pressure on its spine and could lead to injury if gripped too tightly.

  • Attacks by predators – If a larger predator like a dog or coyote attacks a rabbit, it may shake the rabbit violently and cause spinal fractures in the process. This tends to happen more with wild rabbits.

  • Car accidents – Rabbits that get struck by vehicles on roads can also sustain spinal trauma from the impact.

  • Osteoporosis – Elderly rabbits with weakening bones could potentially fracture a vertebra through normal activity and movement. But this would be very uncommon.

While rabbit backs are delicate, they are also designed for agility and flexibility. In most cases, rabbits will not damage their own spines through regular exercise or high-speed jumping and running. Spinal fractures nearly always result from excessive external forces applied to the back. So if your rabbit injures its back, look for possible sources like a fall, predator attack, or accident as the cause.

How Do Rabbits Break Their Back?

There are a few common ways rabbits can break or fracture their backs:

Falling from Heights
One of the most frequent causes of spinal injury in rabbits is falling from heights like hutches, tables, counters, or furniture. The impact when they hit the ground can easily fracture vertebrae. The higher the fall, the greater the risk and severity of spinal trauma.

Improper Handling
Rabbits have delicate spines that are not well supported for their body size and weight. If humans improperly handle rabbits by grabbing them by the scruff or holding them upright with one hand, it can bend their backs to unnatural angles and cause vertebral fractures.

Predator Attacks
In the wild, rabbits are prey to large predators like coyotes, foxes, and birds of prey. If caught, rabbits are often shaken violently in the predator's jaws, which can lead to traumatic spinal injuries. Domestic rabbits may suffer similar fates if attacked by unleashed dogs.

Direct Trauma
Direct blows to a rabbit's back from a heavy object or forceful impact can also shatter vertebrae. This may occur if a heavy cage or object falls on a rabbit's back. Car accidents are another source of direct trauma that can fracture their spines.

Elderly rabbits with weakened bones from osteoporosis are at higher risk for spinal fractures. Their brittle vertebrae are prone to breaking during normal activities like hopping or sudden movements.

No matter the cause, spinal trauma requires urgent veterinary care. Even with treatment, recovery is difficult and long-term paralysis is common. Preventing falls, cautious handling, and predator protection are the best ways to help avoid traumatic back injuries in rabbits.

Symptoms of a Broken Back in Rabbits

Some key symptoms that may indicate a rabbit has a broken or fractured back include:

  • Inability or reluctance to move hind legs
  • Dragging or splaying of hind legs
  • Loss of bladder/bowel control
  • Loss of sensation in limbs
  • Swelling or bruising along the spine
  • Obvious wounds on the back
  • Abnormal back curvature or arching of the spine
  • Painful reactions to touch along the back or tail
  • High-pitched vocalizations when handled

The most obvious sign is that the rabbit cannot use or feels its hind legs properly. There may be partial paralysis where it drags the legs, or complete paralysis where they are limp and motionless. Damage to the spinal cord can cause loss of urinary and bowel continence.

If spinal fracture is suspected, it is essential to stabilize the rabbit's back immediately and seek emergency veterinary care. Even if paralysis is not yet evident, there may be internal trauma that needs urgent treatment. Any possibility of a broken back should be addressed as a veterinary emergency to offer the rabbit the best chance of recovery.

The location of the fracture along the spinal column also influences symptoms. Injuries in the neck/shoulder region affect front legs and mobility. Lower back fractures impede the back legs. And mid-back trauma can impact all four limbs, bladder, and bowel. Get veterinary x-rays to determine the site of injury and nerve involvement. Prompt, appropriate care offers the only hope for recovery.

What To Do If a Rabbit Breaks Its Back

If you suspect your rabbit has broken its back, here are some steps to take immediately:

  1. Keep the rabbit still – Immobilize the rabbit and prevent it from moving its head, neck or body to avoid further spinal damage. Do not let it try to walk or hop.

  2. Gently place in a secure box or carrier – Use a cardboard box, pet carrier or small animal crate lined with soft towels or blankets.

  3. Support the spine – Place rolled towels or bubble wrap alongside the rabbit to keep the back and neck aligned in their normal position.

  4. Limit food and water – Provide just a small amount of greens or hay until seen by a vet. Do not give water because of aspiration risk if paralysis is present.

  5. Keep at room temperature – Maintain a warm environment between 70-80°F. Spinal shock can lower body temperature.

  6. Monitor breathing – Breathing issues are a top concern with spinal injuries. Gently rub the chest if breathing seems labored.

  7. Seek emergency veterinary care – Speed is critical. Call ahead so the vet can prepare for immediate spinal x-rays and treatment.

  8. Restrict activity – Strict crate rest for 6-8 weeks will be required even after veterinary treatment to allow the vertebrae to heal.

Immobilizing the spine and getting prompt emergency care offer a rabbit the best chances of recovery and reduced permanent damage after a broken back. Even if you cannot afford expensive surgery, supportive care from an exotics vet will give the rabbit a fighting chance.

How To Treat a Rabbit's Broken Back

Treating a rabbit's broken back involves a combination of emergency first aid, veterinary care, surgery, medications, and at-home nursing:

  • First aid – Gently immobilize the rabbit after a suspected spinal fracture and transport to a vet. Avoid moving the head or spine.

  • Pain management – Vets will administer injectable and oral pain medications like buprenorphine to make the rabbit more comfortable.

  • Anti-inflammatories – Drugs like Meloxicam or Carprofen reduce spinal inflammation and swelling.

  • Spinal X-rays – Imaging determines the location and extent of vertebral fractures.

  • Surgery – Spinal stabilization and fusion procedures may be done to realign the spine and implant supportive hardware.

  • Exercise restriction – Strict crate rest for 6-8 weeks prevents reinjury while the vertebrae heal.

  • Physical therapy – Gentle range of motion exercises can help maintain limb function after the bones have fused.

  • Mobility aids – Harnesses, carts or slings may allow paralyzed rabbits to have some movement.

  • Bowel/bladder management – Expressing urine, enemas, diapers, and sanitary clipping help with loss of control.

  • Follow up vet care – Regular checkups will monitor recovery and address secondary issues like sores or infections.

With dedication and round-the-clock care, some rabbits can regain mobility after spinal fractures. But the process is intensive and expensive. Work closely with your exotics vet to provide the best supportive treatment possible. The prognosis depends greatly on the severity and location of injury.

Can a Rabbit's Broken Back Be Treated?

Yes, a rabbit's broken back can be treated, but the prognosis depends on several factors:

  • Location of fracture – Lower back injuries have better outcomes than mid or upper back.

  • Spinal cord damage – If the cord is severed or crushed, paralysis will be permanent.

  • Surgical options – Implants to stabilize the fractured vertebrae may be possible.

  • Aftercare – Strict crate rest and dedicated nursing care aid healing.

  • Age of rabbit – Younger, healthy rabbits have better healing ability.

  • Owner commitment – Treatment and recovery requires intense time and care.

With immediate first aid, emergency veterinary care, possible surgery, medications, crate rest, and physical therapy, some rabbits can partially or fully recover from a spinal fracture over 2-3 months. Supportive mobility carts and devices can help paralyzed rabbits adapt.

However, spinal trauma often does lead to permanent disabilities, bladder/bowel issues, and euthanasia. Recovery is a long shot. Quality of life will be a major concern if a rabbit loses function of limbs or continence. Talk with your vet about realistic prognosis and make decisions based on the best interest of the rabbit.

While a broken back can sometimes be treated, the injury is very serious and life-threatening for rabbits. Success requires prompt, diligent care and substantial finances. Be mentally prepared for the strong likelihood of lifelong limitations or humane euthanasia if the injury is severe. But with time and effort, recovery is possible in some cases.

Rabbit Broken Neck Prevention

To help prevent devastating spinal fractures that can result from a broken neck, rabbit owners should focus on fall prevention, gentle handling, and safety proofing:

  • Supervise free time – Never leave a rabbit unsupervised on a couch, bed, balcony, staircase or other dangerous high place. Use pens or rabbit-proofed rooms.

  • Avoid slippery surfaces – Hardwood or tile floors can cause slips and nasty falls. Provide carpeted areas and traction.

  • Ensure proper housing height – Keep hutches and cages close to the ground and provide a ramp or stairs. Never house rabbits in overhead hutches.

  • Check for hazards – Eliminate wires, books, or other items that can be accidentally knocked from shelves or counters onto a rabbit below.

  • Pick up properly – Always support a rabbit's entire body weight when lifting. Never dangle by scruff or ears.

  • Transport in carriers – Use sturdy cat/small animal carriers when moving bunnies to prevent jumping and injury.

  • Monitor playtime – Limit roughhousing with other pets. Prevent access to areas where they could be stepped or fallen on.

  • Handle gently if injured – If a fall or injury occurs, gently immobilize the rabbit on a flat surface and seek veterinary care.

A rabbit's neck bones are fragile. But following these common sense precautions can help avoid hazardous situations that put undue force on the spine and lead to devastating, often fatal, neck fractures. Prevention is by far the best medicine when it comes to protecting a rabbit's delicate vertebral column.


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