What types of pain medication are commonly used to treat house rabbits?

Analgesia is the absence of pain sensations; analgesia through medication is intended to relieve pain. There are several categories of analgesics used for house rabbits, depending upon the location and type of pain involved:


What types of pain medication are commonly used to treat house rabbits?
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Local anesthetics are used to control pain for minor, relatively non-invasive surgical procedures: skin tag removal, skin biopsies, flushing of blocked tear ducts, etc. These anesthetics may come in the form of an injection just under the skin, as drops, or as a preparation that is rubbed onto the skin. Local anesthetics are short-acting and not meant for long-term use.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are analgesics which are able to control inflammation. Different NSAIDS have different levels of potency. Your veterinarian will assess your pet and determine which type and dose of NSAID will work best for your pet. A rabbit requiring long-term NSAIDs for chronic conditions such as arthritis should be monitored for any signs of GI or kidney problems; your veterinarian may want periodic check-ups and to ensure that there are no negative side effects from the NSAID use. Generally, corticosteroids should not be given at the same time as NSAIDs due to the increased risk of gastric ulcers. Ask your veterinarian whether the NSAIDs should be withheld prior to any surgery (potential issues with the kidneys). Again, this all varies with the type and strength of the NSAID prescribed. Rabbits metabolize these drugs fairly quickly, and smaller doses given 12 hours apart generally provide more consistent relief than one larger dose every 24 hours.

NSAIDS are frequently prescribed to control the pain of GI disease, postsurgical care, chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, abscesses, acute ear infections and the like. In America, one commonly used is meloxicam (Metacam, Petcam).

Opioid analgesics (narcotics) are the strongest and most effective pain relievers, but there are drawbacks to their use. Opioid drugs have a short duration of action (only 2-4 hours), with the exception of buprenorphine (Buprenex) which lasts up to 12 hours. These drugs are controlled by the Federal Drug Administration and it is difficult for veterinarians to prescribe them for home use.

Veterinarians would most likely use opioids on rabbits just before, during and/or after surgery, for post-op care, for trauma cases, and in cases where it is useful to keep the rabbit calm and quiet, as these drugs usually have a sedative effect. Most of these drugs are given by injection, but buprenex can also be given ‘sub-lingually’ (along the gum line). Drugs in this category include morphine, butorphanol, pentazocine, meperidine, nalozone, and oxymorphone.

Your rabbit-savvy veterinarian should be able to advise you as to an appropriate plan for easing your rabbit’s pain after a diagnosis has been made. Not every drug is appropriate or completely effective for every rabbit and every condition. A variety of rabbit-safe analgesics are available for prescription, from mild to potent depending upon the diagnosis

In addition to giving the medication exactly as prescribed, there are other measures you can take to promote the comfort and well-being of your rabbit. In addition to the stress of being physically compromised, your rabbit has many environmental stressors to deal with: leaving his habitat and traveling to a strange veterinary clinic full of scary noises, unfamiliar people and strange odors. The veterinary staff will need to hold him, feel around on him, possibly look into his mouth or even restrain him for drawing blood or for other procedures.

You can provide comfort to your bunny by speaking to him in soft, soothing tones, petting him, and perhaps bringing along a familiar stuffed toy or blanket (if your bunny has one). Some individuals bring along the companion rabbit to comfort a bunny who is hospitalized, and this works well for many bunnies, but – speaking from experience - there are definitely companion rabbits who become stressed and ill themselves from being at the veterinary clinic with the patient!

Your veterinarian will likely send your rabbits home with you as soon as possible, as rabbits fare better and heal faster at home in their familiar surroundings. Be sure to communicate with your veterinarian as to any changes in your rabbit, as well as how your rabbit is responding to treatment. Handle your rabbit even more carefully and gently than usual and let him rest as much as possible in a clean, quiet, temperature-controlled environment. Keep him eating – this is more critical than ever to prevent GI stasis, as your bunny is already stressed out by his illness.

With good veterinary care, proper pain medication and your tender, loving care, your rabbit should be well on the road to recovery!

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You may also wish to read 'When Your Rabbit Needs Special Care' by Lucile Moore and Kathi Smith

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