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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Catch-up Blog #12--Rabbits Who Didn't Read The Textbook

My last overdue blog!  YAY!  Now I'm down to things from this month.  And this last catch-up blog is from my own home.  My wife has been surprised that I didn't post it earlier this year, but with my semi-hiatus from blogging I just never did.  Better late than never.

Last year we rescued an orphaned wild rabbit, and raised him until he could be released into a large local park where other wild rabbits lived.  After that my wife decided that she really liked rabbits.  I had never really felt much for them even though I've seen them as a doctor and worked on them many times.  We went to a state fair in the Fall and looked at the various breeds that were being shown.  After some searching and comparing she dediced that she liked mini-lops and Holland lops.  So we started doing a web search of local breeders, finally finding a few that were expecting litters.  One of them gave birth on Halloween and we laid claim to two of them, a brother and sister, whom we named Westley and Buttercup (we're big fans of The Princess Bride).

This is Westley....

And his sister, Buttercup....

Just after Christmas, when they were eight weeks old, we took them home.  All of us fell in love with them, even me.  Though I've been seeing rabbits as patients since the late '90s, I had never owned one so this was a new experience.  I did a lot of research on the medical and nutritional side, while my wife covered the husbandry.  I had build a three-story indoor rabbit house and everything seemed good.  A day or two after he was four months old I took Westley to work with me and neutered him.  I had planned on spaying Buttercup the following month.

One morning my wife was cleaning the rabbit cage and litter boxes when she noticed a large pile of fur in one of the boxes.  That was strange but she didn't think much about it.  As she started to pull it out she saw a stillborn baby.  She yelled up to me (thank goodness it was one of my days off) and I came running downstairs.  The little baby was indeed dead, and I was absolutely flabergasted by the fact that Buttercup had given birth.  But more on that in a sec. 

I took the baby and my wife started cleaning the box as we were wondering what was going on.  That's when she noticed movement, which startled her.  Buried in the fur nest were two more babies, both alive and wriggling.  Now I was really dumbfounded, and started looking for more.  We found another stillborn, so in total there were two living and two dead babies.  And since we hadn't had them outside of the home since they were eight weeks old, there wasn't any other conclusion other than Westley having impregnanted his sister.  But he had been neutered!  The gestation length for most rabbits is around 30 days, so we did some quick math and came to the conclusion that the two had mated literally a day or two before he was neutered. 

Now some of you are probably thinking "C'mon, Chris, you're a vet!  Didn't you ever think that this would happen?  Haven't you heard about the prolific breeding of rabbits?  Geez, what an idiot!  How could you be surprised?"  Believe me, I had those same thoughts about myself.  I've advised clients on this very point many times, and have always said that they should be spayed or neutered between four and six months old.  Why that age?

Because that's what the textbook says!

One of the best and most used veterinary texts on exotic mammal medicine is Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery.  Here is a direct quote from page 166 of the third edition, printed in 2012 (so it's a very recent resource).

"Small breeds develop more rapidly and are mature at 4 to 5 months of age.  Medium-sized breeds mature at 4 to 6 months, and large breeds reach maturity at 5 to 8 months of age.  Does mature earlier than bucks, which do not achieve optimal sperm production and reserves until 40 to 70 days after puberty."

So according to my medical text rabbits of this size should hit puberty around 2 to 2 1/2 months old, and the buck shouldn't have adequate sperm production until around four months old.  Even the breeder was surprised when we called and told her.  Since then I've found some websites that say that occasionally rabbits will breed younger than four months.  However, most of the resources I've looked at still say that the average house rabbit doesn't breed until after four months old, which is why I waited until that age to neuter.

Guess our bunnies were early bloomers.  And that is NOT a mistake I'll make again.

Okay, so now I've had my skills as an exotic pet veterinarian challenged and humbled.  But I can now better advise my clients who might be in similar situation.  And now that we have that little SNAFU behind us we get to the next question.  How are the babies?

Thankfully, doing just fine!  Buttercup did a great job of taking care of them and Westley really didn't care much about them.  Here are some pictures from that infamous day that we discovered them, March 25th.

Here they are just three days later!  Yes, they grow and change that quickly.

And then just a few days later, on April 1st.

They continued to grow and do well, and I by six weeks old I was able to tell that they were both female.  Thank goodness!  Yes, I checked several times over the next few weeks and confirmed my first thought.  So now we had one neutered male and three unspayed females.  No more bunny breeding in the Bern household!

Everyone has grown well and done great.  All four of them live together and are getting along together without any problems.  Here are Westley and Buttercup, along with the babies, on May 20th.

This is Tinker Bell with my son.

And Periwinkle with my daughter.

And now Tink and Peri together.  Yes, they absolutely took after their mother, though their fur is a little longer than hers (Dad's influence).

It has been an adventure!  They are well handled and very sweet, especially the babies.  And even though there are no intact males among them, I'm going to get the others spayed, starting with Buttercup.

Lesson learned!