Lily is a free-range rabbit: she is allowed to run around the family’s walled-in back garden. To protect her against the possibility of night-time predators like foxes or large cats, Jackie locks her up in a safe, warm hutch every night, but she’s let out first thing every morning.
During the short days of December, it was difficult for Jackie to get a good look at Lily: it’s nearly dark when she’s put to bed in the evenings, and Jackie goes out to work in the half-light of the early morning. Saturday was the first time in a while that Jackie had been able to check Lily over carefully in the full light of day. And straight away, Jackie found something that concerned her a lot: Lily’s back right leg was sticking out at an odd angle. She brought her in to see me on Monday morning.
Lily didn’t seem to be in pain when I examined her leg. Her foot was sticking out in a strange way, but when I put her on the ground, she could hop around easily enough, and she didn’t try to pull away when I felt her odd-shaped leg. It was impossible to tell exactly what was going on by just looking at her, so I took her in for the day to take some x-ray pictures.
Soon Lily was deeply sedated, and she lay there, quiet and relaxed, while I took some x-rays of her crooked leg. A few minutes later, the images on the screen showed me exactly what was going on. Lily had suffered a broken shin bone. The unusual aspect of her injury was that the break must have happened around two weeks previously: I could see that Lily’s self-healing ability had already begun to take effect. The edges of the broken bone were rounded, and the two ends were already beginning to knit together. This explained why it was so difficult to tell by just feeling the leg that there was a broken bone.
When I explained the problem to Jackie, she nodded in understanding. She told me that her home had been burgled two weeks previously. The intruders had come in via the back garden, and they’d been worried at the time that Lily might have been hurt by them. Jackie had looked at Lily the next day but couldn’t see any obvious injuries, and she had continued to eat her food as hungrily as usual. With hindsight, it’s obvious that Lily must have tucked her broken leg up underneath herself so that there was no visible problem, and it was only as the broken bones began to set in an odd position that it became obvious that there was something going on.
I told Jackie about the different options to repair Lily’s broken leg. Ideally, she needed an orthopaedic operation with implanted metal work to straighten up her leg. However, the operation would be a lengthy one, and there would be a small risk of Lily not surviving the anaesthetic: rabbits can be especially sensitive patients. The alternative was just to leave Lily as she is. Her leg may be crooked, but she can still hop around happily enough and she’s not in any pain.
Jackie decided that the best option for Lily was to avoid the big operation, and just to leave her as she is. Lily is now hopping happily around her back garden as usual. Her leg may be crooked, but she’s able to hop wherever she wants to go. From now on, Jackie has decided to pick her up to check her every day, She doesn’t want Lily to hide any more surprises from her.
- Broken legs are common in rabbits
- Rabbits are good at hiding injuries
- It’s worth picking up pet rabbits once a week to inspect them closely