Treasure Hunt: Finding the perfect rabbit vet

In the United States, we now have “exotic vets” as the supposed rabbit experts, but if you settle for the exotics vet nearest you, you may not be fully satisfied with your rabbits care — either with the quality or the cost.

People often ask for tips on finding a reliable, affordable vet for the rabbits. Invariably, when I make suggestions — based on my experience — I learn that the inquirer’s vet ecosystem differs from mine, whether due to higher cost of living, the relative availability of pet insurance for rabbits, or the proximity and selection of vets.

By way of background, we currently have TWO rabbit vets for our five rabbits. The one is closer, more expensive, and does not have a 24-hour/7 day/wk hospital facility. I located the first vet, who is in an outlying rather agricultural area, when I lived in Western Maryland and had a small herd of Flemish Giants which I showed. I found that vet through my local rabbit rescue. The vet I had at the time had quoted a very high charge for neutering, $250 above the rate of the more rural vet but had less experience with such surgery. That vet catered to an up-scale market in Frederick, Maryland.

The vet I found while in Western Maryland, as I mentioned had a 24-hr/7-day facility, and the leading rabbit vet was nationally prominent, having published several scientific articles on rabbits. Blue Ridge Veterinary Associates LOVES rabbits — all their techs comfortably and without hesitation scoop rabbits up gently but efficiently and know well how to manage rabbit movements while carrying them. Blue Ridge also provided the “herd vet” for my Flemish Giants.

For those of you who are breeders, DO get a herd vet. Most state laws provide for herd vets, but the laws may vary state-to-state. Having a herd vet means when one rabbit tests for an infectious disease, the vet can write a prescription to cover the entire herd. The vet can entrust you with some medications for use on your own, provided he understands your level of knowledge and expertise and annually inspects your rabbitry. For instance, I had Metacam for pain, oxytocin for kindling issues, and metaclopromide (reglan) for GI issues/appetite on hand as herd prescriptions. Herd vets are invaluable! And so important for the sustained health of your rabbits. In the US this is probably even more important today than it was seven years ago, as increasingly farm antibiotics once available over-the-counter increasingly require a vet prescription.

 

In 2013, I moved to Alexandria, Virginia so Blue Ridge was more than 90 minutes away.  We still go to Blue Ridge for emergencies and for easily scheduled appointments like spaying and neutering. Our other vet is not the nearest exotics vet and rather up-scale. Initially, the new vet coordinated with Blue Ridge so I had assurance that their vets’ judgments were equally fine. On difficult cases, I still have the vets consult one another by phone.

So, here are a five tips to consider:

  1. Now that you have a rabbit, do not wait until the rabbit needs a vet, start the search for a good vet now. Ask bunny friends for referrals. Equally as important, ask your area rabbit rescues who they use. While a rescue may receive a volume discount, a rescue is not likely to return to the vet absent reliable, reasonably priced results.
  2. Before choosing a vet, interview several by phone. Remember, you are the customer — yes, you can expect to speak directly with the vet; don’t settle for less! Ask how long s/he has practiced, his/her experience with rabbits, the cost of a wellness visit and of spaying or neutering, and what that vet advises for emergency care after-hours.  The latter figure, at least in this area, can differ by several hundred dollars, without a corresponding increase in quality of care. Some vets consciously market themselves to “prissy” owners who are take pride in paying excessive amounts at the vet, the sort who buy diamond collars for their cats. Consider contacting vets on the edge of town, closer to agriculture. While such vets may not market themselves as “exotics vets,” they may have more experience with rabbits than some “exotics vets,” and they may provide lower-cost care simply because their local market can’t bear higher prices.

3. In selecting a vet, also consider that, with rabbits, health threats are emergencies requiring immediate attention, whether in the middle of the night or early in the morning. Rabbits rarely linger; they pass suddenly. As prey, an injured rabbit’s  adrenaline surges suddenly. This happens in event of injury or enduring pain. After the adrenaline surge, a rabbit can fall into untreatable shock: the window to get your rabbit a vet’s assistance is miniscule. In my area, some vets that don’t have 24-hour facilities have an arrangement with a vet hospital that does. You may be able to call such a vet 24-hours per day, consult and learn whether an emergency trip to the hospital is appropriate, and so arrange. Be sure to know where you have reliable emergency care available BEFORE any emergencies occur.

4.Test your top selection with a wellness visit. On that wellness visit, be sure to observe everything, including how knowledgeable and comfortable vet techs are in handling the rabbits, as this shows some indication of the percent of their clientele that is rabbits. That estimate in turn determines the vet’s degree of knowledge and experience. Depth of experience is irreplaceable when your rabbit will later face surgery, i.e., spaying or neutering, or, later in life, perhaps a surgery to remove cancerous tissue or set a broken femur. Administering anaesthesia to a rabbit is NOT easy! In fact, veterinarians didn’t know how until around the 1980s. Anesthesia involves more risks for rabbits than, say, dogs or cats.

5.Semper Paratis (Always prepared): Finally, treat visits to the vet as an unparalleled opportunity to learn. Prepare by studying up for visits and preparing questions in advance. Buy a good rabbit health reference. My favorite is BSAVA Rabbit Medicine and Surgery Manual. BSAVA’s handbook provides close-up photographs of disease conditions and also diagrams of rabbit anatomy and physiology. The book is arranged in the order a vet would use to examine and diagnose a rabbit: flow charts show similar conditions and why they are ruled out. Tables provide multiple medication regimens.

If you want to share your experiences with me, follow my Instagram account at @BunjisBandits and message me, or follow my FaceBook page, Bun’n’Birds, and message me.

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Sam and Max so happy together