Tips on Medicating Your Rabbit

Rabbits are sensitive animals and they stress easily. They also have complicated, delicate systems that–at some point–will need attention from a rabbit-savvy veterinarian. When needed, your rabbit’s doctor or their veterinary technician will be able to show you how to give oral medications, the best ways to administer eye or ear drops, or the secrets on how to assist feed (aka syringe feed) your rabbit.

But sometimes rabbits who are well-behaved at the veterinary hospital put up quite a struggle when you try the same procedure at home. Every rabbit-person pair will work out their own routines. But to give you a head start, here are tips for medicating bunnies at home.

  1. First, Get Set Up
    Because your rabbit may not cooperate once you start to medicate them, it’s important to make things as easy as possible for you both.
  2. Where to do it
    The first step is figuring out the best place to do the procedure. Some rabbits are most cooperative if you treat them on the floor, usually when they’re feeling very relaxed. Other rabbits may need to be medicated on a table, a bed, a countertop, or in your lap. If you’re using a table or countertop, be sure to clear away any glasses, knives, or objects with sharp edges.
  3. Get everything ready
    Once you’ve found a spot, gather all your supplies: a towel, the medication, syringe (if needed), and a treat, if you decide to make that a part of the procedure. You don’t want to end up scrambling for supplies while trying to hold a squirmy bunny! You should never leave a rabbit on top of a table or countertop unattended, while you look for that tube of ointment or other needed supplies. Unscrew tops, measure out medication, and load syringes before you get the rabbit. That way you’ll have two free hands.

Helpful Hints

If you get tense or impatient, the rabbit will get stressed as well. Talk to your rabbit, sing, kiss their nose, rub their ears, and do anything you can to help them feel calm.

Develop a routine. Try to do things in the same order, in the same place, every day. That way the rabbit knows when you are beginning and ending the procedure. Some people also give their rabbits little treats, like a tiny slice of banana or sprig of parsley, after each medication. That helps take the rabbit’s mind off their medication stress. It also gives a signal that the procedure is over, for the time being at least.

Some oral medications don’t have much taste and some are bitter. While some rabbits will swallow just about anything, others will resist anything that even hints of medicine. Here are some suggestions for how to disguise the flavor of unpleasant tasting medicines:

Administering Meds with an Oral Syringe:

  • Put your rabbit on the counter or other clear flat surface with their rear end tight against your stomach/chest area.
  • With the measured liquid medication in the oral syringe from your veterinarian, take your left hand and bring it around and lift up the lip on the right side.
  • Take the syringe and put it behind the front teeth or into the cheek.
  • Slowly depress eyedropper/syringe, letting them swallow the liquid at their own pace.

Medication in pill form can be more challenging to give a rabbit consistently. But sometimes they can be more cost effective.

  • Try offering the tablet right out of your hand. Some actually will take it that way.
  • Put the whole tablet in a piece of Thumper’s favorite treat (such as banana or apple) and offer that way.
  • Crush the tablet and mix it with some of Thumper’s favorite food:
    • You can grind pills with the butt of a knife, mortar, or hammer, or dissolve them with a little water.
    • Mix the ground tablet into a teaspoon of applesauce, a banana slice, small amount of baby food (vegetables or fruit flavors), ground up pellets, or fresh fruit.
    • You can put a whole or half tablet inside a raisin, a piece of banana, or wadded up leaves of greens/herbs.
  • Crush or dissolve the tablet in a bit of liquid such as water, a little bit of fruit juice, or V8.
    Let the pill dissolve in the fluid for a few minutes, then syringe the fluid and shake it. (See below on how to administer the oral medication with a syringe).

Put the liquid in a small dish as some rabbits will readily lick it up. Liquid medications often come in a fruit-flavored suspension and many rabbits think these concoctions are the best thing since sliced carrots. Others will take one sniff and run under the bed. Try mixing the medicine with something that you know your rabbit absolutely adores, like a ripe peach, banana slice, or real strawberry. Then feed it on a flat plate, rather than in a bowl.

When it comes to eye drops, there are two methods. Some people prefer to pull the lower eyelid out, to form a little pocket in which to instill the medicine. Others prefer to lift the upper eyelid back and drop the medication onto the eyeball or the white of the eye itself. This is usually done quite easily on the floor. Some rabbits hardly even blink at this procedure. (In fact, some seem to think this is their person’s strange way of showing affection.) Some people prefer to do it with the bunny on a waist-high surface, so they can stabilize them with one hand and medicate with the other.

If you’re putting ointment in, try not to touch the eyeball with the nozzle. Once you instill the medication into the eye, you can gently hold the eye shut and massage it to melt and spread the ointment. Otherwise, it sometimes clumps and floats off the eyeball.

Rabbits like to have their ears stroked, however they generally don’t like having liquid instilled in the ear canals. It sometimes makes a mess of their ears and faces which means that sometimes rabbits are quite uncooperative about this procedure.

You can try administering ear drops on the floor, but a smart rabbit will vote with their feet–that is, hopping away after the first squirt. It’s often easier to do it on a tabletop, where you can secure them with one hand.

The first trick with eardrops is to get the nozzle past the outer ear folds and pretty close to the ear’s actual opening (but do not ever push anything beyond that opening!). That way, when your rabbit shakes their head, the medicine will go down into the ear instead of all over your kitchen. The second trick is to try not to hit the inside surface of the ear with the nozzle itself. This tickles and it will make the rabbit shake their head, which makes it very hard to aim. Once the drops are in, you can massage the base of the ear to help it go down the canal and get spread around. You can wipe off any liquid that dripped out as well.

It is suggested that when you first adopt your rabbit, you give them some water or something they like in an oral (needleless) syringe. This will get them used to assisted feeding so it won’t be something horrible and new when they need medication.

If your rabbit stops eating, your veterinarian may suggest that you “manually” or “syringe” feed your rabbit as part of a treatment plan. This just means that you’re making some kind of food mixture and giving it to your rabbit through a big syringe. Your veterinarian may provide you with a powdered herbivore food supplement such as Critical Care, which will be reconstituted in warm water, or provide you with a recipe to make a homemade pellet slurry. Your rabbit may be very calm about this procedure at the veterinarian’s office. Chances are, they’ll throw quite a fit when you try it at home. As a general rule, a rabbit that fights syringe feeding is likely not sick enough to need it.

Syringe feeding is really an art and a science, and it takes practice, patience, and creativity to figure out how to do it. Nevertheless, we swear it can be done and doing so can make the difference between life and death. HRS never recommends just starting syringe feeding to any rabbit that is not eating without a veterinarian’s physical examination, possibly radiographs, and ensuring it is appropriate timing.

The Smaller Syringe Technique

With the 1 cc syringe technique you will need a dozen or so of these smaller syringes and to keep refilling them as you go. These smaller syringes are sometimes accepted easier than the much larger feeding syringe, some of which are almost as big as a small rabbit.

Be Slow and Cautious

Use caution as you assist your rabbit in eating with the syringe. Assisted feeding that is done too fast or with too large an amount at once can cause the rabbit to inadvertently inhale food with serious consequences. Take your time.

Once again, do NOT assist feed your rabbit without seeing a veterinarian first! If your vet recommends assisted feeding, the amount of food (cc’s) will be based on your rabbit’s size.

Do not force food into your rabbit’s mouth. Insert the syringe into the corner of the rabbit’s mouth and depress the syringe plunger slowly, taking time to make sure the rabbit swallows. In general, take your time, use less rather than more, and point the syringe to the side and go slowly.

The Assisted Feeding Method

Load the syringe with the recommended amount (or, as mentioned above, fill several 1 cc syringes). Put your rabbit up on a countertop or table. You can wrap the rabbit up in a bunny burrito if you think they’ll need it. Then:

  1. Point her nose towards the right (if you’re right-handed)
  2. Curl left arm around her body
  3. Tell them they are the cutest
  4. Pick up loaded syringe with right hand
  5. Tuck the nozzle into the corner of bunny’s mouth
  6. Point somewhat to the side, so if too much comes out, the bunny will not aspirate.
    – Go slowly–less is better than more
    – Give them time to swallow
    – Don’t let anything go into the lungs.
  7. Keep giving a little more as they chew and swallow
  8. Praise your rabbit vigorously
  9. Wipe any slurry off the tabletop and walls; reload the syringe
  10. When you’ve given Thumper a good dose, quickly wipe off their lips, chin, and cheek with a warm wet cloth so that it doesn’t dry and cake on the fur around the mouth.

Some people also do this with the rabbit cradled in the crook of their arm. Again, be certain to hold your rabbit upright so they do not aspirate food.

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