Pain is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage. It is not well understood, either in humans or other animals. Since it is complex and cannot be measured directly, pain is subjective. I’m sure you can think of two people who might undergo the same unpleasant experience, but each will have a different description of the pain. We assume that as each person interprets pain differently, each individual animal also experiences pain differently. Animals cannot communicate with us verbally, making it especially difficult to identify, classify and quantify their pain. Yet the anatomic and chemical pathways of pain and its perception are similar in all animals. Therefore we work with the premise that conditions that are painful to a human are also painful to animals, such as our rabbits.
There are no drugs developed specifically for rabbits, but many analgesics have been evaluated for rabbits, and dosages are available. There are several different categories of medication to control pain, and these will be briefly described:
- Local anesthetics, such as lidocaine, provide excellent analgesia provided that the local block is given over the entire surgical area. Veterinarians use local anesthetics for minor surgical procedures such as skin biopsies, or they can be used in the immediate area of surgical incision as a supplement to general analgesia.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as aspirin, carprofen, flunixin meglumine, and meloxicam are able to decrease swelling and inflammation. The potency of different NSAIDS varies with each drug, dose and type of pain. Rabbits require high dosages of aspirin, but it can be a very effective analgesic. It can be administered at home, but should be used only under veterinary supervision. Caution should be exercised if NSAIDS are used for very long time periods because they may produce negative side effects in the gastrointestinal tract and the kidneys. When rabbits require NSAIDs for chronic conditions such as arthritis, the veterinarian may want to re-examine and take blood from the rabbit to make sure these organs stay healthy.
- Alpha-2-Agonists, such as xylazine, are powerful analgesics especially for the treatment of abdominal organ pain. But these drugs also produce deep sedation and depression of the heart rate and blood pressure. Therefore, this type of drug is not often used for relief of pain after surgery, although it can be used as part of the surgical anesthesia drug combination.
- Narcotics include a diverse group of drugs in the opioid family. Opiods are the strongest and most effective analgesics for the treatment of pain but there are well-known side effects and disadvantages. Veterinarians often use narcotics for rabbits just prior to surgery, during surgery and immediately following surgery. Most opioid drugs are controlled by the Federal Drug Administration and can be difficult for veterinarians to prescribe for home use.
Features of Pain Medication For Rabbits
If you think your rabbit is showing any of the signs above or is otherwise behaving unusually then you must take it to the vet immediately. It is very unlikely for the condition to improve once your rabbit is showing signs of distress and It’s vital to get pain under control as quickly as possible. Although there are no pain killing medications licensed for use with rabbits, a rabbit-savvy vet will have a good experience of what drugs are effective and safe when used at the proper dosage.
Types of Pain Medication For Rabbits
Until recently you might have been told to give your rabbit only a few drops of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug Meloxicam (Metacam, Loxicam, Meloxidyl, Inflacam, Meloxivet, Revitacam or Rheumocam are brand names for this medicine). This is not an effective dose and vets have learned that in fact your rabbit will need quite a substantial dose. You might be surprised to learn that you’ll need to use more than for a dog, weight for weight, and considerably more than for a cat. Your vet will be able to find recommended dosage levels in the current edition of the BSAVA Formulary.
As with any drug there are risks in using it. It is available only if prescribed by your vet who will discuss any risks with you and will take any other factors in your rabbit’s general health into account, most importantly, the current health of liver and kidneys.
At times of more severe pain and quite often as part of surgical procedures, your vet may prescribe Buprenorphine (known by many different trade names). This is a much stronger drug and is a morphine derivative. At least in some rabbits, it will cause drowsiness and possibly a lessening of appetite (although its effects on reducing the risk of GI problems due to pain very much outweigh this).
There are many other pain controlling drugs that are known to be relatively safe to use with rabbits, but they all have the danger of side effects and you must always follow veterinary advice when using them. You should discuss a personalised pain management plan for your rabbit, in both the short term (eg following surgery), and longer term (eg with chronically painful conditions such as arthritis and pododermatitis).
Local anesthetics are administered in rabbits either in the form of drops, topical creams, or by injection into the skin. Veterinarians commonly use local anesthetics before minor skin procedures, such as skin biopsies, IV catheter placement, ophthalmic procedures (thorough eye exam and tear duct flushing), nasophageal tube placement, and small tumor removals. Local anesthetics are not to be used for long-term pain relief as their duration of action is short.
Epidural anesthesia is administered by injecting an anesthetic into the spinal fluid. The rabbit will be sedated before performing epidural anesthesia. The purpose of epidural anesthesia is to numb the site of injection down the spine. It’s commonly used when women are giving birth. In rabbits, it’s used to manage post-surgical pain following any abdominal surgical procedure, such as GI surgery.
Prices of Pain Medication For Rabbits
$57.10 – $115.02