By Dr. Becker
At North Carolina State University, rabbits run on underwater treadmills!
Edie, a five year-old Belgian hare, was diagnosed by NC State’s exotic animal service with a progressive degenerative spinal disease. The Belgian hare is actually a fancy breed of domestic rabbit, not a hare. It was created through selective breeding to look very much like a wild hare, and is considered to be one of the smartest and most active breeds of domestic rabbit.
Adult Belgian hares average 6 to 9 pounds. They have long slim bodies and are very agile. They can live up to 10 years or longer.
Edie’s Physical Therapy Program
Edie began showing symptoms of her condition in October of last year. As the disease rapidly progressed, she lost the ability to control her rear legs.
By the end of 2012, the progression of Edie’s disease seemed to have leveled off, so veterinarians at NC State recommended physical therapy to preserve the rabbit’s mobility as much as possible.
Clinical veterinarian and rehabilitation specialist Cory Sims uses a number of tools to help Edie, including the underwater treadmill. The treadmill slows the rabbit’s movements and allows her to focus on the placement of her legs and how to keep them in position. Sims also has Edie stretch on a “therapy peanut” -- a rubber ball that helps with balance and strengthens the core. He also puts Edie in a cart that holds her upright so she can learn to balance on her back legs.
“Edie's condition is chronic – we can't make her back into the bunny she was," Sims says. "But what we can do is support her as long as possible so that she maintains mobility over a longer period. It's about promoting the quality of life."
The Future of Physical Rehab for Exotics
As more people acquire exotic animals like rabbits as pets, the number of therapies to treat these pets will increase. Rehabilitation and physical therapy are still relatively new treatments for exotics, and are being used in other countries as well. A few months ago, I wrote about a continental giant rabbit in England who receives veterinary hydrotherapy to relieve arthritis in her hips and knees.