Reasons to Start Taking Blood From Rabbits

Presenter – Presenter – Molly Varga – BVetMed CertZooMed DZooMed (Mammalian) MRCVS currently runs first opinion and referral exotics service, Cheshire Pet

Molly Varga started last week’s webinar, organised by ‘The Webinar Vet’ with a question asking how many of us regularly blood sampled rabbits in practice? 19% of the participating audience said ‘yes’ and 81% said ‘no’. Molly stated her main aim when agreeing to lead this webinar was to encourage more of us to take blood samples from rabbits and this goal was certainly achieved after watching this informative and practical veterinary webinar covering ‘Clinical Pathology in Rabbits’.

Confidently obtaining blood samples from rabbits has to be the starting point and Molly advises in males and thinner female rabbits, the jugular vein is prominent when raised and easy to access. However she cautioned taking care not to overextend the neck as this can significantly reduce the diameter of the trachea and impede blood flow making access to the jugular difficult. For overweight rabbits or those with a dew lap the lateral saphenous vein is accessible and can be raised just caudal to the stifle. However it is prone to blowing and a pressure bandage may need to be applied for a short time afterwards. The anterior vena cava can be accessed in small rabbits or obtunded rabbits but should only be performed if anaesthetised or completely collapsed as any movement could split the vein and cause death. Molly explained how to access all these veins in greater detail within the webinar.

When analysing rabbit blood it is important to understand some of the differences compared to our feline and canine friends. For example rabbits are a lymphocytic species with more lymphocytes than heterophils, unlike the cat and dog. Even in severe infections the total white blood cell count may not alter but a heterophilic shift will be obvious. Also an elevation in ALT in the rabbit tends to be less liver specific compared to the cat and dog with AST being a much more accurate indicator of liver disease.

There are of course some similarities and Molly explains that an increase in globulins in rabbits also indicates infection and/or inflammation as per cats and dogs. However Molly will always perform a serum electrophoresis if globulins are raised with an increase in gamma globulins indicating granulomatous inflammation. These results running alongside a positive E. cuniculi titre and appropriate clinical signs suggests an active E. cuniculi infection.

Blood glucose levels can also be incredibly useful in rabbits and have been mentioned a lot in the vet press lately as an aid for decision making in rabbits which could have an intestinal obstruction. Molly explained that she would actively be seeking an obstruction in any rabbit with a blood glucose over 20. If the blood glucose level continues to elevate this indicates a poor prognosis but Molly explained she would not necessarily ex lap these rabbits if she has actively sought an obstruction and not found one. However, she would seriously consider surgery if euthanasia was the only other option.

Molly cited several benefits associated with analysing bloods in rabbits and gave us plenty of reasons why we should be getting bloods from this species. She also discussed other diagnostics including urinalysis, faecal analysis, bacterial culture and cytology.  Molly set out with an aim when leading this discussion and her goal was clearly achieved when she asked the same question at the end of this veterinary webinar which was asked at the start: How many of us would now be blood sampling rabbits in practice? It is fair to say that there was a significant turnaround in the results, 88% said yes and 12% said no.

The Stethoscope (MRCVS)