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Please help - My wonderful rabbit Niblet recently died

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Nina789

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Hi everyone,

Please excuse the length of this message and thank you in advance for taking the time to read this... My rabbit suddenly died on Thursday afternoon, we are immensely grief stricken and so confused.

My husband and I got Niblet from an animal shelter, we were told a building landlord had brought him in, as his previous owners had moved and abandoned him in their apt. My husband and I fell completely in love with him and adopted him. Niblet was a Netherland Dwarf, and he had a few issues. He had digestive issues and issues with his left eye getting inflamed and crusty with no known cause. We took him to a rabbit savvy vet after we adopted him, and worked on those issues. His digestive issues completely resolved after about a year, but he continued to have issues with his left eye.

He was such a sweet, affectionate, and gentle bunny, and we felt so lucky be his parents.

When Niblet got to be 4 years old, he had a bad bout with EC which left him with paralysis of both hind legs and head tilt. They also found a heart murmur. The vet cardiologist we were referred to said that the murmur seemed to be caused by the EC. Niblet was put on a round of fenbendazole. After a few months, we managed to nurse him back to regaining mobility in his legs, though they were still not at full strength. His head tilt never resolved. However, Niblet seemed happy, ate very well, and we felt so grateful that he had recovered in some ways from the EC. His heart murmur also went away several weeks afterward. His hind legs never went back to how they were, but Niblet could use them enough to get around and not rely solely on his front legs.

2 years went by after the EC. In the last several weeks, we noticed that the mobility his hind legs seemed to get worse. He seemed more tired at times when we played with him, and seemed to want to hop around less and rest instead. He also seemed to want to raise his head highly upright often when resting, which I hadn't seen him do before. He was well otherwise (eating well, and very affectionate as usual). We had booked an appointment to see the vet for next Saturday.

Before the appt, on Tuesday of this week, I gave Niblet some water from a syringe because my building had to do some maintenance work in our unit, and he was moved from his pen to another room in our place. The box where I put him in temporarily for the day was smaller than his sizeable pen. He couldn't maneuver as well in this box and kept dunking his body into the water repeatedly and spilling it everywhere, hence the syringe water. He got back to his pen late in the afternoon.

Wednesday went by as normal. Actually, Wednesday night Niblet was especially active and playful when we played with him. As of Wednesday evening, Niblet was eating.

Thursday morning, I noticed that Niblet wasn't himself at all. He wasn't resting in a comfortable position (he didn't seem to be able to sit or lay down, but kept standing up as much as he could), and was standing over his water bowl, just hanging his head over the dish. I pet him and moved him to a more comfortable spot, but he would go slowly go back to that same spot. I tempted him with his favourite foods, but he was also not eating. I called the vet right away and we brought him to the clinic for an emerg visit at 11:30am that day. While we were waiting for vet, Niblet started to breathe audibly, in a raspy way, for a few minutes before the vet came to the room.

The vet said his decreased hind leg mobility may be due to an EC flare up and suggested a round of fenbendazole (he'd been to the vet regularly, but had only ever received one round 2 years ago). She examined him and said there were no signs of abdominal pain or bloating. Because he was breathing loudly for a few minutes, I was really scared that perhaps he had aspirated some of the syringe water I had given him somehow, though he had not coughed, gagged, etc. when I had given the water on Tues. I told the vet about this, just in case, and she vet listened to both lungs and his throat and said there was no evidence of aspiration. What then alarmed me though is that she said his heartbeat was slower and his body temperature was on the low end (about 98.78 fahrenheit/37.1C). Despite this, she didn't seem overly concerned, gave him subQ fluids with Vit B, and sent us home with some meds (pain killer, cisapride), and asked us to syringe feed him till he regained his appetite.

Right on the drive home, all of a sudden, Niblet started to roll around quite forcefully in his carrier. He did this for a bit, while I tried to calm him but he was jerking about quite strongly. It seemed as though he was having a seizure. After that stopped and he fell to his side and his front and hind legs started to move in a back and forth motion. He left out a few breaths with his mouth open. Then our beautiful, precious Niblet was gone.

When we took him to get cremated on Saturday, we noticed that there was some blood coming from the corner of his left eye, the one he had always had issues with.

We are absolutely torn apart and heartbroken, and are so confused.

Can anybody shed absolutely any light at all into what might have caused or contributed to his death? Did he die from having a seizure? Did he seem to have a heart attack? Do signs point to EC re-infection or something else? We are so shocked that he died so suddenly on Thursday, when on Wed night, he was especially active and well. We've been crying daily and have hardly been able to sleep these past few days because of all these unknowns. We miss him so, so very much. I have lost other pets in the past, all whom were dearly loved, but there was something about little Niblet and how loving and pure he was, that is making this loss even more difficult for me.

Any and all input would be so appreciated. Thank you again for reading all of this.
 
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JBun

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I would suspect the EC returned. Usually EC never really clears up completely and just goes dormant in a sense, after treatment. It's not uncommon for it to reemerge at a later time. Even though the vet didn't seem to find anything wrong with the lungs or chest, I would suspect that your rabbits heart issues returned. Rabbits that want to raise their head up like you described, are usually doing it to either try and relieve pressure on their heart and/or from breathing difficulties/needing more air. The seizure that you saw in the end could have been caused from cardiac arrest and lack of oxygen to the brain. Of course this is just a guess, but it is what I would suspect based on the symptoms you described.

I'm very sorry about your loss, and know how difficult it is when we lose our precious buns. He was obviously very loved by you.
 

Nina789

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Hi JBun,

Thank you so much for your reply. Your condolences and kind words mean a lot to me. I truly appreciate you sharing your thoughts on what may have happened with Niblet.

I have light bulbs going off in my head reading your post. I thought that Niblet needing to elevate his head consistently was so odd, and it stuck with me. However, I didn't know what to make of it at all. Heart issues can cause breathing issues in rabbits, can I confirm that that is correct? I did just read on the web that heart issues can breathing problems for humans, and I am assuming this is the similar for rabbits too.

The strange elevated head, him tiring more easily than before, the low heart rate, and loud breathing, seem to point to a heart issue as you mentioned. I have been wracking my brain so much trying to shed some light onto this, and lack of sleep hasn't been helping me in this regard. I really cannot not tell you how much your thoughts have helped me. Thank you immensely for that. I feel like I have some much sought after clarity, and this is really precious to me.

Grieving is very difficult right now. I am so incredibly upset and angry at myself that I didn't recognize the signs of EC reinfection or flare up sooner. We noticed that his hind legs got weaker in the past several weeks, and didn't attribute that the an EC flare up. He was still able to move around, but was dragging one of his legs more, and tripping more. My husband and I were giving him daily physio, and we tweaked the technique and bit and was monitoring for changes. He had some eye issues before from falling over and irritating his eye during his falls. We had started physio to help strengthen his hind legs, and it had made a drastic difference to his balance and his eye injuries. We thought that physio might help this too. Booked an appt with vet still, but was too late.

The first episode Niblet had with EC was very dramatic. He was found looking totally lifeless lying on his side in his litter bin with eyes closed. We were filled with panic and thought he had died. When we picked him up to check, he fell out of our arms and started rolling forcefully.

Now I am reading about routine treatment for EC as well, in that some vets administer fenbendazole on a regular basis after clinical signs have begun, to keep the parasite at bay. I am also now reading about oxibendazole and how it may penetrate the blood brain barrier better than fenbendazole. I wish I had known all of this sooner. We even took Niblet to a Veterinary University Hospital for the EC and saw exotic animal specialist vets there, and we were not aware of these different protocols. They just recommended the one round of fenbend, which was the protocol that our regular vet at the time had also recommended.

We thought that another episode of EC would be as dramatic as the first... I am so upset that I didn't know that this might be an EC flare up. Had I known, I would have taken him to the vet for a round of fenbendazole the moment we noticed his hind legs weaken more. Maybe starting the fenbend then would have saved his life. I so wish I had known this sooner. It feels gut wrenching thinking that perhaps this could have been prevented.

I also can't help but wonder if I could have saved him if I had taken him right when I saw him starting to rest his head upward, which was about a week and a half ago.
 
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JBun

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Don't beat yourself up too much. These things can actually be very difficult to determine in the moment, especially with this having come on more subtle and differently this time, and not knowing what the symptoms meant that you were seeing(which most people wouldn't know). When it happens this way it's hard to know if it's just normal deterioration that can happen with age and previous illness, or if there is actual current illness involved. Yes, heart problems can affect breathing as it can reduce oxygen and proper blood flow in the body. If there is an enlarged heart/COPD, that will also affect lung function.

As for retreating, it's very possible that it may not have helped at all. EC causes cell damage and organ damage, and that damage can be permanent. So the damage to the heart could have occurred that first time and it just now caught up to him. In which case retreating with the fenbendazole wouldn't have helped. Even if it was an EC flare up this time and not previous heart damage that occurred, retreatment isn't always successful. Often rabbits that contract EC will continue to battle it throughout their life, and many times succumb to it in the first year or two. So the fact that your bun only had that one treatment and did well for the next two years is quite unusual and remarkable.

EC is just one of those dreaded illnesses in rabbits because the outcome is so unpredictable and often unsuccessful. It might help for you to think of it this way, the fact that you sought immediate help and the right help the first time actually bought your rabbit another couple of years with you, that in most cases he wouldn't have normally had as most rabbits don't get the right help in time. So your actions in the past were able to give him and you, more time together. For him to have succumbed so quickly, it really sounds to me that his heart was likely much more damaged this time and even had you known right at that moment what was going on, it's very possible that there might have been nothing that could have been done to correct it. When there are heart problems, it often can't be treated in rabbits.

I know it's hard not to second guess everything. I know I do it too when I lose a bun, but I have to keep reminding myself I did the best I could for what I knew at the moment, and my bun had a good happy life with me. Just keep trying to focus on that and the good that you did for your bun. He had a good life with you.
 
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Nina789

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Hi JBun,

Really cannot thank you enough for all of this insight. As I mentioned before, it is very precious to me. It has brought me a lot of solace because my mind was constantly racing and it was torturous. I was incessantly searching for reasons "why," and what you have described really fits and clicks on numerous levels, intuitively and logically.

I will try to reduce the amount of second guessing everything and beating myself up. It just hurts like hell. He had regular vet visits since we got him, and he had been to the vet many times since the first EC bout 2 years ago, but no one saw this coming. There was no talk of retreatment ever.

I am just so taken aback by the suddenness of his passing. We were really bonded to him, and our daily schedules revolved around caring for him due to his balance issues and head tilt. Despite being what is supposed to be a feisty Netherland Dwarf bunny, he was endlessly patient and sweet... Someone I was chatting with said that the symptoms of EC can present in so many different ways that it's often difficult to even link symptoms to EC, when I mentioned that I didn't know that this might have been a flare-up. Or as you mentioned, his heart could have been damaged the first time and just caught up to him. Other than the head elevation, the initial symptoms exhibited like issues we had managed and overcome before, then he just crashed.

EC is such an insidious illness, and I hope that there will be more research done to discover better methods of treatment, so that less buns are lost from this awful parasite. I am so heartbroken he is gone, but every moment with Niblet was a joy and I am so happy to have had him in our lives these past 5 and a half years.

Thank you immensely for all of your help and insight. I cannot convey how much it means to me to have some clarity regarding what may have well happened to Niblet.

This board is very lucky to have you. I can only imagine how many bunnies you have helped with your advice/insight.

Nina
 
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Cora B

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I’m so so sorry. Dealing with the loss of a bunny is one of the hardest grief to move through, especially when the death is sudden.

I’ll be thinking about you and your husband. I’m so sorry.

Cora
 

Liz Talley

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Really sorry to hear about the loss of your bunny. I lost my heart bunny a year ago and know how precious they are to all of us on here. My sincere condolences....
 

Bam Bam

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I am so sorry for your loss..
You have to know that you did everything you could do to find out what Niblets health issues were. I think we all can tell how much you loved him and did everything you could do to find out what his health issues were.
I lost my Pebbles after 8 years of never a sick day to bloat and I second guess myself every day if I did enough to save her.
Remember all the great years you have had and know you did everything you could do for Niblet’s care
 

Nina789

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Hi Liz,

Thank you so much for your condolences, I really appreciate them. Also, as I'm in the thick of grieving, it is nice to be at a place where others understand just how hard the passing of a bun is.

Nina
 

Nina789

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Thank you very much, Bam Bam. I really appreciate your understanding and your kind words. I am sorry to hear of Pebbles' passing, and it sounds like you took amazing care of her given that she was never sick until 8 years of age. It's scary how quickly bunnies can get ill.

I will try my best to remember the great years with little Niblet and that we loved him endlessly.
Thank you again for your condolences.

Nina
 

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