Sunday, March 7, 2010

Rabbit Habits (Part I, conclusion)

The weekly sulks and daily seduction of my ankles aside, Harriet is a happy, funny creature. An expert percussionist and a confetti artist, Harriet entertains us to no end. Making music with her plastic tubs, shredding phone books and arranging them in sculpteresque drifts around her sunroom (as we call a recent cage addition), Harry fills her confined hours with her many hobbies. She is a clever friend, and a kind one, and one that we would not want to do without. If her health were at stake, there is little we wouldn't do to save her. 
Harriet joined our family for the low, low price of $9.99. With shelters overflowing and homeless rabbits available by the score, we might have adopted, but we hear that there is at least a very reputable breeder, well known in our rural community, behind this particular vendor. Her rabbits' reputation for docility is known for miles around, and Harriet's quality of character fully reflects this. 
Not too long after she joined our family, Harriet became asymmetrical. Living loose in the house, as she did then (this was before the destruction of couches number one and two), Harriet would hop . . . lippity, lippity, lippity . . . in a manner that was, as a horseman might say, NQR. Rounding a corner with an ever so slight but still detectable lilt, Harriet moved with a gait that was Not Quite Right. With her head held at an almost imperceptible angle, one ear would dip towards the floor with each step. One hock would fall slightly out from under her during particularly animated travel. Harriet, it seemed, was sick. 
My mind jumped immediately to the worst . . . Harriet had had a mini-stroke. Harriet suffered from partial paralysis. Harriet had a malignancy pressing in upon her spinal cord. It was, as can be expected, a Sunday, and in the proud tradition of loving animal custodians the world over I weighed the financial penalty of an after-hours vet call against the risk of waiting. Harry, as if to reassure me, tucked in to her supper with gusto, and it was Monday morning when I finally made the call.
Rushing my crooked little marshmallow to the clinic on Monday morning, I observed a new listlessness. She was very accustomed to car rides, having gone with us to preschool and to visit her cousins at the feed store, but on this particular Monday she seemed nauseated and unhappy. She held her head at an angle, as if to drain water out of an ear. She did not care to look out the window. 
Upon arrival, the excitement of her new surroundings led to some improvement, and as we entered the exam room Harriet moved with something that approached her usual grace. Still, though, something wasn't right. I could see it in her posture and in her demeanor.
Our excellent rabbit vet—a vet whose $200 spaying is surely worth the price—was impressed with our prompt action. Had I been a more experienced lagomorph owner, I would have cast aside my ideas of transient ischemic attacks in favor of the very likely diagnose that, it turns out, was correct. Harriet had a very common and often debilitating infection of the inner ear.
Without the additional expense of a culture, we decided to go ahead and treat for Pasteurella. The culprits could have been any of several bacteria: Encephalitozoon cuniculi, Staphylococcus sp, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Pasteurella multocida, Bordetella bronchiseptica, Proteus mirabilis, Streptoccus epidermidis, Bacteroides spp. or Escherichia coli, to name a fw. At the risk of disrupting the all important function of Harriet's fermenting hindgut, it seemed that antibiotics were in order. We were sent home with medications, instructions, and the warning that her condition could deteriorate just as surely as it might improve. 

Emergency veterinary exam and consult: $61.75. Dexamethasone injection: $12.84. Two week supply of Baytril: $22.00. The sight of Harriet's lippity-lappity tongue when she realized I had cut her disgusting meds with sugar-water: priceless. Harriet took her medicine like a champ all that day and all the next, and within a couple of weeks our steady, level, perfectly symmetrical rabbit was back in action.

Harriet is lying in my lap as we speak—eyes closed, legs a-dangle, forehead nestled against my belly. What's a hundred dollars for companionship like this?
I'm told that up to 85% of unspayed, female domestic rabbits develop uterine cancer by age four. Ovarian and mammary cancerns, too, can be a major threat to bunny wellness. Spaying, it seems, is not just good for preventing nips and slipper lust.  
The next spare $200 I come up with is all yours, Harriet. 

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