Finding a Rabbit Vet

Whether you are moving to a new place with your pet rabbit or adopting your first rabbit, you will need to find a skilled rabbit veterinarian.  You might have a wonderful dog or cat vet, but small mammals are considered “exotics” in the veterinary world, and not every companion animal vet has the experience and knowledge to treat them.  Woody Pets - 528

So how do you go about finding a vet for your rabbit?  PetravelR™ can recommend some places to start your search:

In 2008, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) granted provisional recognition to the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP) new Exotic Companion Mammal (ECM) Specialty.  To become a certified diplomate in Exotic Companion Mammal Practice, veterinarians must have at least 6 years of full-time, high-quality practice experience with exotic mammals and be able to document a commitment to high-level continuing education. They also must be able to communicate professionally and scientifically by following instructions and preparing written case reports. To pass the comprehensive examination, candidates often spend an average of one hour per day studying, reading textbook and journal articles, and taking courses and practice tests.  You can search for an ABVP-ECM diplomate by location here.

However, because the Recognized Veterinary Specialty (RVS) in exotic mammals is so new, numerous wonderful, experienced rabbit vets – many of whom have been providing excellent care to pet rabbits for years – are not ABVP-ECM diplomates (according the the AVMA, as of this writing there are only 22 diplomates).  But, fear not, because there are other resources to help you find a good rabbit vet.  House Rabbit Society (HRS) has a list of veterinarians that their members have used and recommended (note: this does not imply any endorsement by HRS), arranged by U.S. state and Canadian province, and also a few foreign locations.  You can also consult the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians (AEMV) website for a listing of member vets.

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If you are moving, ask your current rabbit vet if he or she can recommend a veterinarian your new location. And if you are adopting a rabbit, your local rabbit rescue group or foster family can probably recommend at least one experienced rabbit veterinarian.

House Rabbit Society suggests conducting some intensive research to find a good rabbit vet:

  • Begin by searching online for veterinarians who advertise as “exotic” and ones that do not;
  • Randomly select 5 of the veterinarians who do NOT advertise as avian or exotic;
  • Phone these veterinarians and ask who they refer their clients to if they have a serious rabbit case. If all 5 veterinarians give you the name of the same veterinarian, ok. If not, then randomly select another 5 veterinarians and continue the process until you have a clear “winner”;
  • Telephone the veterinarian’s office.  Tell the receptionist that you want to find the very best veterinarian to care for your rabbit and that you would like to speak directly to the doctor at his/her convenience.  Leave all your contact phone numbers, as well as specific times that the veterinarian can most easily reach you (or ask what would be a good time for you to call back).

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When you speak with the veterinarian, ask him or her these questions:

  • How many rabbits are seen at the clinic each week? What percent of the rabbits you see are indoor companions? Outdoor pets? Show/stock animals? Don’t assume that just because a veterinarian works with breeders or local 4-H clubs, that he or she is experienced with house rabbits or the medical needs of older rabbits.
  • How many rabbits are spayed or neutered each week (or month, depending on the size of the practice and number of veterinarians)?
  • What types of surgery, if any, have you performed on rabbits? What is your success rate?  If a rabbit needs to be sedated or anesthetized for a procedure, what anesthetic do you use?
  • Should food be removed from a rabbit the night before surgery? (Answer: “No.” Rabbits should never be fasted because it can cause GI stasis.)
  • What’s the best way to prevent GI stasis? (Answer: “Free-feed your rabbit hay, preferably 24 hours a day. Provide daily exercise and brush frequently.”) Follow up question: What diagnostic tools and treatments do you normally use for GI slowdowns? What is your success rate?
  • When treating infections, what diagnostic tools do you use to determine which medication to prescribe?
  • Which antibiotics do you prescribe for rabbits?  Any competent rabbit vet knows which antibiotics are dangerous for rabbits, and which can be safely used as an injectable but can be deadly if administered orally.  Even one dose of amoxicillin, lincomycin, clindamycin, or most of the “cillin” drugs can be fatal to a rabbit.
  • You might also  ask which conferences they’ve attended lately with presentations on rabbit medicine and what journals they read.

For more information, see HRS: How to Find a Good Rabbit Veterinarian by Kathleen Wilsbach and Sandi Ackerman and Choosing a Rabbit Veterinarian, excerpted from Rabbit Health in the 21st Century (Second Edition) © 2003 by Kathy Smith, at lagomorphs.com.

Remember:  Don’t choose a veterinarian based on how “convenient” the location or office hours are for you. Rabbit medicine is a specialty, so you may have to drive further or re-arrange your schedule to get your rabbit the best veterinary care.

The article has been approved by the PetravelR™ SpokesBunny Nora!

Sources:  Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians; American Board of Veterinary Practitioners; House Rabbit Society; lagomorphs.com

5 thoughts on “Finding a Rabbit Vet

  1. Jean Silva

    Great post! Although I did have good luck, while on vacation, when asking a local Humane Society for a recommendation to a rabbit vet. I was in a small town in AZ, and I think I just got lucky to find a vet that had a pet rabbit.

    Reply
  2. Tal Saarony

    I suggest asking a prospective vet about metacam. Metacam is an indispensable analgesic and anti inflammatory medication for rabbits. Recently I took my rabbit to a vet who sees many rabbits and when she heard that I give metacam at times of GI stasis she nearly had a conniption. When she heard the dose I gave (at the higher end of the range as published by Dr Susan Brown, DVM), she was aghast. She quoted various facts to me which pertain to cats and dogs but not rabbits. She refused to refill my metacam prescription. In all other aspects she was very rabbit savvy, but to me metacam is invaluable; its use in rabbits is continually validated at higher and higher doses and a vet who does not condone its use is simply not good enough for my 3.

    Reply
  3. Bruce Atchison

    Thanks for this excellent post. I’ve had so many disappointments with bad vets in the past. It’s also true that not everybody who claims to be an exotics vet really does know what they’re doing. I wrote about my good and bad experiences in When a Man Loves a Rabbit: Learning and Living With Bunnies. I learned so much just by living with these wonderful companions.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: HOW LONG DO RABBITS LIVE? | Bruce Atchison - author

  5. Julie Smith

    This was very helpful. Thank you!

    I want to second Tal’s opinion. I think that one good test of a potential veterinarian might be to ask what dosage of Metacam he/she prescribes. This would be a good way to know whether he or she is up on the latest information that the recommended dose has been significantly increased, almost tripled, as Tal says so well.

    Julie Smith

    Reply

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