Floppy rabbit syndrome is one of the more dramatic and alarming conditions that a rabbit owner can experience. Fortunately, the prognosis for most cases is good with proper supportive care.
This syndrome usually presents with acute onset weakness to flaccid (floppy) paralysis of the skeletal muscles of the body. Seriously affected rabbits may not be able to do anything but lie on their sides, and less severely affected animals may be able to sit up and eat, but not be able to hop around very much. Many owners will find their rabbits in such a state in the morning, or after they come home from work or school.
The cause of this condition is most likely multifactorial. A stressful incident may precede an attack, or a pre-existing illness. Many rabbits that have been affected by floppy rabbit syndrome also test positive for Encephalitozoon cuniculi, a parasite that is common in rabbits, and can cause other neurological problems. Plant toxins have been theorized to have an effect as well, but many affected rabbits also do not have access to toxic plants. However, in many cases an exact cause cannot be identified. At this point in time, the pathophysiology of this condition is unclear.
It is important not to misdiagnose floppy rabbit syndrome as a spinal fracture, as the prognoses for both conditions are vastly different. Careful palpation and x-rays can help differentiate these conditions, as well as a good history.
The majority of rabbits affected by floppy rabbit syndrome will recover within 2 to 7 days, and it appears that the severity of the condition does affect the length of recovery time. Treatment is supportive, and this includes anti-inflammatory medications, pro-kinetics to help the gastrointestinal system keep working, keeping the rabbit calm and warm, maintaining proper hydration, frequent supplementary feeding with a formula such as Ox
bow Critical Care, and supporting the rabbit on his or her chest with a rolled up towel. Complications of this syndrome include gastrointestinal stasis and hypothermia, which can be minimized by appropriate feeding and housing during this time. Corticosteroids are contraindicated.
It is advisable to also test affected rabbits for E. cuniculi. Vetpath in Western Australia offers testing for E. cuniculi.