Pet Factsheets

Limb amputation - post-operative care

Most rabbits seem to cope and adapt to life very well following a limb amputation

Amputation (the loss of a limb) can occur for a variety of reasons. Caring for rabbits that have lost a limb does require some special care and considerations, but by and large most rabbits adapt and cope well with life on three legs.

Why might my rabbit need a leg amputating?

There are several reasons why your rabbit may require surgical amputation of a leg:

  • A birth defect may mean that your rabbit is born with a deformed leg which is either painful or a hindrance to the rabbit. Either of these situations is likely to necessitate amputation of the affected limb.
  • Disease or infection within the bone of the limb is another reason. Some tumours, although usually rare in rabbits, can grow in the bones (osteosarcomas). A deep routed bone infection which is unresponsive to antibiotics is another cause likely to lead to amputation.
  • Any trauma to a limb, causing a fracture or irreparable muscle, nerve or soft tissue damage is likely to need amputation. Some fractures are possible to fix, but often require extensive and expensive surgery which isn't always a financial or surgical option.

What special care will my rabbit need?

Initially after surgery, the rabbit will be on pain relief and it is important that the wound is kept clean and dry and not contaminated with urine or faeces. Antibiotics may also be prescribed if infection has been present.

It is important to ensure the rabbit is eating, drinking and passing urine and faeces within a few hours of surgery.

Monitor your rabbit for signs of pain and infection in the wound. If your rabbit is in pain it may exhibit signs such as anorexia, loud teeth grinding, unwilling to move around, sitting hunched up with their eyes half closed, uninterested in their surroundings, and resent the wound being touched. Signs of infection in the wound would manifest as a red, inflamed wound which may feel hot to have pus coming from it. If you notice signs of infection or think your rabbit is in pain, contact your vet.

Rabbits that are missing a limb do require some special care:

  • House rabbits that have access to laminate or tiled flooring are likely to slip around more; they will need flooring which enables them to grip properly so they don't slip around. Placing carpet, rugs or rubber mats on the ground will help vastly.
  • Rabbits use their hind limbs to scratch and clean their ears. Rabbits who are missing a hind (back) limb, are likely to need the owner to clean the ear that they are unable to scratch, to prevent a build-up of wax. Ensure that you ask your vet or veterinary nurse to demonstrate how to do this safely and properly before attempting this yourself.
  • If your rabbit has had a hind limb amputated, it will be more prone to getting pododermatitis (sore hocks) on the remaining back foot due to the extra weight and pressure exerted on the footpad. Ensure that your rabbit has plenty of soft bedding and monitor carefully.
  • Hind limb amputees may struggle to balance and groom themselves; if you give them something to lean on, such as a rolled-up towel, soft toy, etc, this should help.
  • Use low sided litter trays to make hopping in and out of them easier.
  • Try and keep your rabbit at a healthy weight; carrying excess weight will increase the risk of sore hocks and make moving around harder for your rabbit.
  • Rabbits that are missing a fore (front) limb may need their face wiping and eye cleaning on that side, since rabbits use their front paws to clean their face.

Will my rabbit cope on three legs?

This is always a big concern for owners who are faced with having to have one of their rabbit's legs amputated. The vast majority of rabbits do seem to cope remarkably well and adapt to life very well, even older rabbits.

Rabbits that have a hind limb amputated are likely to take slightly longer to adapt since they rely heavily on their hind legs for propulsion (pushing forwards) when moving around.

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