Heart Disease in Rabbits
Heart Disease in Rabbits
by Dr. Maggie Wood
and edited by Susan Horton, DVM
Heart disease is a significant health concern, and is most
commonly seen in older rabbits.
In the early stages of heart disease, no symptoms may be
present, or subtle changes that are not specific for heart disease
such as mildly decreased appetite, lower activity level, or weight
loss may be the only signs. As
it progresses, an increased respiratory rate is often noticeable.
In more advanced stages, the symptoms may be severe
including labored breathing, complete loss of appetite, and
occasionally fainting. The
severe signs are generally seen when the heart cannot keep up with
its job of circulating the blood in the body, and therefore fluid
backs up in the lungs and/or abdomen.
This is called congestive heart failure.
If you suspect your rabbit may have heart disease, you
should bring him to your veterinarian for an examination.
Annual exams are also recommended, even if your rabbit
seems healthy. The
veterinarian can listen to the rabbit’s heart with a stethoscope
to check for an abnormal rhythm or heart murmur.
Not all rabbits with heart disease will have a detectable
murmur or arrhythmia, but if present, this can alert the
veterinarian that there is a problem even if the rabbit is not
showing any outward signs. If
your rabbit is showing severe signs, such as trouble breathing,
this is an emergency and hospitalization with oxygen support is
generally needed until the symptoms have improved.
Respiratory infections are common in rabbits and can have
similar symptoms to heart disease.
It can be difficult to tell which one the rabbit has,
especially if the only sign is breathing difficulty, so further
testing is often needed. If
heart disease is suspected based on the exam, x-rays are usually
the first step. An
enlarged, rounded heart and fluid in the lungs are common findings
with heart disease. If
the x-rays indicate that there could be a heart problem, a cardiac
ultrasound is recommended.
The ultrasound can evaluate the heart function, whether the
heart wall is too thick or too thin, and how the heart valves are
working. These tests
both help to differentiate heart disease from respiratory disease.
They also provide a picture of how severe the heart disease
is and help the veterinarian decide the type and dose of
medications that need to be administered.
heart disease help to decrease the workload on the heart, control
the blood pressure, and keep fluid from accumulating in the lungs.
Heart disease cannot be cured, but it can often be managed
with medications. This
can increase the length and the quality of the rabbit’s life,
especially if it is diagnosed before it becomes severe.
The rabbit will need to be evaluated regularly to evaluate
whether any adjustment is needed in the dose of medication.
The dose of medication depends on the individual rabbit and
the severity of the heart disease.
Bloodwork will also need to be monitored to make sure there
are no adverse effects from the medications.
eyes can be a sign of thymoma and heart disease. Only a
complete evaluation including ultrasound can tell the difference.