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Old bunny rabbits.
Old 12-27-2010, 11:53 PM   #1
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Old bunny rabbits.

Our pet rabbit, Peter Bunny, will be 10 years old next month. (In bunny years he's at least a centenarian.) Unfortunately he's started coughing after he runs, and a possible diagnosis is heart disease.

He has the free chewing run of about half the house, so he's stayed healthy and very mobile. (No hutch arthritis here.) When I come downstairs each morning he usually greets me with a chase around the familyroom. I'll dash from one side of the room to the other and he'll come running after me. We'll do four or five laps and then he'll decide that he's done. Because he always "wins", he gets plenty of praise and petting. An hour later he'll decide that it's time for more and we'll do it again. We used to do it seven or eight times every morning but in the last few years he's cut back to two or three sets.

This month when we've played our usual game he's started to make a noise like a cough or a "ghack" sound. Bunnies don't verbalize much so this gets your attention. It almost sounds like he's clearing his throat. It's always on the first chase of the morning and after the usual four or five laps, but it doesn't even happen every day. I can't tell if the noise is deliberate or involuntary but he only makes it once and then he stops playing. He doesn't seem upset or alarmed or otherwise disturbed-- he's just done playing. He accepts his usual praise and petting and then uses his litter box. In an hour or so he'll play again.

He had his typical clean bill of health at the vet's in October, his diet is the same, he's always maintained his weight, his poop & pee look fine, his habits are normal, and his behavior's otherwise normal. He's still playful when he wants to be, he still does his "electric bunny" jumps, and he even occasionally sprints laps around the room (although he does the last less often than he used to). But when he's scared by something (a cat passing through the yard) then he'll still make danger thumps and sprint into hiding like he was a young bunny.

We phoned the vet and she's concerned about heart disease. Apparently in older bunnies the cardiac muscle isn't pumping as efficiently and the valves may leak back a little. After long periods of inactivity (like napping at night) fluid builds up in their lungs. If they start the morning with a burst of physical activity, the heart can't keep up so more fluid builds up and they and start coughing. They settle down and rest, the heart catches up, the lungs clear up, and they seem fine afterward.

She said it could also be a sign of a new allergy, but heart disease makes a lot of sense. When Peter gets up in the afternoon after his daytime nap he's never been interested in racing around, so we only see that behavior and those symptoms in the mornings.

Treatment is a fruity-tasting diuretic pill at night before bedtime. Favorite flavors are apparently pina colada and tutti frutti, and luckily they taste yummy enough for bunnies to eat them on their own. (I can't imagine force-feeding a pill without my own personal body armor.) Parsley and juniper are natural diuretics (and also yummy) but it's tough to get the doses right.

We're taking him to the vet's office next week so that she can listen to his heart and maybe hear a murmur. She might have to try a chest X-ray, which should be an interesting experience for everyone, but hopefully she'll be able to figure it out. She says that bunny lifespans are just starting to give vets enough data to research the best treatments.

I guess it's "good" that this is happening while our daughter's home on college break and can be involved and can talk through everything. We know that bunnies frequently have cardiac problems but I'm not sure how successful diuretics are at bunny life extension.

I realize now that I've been expecting this guy to go to his great reward quickly & painlessly in the middle of the night instead of having to deal with these symptoms.
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Old 12-28-2010, 12:07 AM   #2
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Nords, I have never had a bunny in my household.

Still, I know how hard it is to have a pet die, even if it is a slow death from old age. I hope Peter Bunny isn't in his final decline, though if he is a centenarian in bunny years it sure sounds like it.

Maybe or maybe not now (?), but anyway at some point when you are pretty sure he is dying, it might be time to think about costs. That is, how much you want to spend on bunny diuretics and chest x-rays and such, and how much quality of life your bunny is getting from those expenditures. It's a sad decision for any pet owner to have to make.
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Old 12-28-2010, 07:11 AM   #3
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I guess it's "good" that this is happening while our daughter's home on college break and can be involved and can talk through everything.
I believe it is a very good thing your daughter is home and can be involved. If he was my bunny, I wouldn't want to put him through invasive or uncomfortable medical treatments or procedures at his age.

Since he still appears to have a pretty good quality of life, I would try simple medications and give him some extra TLC with the focus on keeping him comfortable, but not necessarily curing the condition.

Bunnies live in the "here and now" meaning what's most important to him is how he feels right now. He's had a very long and happy life so the kindest thing may be to let him enjoy what life he has left. Unfortunately, you'll likely end up having to make the same decision I did with my beloved cat earlier this year. If so, you'll know when the time has come to let him go.
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Old 12-28-2010, 07:34 AM   #4
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Sorry to hear about Peter's troubles, Nords. Hope the diuretics work and he goes on with his normal life until the middle of the night comes down the road. We have been going through this with a pair of elderly dogs (one still around and on chemo). You do your best for them and when the time comes, it comes.
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Old 12-28-2010, 07:53 AM   #5
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Our dog has congestive heart failure. It was caught before it reached the coughing stage, simply by listening to her heart. Her enlarged heart was later evidenced by an ultrasound scan that she needed for other reason. So, at least for the dog the tests were not invasive or overly stressful. Anyway, she has done well on the "blood pressure" pills (an ACE inhibitor) for several years. Her exercise tolerance still is good. I do not know if the same applies to bunnies, but my vet said that if the disease proceeds to coughing stage the long term prognosis is not good.

If your bunny ends up having to take pills, I used to buy all our drugs for the dog online. The vet would fax in a prescription. About a year ago the vet said he would match the online price. The online price of her pills is significantly less than the vet office price. (Of course, you may have the Hawaii penalty and the free shipping we used to get may not be available to you.)

I like what Purron says about animals living in the here and now. Our dog Judy despite being deaf, nearly blind, and taking so many pills that we had to buy a pill organizer, is still as happy a dog as she ever was. Peter, with the run of the house, is one lucky rabbit.
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Old 12-28-2010, 09:12 AM   #6
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Your description of your morning and daily ritual with your family bunny was so endearing. Pets are so much a part of a family and changes due to old age are very sad and emotional. Take care of Peter - I hope he gets better.
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Old 12-28-2010, 09:22 AM   #7
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I had a childhood bunny and love the sound of your Peter's life, Nords. I always hope that our animals will go quietly in the night, but thus far, have always had to take the (harder) road that you may be facing at some point soon.
Best wishes for him to be comfortable and happy!
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Old 12-28-2010, 09:23 AM   #8
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...his poop & pee look fine...
The answer to "whaddaya do all day"!

The critters in our lives are more loyal, and often smarter, than the human friends...
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Old 12-28-2010, 09:44 AM   #9
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Diuretics make animals pee a lot. So, if your bunny does have heart disease you might want to discuss this issue with the vet.
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Old 12-28-2010, 10:15 AM   #10
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I had a childhood bunny and love the sound of your Peter's life, Nords. I always hope that our animals will go quietly in the night, but thus far, have always had to take the (harder) road that you may be facing at some point soon.
Best wishes for him to be comfortable and happy!
FWIW, our very aged beagle went in the middle of the night in August. She was ill for years (vet bills that look like the national debt, pill organizer, smuggling drugs in from Canuckistan, etc.), but lead a pretty good life up until the very end. It was not noticeably easier with her passing without our assistance.
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Old 12-28-2010, 10:18 AM   #11
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Your description of your morning and daily ritual with your family bunny was so endearing. Pets are so much a part of a family and changes due to old age are very sad and emotional. Take care of Peter - I hope he gets better.

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If it is only a morning thing right now... why not limit the first romp around to only a short run so everything can get back to 'normal' on the first rest... it sounds like bunny is good to go the rest of the day...
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Old 12-28-2010, 11:22 AM   #12
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Sorry to hear about the bunny problems. I am glad that your DD is home right now. Not an easy time. Good luck. I also enjoyed reading about your daily ritual with Peter.
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Old 12-28-2010, 11:29 AM   #13
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Nords, you're really going to miss Peter when he's gone....
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Old 12-28-2010, 11:34 AM   #14
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Nords,
Sorry to hear about your beloved rabbit's heart troubles. DW and I went thru this with our old dog a couple of years ago and know how heart-wrenching it can be to see their health deteriorate. Do what you can to enhance his quality of life and cherish the time you have left together, when the day comes that you have to make that difficult yet inevitable decision you'll both know it is finally time to say goodbye.
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Old 12-28-2010, 11:53 AM   #15
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I'm glad your DD is home now also. Peter sounds like a great pet...hopefully the medication will help and he will have some more quality time with the family. He does sound like he's still enjoying your morning exercise.

I have a 16 year old cat who is becoming a little unstable on his feet and sleeping more and more. But he still goes outside for a short time every day and eats and drinks well. I'm expecting to find him in his bed some morning.... having passed in his sleep.
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Old 12-28-2010, 03:50 PM   #16
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I realize now that I've been expecting this guy to go to his great reward quickly & painlessly in the middle of the night instead of having to deal with these symptoms.
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Maybe or maybe not now (?), but anyway at some point when you are pretty sure he is dying, it might be time to think about costs. That is, how much you want to spend on bunny diuretics and chest x-rays and such, and how much quality of life your bunny is getting from those expenditures. It's a sad decision for any pet owner to have to make.
I had this conversation with the wife's Yorkie the other morning.

These creatures we adopt into our lives, at least in my experience. don't generally suddenly come down with some condition or injury in which the vet can say: "It's X and the treatment is $4,000 and she will live another X months/years after that." All too often you get drug into it a bit here and a bit there. With my dog it was an undetectable tumor around the heart. The vet worked around a dozen different ideas of what was happening, and a trip to animal emergency clinic didn't help (but cost a grand). He did a necropsy and discovered the tumor.

With the wife's pooch I think we're heading there. We did the emergency clinic deal because they had access to tests and treatments the vet didn't have (thought it would be a grand, but got out for under $500). Even the vet thought she wouldn't last 24 hours and we're now a couple of months past that with a mostly healthy dog. The pooch doc is still amazed that she didn't croak. Still, a month or two will go by and we'll be back at the vet getting something checked, and that's a couple of hundred every time.

So the Yorkie had a bad night a few days ago, and the next morning I said to her (and the DW), "This is how it's going to be. You're going to nickel and dime us right up to the bitter end." DW is frustrated. It's her dog and her money, and she had a dollar figure in mind when we went to the emergency clinic - But after the miraculous recovery she is at odds trying to put a dollar amount on it. She's afraid of not spending that last $200 that could have meant another year or so of Yorkie happiness.
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Old 12-28-2010, 03:58 PM   #17
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So the Yorkie had a bad night a few days ago, and the next morning I said to her (and the DW), "This is how it's going to be. You're going to nickel and dime us right up to the bitter end." DW is frustrated. It's her dog and her money, and she had a dollar figure in mind when we went to the emergency clinic - But after the miraculous recovery she is at odds trying to put a dollar amount on it. She's afraid of not spending that last $200 that could have meant another year or so of Yorkie happiness.

That is always the way it is. We made the choice to spend whatever we could to extend life so long as quality of life is high and the prognosis is at least a fighting chance. These are family members. Having said that, I know that we are lucky to be able to open the wallet at need.
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Old 12-28-2010, 04:27 PM   #18
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That is always the way it is. We made the choice to spend whatever we could to extend life so long as quality of life is high and the prognosis is at least a fighting chance. These are family members. Having said that, I know that we are lucky to be able to open the wallet at need.
DH and I spent a lot of money on our cat that recently died. I'm happy to have had him in my life, sorry he left us so soon, and thankful we had the funds to help him. My main regret is I may have put him through unnecessary treatments that didn't extend or improve his life. I just didn't want to let him go even when it was obvious his life was coming to an end. Damn I miss that cat.
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Old 12-28-2010, 07:34 PM   #19
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The neighbors up the street have a cat with similar cardiac/respiratory problems. Despite his advancing age and debilitated state he still keeps the street pretty well depopulated of careless birds. He's been hanging on like this for nearly two years and seems to be coping with it. I'll be chatting with them to see how they handle the situation.

"Here and now" is a very good description of a bunny's thought processes. He doesn't see me in the morning and think "Oooh, I'd better take it slow so that I don't overexert myself." His attitude is better expressed as "Sheesh, there you are, I thought you were going to sleep all night! Let's play!!"

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Maybe or maybe not now (?), but anyway at some point when you are pretty sure he is dying, it might be time to think about costs. That is, how much you want to spend on bunny diuretics and chest x-rays and such, and how much quality of life your bunny is getting from those expenditures. It's a sad decision for any pet owner to have to make.
I guess that's an emotional decision, not a financial one, although I suppose I'll know a lot more about it in a few months.

He's taught our daughter an awful lot about life, happiness, and responsibility. I hope he's also taught her not to get herself a pet just because her own someday kids manage to steamroller over all her objections. So I don't mind repaying his favors of tuition.

I hope he's teaching her one other point too. As my wife and I were discussing the vet's concerns with our daughter, we became uncomfortably aware that in 40 or 50 years she might be having a similar conversation with our own cardiologists. "Well, doc, he's had a good life, but he's just not keeping up anymore when we're surfing the North Shore or sparring at taekwondo, and I hate to see him suffer. That catheter costs HOW much?!?"

Pretty bold words for a guy who hasn't even seen the vet bill yet, eh?
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Old 12-28-2010, 07:41 PM   #20
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Pretty bold words for a guy who hasn't even seen the vet bill yet, eh?
I believe you've just discovered a new beneficiary for some of the funds you'd planned to put into the Nords Family Philanthropic Trust.
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