My Rabbit is Dragging Their Back Legs
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Although often misclassified as rodents, rabbits are actually lagomorphs. These beautiful little mammals have been farmed for millennia, but it is only relatively recently they have been enjoyed as companion animals. Even so, it is only more recently that their popularity has grown as it has. For this reason, knowledge of the rabbit's health and understanding of how to best care for them is still developing. Some disorders are more obvious than others and when their back legs stop working, it is a problem which needs to be addressed.
In this AnimalWised video, we will be looking at why your rabbit is dragging their hind legs. The importance of a rabbit's hind legs can't be overstated, so treating the problem is essential for their well-being.
Why are a rabbit's hind legs important?
Although a rabbit's muscles are relatively very strong, their skeletal system is not. For this reason, the hind limbs of rabbits can be broken fairly easily. This could happen in many circumstances, such as getting caught in some wire, falling while being held or being knocked against hard surfaces. The resultant fractures can be varied in severity and location.
The tarsal area is particularly delicate. This area would be the equivalent of the human ankle as it is the part on which a large part of the rabbit's weight is placed. It also has a lesser amount of soft tissue and fur covering, meaning the bone is more exposed than in other areas. For this reason, it is not uncommon for inflammation, redness or even wounds to appear in this area.
For this reason, a fracture can happen relatively easily in the rabbit's hind legs. Since rabbits are very sensitive animals, they spook easily. If they are being held in the air and are scared, they may try to jump away and injure themselves when they land. Equally, if their leg gets caught in something, the anxiety of trying to release themselves means they may fracture the leg in an attempt to free themselves.
Rabbits are more likely to drag one leg than both due to a fracture, although it is possible for them to break both at the same time. More likely, your rabbit is dragging their legs for other reasons.
Why is my rabbit dragging their hind legs?
As we have stated, the rabbit's hind legs are extremely delicate. Therefore, there are several causes that may explain why they are dragging their hind legs, other than breaking them in an accident. Some of them are due to disease or other health reasons. If you want some more general information about rabbit health, you can also check out our article on the most common diseases in rabbits.
Tarsal ulcers and pododermatitis
Tarsal ulcers are lesions which appear on the tarsi bones. They are often small and difficult to see, being noticed once the area loses hair. When tarsal ulcers are severe, they can cause the hind legs to lose function, leading to them being dragged along the ground. We should check this area regularly to observe any changes and start treatment before the problem becomes acute. If we don't, the rabbit can become permanently lame.
When the mobility issues do become acute, we face significant pododermatitis. This requires veterinary treatment and healing can be difficult. In these cases, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic treatments will be administered either locally or systemically. Sometimes, the infection can reach the bone. This poses a very serious threat to not only their mobility, but their overall health. In these cases, amputation is usually required. Fortunately, rabbits can adapt well to this. However, a widespread infection may require the rabbit to be euthanized.
It is a disease caused by a parasite known as Encephalitozoon cuniculi. This parasite has a predilection for brain and kidney tissue. It is a very common intracellular parasite in this species, meaning it is not visible to the naked eye. Rabbits can be infested by them it at any time in their lives, including the fetal stage, as it is also transmitted by the mother during gestation.
The most typical symptoms of encephalitis in rabbits include:
- Lack of coordination and imbalance
- Circular movement
- Paresis or paralysis
- Stiff neck
- Nystagmus or involuntary eye movements
- Sudden death
Other symptoms can include eye and kidney problems, leading to increased water consumption and urination. Diagnosis is not always easy as the parasite can hide in tissues that are difficult to access. Sometimes it can be detected with a blood test. We need to determine the exact cause as some symptoms of a sick rabbit can be shared with various pathologies.
The treatment is supportive and includes an antiparasitic that must be administered for several weeks. Kidney function is also regularly assessed. The rabbit can be cured, although it is usual that it has secondary problems due to tissue damage caused by the parasite.
Injuries at the spinal level are another cause that may explain why a rabbit's hind legs aren't working and start dragging. We will likely first notice some weakness in the rabbit's extremities. In this case, both hind legs are likely to be affected, but it is possible only one will be, at least at the beginning. Unfortunately, even minor accidents can lead to spinal problems in rabbits.
To check the state of the bone marrow in the vertebrae, it will be necessary to carry out certain imaging tests such as an x-ray or CT scan. This is why it is essential we go to the veterinarian. It may be treated by medication and absolute rest, but the prognosis will depend on the extent of the spinal damage. Prognosis is more likely to be improved in these cases, especially if they have sensitivity in the affected limbs and problems with sphincter control.
The powerful musculature and light bones, plus the sensitive character of rabbits, result in a combination that encourages fractures. Jumps from heights or even incorrect manipulation during veterinary examination can result in breakage of the limbs, hips and even the spine. When scared, rabbits propel themselves so powerfully with their hind legs that, without a good grip or a non-slip surface, it is relatively easy to fracture.
The resolution will depend on the type of fracture. Sometimes it is enough to rest.At other times it is necessary to immobilize and in the most serious cases it will be necessary to operate. It is worth noting the importance of looking for a good veterinarian. Ideally you will hope to speak to an expert in exotic animals, both to prevent mismanagement and to better resolve medical issues of this nature.
What to do if my rabbit's hind legs don't work at all?
As we have seen, it is essential to go to the veterinarian to determine the reason the rabbit is dragging their back legs. Imaging tests are required in many cases, although they may not be available in all veterinary surgeries. Without a proper diagnosis, it is not possible to start treatment. Likewise, due to the fragility of these animals, it is essential we do not try to self-medicate or treat them without consulting the vet. Doing so could make the situation worse.
Once the diagnosis has been obtained, we will need to follow the veterinarian's advice. This will involve finding the rabbit a comfortable place to rest as well as a calm and stress-free environment. Observe for signs of stress in rabbits, otherwise the problem can worsen. Likewise, we need to ensure they have everything they need close so they don't have to move and further damage their legs.
In this video we talk about the best diet for all ages of rabbits:
How to prevent hind leg injuries in my rabbit
For general care of the rabbit's hind legs, we need to ensure their cage has a suitable substrate. Using something soft such as hay will not only help their mobility, but it will supple them with the nutrients they need to survive. Something like cat litter is sometimes recommended for rabbits, but it should not be used. It is too abrasive and will promote injury, not lessen its chances.
We also need to ensure the rabbit has a diet which is balanced and provides the correct nutrition. If the rabbit eats too much, obesity can affect mobility and lead them to dragging their hind legs. However, if they get too much of the wrong food, they won't have the nutrition they need to both strengthen their bones and maintain a healthy immune system.
For further information, check out our article on general tips for raising rabbits to know what is expected of you when you adopt a rabbit.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Rabbit is Dragging Their Back Legs, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.
- Bengoa, A. (2015). Practical Manual of Exotic Mammal Medicine. Madrid: Axón Communication.
- Soler, V. G. (2017). Encephalitozoon cuniculi in a domestic rabbit. Veterinary Portal.