Crate-Side Manner (Lady Chronicle part 2)

When we learned that Lady probably,

most likely,

but not certainly,

(no the vet could definitely not be certain),

had cancer and that all signs suggested it had spread to her lungs, 

I felt lost.

The vet, a stranger I'd only gone to because our regular vet was out of town, spoke quickly. She'd called with test results a full day later than she'd told me she would, and now spoke with the speed of someone who wants to get an unpleasant task over with.  She explained, "The x-ray showed a large medicalwords in her abdomen blocking the flow of medicalwordsmedicalwords, resulting in medicalwordsmedicalwords leg." That, for what it was worth, was definitive.


Lady in her favorite spot under the rocking chair trying to bathe but knocked off balance by her swollen back leg

"So there's a tumor in her abdomen and something that should flow through her leg and on to other parts of her body can't because of it." I offered hesitantly. "That's why her leg is swollen." The vet made a sound indicating agreement and repeated some of her previous medical words as if they would now hold meaning for me.

The vet continued. "Test results were consistent with but did not definitively conclude that medicalwordsmedicalwords. The x-ray and test results together suggest medicalwordsmedicalwordsmedicalwords. A biopsy would be required to be absolutely certain." She paused pointedly there.

"And anesthesia is pretty risky for rabbits and Lady is elderly," I finished for her. 



"Let me see if I understand. All signs indicate Lady has cancer that can't be operated on because it has spread through her body. But you can't be 100% positive because the test for that would probably kill her?"  I added quickly before she could add her equivocating word soup.




This was no longer awkward, it was maddening. I understood that all the equivocating and medical jargon was an effort to be precise and not make a diagnosis she couldn't back with facts. She also didn't know me. She didn't have any idea how I would take this news, this bad, bad news.


But why the hell was I, the emotionally involved party, now in charge of moving the conversation forward? She was the professional. She was the one with the experience and information. This should be her responsibility.

"OK, so what now?" I asked with an edge to my voice.

Lady snuffle nosedLady with cancer and the added indignity of "the snuffles", a respiratory infection

"The usual course in treating medicalwords is surgical removal, which is not an option in this case due to medicalwordsmedicalwords." 

I remembered those smudges on the lungs in Lady's x-ray and made a sound indicating comprehension. She continued, "Chemotherapy has been developed for cats and dogs, but it has not been found to be effective in rabbits."

As disapointing as this news was, at least I understood it. 

"What. Do. We. DO?" I emphasized the last word. I wasn't asking how we return Lady to health or even how we extend her life. I jut needed a plan, a step by step guide to making her  final days as easy, joy filled and comfortable as possible. 

"Keep giving her the Metacam for pain relief and monitor her for any signs of distress. I will send a copy of her tests to your regular vet."

It wasn't until I hung up the phone that I realized I had no idea how to spot distress in an animal whose every instinct is to mask it. 





Is a Little Knowledge Worse than None? (Lady Chronicle part 1)

About a month ago we noticed that Lady's left hind leg was a bit swollen.  She didn't flinch or run away if we touched it, but rabbits are horribly stoic so we feared she might be in great pain and hiding it.  Alex and I put her in her carrier and hurried to the 24 hour vet a couple towns away.  I hadn't been back there since the night we had to put down Fergus. I did my best to reason away my feeling of foreboding. The vet on duty that night wasn't an exotic specialist, no great surprise, but she could rule out a broken leg. A fracture was still a possibility, so she recommended we see our usual vet the next day.

The next morning I dialed our vet, feeling hopeful that we'd have some answers in an hour or two. Unfortunately, our vet was out of town.  My body sagged a little as the receptionist listed other specialists in the area.  Not for the first time, I wished rabbits weren't considered an exotic species. What must it be like to know that if your usual vet is unavailable, her colleagues are equally trained to help you?

I called a couple places before finding one with an exotics specialist on duty on a Saturday.

The walls of the waiting room were decorated with fabric panels covered in frolicking dogs and cats. I could see an alcove full of leashes, kibble and toys. How often did they treat an animal that wasn't a dog or a cat? My own vet's walls had paintings of creatures ranging from kitten to cow and everything in between. I knew the decor didn't necessarily reflect the vet's knowledge, but it left me wondering whether the receptionist had heard me correctly when I made the appointment for a rabbit.

Once we were in the exam room, Lady couldn't wait to get out of her carrier and explore. It was that love of exploring that had made me suggest the name Amelia (for Amelia Earheart) when we first got her.  She hopped right up on the scale, her feet sliding every which way on the smooth surface. I looked at the ruler-like markings on the scale and wondered how the vet could possibly tell if a small animal lost or gained a little weight. A quarter pound change either way is significant when your whole body weighs less than five pounds.

Lady scale

Lady both charmed and scared the vet tech by hopping from the exam table to the slippery scale and back again as if she were exploring at home.  I could almost see a thought bubble over the tech's head with the words "Please don't fall. Please don't fall". Lady clearly preferred the higher vantage point the scale provided, so I bribed her to stay put by rubbing her head while the tech and then the vet asked question after question.

"Is she eating? Pooing? Where does she spend the day? Could she have been dropped? Where is she at night? Could she have jumped off something high? Have you noticed any change to her behavior? What do you feed her? Could she have taken a bad jump off something high? Could something have fallen on her? When was the last time she saw a vet? Is she free range or in a pen?" I started to feel like I was at fault for not having security footage of her comings and goings. In the end they gave her a physical, took her temperature (which she really did not appreciate) and an x-ray.  Swollen

The tech scooped Lady up in her arms and they disappeared through a door into the mysterious world of "employees only". I tried to read a book I'd brought, but couldn't concentrate. So I read and reread a flier about  the importance of caring for your dog's teeth.

Soon enough they returned and the vet pulled up Lady's x-ray on her computer monitor. "There are no broken bones or fractures, which is both good and bad news." How can that be bad news I wondered, but I would soon find out. The vet switched to a closeup of Lady's abdomen. Her anatomy appeared utterly foreign, so different from a human's, her ribs were the only familiar landmark. The vet was discussing possible explanations for some faint marks on the lungs. I'd clearly missed something. The marks looked like water spots on a glass, nothing substantial. 

"But how is that related to her leg?" I asked.

"Ah. The edema in her leg is due to the tumor in her abdomen. It's blocking the flow of..." I didn't so much stop listening as stop hearing her. The large pale blob on the x-ray that I'd assumed was an organ, was actually a tumor! No wonder her poo had been smaller lately; her intestines were probably squooshed. "The tumor could be benign, or it could be related to the mottling on the lungs. We will know more after the aspiration." I nodded dumbly. The vet and the tech stared at me as if waiting for something. "May we do the aspiration?"

My mind raced.  An aspirate in linguistics is a consonant pronounced with a puff of air.  How could blowing air tell them anything about a tumor? Had they already explained it and I missed it? I wished Alex were there with me. "Sorry. What exactly does 'aspirate' mean?" She explained.  I understood enough to give permission, and then I was alone again, reading brochures about proper tick removal methods. 

They returned with Lady and said they'd be in touch on Monday, 48 hours of uncertainty and fear from now. I thanked her and paid the bill. 

The car felt very full as I pulled out of the parking lot. Lady happily shuffled about her carrier, tipping it slightly this way and that as she searched for the choicest bites of hay. Thoughts of how I would explain her condition to Alex when I barely understood it played on a loop in my head.  A bottle of Metacam, pain reliever, rattled in the cup holder. As the vet prescribed it she'd said, "I don't know if it will help, but it can't hurt." In that case, I wondered, was the prescription more for Lady's comfort or my piece of mind?

Why did rabbits never have a crisis when our vet was available?   

And what about Lady's leg? It would be two days before we'd know anything. Two days before any treatment could be considered. Would her leg just keep getting bigger and bigger? Could her skin split from the pressure? Nah, the vet wouldn't have let us go if that was a possibility.  Right? I replayed the visit all the way home, trying to connect the dots of how we'd gotten from "no broken bones" to "tumor". 



Perspective is the Thing

Why do my bunnies prefer to lounge on flat, hard surfaces and in their dirty litter boxes to cozy cushions and blankets?

Why does Bella not realize that if she hears our voices approaching, that means our bodies are approaching too?  I'd love to be able to tell her in a way she'd understand, "Really Bella, there's no reason for our appearance to be such a shock."

And tonight's question, why will Lady try to chew through the metal bars of her ex-pen to reach her treat ball, rather than looking for another, easier way to get it?


It was funny, but I also felt a little bad for Lady. She was working so hard for a goal she wasn't going to achieve.  I swung a wall of her pen 180 degrees so she could see the gate (and this part is important, I think) in front of her.  



Sweet success!  And a reminder that where you focus your energy matters.  


Hay Management

IMG_3915Spot has lived under our shed the last two years

In case you've missed me saying it before, rabbits need an unlimited supply of hay in order to stay healthy.  Those cute bags of rabbit granola/cereal they sell at the store are tempting bags of gastric distress.  They look a lot like human cereal with brightly colored treats dotting the brown roughage.  The difference is that the neon marshmallows in human cereal aren't good for us, but they aren't going to land us in the emergency room.  That's not the case with rabbits.  The "treats" are usually corn or dairy based, two foods that the rabbit GI system is not designed for.  They may not cause a problem the first time a rabbit eats them, but eaten consistently there will be.   Plain pellets, such as these from Oxbow are a healthy diet supplement.  Some owners mistakenly think they are equivalent to dog kibble, but these are too rich to fill that role.  It's unfortunate, since that would make living with rabbits much tidier.  Nope, rabbits need to eat a pile of hay roughly the size of their body each day to ensure good digestive and dental health.  It also reduces the chance that they'll chew on your furniture.   

The good news is that hay smells really good, unlike canned dog or cat food.  I grew up across the street from a horse barn so the smell of hay reminds me of long summer nights playing flashlight tag and days spent riding my bike and building forts.  The problem with hay is that it gets e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e!  It's impossible to grab a handful of hay and put in it in a hay rack (a.k.a. manger) without some falling on the floor.  Then there's all the hay the rabbits pull from their racks and toss to the side in search of the elusive perfect mouthful.  I don't really mind if they make a mess of the hay in their pens, they will often return to it for a snack, but the upstairs rack is in our dining room.  It is our least used room, but it would still be nice for it not to resemble a barn.  Each time we feed the bunnies or refill their water, we walk on hay.  Bits cling to our socks, spreading the hay from one end of the house to the other.

We've tried a variety of hay racks designed for small animals.  The slats, whether metal or wood, are too close together for a rabbit's snout, even Lady's slim one.   I tried cutting off alternating slats on a wooden rack, but the rabbits ignored the openings and messily rummaged through the hay sticking out on top. 

Lady troughLady using the Kaytee Small Animal Hay Manger, Large

They had plenty of room to grab a bite from the front of the rack but they weren't.  I started to wonder if rabbits were drawn to the hay that looked more like the tall grass they'd find in a field.  But they also seemed to like eating the hay they'd spread across the rug, easy to reach like the cut grass of a lawn.  Could they be hardwired with a memory of what grass (food) should look like?  I felt a bit like Jackson Galaxy, the cat behaviorist on Animal Planet, only I was trying to decode rabbit behavior.   If I observed the rabbits' habits enough, I was sure to find a solution that pleased everyone in the house, right?

We removed the hay rack and replaced it with a light metal bucket intended for the displays of fake flowers, a Dollar Store find.  Lady loved it.  

IMG_0131Lady with the Dollar Store bucket in the morning

Each day she'd use her teeth to pull the bucket out from where we'd wedged it between the litter box and a bookcase.  Once free, she'd grab the bucket with her teeth and flip it, sending the hay flying! 

IMG_0124Ten minutes later

It took Bella a little longer to think of doing this, but in the end it was clear that the bucket was just a toy that briefly delayed the inevitable hay storm.  The bucket tossing was utterly adorable and a lot of fun to watch, but a real pain to clean up after.  Disheartened I rehung the tiny wooden rack.

IMG_0131Bella feeling rather proud of herself

There had to be a way to contain the hay.  I became a bit obsessed, viewing every garden, kitchen and craft container as a potential, if unconventional, hay rack.  Would a metal shower caddy work?  What about a metal egg basket?  I finally set aside my Yankee desire to make-do and splurged on a larger (and more expensive) hay rack.  When that still didn't solve the problem I looked for ways to at least make cleanup quicker, in other words, less annoying. 

I tried using the mats they sell to go under cat and dog feeding areas, but they were too small.  Ditto rubber boot trays.  For a while I spread a blanket over the area, thinking cleanup would be easier if I could simply gather up the blanket and give it a shake outside. It wasn't.  What we needed was a hay-rack-friendly version of the enclosed litter boxes they sell for cats.  If the area were enclosed the hay wouldn't travel.  If I bought a large plastic storage bin and cut off one end to make an entrance, it just might work.  I set about trying to come up with a way to cut the plastic without leaving any sharp burs the buns could get hurt on.

A few days later I was breaking down cardboard boxes to put in the recycling bin and stopped, sizing up the box in my hand.  It was big enough to fit a litter box (bunnies like to fertilize where they eat) and the sides looked high enough to serve as hay-retaining walls.  I cut off both ends (one to fit around the hay rack and one to serve as entrance) and  put the litter box in.  It all fit quite nicely.  One unexpected benefit was the way it hid the litter box from view.  


SolutionHand Made Hay Manger (Large) from Small Pet Select, the subject of a future post

As you can see, it's not perfect, but it's the best system we've come up with so far.  The wall does a nice job of corralling the hay when Bella starts rooting for her beloved "grass tops" (the nutrient rich seed heads).  We still drop some hay as we refill the rack and Bella still carries off hay bits caught in her fur, but all in all it's an improvement. It'll do...for now.

Lady's Backstory (revised)

If rabbits could talk, I'm sure Lady would be quick to explain that she was here first and that she and only she gets to decide what other bunnies can share her space. She would also explain that she's an excellent interior designer, finds joy in rearranging her environment, runs for fun, likes to play "toss" (not catch, that's for dogs), and has a passion for digging.  I'd like to think that she would also thank us for changing her name from the dopey sounding Booboo that her first family called her, to Lady.  Alex named her after one of the direwolves in Game of Thrones; I love the incongruity of naming a 4.5 pound prey animal after a mammoth predator.    

Lady eating 05292017

When Lady lived with her first family, she was one of two rabbits in the home.  She and the buck (male rabbit) were a bonded pair, the rabbit equivalent of BFFs.  When Lady was four, the family moved to an apartment that didn't allow pets, so the rabbits went to the MSPCA.  I picture them being housed together, comforting one another as they got used to all the new smells and sounds, not to mention the stress of being surrounded by unfamiliar rabbits and humans.  Sadly, Lady's buddy was sickly, and just a couple weeks after arriving, he died.  The staff at the MSPCA told us that Lady was lethargic after his death.  They gave her extra love, and placed a stuffed animal in her cage to help her feel less alone.  For weeks she groomed that toy and snuggled against it. 

When Alex and I visited the MSPCA she'd stopped grooming the stuffed animal and was quite interested in all that was happening around her.  I was instantly drawn to her because in size and shape she resembled the wild rabbits I'd tried so many times to get close to.  The Bunny Room at the MSPCA had bonded bunnies that had to go home together, giant rabbits the size of Corgis, Lionheads, Angoras and everything in between.  Alex and I had decided on the way over that we wanted one rabbit; we'd never so much as held a rabbit before so one felt like plenty of new responsibility to take on.  We knew we wanted it to be on the small side (though not a dwarf because they tend to have a shorter life expectancy), and no pink eyes.  I'm embarrassed to admit that last criterion was all me.  Alex thought a white bun with pink eyes would be adorable, but those eyes looked a bit creepy to me. 

Each cage had some information about the rabbit, its name, approximate age, breed and depending on how it had come to the shelter, a bit about its personality.  Lady's tag said that she was friendly, liked other rabbits, enjoyed watching TV and was litter trained.  She sounded perfect, though looking at her cage I had my doubts about the last part; there were Cocoa Puff-like droppings scattered across its floor.  Years later I now  know that even a well trained rabbit will mark its territory if unfamiliar or enemy rabbits are around.  It's the rabbit version of a white picket fence...or maybe chain link.  It turned out that once Lady got settled in at our house and started to feel at home, she stopped tagging her pen with poo and used the litter box like the lady she is.  

She has now lived with us for a little over three years and has utterly rearranged our lives for the better.

Name: Lady (née Booboo)

Born: 2010

Sex: female, neutered

Breed: Rex 

Distinguishing marks: Breeder's tattoo in one ear