Rabbits, getting back to nature!
Many rabbit owners are not aware that natural care and holistic health treatments are available for their pets and can also be extremely effective in a variety of conditions. Many people also do not realise that complementary medicine can offer hope when conventional treatment has failed or is unable to offer any hope of a cure.
The following article is an overview of complementary medicines that are available for use in rabbits and that we are currently using in our practice on our rabbit patients.
The use of complementary medicines in rabbits has increased in recent years mainly due to:
- The popularity of complementary medicines for treating people and their cats, dogs and horses;
- There are very few conventional drugs that are licensed for use in rabbits due to the comparatively small UK rabbit population. The very high cost of licensing a drug makes the process cost prohibitive and un-worthwhile;
- Because rabbits do not seem to respond as well to conventional drug therapy as other animals do. For example, antibiotics are not so effective at clearing up bacterial infections. Rabbits also have what you might call a low tolerance to anaesthetics making them high-risk candidates for such procedures.
In our practice, we often use conventional medicine together with complementary medicine. However, we could not be without conventional medicine in certain situations. For example, a rabbit has been in an accident and has a broken leg. This would require a general anaesthetic, surgery and pain medication. But, as no one form of medicine can have all the answers, we feel that the best approach to medicine is the integrative approach. This is where we use both complementary and conventional medicines side-by-side to ensure the best possible healthcare is available for your rabbit. In the above example, once the fracture has been repaired, the rabbit would be given some homoeopathic remedies such as Arnica to aid wound healing and Symphytum to aid bone healing, acupuncture may also be given to help get your bunny back on its feet as soon as possible. We may also give the Rabbit Rescue Remedy – a flower remedy to help it cope with the stress of its ordeal.
For another example of how we would help a patient with complementary medicine, imagine this scenario – a rabbit has an infected abscess. If possible we would surgically remove the abscess and then give the rabbit a herb like Echinacea to help boost its immune system, we would also apply a Calendula cream to the wound to help it heal and we may also give some flower remedies.
There are so many more healing possibilities available to us when using integrative medicine, these very different types of medicine work so well together and the wonderful thing when using integrative medicine is that the natural aspect of it, i.e. the complementary medicines, offer a tailor-made and personalised treatment course specifically for your pet.
Acupuncture – Balancing the body’s energies
Acupuncture has been used on people for thousands of years in China. It is now being successfully used on pets to treat a wide range of conditions. Substantial amounts of research have confirmed that acupuncture works, and now acupuncture is accepted as a conventional treatment for animals in the USA.
The Chinese say that illness is a state of imbalance or blockage in the normal energy flows of the body and that acupuncture, acting on the channels of energy flow, restores them to normal.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine needles (or the use of an acupuncture laser) into specific points of the body to produce a physiologic response, which results in a healing effect.
Acupuncture is useful in treating back pain and paralysis, chronic diarrhoea, injuries involving ligaments, tendons and muscles, sinusitis, respiratory infections and eye infections. We have also used acupuncture to help boost rabbits’ immune systems.
Using the needles or laser would usually involve weekly treatments lasting about four weeks in total. In some cases, under a light anaesthetic, we insert gold beads at the acupuncture points to produce a more permanent treatment.
When performed correctly acupuncture can be a very safe and effective alternative treatment.
Aromatherapy – A concentration of nature’s healing powers
Aromatherapy means ‘treatment using aromas’. It refers to a specific branch of herbal medicine that uses concentrated plant oils called essential oils to improve physical and emotional health, and restore balance to the whole body. (Unlike herbal medicine, essential oils are not taken internally, but are inhaled or applied to the skin.)
Essential oils are natural volatile oils with identifiable chemical and medicinal properties. Over 150 essential oils have been extracted, each one having its own scent and unique healing properties. For optimum benefits, essential oils must be extracted from natural raw ingredients and remain as pure as possible.
Whether essential oils are applied to the skin or inhaled into the lungs they are absorbed into the blood stream and are carried to every part of the body. Within the body, the essential oils are able to operate in three ways:
From a pharmacological perspective, the chemical components of the oils react with the body chemistry in a way that is similar to drugs, but slower, more sympathetically and with less chance of side effects.
The oils also have physiological effects. The psychological response is triggered by the effect that the oil has on the brain. For example, Grapefruit essential oil is said to be an anti-depressant, camomile and peppermint aid digestion.
Although aromatherapy has been used for centuries treating human ailments we are only recently starting to use it for rabbits. We have found it to be very useful when inhaled with steam to treat respiratory infections. As an immune booster, we use it topically to treat skin problems like ringworm and all types of wounds on the skin. Rabbits, like people, are all individuals, and we suggest if you are going to use essential oils then you must first test your rabbit’s response. You must let the rabbit smell the chosen essential oil, because if the rabbit doesn’t like the oil you won’t get very far with the treatment. If the rabbit likes the essential oil then you can go ahead and use it in the correct way.
Herbal medicine – Nature’s drugs
Herbal medicine is probably the oldest system of natural medicine used by people. Nothing could be more natural than harnessing the healing powers of the herbs around us to cure our diseases and those of our pets. Rabbits in the wild have a natural instinct to seek out and eat plants that will help them when they are ill and injured. Unfortunately, most pet rabbits do not have access to the plants they would naturally feed on in the wild.
Today herbal medicine is still used by over 80% of the world’s population. Many modern drugs are actually isolated extracts of herbs or, more commonly, synthetic derivatives of these substances. For example, aspirin is obtained from the bark of the willow tree and digitalis is obtained from the foxglove plant. Isolated extracts and synthetic compounds are more likely to cause side effects and have less overall healing power than the herbs themselves.
Although herbal medicines take longer to work, they are safer and gentler on the body than conventional drugs. They can be used very effectively to treat your rabbit.
In rabbits, we have successfully used herbal medicines to treat a full range of conditions that can be treated with conventional drugs. We sometimes find herbal medicines more effective than antibiotics as they help to boost the rabbit’s own immune system and they do not kill off the helpful bacteria that rabbits have in their intestines.
Homoeopathy – Helping the body heal itself
Homoeopathy is a well-recognised and highly regarded system of natural medicine that is used worldwide. Homoeopathy is safe and works in such a gentle way it produces no side effects. It views the patient as a whole and treats the individual rather than the disease. It works on the theory that homoeopathy can stimulate the body’s natural defences by administering minute doses of a substance, which in larger doses may case the symptoms of an illness.
Homoeopathic remedies come from many sources – animal, vegetable and mineral. They are prepared in special ways, which involves making a solution from the original substance. This is then diluted many times with vigorous shaking at each stage to release the energy contained within the material used.
Homoeopathy is based on the principles of treating like with like. When we are ill, it is as if the body has fallen out of balance. The symptoms that the illness produces, such as an increased temperature or a bruise are indications that the body is using all its strength and vitality to fight the illness and get itself back to a normal healthy state.
When we take a homoeopathic medicine to help in treating an illness we are taking a substance that can produce symptoms similar to the illness i.e. it mimics the effects of the illness, and by doing so it adds to the fighting ability of the body to combat the illness.
Homoeopathy can be used to treat a surprising number of conditions that we see in our rabbit patients. It is a very safe means of treatment and is also inexpensive. We use homoeopathy frequently and like to combine it with our other forms of medicine.
Flower remedies – Emotional healers
Flower remedies were developed by Dr Edward Bach, a 1930s Harley Street Doctor. Disillusioned with some of the side effects of conventional medicine at that time, he went in search of a safer and more natural system of medicine. He was working on the theory that flowers have an enormous influence on the mind and can therefore affect our physical being too. He felt that physical illness and mental states were closely linked and that by stabilising and balancing mental or emotional problems, physical disease could be cured as a follow-on process.
Dr Bach developed a process of energising the healing potential of the energy within the flowers. He found that the action of sunlight on the petals of chosen plants that were floated on water would transfer the healing energy from the plant into the water. Dr Bach created 38 flower remedies each of which has a specific effect on mental, emotional or behavioural problems. If a physical illness seems to be linked with mental or emotional problems, the therapy will often relieve the symptoms of the physical disease as well.
We use flower remedies in our rabbit patients to treat emotional problems, we also use them as an aid to help our patients recover after chronic illnesses and also after surgery. From a behavioural point of view we use flower remedies to treat such things as aggressive bunnies, nervous and timid bunnies.
Nutraceutical – Nutritional aids
Nutraceuticals are nutritional supplements used in the treatment of disease. This is one of the fastest growth areas in human medicine. The most commonly used nutraceuticals used for rabbits are colloidal silver, pre & probiotics, vitamin and mineral supplements. Nutraceuticals offer another natural tool in the kit to help take care of your rabbit in the most natural and safe way.
I am extremely excited about the increasing use of natural medicines to treat rabbits and the concept of integrative medicine. As vets, we have a responsibility to make sure that our patients receive the very best in healthcare, using every possible medium available. This is what we are aiming for and hopefully providing our rabbit patients with. I know that there is quite a bit of stigma attached to some of the natural therapies, please do not disregard these remedies. They may be able to offer you another avenue of hope if your chosen one fails. I hope this article has given you some insight into what is available for your rabbit and that it may initiate further research, or even inspire you to go and seek out some integrative treatments. Whatever you take away with you from this article, I hope it will be of benefit to you and your rabbit friends.