A few weeks ago, I uploaded a photo of Nibbles in a cone. Today, I will share the story.
One day my little sister came running into my room with Nibbles in her arms and she was crying her eyes out. I really couldn’t catch the whole story as she seemed rather flustered. It looked like Summer and Nibs had a fight. I was surprised but not completely taken unawares as it was not the first time they had fought.
When I had first bought these two bunnies, they were sold as girls and only when I got home did I realise they were both boys. I also noticed they both had a scar each on their back which meant that they had been in a fight before. Once they were old enough, I had them neutered and all seemed well as they seemed to love each other’s company. Then one night, disaster struck. I came home from work to find their cage in a mess; Nibs ear was bleeding and both rabbits ignoring each other. There was ripped fur everywhere. Nibs recovered but there is a little hairless scar by the base of his right ear. I went online and bought another cage for Nibs, there was no way I could let them live together.
This set up went on fine, they took turns coming out for play and after a few months I started letting them out together. My local vet had suggested this to me and at first they only had 5 minutes together. This had slowly increased and they were allowed 15 minute sessions. For roughly two months they were fine.
This brings us back to the day my sister was watching them. They were licking each other’s face and as usual, Summer demanded more attention and literally shoved his face into Nibs. Nibs obliged and after a while decided to hump summer’s face instead. Somehow all their problems originate from humping which is really a dominance thing. Summer must have bit Nibs in the inner thigh and at the same time my sister screamed which led to a freak incident. Frightened, they both jumped back which led Summer to pull Nibbles skin out, separating a whole inch and a half patch of skin from flesh.
We took him to the vets and because the skin was still attached on one side, they were able to use stitches to reattach the skin. Nibs had an overnight stay and had to be re-stitched the next day as he lived up to his name and nibbled all the stitches out. This in turn led to him wearing a cone. He was on an antibiotic (Baytril) and an anti-inflammatory (Metacam) for ten days. Baytril is ridiculously hard to feed to rabbits and I will write about that another time.
Rabbits on cones are slightly different to other animals on cones, such as dogs and cats, if you ever find your rabbit needing a cone, read this section for tips and warnings when using a cone.
You may have heard of rabbits eating their soft waste product, known as cecal droppings. Unless your rabbit is feeling under the weather, you will hardly ever see these soft grapelike droppings as they tend to be eaten up. Wearing a cone can be messy as your rabbit may not be able to reach his cecal droppings. These droppings are essential for his gut as they maintain the levels of good bacteria needed to digest all the fibre in the diet. Without the bacteria, a rabbit can become pretty ill and this is even more crucial after an operation. Cecal dropping = pretty important stuff.
So you’re going to have to spoon feed your rabbit droppings. This requires some anticipation and patience. I find that if you leave your rabbit with his droppings unattended for a while, you will find his droppings smeared all over the cone and other surfaces. As I’ve only had Nibs in a cone, I am speaking from experience only. Nibbles could not reach his bum to eat his droppings. Instead he excreted them on the floor and because he instinctively needed these droppings, he would try to reach them. With a cone on, that did not work so well and a mess quickly ensued. My rabbit only had cecal droppings in the early morning so for me it was a matter of being up and getting to those droppings before him. Using a plastic spoon, I scooped up the droppings and fed them to him. He ate them readily.
I found out that Nibbles will not take any cecal dropping that was too old (over 2 hours old); perhaps the bacteria were no longer alive? I do not know how a rabbit decides when to have and when not to have his droppings! If you can enlighten me on the topic, that would be great!
Droppings are smellier when smeared and gross to clean off so it is in your best interest to get there first.
While we are on the topic of eating, your rabbit may also have trouble eating his pellets out of a bowl so you can try hand feeding him. My rabbit was not as hungry as usual so hand feeding was not a good option. I used a shallower, smaller bowl and tilted it at an angle to make it easier for Nibbles to get to.
The other thing about cones is safety. We’ve covered health but ensuring they have a safe environment is also important. When a rabbit wears a cone, they are slightly confused; it is not very comfortable for their ears, particularly if they have long ears. The confusion is caused by them not being able to move their ears to focus on sounds, the cone obscuring some of their vision (remember rabbits also have a blind spot right in front so with a cone on, not much left to see) and the feeling of having something around their neck. Nibs was a bit frightened of the cone but he slowly became used to having it on. He still tried to remove it at every possible moment. As they have trouble judging distances, I would suggest removing all obstacles and toys from their living area, leaving only the essentials like a litter tray and water bottle. I suggest that you use a bottle rather than a bowl as they will have trouble accessing a bowl for water.
I also noticed something that was really quite hazardous. If you own one of those hay racks that hang inside the cage and is made of metal wire (the ones you can fold flat?) then you have to be really careful. On the photo above, you can see I have one on the left side. You will find that if your rabbit was given a cone, there will be a fabric string attached that you can tie around the neck to secure the cone. I usually use an external rack to save space but due to the cone being slightly restricting, I used the metal wire internal rack. To my horror the fabric string had gotten caught on the wire rack and Nibbles was making wild movements to free his self from the rack. I was extremely lucky to be in the room at the same time and was able to free him. Needless to say I took the rack out. You will be better off making a mountain of hay in the litter tray or some corner of your pet’s home.
Next area of interest would be the cone itself. All rabbits are different and this could be a problem that you might not encounter. Nib’s head was small, being a Dutch and he also had a great dislike of the cone. When he was bored, he would bite at the string or the plastic and we had to replace the string four times over 10 days. Due to having little neck, he was able to tuck his head in and slip his bottom jaw under the cone. With a bit of manoeuvring, he would then be able to fit his whole mouth and nose under the cone and push it up. He was unable to do the same for the string though so you can imagine what it might have looked like to have the cone half on and the string still around his neck. I believe that was a rather uncomfortable state and the bits of plastic on the cone that was chewed would scratch and bite into his skin. There was no real solution to this problem apart from checking on Nibs often.
Lastly, I will leave you with some advice. If your rabbit is an outdoor rabbit, bring them into your house as you would be able to easily watch them. For the first 24 hours, my family and I set up an hourly watch (yes, even through-out the night!) to monitor his progress and to better understand when his cecal droppings were excreted. After that, he was either in my room or my sisters as we took turns looking after him. I checked on him every 2 hours and it was necessary as his cone kept coming off partially and I really did not want him to pick at his stitches. Not only is it easier to watch over a recovering pet indoors but the constant room temperature might aid in your pet’s recovery. That’s all I have to say at the moment on the usage of cones on rabbits. Oh, and that Nibbles recovered beautifully, with no scarring, thanks to the work of those at Animal House Vets in Herne Bay.