Last month the RSPCA had a call from someone who wanted help to re-home his rabbits. He was a commercial photographer, whose business was in decline, and was running things down.
He had quite a few animals as well as two rabbits he wanted us to take in, and genuinely appeared to care about them as he had had them since birth. They arrived with some of their things and some written information about them plus contact phone numbers in case I had any questions. They genuinely seemed to care about the animals but, as I have learnt, this care can be very superficial. None had even seen a vet .... in 6 years. After talking to the photographer he said he actually he had a 3rd rabbit, but hadn't though it was worth mentioning as he considered him unhomeable and had thought putting him to sleep might be the only option.
Simon arrived damp, after having to be bathed to clean him him. He had urine scald all down his legs that were red and raw, a pea-sized lump in his armpit, and he was very thin, with no muscle tone in his back end at all. He used his right back leg as a tripod, holding the left up, but still hopped around enthusiastically despite extreme muscle wastage. I called one of the helpful contact numbers and spoke to one of the ladies who had looked after him. How long had the lump been there for? They didn't know but they were monitoring it. How long had he been limping? A few months maybe (they weren't sure). Had he been seen by a vet? No. When was the last time he saw a vet? He had never been to the vet.
I set up him up on soft, absorbent vet-bed in my office and treated his scalded legs with cream. He had quite a shopping list of things for the vet to do! Being in otherwise okay health he was neutered, the lump removed and several others (discovered during the operation) were biopsied. His spine was also x-rayed. This was all done in one go to avoid more than one anaesthetic.
The lumps turned out to be skin cells overgrown but nothing to worry about but he x-ray showed old damage to the discs in his lower back, an injury consistent with an impact or fall such as being dropped. Looking at the photos of him I wonder what had happened - photos of him sitting between puppys' paws etc. The pain he must have been in after the injury, and the adaption his body had to make, so he could cope, makes me wince.
With anti-inflammatory pain medication, and space to move around in, he started to move better and was even beginning to use his lame leg more and more. Needless to say, he was not incontinent, and didn't have diarrhoea, his stiff leg meant that when he urinated must have hit his leg each time. Interestingly he was dry from the minute he arrived with me so I can only assume that he was kept sat in dirty, wet housing.
UPDATE CHRISTMAS 2017
Simon is still a very happy boy and is moving around properly, so much so that he is now off his anti-inflammatory medication.
To think, he was nearly put to sleep by his owner.......
Two weeks later he went back for a check to make sure all was well but his teeth were still not being worn down properly and he had another sore spot. During the second dental he also had an x-ray. All his teeth were smoothed out and afterwards he tucked in to bowl after bowl of food.
The x-ray revealed a horror story. One rear molar had been compacted down through his jaw bone and was poking down into the flesh of his jaw. His upper roots were high in the eye sockets. Inside his mouth the skin was thick with scarring and the muscles of the jaw had stiffened into an awkward position from him compensating, trying to eat.
The vet and I decided we had to give him a chance, to see if he could now eat and keep his teeth worn down. For the first few days he just ate - It was wonderful to see him chomping the hard rabbit food and even some hay. After 5 days he slowed down. He stopped eating hay, he was leaving the hard food and favouring the greens. His eyes were getting worse too, as the roots nudged into the tear ducts under his eyes. A rabbit cannot sustain a life where they have dental surgery every 2 - 3 weeks. Nearly 6 years of damage cannot be undone. If he had seen a vet regularly he would have perhaps had one dental and then not needed anything else. All this pain, the muscles seizing as he found his own way to eat, causing the teeth to overgrow where they shouldn't, rubbing his cheeks, the roots, with nowhere to go, pushing down and down into his jaw - all this would have been avoided.
I saw how bony he was becoming. Yesterday I watched him try, and try, to pick up a piece of his favourite spring greens, using the side of his mouth to finally get a piece for a quick bite before it dropped again. I decided what the kindest thing to do was.
I made an early appointment at the vet. I held him in my arms as he slipped away, free from pain at last. I don't cry often, but I did for Pentax.