Bongy, a 5 month old rabbit who broke his back leg.

When Cameron bought a couple of young rabbits for his children, he expected them to be accident-free pets. Rabbits normally live sheltered, safe lives compared to other pets like dogs and cats.

He set the rabbits up with a standard hutch and an enclosed wire mesh run so that they can hop around the lawn. They’re allowed out occasionally to have more extensive exercise, but they can’t get out of the garden. Cameron knew that  the rabbits needed to be vaccinated to protect them against viral infections, but he didn’t think that he’d need to worry about the risk of either of them being involved in some sort of traumatic incident.

Nobody saw what happened to Bongy: there was no obvious accident. About a week after bringing the two rabbits back from the pet shop, Cameron noticed that Bongy was holding his back right leg at a strange angle. It was sticking out from his body in a peculiar way and he wasn’t putting any weight on it.

Cameron brought the young rabbit in to see me, and I could tell at once that he’d suffered a serious fracture to his lower limb. The tibia – the equivalent to the human shin bone – had snapped like a brittle wooden stick.  The affected limb was flopping around loosely at an unnatural angle.

The rabbit must have somehow trapped his leg in something, then twisted suddenly. Perhaps it had been snared in a hole in the wire mesh of his cage, or stuck in a crack at the side of the hutch. A young rabbit has a fine skeleton that can sometimes fracture surprisingly easily, and it wouldn’t have taken much sideways force to break the bone.

In all species, including humans, when a bone breaks, it’s up to nature to heal it. Doctors and vets  do whatever’s necessary to fix the limb in its normal position so that the broken ends of the bone are held in close proximity to each other. The body then produces new bone that joins the broken ends together.

The ideal answer for Bongy would have been to use metal implants, such as pins and plates, to secure the damaged bone in the optimal position until it had healed: this is what would have happened with a similar fracture in a human, dog or cat. However Bongy was a tiny patient, and there was a risk that his delicate, fragile bones would shatter as the implants were screwed into place. Additionally, the cost of the operation could exceed €1000, and there was no guarantee of success.

A choice was made to try a different approach: the broken leg was supported by a splint that was bandaged into place. This held the bones securely enough so that they’d heal, but the end result wasn’t likely to be ideal, because with the splint, it was impossible to get the bones held in their normal anatomical position.

After four weeks, Bongy’s leg had healed, but there was a complication: instead of the leg being straight, it’s healed at an angle. His shin bone is now bent.

Bongy now looks odd as he hops around the garden: his back right leg sticks out at an angle. But he doesn’t seem to mind: it’s stable, it’s not sore, and he can move around comfortably. A rabbit lives a simple life, and whether a leg is bent or straight really doesn’t matter too much. Bongy now hops around with as much enthusiasm and energy as his hutch mate.

Tips

  • Broken legs can happen in all species, from hamsters to humans
  • Repair always involves fixing the bones in a rigid position while they heal
  • The ideal answer for a broken leg isn’t always possible or affordable

16 Comments

  • Ketira says:

    What happen if my rabbit have been bite and its been one week now and its becoming worse his leg is swollen and cant walk properly its seems his legs have been broken but we are not sure. He’s not eating well. I dont want him to died but its seem it wont make it

    • petethevet says:

      You urgently need to have him seem by a vet, as he is likely to be in pain, with a serious risk of death. Please don’t delay.

  • Isabella says:

    I bought a bunny from a pet store yesterday and he isn’t using one of his back legs. However, he is really happy and it doesn’t seem to bother him at all. We noted that he has been stretching the leg and scratching himself with it. Do you think it would be broken?

    • petethevet says:

      It’s impossible to say without examining (and perhaps xraying) the rabbit, so it would be safest for you to have him checked by a vet, even if he seems happy.

  • Miriam says:

    hi, I have a dwarf bunny that is about maybe 8mths old. Yesterday it jumped out of the fence and broke both of its legs. I think a cat startled it and it was breathing uncontrollably. It took us a while to calm it down. We took it to the emergency 911 vet and they recommended surgery with is extremely high. They also recomenmed another option of using a pin to hold the bone in place which is also pricey. We brought it home with pain medication. Its been eating and drinking some water. But hardly is moving bc both of its back legs are dangling. Do you think there is hope of its legs healing without surgery. I really would not want to put it down.

    • petethevet says:

      Sorry for the delay in replying – I will message you privately and I hope you managed to find some good outcome here.

  • Bella says:

    Hi! Just out of curiosity, do bunnies need any type of special care after getting a splint removed?

    • petethevet says:

      Not normally. They do well with just hopping around as usual in most cases although I guess proper physiotherapy would be ideal!

  • Simon says:

    Hello Petethevet
    We’re Aussie’s living in India in COVID 19 Lockdown. In early March we got two bunnies for my daughter’s 7th birthday. They were somewhere around 12-16 weeks old when we bought them. This morning, 6 weeks later, one of them jumped out of my daughter’s arms and has broken her leg … I think the femur on his left leg.
    Because of lockdown, we can’t get to a vet, I doubt one is even open anyway.
    Do you think I can try at home what you did to Bongy’s tibia?
    Sorry, I know you have noted that you can’t give answers to veterinary questions, but I’m not at all sure what else to do.
    I’d appreciate any advice you can offer.
    Thank you

    • petethevet says:

      Hi Simon – if it is his femur, you won’t be able to splint it, but still, with just rest and time it may do OK
      I will email you privately to discuss in a it more detail. These are difficult times for us all.
      Pete

  • Kyann says:

    We have a six week old bunny who broke his leg last Thursday. Took him to the vet and the x-ray confirmed a broken femur. We have three options…
    1- Spend $1200 to have surgery
    2- euthanize
    3- hope the bunny isn’t in too much discomfort and hope it heals the best it can
    Our vet sent us home with pain meds and left the decision up to us…. any recommendations? The bunny is still eating, drinking, and likes to wander in his habitat, but won’t apply pressure to the broken leg and lays on the opposite side when resting.

    • petethevet says:

      I agree these are the three options and the choice is a tricky one – there is no easy right answer. I would say that nature healed broken legs long before humans got involved, so as long as she is rested, with pain meds, that option is not a terrible one in most cases

  • Lisa Paurus says:

    We rescued a baby cottontail bunny 2 weeks ago. When she was found she was laying on her side and extremely dehydrated. We have nursed her back to health and she is a happy, sweet lil girl. This morning she started limping. Her right rear foot is hanging and she isnt putting weight on it. Her hip seems fine. She is still eating, drinking and trying to groom. Her respiration rate is unchanged and she allows me to examine her. She doesnt show any signs of distress. Our vet isnt answering. She is no larger than a hamster. Can I treat her at home and should I splint it? please help

    • petethevet says:

      It depends where the fracture is: if below the knee it may be splinted, if above the knee, it can’t be. That’s why it’s important that you seek a vet to check her for you.
      I will message you privately.

  • Alok nikhil says:

    Hi
    My rabbit Tony, male 1.4 kg, broke his fibula (don’t know how) below the knee of left leg, in two parts. After checking XRay , vet recommended for amputation but with a warning that anesthesia may have repurcussions, Tony is 10 months old. I don’t know what to do. I see a change in behaviour, he stays at a place most of the time sitting, stopped hopping. The bandage is there on left leg but toes are very loose, as if he can’t feel anything but I have seen him trying to lift left leg (sometime works due to bandage). However no progress in last 9 days. Shall I continue the cotton gauge bandage or change it myself or taking him to vet?

    • petethevet says:

      I am sorry but these are not easy decisions, and “not knowing what to do” is very understandable, as there is no one easy answer. This is an unfortunate situation.
      1) Amputation involves risk of death in anaesthesia, but carries the hope of a fully healthy pain free mobile rabbit within a few days. This is why the vet recommends it.
      2) Bandaging and splinting only works in some specific cases and carries complications like bandaging pressure etc so is not always a good option at all. If done, it should be done by a vet or under a vet’s close supervision.
      3) Doing nothing – cage rest – is an option only for some cases – no risk of anaesthetic complications but risk of not healing, and therefore ongoing discomfort for weeks or even months.
      Bottom line: work closely with your vet. And the best of luck.

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