TECHNIQUE

Catching and Handling of Rabbits & Hares (Wildlife Casualty Management)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B. This information should be read in association with Wildlife Casualty Handling and Transport which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Lepus europaeus - Brown hare, Lepus timidus - Mountain hare, Oryctolagus cuniculus - European rabbit.

These species are within the family Leporidae.

  • Lagomorphs may kick out and scratch the handler with the claws of their hind feet; this risk is reduced if the hind legs are kept facing away from the handler.
  • There is a serious risk of back injury (even spinal fracture) to lagomorphs if they are handled incorrectly and allowed to struggle.
  • (B16.2.w2, B151, D25)

Catching:

  • Unless seriously injured or diseased, rabbits and hares may move very quickly and be difficult to catch.
  • May be caught with a large net with a long handle. (B151)
  • A small mesh net reduces the risk of entanglement;
    • Maximum 6.5cm mesh for adults, 4cm mesh for juveniles has been suggested. (D25)
  • It is sometimes possible to transfix rabbits with a strong torch at night to assist in capture. (D25)
  • Restrain the animal as soon as it is caught in the net to minimise struggling.

Restraint for Examination and Treatment:

  • Grasp the scruff of the neck and press the rabbit down on a flat, non-slippery surface initially (preferably until the animal relaxes).(B205)
  • Pick up with one hand over the ears and nape of the neck, holding the scruff or around shoulders, the other hand supporting the rump; bring the animal in so that it is supported against the handler's body.
    • It is vital to control and avoid struggling which may lead to spinal damage. (B151)
    • May bite and scratch and kick with hind feet armed with sharp claws. (D25)
  • Generally quieter for handling (including examination) and carrying when within a cotton bag such as a pillowcase.
    • Struggling inside the bag on capture is minimised if the rabbit is held (still within the bag) against the body of the handler.(B169.24.w24)
  • An alternative holding position is with one hand at the nape of the neck, the other supporting the abdomen, and with the feet pointing away from the handler to avoid scratching with the large claws.(B16.2.w2)
  • Never pick a rabbit or hare up by the ears.

(B123, B151, B169.24.w24, B205, D25)

Anaesthetic notes:

  • The use of inhalant anaesthetics for induction of general anaesthesia may be complicated by prolonged breath-holding.
    • Isoflurane is preferred to halothane if inhalation induction is required.
    • Give 100% oxygen for 2 to 3 minutes initially by face mask, then add a slowly increasing concentration of isoflurane.
    • If breath-holding occurs, remove the face mask until breathing resumes.
  • The use of injectable anaesthetics (see below) may be safer for induction of general anaesthesia.
  • Administration of oxygen during general anaesthesia is recommended even when injectable anaesthetic agents are used. (J15.20.w2)
  • There is a risk of laryngeal bleeding (haemorrhage) if excess force is used in intubation.
  • Three methods of intubation are suggested:
  • 1) Intubation may be carried out using an otoscope to allow visualisation of the larynx:
    • an introducer is passed into the trachea;
    • the otoscope is then withdrawn and the endotracheal tube passed over the introducer into the trachea;
    • the introducer is then withdrawn and the endotracheal tube tied in place.
  • 2) Intubation may be carried out blind:
    • Place the animal in sternal recumbency.
    • Grip the head and extend the neck, so that the forefeet almost leave the table.
    • Insert the endotracheal tube, listening for breath sounds and (if a clear plastic tube is used) looking for condensation on the tube.
    • The tip of the tube is close to the larynx is loud sounds of breathing may be heard and condensation is seen.
    • As the rabbit inhales the tube is advanced into the larynx.
    • Continuation of breathing sounds and condensation (also often a slight cough) are used as signs that the tube is correctly positioned; if these are absent the tube is withdrawn and the procedure is repeated.
    • (J15.20.w2)
  • 3) Intubation may be carried out using endoscopic guidance. (V.w26)
  • Fentanyl-fluanisole (Hypnorm, Janssen Animal Health) 0.3ml/kg bodyweight intramuscular plus diazepam (Valium, Roche) 2mg/kg intraperitoneal or intravenous. (J15.20.w2)
  • Fentanyl-fluanisone (Hypnorm, Janssen Animal Health) 0.3ml/kg bodyweight intramuscular plus midazolam 2mg/kg intraperitoneal or intravenous. (J15.20.w2)
  • Ketamine 15mg/kg plus medetomidine 0.25 mg/kg, intramuscular. (J15.20.w2)
  • Medetomidine 0.5mg/kg subcutaneous (for restraint with some analgesia). (J15.20.w2)
  • The effects of medetomidine are normally reversed by injection of the agent atipamezole, unless otherwise indicated. (V.w5, V.w6, V.w26)
  • Fentanyl/fluanisone (Hypnorm, Janssen Animal Health) in combination with either diazepam or midazolam appears to be the safest injectable anaesthetic regime. (J15.20.w2)
  • It is not necessary to starve lagomorphs before anaesthesia, although taking food away for a short time (e.g. one hour) helps ensure no food is in the mouth at the time of the anaesthetic and that the stomach is not over full. (B538.59.w59, B600.5.w5, B601.16.w16)
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Catch only if necessary.
  • Handling of wild animals should be minimised.
  • Consider design of accommodation and timing of treatments to minimise requirements for capture and handling.
  • Consider whether physical or chemical restraint is more appropriate.
  • Never pick a hare or rabbit up by the ears.(B123, B151)
  • Fentanyl/fluanisone (Hypnorm, Janssen Animal Health) in combination with either diazepam or midazolam appears to be the safest injectable anaesthetic regime.(J15.20.w2)
Notes
  • Gloves may or may not be required for handling lagomorphs, depending on the demeanour of the animal concerned. (B16.2.w2)
  • Lightweight gloves will provide protection against scratches.
  • Body weight must be fully supported at all times during restraint.
  • Lagomorphs rarely bite.(B123)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Lagomorphs may kick out and scratch the handler with the claws of their hind feet; this risk is reduced if the hind legs are kept facing away from the handler. (B16.2.w2)
  • Serious risk of back injury (even spinal fracture) to lagomorphs if handled incorrectly and allowed to struggle.
  • Risk of laryngeal bleeding (haemorrhage) if excess force is used in intubation.
  • Never pick a hare or rabbit up by the ears.(B123, B151)
  • The use of inhalant anaesthetics for induction of general anaesthesia may be complicated by prolonged breath-holding.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Net with appropriate sized mesh 6.5cm mesh for adults, 4cm mesh for juveniles.(D25)
  • Lightweight gloves, if required.
  • Pillowcase.
  • Appropriate drugs if chemical restraint is required.
  • Endotracheal tubes of appropriate sizes: 2.5mm for 1kg bodyweight, up to 4mm for 4-5kg bodyweight rabbit. (J15.20.w2)
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Wild lagomorphs are more difficult to handle than are domestic rabbits.
Cost/ Availability
  • Appropriate nets may be available from specialist suppliers, veterinary suppliers or some good pet stores; the cost of nets is variable.
  • Nets may also be hand-constructed from readily-available inexpensive materials.
  • Gloves and pillowcases are widely available and inexpensive.
  • Some drugs used for chemical restraint are expensive.
  • Drugs used for chemical restraint may only be available to veterinary surgeons or other licensed persons.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman
References B538.59.w59, B600.5.w5, B601.16.w16, J15.20.w2, B16.2.w2, B123, B151, B169.24.w24, B205, D25

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