Rabbit Spinal Injury

Pete Wedderburn
9th June 2020 - 3 min read

Signs of Spinal Injury

  • Loss of power in back legs
  • Dragging hind leg behind
  • One leg becomes weak
  • Lying with both hind legs stretched out behind them. When tried to move, they may drag their legs lifelessly behind them
  • No sensation in hind legs
two rabbits in hay and straw

Rabbit Spinal Problems

Rabbits are particularly prone to spinal problems.  A rabbit’s body has more muscle and less bone than most other species. A rabbit’s entire skeleton comprises only 8% of its total body weight. In comparison, a domestic cat’s skeleton makes up 13% of its body weight. This extra muscle means that rabbits are very strong for their body size, and they are extremely fast runners. But the extra muscle can place very high stresses on the skeleton.

The rabbit’s fragile lumbar spine (lower back) is surrounded by powerful muscles and is particularly susceptible to fracture. Most worryingly, spinal fractures can happen spontaneously. A rabbit can break its own back by simply kicking out violently with his hind legs.

How To Pick Up A Rabbit

Back injuries most often occur when rabbits are dropped, or when they thrash out in excitement when they are picked up. Rabbit owners need to be very careful when handling their pets. A panicked, struggling rabbit should never be forcefully restrained. Instead, such a rabbit should be immediately released and re-approached when it has calmed down. The best way to pick up a rabbit is to hold it tightly with one hand over the rear, and one hand over the chest. This minimises the possibility of the animal leaping excitedly out of the arms.

little girl holding rabbit

Spinal Injuries

Even when owners are very careful, spinal injuries can just happen by themselves, for no known reason. This was the case with Peppy. The precise cause of his spinal problem remains a mystery. It is possible to carry out detailed investigations, including x-rays, dye studies, and even MRI scans, but the cost of these procedures is very high. The general treatment of spinal injuries remains the same, regardless of the exact cause of the problem, and so very few owners choose to go along the road of major, expensive investigations.

It’s now possible to have pet rabbits insured, like dogs and cats. When this is done, all medical costs are covered by the insurance company, and so highly intensive, detailed work-ups are more likely to be carried out, including spinal surgery in some cases.

Spinal Injury Medical Treatment

Peppy responded very well to his medical treatment, but some rabbits with spinal injuries have permanently paralysed hind limbs. Owners usually request euthanasia, because of the difficulties associated with long term care, but it is possible to fit paralysed rabbits with wheels, like miniature rabbit-sized wheelchairs.  It may sound bizarre, but many paralysed rabbits have gone on to have long, apparently contented lives with wheels instead of hind legs.


  • Rabbits are prone to spontaneous spinal injuries
  • Owners need to be careful when handling rabbits to avoid damaging the back
  • Veterinary advice is always needed if a rabbit loses the use of the back legs