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Insights into pain assessment and management in rabbits
  1. Christoph Mans
  1. School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
  1. email: christoph.mans{at}wisc.edu

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Rabbits are a popular companion animal species in many countries around the world, and rabbit owners increasingly demand the same level of veterinary care for their animals that is provided to dogs and cats. This includes the use of appropriate pain management protocols.

In a study summarised on p 603 of this issue of Vet Record, Benato and colleagues provide new information regarding how veterinary surgeons, practicing primarily in the UK, currently assess and ameliorate pain in their rabbit patients.1

Rabbits are a prey species and tend to mask signs of pain. As such, it is generally accepted that it is more challenging for veterinary surgeons to assess pain in rabbits than in dogs and cats.2 However, most participants in Benato and colleagues’ study felt confident in recognising pain in rabbits, with changes in appetite, abnormal body posture or teeth grinding being reported as the most common signs used to identify pain in this species.1

While these changes in behavioural or physiological parameters are undoubtedly useful for assessing pain in many situations, they should be used with caution in rabbits following recovery from anaesthesia or after administration of opioid analgesics. These drugs can cause reduced activity, mentation changes and reduced food intake. Therefore, it may be challenging to differentiate if the changes observed are due to pain or are a side effect of the anaesthetic or analgesic drug(s) administered during the perioperative and postoperative periods.

A composite pain scale is, therefore, a more reliable method to recognise pain in rabbits, and a multidimensional composite pain scale has recently been validated in various rabbits breeds.3 This scale combines the grimace scale (previously validated in New Zealand white rabbits)4 with physiological parameters (eg, respiratory rate) and behavioural responses …

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