A heart attack, or cardiovascular disease, may present itself most commonly in rabbits through physical changes or changes in breathing. Symptoms of a heart attack in a rabbit can mimic other conditions. If cardiovascular problems are suspected your pet can be taken in for tests at your veterinarian’s office.
What are the Signs of a Heart Attack in a Rabbit? There are Many Possible Heart Attack Symptoms that can be Present in a Rabbit. The Most Common are Physical or Related to Breathing. Your Rabbit May Begin Losing Weight or Show Signs of Incoordination as a Result of Cardiovascular Issues or an Oncoming Heart Attack. If Your Rabbit Seems Like It May be Struggling to Breathe, This May Also be a Sign of a Heart Attack About to Happen. These Signs Can Mimic Other Ailments Also. If Any of These Concerning Behaviors Are Happening, it is Recommended to Take Your Pet to the Veterinarian.
Life expectancy is up to 10-12 years in recent years for smaller breeds. With this extended life expectancy, heart disease is a serious health concern. This issue is mostly present in older rabbits, usually four years old and up. In the early stages of heart disease, there will likely be no symptoms present. As it progresses some, an increased respiratory rate is usually noticeable. As the disease progresses even further, occasional fainting, complete loss of appetite, and labored breathing are signs to watch for. These signs are usually seen when the rabbit’s heart is no longer able to keep up with circulating the blood in the body. As a result, fluid may back up in the lungs or abdomen. This can result in a heart attack, or even congestive heart failure.
Detecting symptoms like heart murmurs and irregularities is more difficult in rabbits than it is in some other animals. This is why more vague symptoms must be watched for. If your rabbit is breathing in long, hard breaths, and their tongue is tinted blue, this is a sign they are not getting enough oxygen. Sitting with head tilted slightly upward may also be a sign of breathing problems associated with heart attack. If your rabbit displays any of these signs of breathing issues, they may be having a heart attack, and medical attention should be sought immediately.
You should also keep an eye out for your rabbit’s eating patterns. If they have stopped eating completely, you should keep an eye on their bowel movement patterns. Not only is a lack of appetite a possible symptom of cardiovascular issues related to heart attack, but not eating may lead to gastrointestinal stasis, which is also fatal to a rabbit. If your rabbit is not eating or passing bowel movements, a trip to your veterinarian’s office is warranted.
Recognizing when symptoms of a heart attack occur can prove difficult in a rabbit, since the more obvious signs are vague, and mimic other ailments. Also, rabbits are programmed to conceal and hide any ailments or illnesses they may have since they are a prey animal, so detecting signs proves even more difficult. As an animal at the bottom of the food chain, showing obvious signs of vulnerability could make the rabbit an obvious target. While this is a helpful characteristic to have in the wild, as a domestic rabbit this may prove fatal since owners have such difficulty distinguishing if their pet needs medical attention.
What are the Possible Treatments for a Heart Attack or Cardiovascular Issue in my Rabbit? If You Notice Any of the Signs We Mentioned Previously, You Should Take Your Pet in to See Your Veterinarian Immediately. Your Veterinarian Will Conduct A Series of Scans or Tests to Check Your Pet for Abnormalities Which Cannot be Seen to the Human Eye. If Cardiovascular Issues are Detected, Lifestyle Changes Are Recommended for the Rabbit, as Well as the Possibility of Medication. The Cardiovascular Problems Cannot be Cured, However Medical Advice and Procedure Can Help Your Pet If You Take Them in Soon Enough.
If you notice any of the signs of a heart attack or cardiovascular abnormalities in your pet, your vet is able to perform a variety of diagnostic measures. Radiographs, ultrasounds, ECGs, and blood chemistries are all procedures your veterinarian can conduct to check the health of your pet. If the tests find an abnormality, you can begin to move forward to treat them.
Ways to treat abnormalities in a rabbit which may cause a heart attack or further cardiovascular complications include lifestyle management practices, or medicinal help. There are medicines available which can improve the cardiac contractility, reduce edema, and reduce the cardiac workload. Along with these are injections of isotonic saline which help if vascular mineralization or hypercalcemia is detected.
Lifestyle changes include dietary changes as well as environmental changes. Heart disease can partly be a product of poor nutrition, so ensuring your rabbit has plenty of grass hay, greens, and some pellets is essential. Limiting the number of treats your pet is consuming will be important as well. Stress must be reduced to a minimum in the living environment to ensure a heart attack does not happen.
What Causes a Heart Attack or Cardiovascular Disease in a Rabbit?
There are Various Factors That May Contribute to A Rabbit Being on the Verge of Heart Attack or Developing Cardiovascular Disease. A Large Reason is Stress. If a Rabbit Lives in an Environment Where they are Frequently Stressed or Anxious, They Will be More Likely to Suffer from Cardiovascular Problems. Also, Rabbits Who Eat Diets Rich in Fat, and Exercise too Little Are at an Increased Risk of Heart Attack and Cardiovascular Disease as Well. Active Rabbits are not Exempt from Heart Disease Though, as Rabbits Who Have Had Too Much Exercise Have Been Shown to Suffer from the Disease.
A diet which is too rich in fat may include too many treats, a pellet with other ingredients rather than just a uniform pellet based from hay, or consumption of a heavy hay in adulthood such as Alfalfa hay as the main hay source. In order to maintain a healthy digestive system, rabbits must have a steady flow of grass hay, as it has the necessary balance of nutrients an adult rabbit needs to be healthy. Along with grass hay, a rabbit should regularly be eating leafy greens such as lettuce and the leafy tops of carrots. Fruits, sweet vegetables, and bunny treats are not suitable to be feeding a rabbit in excess.
In addition to a healthy diet, a rabbit needs sufficient room to exercise and run around so they will not be at-risk for a weight related heart attack. If a rabbit spends too much time in their cage, they are not getting enough exercise. Your pet should be let out of their enclosure regularly, with plenty of space to run, jump, and dash off their energy. Although regular exercise is important, too much exercise may be as damaging as not enough exercise. Rabbits who are overly active, or who have been known for jumping in shows have also been known to have heart attacks or heart disease. The abundance of exercise is too hard on their heart, where not having enough exercise is not using their heart enough. Finding a healthy balance is recommended.
Having an environment in which your rabbit frequently feels stressed out and overwhelmed will create a higher chance of heart attack and heart disease as well. If there are frequently loud noises in your home, this will scare your rabbit as they are timid and fearful of loud noises. If you have pets which can get to your rabbit’s cage pretty easily, the fear of a predator may cause anxiety within your rabbit, even if you know they cannot get inside the cage. The more stressed out your rabbit gets, the more they will have the response of a rapid heartbeat, and if this response happens too often their body will not be able to handle it.
Heart problems can also be caused by infections. Viruses such as the coronavirus, toxin-producing bacteria, or protozoa are linked with heart disease in several rabbits. These infections can cause myopathy, cardiomyopathy, and endocarditis. The infections are responsible for causing damage to the heart muscle, which is why the infections make the heart more vulnerable to disease or an attack.
What Does the Anatomy of a Rabbit’s Heart Look Like?
The Size of a Rabbit’s Heart is Fairly Small in Relation to Its Body. It is Also Relatively Small Compared to Other Animals’ Hearts (In Comparison with their Body). It is Located High in the Chest of the Rabbit, Between the Lungs and the Sternum. The Internal Structure of the Rabbit’s Heart is Composed of Four Layers. The Rabbit’s Heart Also Has Quite a Few Characteristics Which Differentiate It from Other Animals. For Example, the Pulmonary Artery, Coronary Arteries, and Aortic Nerve Each Have Unique Qualities.
The rabbit’s heart high in the sternum is protected by what is called the pericardium. The pericardium is a double-walled sac which consists of a deep layer known as the visceral pericardium. There is also a superficial layer known as the parietal pericardium. Between these layers there lies a pericardial cavity which is filled with fluid. This fluid is what protects the rabbit’s heart against shocks. The membrane of the pericardium is attached to the diaphragm, which is responsible for keeping the heart and major blood vessels in position within the thorax.
The rabbit’s heart contains four chambers:
- Two auricles- There is a right and a left. These are chambers with fine walls which are localized in the cranial part of the heart.
- Two ventricles- These have a thick, muscular
wall. They also form the muscular caudal portion of the rabbit’s heart.
Separated by the interventricular septum, their walls have muscular ridges.
- Ventricles pump blood out of the auricle and into the bloodstream through the two aortic arches.
- Auricles and ventricles are separated by the inter-auricular, interventricular septa, and by valves, which remain held in place by tendons.
- On the right side the tricuspid valve has three leaflets in the majority of animals, where in rabbits there are only two leaflets.
- When the right ventricle is not working normally, the blood pressure increases, which results in fluid accumulation in the abdomen and lower limbs.
- On the left side, the bicuspid valve or mitral valve is formed by two leaflets
- When the left ventricle can no longer pump blood from the auricle, blood will accumulate in the lungs.
- This causes fatigue, respiratory distress, and oxygen uptake.
Physiological characteristics that differ between rabbits’ hearts and other animals:
- Pulmonary artery and the branches of it are very muscular
- The coronary arteries are reduced in number. When compressed, myocardial ischemia develops due to poor circulation.
- The aortic nerve has no chemoreceptors, it only has pressure-sensitive receptors. This means sensory nerves are not activated by chemical molecules but blood pressure instead.
The heartbeat has two major steps in a rabbit. The contraction phase which is known as systole, and the relaxation phase, which is known as diastole. The rhythm of the heart is initiated in a group of highly specialized muscle cells which are located in the wall of the right auricle. This generated electric pulse transmits to the auricles, as well as the ventricles, through the atrioventricular bundle and Purkinje fibers. As a result of this, they contract.
While conditions such as heart disease and heart attacks can have measures taken to treat them, or prevent them, there is nothing that can be done to cure cardiovascular disease. To ensure your pet rabbit does not have to face heart attack or disease, providing a proper diet, exercise routine, and environment are vital. If these issues are already present in your pet’s life, medications and adjustments to the lifestyle of your pet can prolong their life. Being aware of the signs that can be seen to the human eye are so important to saving your pet as well.