Let me start this blog by pointing out that I am not a veterinarian, nor am I a rabbit expert. However, I am a grieving bunny mom who desperately wants to prevent any other family from going through what we are going through. I want to warn everyone I know about rabbit pneumonia and the dangers of cedar bedding.
We Lost Dax To Sudden Onset Pneumonia On Friday Morning
Dax, our baby Flemish giant, started acting off earlier in the week last week. He was lethargic and just wanting to lay in his bunny bed. I thought that maybe he was just being a lazy bunny, or maybe he just absolutely loved the new bed we got for him.
But, then he started making these weird noises, and I noticed his breathing was very rapid and labored (roughly 100 breaths per minute). We went to VCA Milwaukee Emergency Pet Hospital in the middle of the night because they were the only place open 24/7 that would see rabbits, because my momma radar was going off.
Momma Radar, also known as a gut feeling, is always right. Always follow it.
Our little guy came in dehydrated and with a 106.2 fever. Normal bunny temperatures are 101-103, so his was incredibly high and he was definitely behaving ill. The problem with rabbits, since they are prey animals, is that they do not show that they are sick right away and often times it is too late. We were able to take him home that night after a couple of hours, his temperature went down and he perked up a bit after some IV fluids and under-the-skin fluid injections to cool him down.
The rest of that day and the next, Dax seemed like he was getting better. He would give us all sorts of kisses, he’d eat and drink a little bit, he snuggled with us. The vet had sent us home with this complex food to feed him (essentially ground up timothy hay with bananas and apples), and we took turns spoon feeding him.
Noah did it most of the day, and Randy took over at night. As you can see, the girls hardly left his side.
Bunnies Go Downhill Fast When They’re Sick
But then at 2:30 in the morning, he made this sneeze/cough type sound that woke me up out of a dead sleep. My momma radar immediately went off again, I woke Randy up and rushed him back to VCA. He snuggled with me in my arms almost the entire 45 minute drive, but about 10 minutes before we got there he crawled up my chest and nuzzled my nose for a solid couple of minutes. He wouldn’t give me kisses, he just sat there breathing on me and gentling nuzzling noses together. But then, he hopped off of me quite suddenly and hid under Randy’s seat the rest of the drive. I realize now that it was his way of telling me he loved me as much as I loved him, and that it was goodbye. He knew.
The vet warned us that his temperature was sky high again (105 or so), and that with his behavior that there was a very good chance that he was going to pass away. We decided to hospitalize him, get some x-rays, get some IV antibiotics and fluids in him, and just pray-pray-pray. Ten minutes before we got home, the vet called to let us know that Dax had just passed away while they were prepping to do the x-rays
They did the x-rays postmortem to see if they could see what was going on, and my sweet boy died from sudden onset pneumonia; his lungs quite literally ran out of space for air.
Rabbit Pneumonia and the Dangers of Cedar Bedding
Since we lost Dax, I’ve been doing a ton of research about what in the world would cause a beautiful and perfectly healthy baby bunny to die in such a horrific way. We have two bunny girls that I desperately want to keep healthy, and so it is important to me to know why this happened, so I can do everything in my power to prevent it from happening again. And obviously I want to share this knowledge with my readers, too.
I spoke with the emergency vet, and specifically asked what could have caused our sweet boy to develop pneumonia. She said that inflammation of the lungs or a respiratory illness would lead to pneumonia. What causes those two issues?Aromatic softwood bedding, like cedar or pine.
We bought cedar bedding for our rabbits, not knowing the danger we were putting our rabbits in. According to MyBunny.Org:
Phenols—the stuff that makes pine and cedar smell good— are the reason that the softwood shavings are dangerous. Phenols are caustic (n. A substance that corrodes and destroys animal tissue), poisonous, acidic compounds; the very things which are routinely diluted and used in over-the-counter disinfectants. And since phenols are caustic, their direct connection to respiratory ailments (pneumonia, etc.).
If you google “rabbit pneumonia” and “cedar bedding” you will find TONS of articles about how dangerous this stuff is for rabbits. Our sweet boy died because we were duped by packaging that had a rabbit on the cover. We assumed that it was safe, and we were absolutely, horrifically, devastatingly wrong.
Please, please, please don’t make the same mistake that we did.
The Safest Bedding For Rabbits
Our bunnies now have aspen shavings for their litter box. Bunnies will often eat their bedding too, so it needs to not be toxic. Hay and straw are also good options. I’ve read that some people use cardboard, but, I personally won’t use that for my bunnies since it’s not exactly natural.
I miss Dax so much it physically hurts. Every fiber of my being aches for his sweet kisses and soft fur and companionship. He loved to be held, he loved to be loved on, he loved just laying with Noah and he loved us as much as we loved him.
Also, FYI: I plan to call the company that sold the cedar bedding. I will file a formal complaint about the packaging featuring rabbits. It’s absolutely deceptive and false advertising, and I will fight this fight in Dax’s memory.