The "Bunny Heimlich" for Choking Rabbits
The Heimlich is described here by bunny expert Dana Krempels, Ph.D, director of undergraduate studies at the University of Miami department of biology: “A choking rabbit is a terrifying emergency and you must act quickly if the airway is completely blocked.
If the airway is not completely blocked, and the rabbit is coughing, it may be best to let the bunny cough up the offending particle.
“If the bunny is extremely distressed, you can help him cough up the particle with a modified Heimlich maneuver: While carefully supporting the back and neck, hold bunny so his nose is pointed towards the ground, and firmly (but gently) press upwards against
the diaphragm. This can help expel air from the lungs and dislodge anything stuck in the trachea.
“In extreme cases, when it’s life or death, I have stabilized a bunny very firmly between my forearms so that the back and neck are absolutely immobile, and then “swung” the bunny from a horizontal position to one where the bunny’s nose is pointing downward. The shifting weight of the internal organs that results from this rapid motion pushes hard against the diaphragm and can force air out of the lungs to dislodge a particle. There’s a risk of losing your grip and dropping the bunny but, if there is no other choice, it could save his life.”
Why Should We Learn This? Here is Sarah’s story. She is a member of national HRS: “I had a horrifying incident with my current foster bunny, Judd, last night. I gave him his pellets, left the room for just a second and, when I came back, I knew something was wrong. Judd was freaked out and agitated. Then, I noticed his mouth kept moving, almost like a fish out of water. It was then that I realized he was choking.
“I picked him up to see if I could tell if he was breathing at all – nothing. His eyes were bulging out and he was starting to go limp. I had remembered reading something about a bunny Heimlich maneuver (I also remembered that it could be risky), but the situation was desperate at that point. I supported Judd as much as possible and swung him towards the floor.
“Well, thank God, it did the trick. He started coughing and a gooey piece of pellet came up. To my horror, he then started screaming. He was breathing by that point, so I just tried to pet him soothingly and calm him down, which he did. Five minutes later, he was munching hay and doing binkies.”
Tips for manic eaters: Scatter pellets on the cage floor so the bun has to work to find them. When you give a papaya tablet, vegetables and treats, cut them in pieces and feed a piece at a time.