American Society of Anesthesiologists. ASA Physical Status Classification System. 2014. (accessed 14th May, 2018)

Back to basics: Monitoring the anaesthetized patient. 2007. (accessed 26th Feb, 2018)

Propofol anaesthetic induction in rabbits (techniques). 2017. (accessed 9th December, 2017)

Eatwell K. Analgesia, sedation and anaesthesia. In: Meredith A, Lord B (eds). Gloucester: British Small Animal Veterinary Association; 2014

Flaherty D. Anaesthetic drugs, 2nd ed. In: Welsh L (ed). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd; 2009

Ishida T, Onuma M, Ono S, Murakami A, Sano T. Anaesthesia-associated death in 160 rabbits. Japanese journal of veterinary anaesthesia and surgery. 2014; 45:(1)7-12

Flecknell P. Anaesthesia and perioperative care, 2nd ed. In: Meredith A, Flecknell P (eds). Gloucester: British Small Animal Veterinary Association; 2006

Girling S. Small mammal handling and chemical restraint, 2nd ed. In: Girling S (ed). Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell; 2013

Girling S, Fraser M. First aid and emergency procedures. In: Girling S, Fraser M (eds). Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell; 2009

Huynh M, Boyeaux A, Pignon C. Assessment and care of the critically ill rabbit. Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract.. 2016; 19:(2)379-409

Is your practice rabbit friendly?. (accessed 26th February, 2018)

Meredith A, Crossley D. Rabbits, 4th ed. In: Meredith A, Redrobe S (eds). Gloucester: British Small Animal Veterinary Association; 2002

MillpledgeVeterinary. V-gel cats and rabbits. 2017. (Last accessed 10th December 2017)

Murrell J, Ford-Fennah V. Anaesthesia and analgesia, 5th ed. In: Cooper B, Mullineaux E, Turner L (eds). Gloucester: British Small Animal Veterinary Association; 2011

Parkinson L, Kuzma C, Wuenschmann A, Mans C. Esophageal smooth muscle hypertrophy causing regurgitation in a rabbit. J Vet Med.Sci.. 2017; 79:(11)1848-52

Richardson D. A comparison of the V-Gel® supraglottic airway device and non-cuffed endotracheal tube in the time to first capnograph trace during anaesthetic induction in rabbits. The Veterinary Nurse. 2015; 6:(7)426-32

Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation in rabbits. 2012. (accessed 9th December, 2017)

Sirian R, Wills J. Physiology of apnoea and the benefits of preoxygenation Continuing Education in Anaesthesia critical care and pain. 2009; 9:(4)105-8

Varga M Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, Second Edition. London: Butter-worth Heinemann Elsevier; 2014

Principles of rabbit anaesthesia for veterinary nurses

02 May 2018
11 mins read
Volume 9 · Issue 4


This article focuses on the techniques and principles of rabbit anaesthesia. In previous years, rabbit anaesthesia was a task which often struck fear within general veterinary practice due to the higher mortality rates seen in rabbits compared with cats and dogs. However, as rabbit medicine and surgery has advanced, so have the protocols for anaesthesia, and as the majority of general anaesthesia will be monitored by veterinary nurses in general practice, it is vital nurses understand the fundamentals and recognise the signs and symptoms of anaesthesia-related complications in the rabbit.

The following article looks at the basic principles of rabbit anaesthesia and how they can differ significantly from those of other species. Recognising and providing species-specific care is essential to ensuring patient safety and reducing the risk of a negative outcome. Before any animal is put under general anaesthetic it should be physically examined, and if necessary pre-anaesthetic tests carried out. This is becoming more common in rabbit medicine and as many rabbits may have underlying pathologies, such as subclinical Pasteurella multocida, it is imperative the rabbit has been examined and risk assessed before anaesthesia. The American Society of Anaesthesiologists (ASA) has a useful physical status scale which can be applied to any animal, categorising them into anaesthetic risk groups (Table 1).

Adapted from the American Society of Anesthesiologists, 2014

A study into the unexpected death of 160 rabbits undergoing general anaesthesia for ovariohysterectomy or castration revealed the incidence of anaesthetic-related deaths was 1.9% (Ishida et al, 2014). The study retrospectively looked at 160 rabbits all categorised according to the ASA scale and undergoing general anaesthesia. Two of the rabbits died within 1 hour of being administered a pre-medication and the other died 18 hours after surgery after suffering a cardiac arrest (Ishida et al, 2014). These rabbits were all categorised as risk level 3–4 as imaging and diagnostic testing revealed one was suffering from uterine disease, one had urinary calculus and the other had a gastrointestinal blockage; there was no information about the age of the animals. Although the sample number is small, this highlights the importance of assessing and evaluating the health status of the animal prior to anaesthesia and why anaesthetic protocols should be flexible to accommodate the patient.

Register now to continue reading

Thank you for visiting The Veterinary Nurse and reading some of our peer-reviewed content for veterinary professionals. To continue reading this article, please register today.