Guidelines for

Techniques with Rabbits



HANDLING & RESTRAINT: Rabbits are generally docile and easy to handle. However, there is still the possibility of getting scratched or bitten, so be careful. The most important thing to remember when handling a rabbit is to support its hind legs. Rabbits have very strong legs and very little bone mass. When they kick it is very easy for them to cause serious injury to their spine.

To remove a rabbit from its cage, grasp the loose skin around the neck and pull the rabbit to the front of the cage. Using your other hand, support the rabbit’s hind quarters and lift it out of the cage. After you have the rabbit out of the cage, tuck the rabbit into the cradle of your arm as one might carry a football. If at any time the rabbit begins to struggle, either place it down or hold it close to your body and re-establish your hold. If the rabbit is held properly, it will feel secure and will not struggle.

When restraining a rabbit on the tabletop, place one hand around the rump and rest your other hand across the shoulders. If more restraint is needed, a commercial restraint device may be used, such as a zippered canvas cat bag or restraint box.

When placing the rabbit back into the cage, the hind end should go in first. This will prevent the rabbit from trying to leap into the cage.



SEX DETERMINATION: The rabbit’s urogenital region is examined by lifting the rabbit by the scruff while supporting the hindquarters. To avoid being scratched, approach the genitals from behind the hocks. Apply gentle pressure against the external genitals.

Male: The penis will evert slightly, exposing the rounded urethal opening. The typical scrotal sack is not always obvious, especially in young males. Male rabbits also have open inguinal rings, which allow the testicles to retract into the abdomen.

Female: A slit like vulva will project while the caudal portions remain closely attached near the anus.



ORAL GAVAGE: It is recommended that a 6-8 French feeding tube be used to gavage a rabbit.

First, measure the tube from the tip of the nose to the last rib. This is how far you must insert the tube.

Restrain the rabbit, ideally in a box restraint. Lubricate the tube with sterile lubricant. Stabilize the rabbit’s head with one hand and with the other insert the tube laterally into the nasal cavity until the tube begins to pass. At this time straighten out the tube and continue to pass. In the event resistance is met, DO NOT FORCE as this can cause serious injury. The most common place to meet restriction is in the back of the throat; the tube should pass freely when the rabbit swallows.

Check for proper insertion by placing the end of the feeding tube in a bowl of water, if air bubbles are present you may be in the lungs. If you are still in doubt as to the correct positioning, you may inject a few milliliters of water and aspirate for the presence of greenish-brown stomach contents. If correct placement is achieved, inject solution.

Upon completion remove the tube by pinching the end of the tube and gently removing the tube. Pinching the end of the tube prevents contents in the tube from draining into the oral-pharyngeal region.

When the procedure is complete, observe the rabbit for signs of distress such as gasping or frothing at the mouth.



INJECTION TECHNIQUES (GENERAL OVERVIEW): Injection sites should be cleaned with a suitable disinfectant, typically isopropyl alcohol.

Sterile syringes and needles must be used for all injections. The one time use of disposable supplies insures aseptic techniques and sharp needles.

Always select the smallest gauge needle possible to limit tissue trauma and injection discomfort. A 20-30 gauge needle is recommended for use in a rabbit.

Before injecting, check for correct placement by pulling back on the plunger of the syringe to create a vacuum. This is known as aspiration.

SUBCUTANEOUS (SQ) INJECTION: The rabbit should be restrained in the normal manner. With your fingers, lift the skin to make a “tent”. Disinfect the injection site and insert needle into the subcutaneous tissue. Aspirate prior to making the injection. Proper placement should yield no aspirate. Inject.

Most common injection site is the loose skin around the neck and shoulder area.

INTRAMUSCULAR (IM) INJECTION: Restrain rabbit by either holding the rabbit against your body (like a football) and isolating the rear leg or have a second person restrain while you inject.

Disinfect injection site and insert needle into the caudal thigh muscle. You must first isolate the caudal thigh muscle to prevent injection into the ischiatic nerve. Injection into the nerve may cause discomfort and lameness. Aspirate and inject. If blood is aspirated, you must reposition the needle.

Another injection site is the lumbar muscles. To administer an IM injection here, outline the lumbar muscles with your thumb and second finger, using your index finger locate the vertebral column for orientation. Insert needle lateral to the midline, avoiding the spine.

INTRADERMAL (ID) INJECTIONS: Restrain the rabbit using either physical or chemical restraint. Shave or Nair the injection site and disinfect. Isolate the injection site by pinching or stretching skin. Insert the needle bevel up just under the surface of the skin and inject. A distinct bleb should form. The recommended needle size for an ID injection is 25 gauge.

INTRAPERITONEAL (IP) INJECTION: Restrain the rabbit by grasping the scruff with one hand and the hocks with the other. Rotate the rabbit’s body downward and extend the legs upward. Place the rabbits head and shoulders between your knees and hold firmly. This position allows the intestines to fall forward and away from the injection site.

Disinfect injection site and insert the needle cranially into the abdomen at a 30-45 degree angle caudal to the umbilicus and lateral to the midline. Aspirate: * greenish-brown aspirate indicates needle penetration into the intestines * yellow aspirate indicates needle penetration into the bladder

If any fluid is aspirated, your solution is contaminated and must be discarded and the procedure repeated with a new syringe and needle. If nothing is aspirated, inject.

Once the injection has been given, carefully reach between your legs and grasp the rabbit’s scruff. Then slowly return the rabbit to the upright position.

INTRAVENOUS (IV) INJECTION: The most common site for IV injections is the marginal ear veins. The cephalic, medial, and lateral saphenous, and lingual are more difficult to use, therefore less frequently used.

Because the rabbits ear veins are so fragile it is recommended that this procedure be done under anesthesia.

Locate a marginal ear vein and remove the hair. Gentle stroking and tapping of the ear may make the vein more visible. Disinfect injection site and insert needle into the vein at a slight angle. You will not be able to aspirate, instead inject slowly and watch for clearing of the lumen.

Incorrect positioning will result in a slight bulge in the ear. If this occurs, remove needle and repeat process proximal to previous site.

Upon completion remove needle and apply pressure to injection site.



BLOOD WITHDRAWAL TECHNIQUES (GENERAL OVERVIEW): Withdrawal sites should be cleaned with a suitable disinfectant.

Sterile syringes and needles must be used for all withdrawals. The one time use of disposable supplies insures aseptic techniques and sharp needles.

Always select the smallest gauge needle possible to limit tissue trauma and discomfort. A 22-25 gauge needle is recommended for use in a rabbit.

Check for correct placement by pulling back on the plunger of the syringe to create a vacuum. This is known as aspiration.

NOTE: Rabbits have very poor peripheral circulation as a result of a cool environment and heightened anxiety. In these cases, sedatives or warming methods can be used to dilate the vessels in the ear.

MARGINAL EAR VEINS: The marginal ear veins may be used to collect up to 5 milliliters of blood.

Locate a marginal ear vein and remove the hair. Gentle stroking and tapping of the ear may make the vein more visible. Small quantities of blood may be collected by disinfecting the site and inserting a small gauge needle into the ear vein and collecting from the hub of the needle directly into a microhematicrit tube. For larger quantities of blood a syringe may be used. When using a syringe it is very important not to apply too much negative pressure, as this will collapse the vein. Upon completion of either blood collection, ensure proper hemostasis.

CENTRAL EAR ARTERY: The central ear artery may be used to collect up to 50 milliliters of blood. Locate the central ear artery and remove the hair. Gentle stroking and tapping of the ear may make the artery more visible. It is recommended that a 1-2 inch needle with the hub broken off be used. Disinfect the site and insert needle. A rolled up piece of gauze placed on the underside of the ear will aid in holding. Once blood starts to flow place receptacle under the needle for blood collection. If the vessel collapses, gently stroke the ear until the vessel relaxes and blood begins to flow. A syringe may also be used. When using a syringe it is very important not to apply too much negative pressure, as this will collapse the artery. Upon completion of either blood collection technique, ensure proper hemostasis.

CARDIAC PUNCTURE: This method must be done on an anesthetized rabbit and is only recommended to be done as a terminal procedure. Repeat survival sampling for small volumes of blood causes increased morbidity and mortality and is not recommended.

It is recommended that a 20 gauge needle at least 1 ½ inches long be used.

Find the xiphoid process as a reference point. Insert the needle at a 35-40 degree angle just under and to the left of the xiphoid process. As the needle is inserted into the chest, gently aspirate until blood begins to flow.

Overzealous withdrawal may collapse the heart. If you do not get blood flow on the first try, withdraw the needle until blood flows or repeat entire process. Probing for the heart is not recommended, this could cause damage to major vessels and premature death.

Upon completion of this procedure the animal should be euthanized and disposed of properly.