Losing a Leg, Getting a Life
By Jeanine Callace
In early October, 2001, I received one of those nighttime phone calls that makes your stomach turn. It was the manager of a local shelter, calling me for the name of a vet who could treat an injured bunny. The bunny had been brought into the police department earlier that day, in a cardboard box, with an apparent fractured leg.
The shelter manager’s description of a tiny, white bunny with an obvious injury put a lump in my throat. I knew the shelter would not be able to afford surgery if it were needed. I already had two bunnies who lived separately, and no room for a third, but I needed to help this bunny.
I gave her my vet’s name and contact information, asked her to get the bunny there right away, and told her I’d pay all his medical expenses.The next day, the vet called to tell me that the bunny had suffered a “comminuted fracture of the distal tibia and fibula,” as well as a fractured ankle. He felt there was a chance of saving the bunny’s leg with the insertion of a rod, along with immobilization to help his ankle bones to fuse. I gave him the go-ahead.
Immediately after the surgery, I went to the vet’s office to meet the bunny. My heart just broke to see this three-pound little doll sporting a huge blue cast which dwarfed him even more. I named him Yoodie. I wanted Yoodie to be able to recover at home, instead of in a shelter, so I decided to put some of my furniture in storage to make room for him. And home we went.
Over the next few months, xrays brought bittersweet news. Yoodie’s tibia and fibula had healed nicely, but his ankle bones had not fused as we had hoped. Amputation was the only option at that point, so in February, Yoodie’s left hind leg was amputated at the proximal femur (the top of the thigh bone).
The morning of that surgery, I’m sure I grew a few grey hairs as I waited for the post-op phone call. But when it came, it was one of the best I’d ever received. Yoodie had sailed through the surgery, was awake, standing, and even hopping. I raced to the clinic to retrieve my brave boy, who was waiting and ready to begin his new life.
Yoodie’s recovery went beautifully. After a brief period of adjustment, he had no trouble hopping with three legs, and showed no signs of discomfort.
What a spirit he had! And, oh! could he binky! To this day, he regularly binkies up a storm, and can run faster than my four-legged boys. To help him maintain traction and balance, there is carpeting and fabric on the floor in his area so he won’t slip, and I give him a water bowl instead of a bottle to make it easier for him to drink.
Thanks to Yoodie, I learned about caring for a three-legged bunny. For example, on the side where his leg is missing, he has no way to scratch himself or to clean his ear. But Yoodie is a master at posturing to show me exactly where he has an itch, and I have become good enough at anticipating, that I can often scratch him even before he has to ask.
I give him large, stuffed animals to lean on, so he can wash his own face, as well as those hard-to-reach body parts. Periodically, we make a quick visit to his vet to have the wax cleaned from his ear on that side, which always makes him feel good.
A major concern for a tripod bunny is the health of the remaining hind foot. This foot is prone to friction and pressure sores, since it has to bear most of the body weight. Excess weight creates problems for all rabbits, but is particularly dangerous for a tripod bunny, since one hind foot has to do the job of two. To prevent problems, I cover the carpeting in his pen with cotton flannel sheets so he is always on a soft surface, and I am very careful with Yoodie’s diet, to make sure he stays toned and sleek. Its been three years now, and I’m happy to say that his weight is still the same as it was at the time of his amputation.
At one point, we discovered Yoodie was getting his foot wet in his litterbox. We noticed that the urine was pooling on the soft timothy hay in his litterbox, so we added a second kind of hay, with a more “wispy,” curly texture, on the other end of the box, which allows the urine to pass through more easily. His foot fur has been immaculate ever since.
Finally, to give his hard-working hind leg a good rest, I bought some pet beds for him, made of egg-crate foam, covered with fake sheepskin. He seems to love them, and spends much of his resting time on them.
Knowing Yoodie, and seeing the huge spirit in his little body, it is incomprehensible to me that anyone could have abandoned him, severely injured, in a cardboard box. We are determined to make up for Yoodie's early suffering, by giving him the happiest, healthiest life possible.
I am glad to say that he ranks as the most well-adjusted one in our household. What a privilege it is to shower him with love! I will always be grateful to the shelter manager who chose to call me that night in October, three wonderful years ago.
NOTE FROM GIL STANZIONE, Yoodie’s veterinarian: We see many rabbits with broken legs. As long as the fracture can be reduced, and the leg can be immobilized and/or set, these injuries will usually heal quite well, and most (or all) of the rabbit’s mobility will be restored. Occasionally a rabbit will present with a fracture so severe that reduction and immobilization are not enough. With these cases, veterinary clinics that are not experienced with rabbits will, unfortunately, often recommend euthanasia, because they do not realize that amputation can be an excellent option for rabbits. In my experience, rabbits can do just as well with only three legs as dogs and cats can, and, once they have established their new center of gravity, you would never know they are missing a leg.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If anyone would like further information about caring for a tripod bunny, please contact the author at 914-946-5636.
BACK TO INDEX (From 2004 NYC Metro Rabbit News)
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