This is going to be a bit long, because I am going to share the hardest illness of Tigger’s life to deal with which actually wasn’t the very end. At the very end, it was a gradual slowing down, stiffening up, eyesight fading away, hunger coming and going over a period of months until it was quite clear the end had arrived.
The vet started talking about Tigger as an elder bunny after turning eight years old. At that point there really wasn’t much other than a slight slowing down and gassy tummy issues occurring more often to show that she was getting up in years. Most of the time, Tigger was Tigger, sassy and getting into everything and hassling Shadow if he wasn’t paying her enough of what she deemed the right attention.
When she was nine and a half years old, we had a crisis hit the neighborhood, literally when a bolt of lightning zapped all the way down into the ground. I heard the thunder, saw the bolt of white light, felt the ground shake and everything in the house went off, all at the same time. Frazzled doesn’t cover the feeling, everything needed checking on all at once … First I made sure the house hadn’t been hit and the bunnies were all right. Then began the rounds of everything else. Electricity was off for several hours, when it came back on, I began to realize that we had problems with a lot of systems and equipment. The phone line was coming and going making calling for assistance hard. This one taught me to always make sure my cell phone was charged.
Over the next week we had a whole series of repairmen trooping in to fix things. It was August and extremely hot, so we had to rent a portable air conditioner for a day for the rabbits room until we could get the A/C rigged to just run until a part of the switching system could be replaced. After an exhausting week, we thought we had things back to normal again. That is when we noticed that Tigger wasn’t eating and drinking enough. We tried the usual tummy routine we had for her when she would seem gassy. We would give her Simethicone, extra water and tummy rubs. Usually that would have her responding back to normal within 12 hours at the most, but it wasn’t working this time. We took her in to the vet and didn’t find out anything more than we knew before we went in. We were told to keep up with the Simethicone and feed her with Oxbow Critical Care as needed. We also tried wilted greens as suggested.
Over the next week, there was no real change, no improvement. We went in again and the doctor did another exam and suggested putting Tigger under anesthesia to do a good exam of the teeth. We knew the anesthesia at her age was risky, but didn’t feel we had a choice. She had begun grinding her teeth on a regular basis. It was obvious she was in pain somewhere. The vet brought her back in fairly quickly, really groggy from the anesthesia and said she had found one tooth that was a little pointy but didn’t know if that was the problem. We were somewhat surprised she hadn’t just taken care of that while Tigger was under the anesthesia, but had been seeing the vet for years and really trusted her judgment and care, so didn’t push for asking why she hadn’t acted on that.
We were sent home again without much more than the bill for the trip, still told to do Simethicone, Critical Care and had a little bit of pain medicine for her. After another week with no improvement, we were reaching exhaustion trying to care for Tigger ourselves at home making sure she had enough feedings each day, enough water, pain meds and then still care for Shadow too and try to eat, sleep and work ourselves. Tigger was still not wanting to eat much on her own, was still grinding her teeth in pain and was seeming as tired and unhappy as we were.
We weren’t getting much help when we would check in with the vets office by phone. I would call and go through everything that was going on and be told someone would call me back. Hours would pass and when I would call back, I would be greeted with surprise that I was expecting a call, because the chart had been noted Tigger was doing well ??? We went online seeking help from Etherbun. It was suggested that we really needed to discuss the situation quite openly with the vet about what Tigger’s options and prognosis really were at this point. Should motility drugs be tried? Was she at a point where she might not recover? Was it possible that euthanasia was the compassionate choice if she was in constant unrelieved pain?
We made another appointment with the vet with the intention of discussing and being open to knowing where things stood, however that might be. It was an awful visit right from the start. Tigger was in pain and completely freaked out. After being weighed, she took a flying leap off the scale straight up into the air and landed teetering on my shoulder. I had a split second vision of what a fall from five feet would do to her. Fortunately for Tigger, I had early in life emergency training on how to help someone who is in danger of falling to the floor, by putting myself between them and the floor while doing a controlled fall myself. I immediately fell forward onto my stomach across the exam table. That shifted Tigger onto my back, surprised her and in the moment of surprise the vet tech was able to safely grab her.
The exam by the vet showed nothing any different from previous weeks and when we tried to discuss all our options, medications or whether this might be the end, the vet completely shut down the discussion and said she would never consider euthanasia for any animal she felt still had life in them. Then she left the room. I have never felt more tired or frustrated. We didn’t want to lose Tigger, but we didn’t want to have her grinding her teeth in pain hour after hour, day after day either. That was simply no way to live. We left the office with basically the same thing we had from the previous two visits, another bill and instructions to keep doing what we were doing.
We reached out again on Etherbun and were put in touch with a rabbit rescuer who had a great deal of experience dealing with rabbits in stasis. He was wonderful. He told us to get to another vet ASAP, to get as much water into Tigger as we could and what pain and motility medicines to call up and insist the current vet provide us with until we could get a second opinion. The increased water and pain medicine helped Tigger be a bit more comfortable. The motility drug, we had to stop after two doses, Tigger developed seizure like head movements which was one of the serious side effects noted to watch out for. We had an appointment set for a new vet in a just a couple of days.
With the new vet, we were dismayed that the record transfer we had requested from the other vet had not taken place as we had been assured it had by the other vet’s office staff. We went over the whole history and everything that had been tried and everything Tigger had gone through. The vet was very patient and took her time with a thorough exam. We told the vet we didn’t know what to do, it was obvious Tigger was in constant pain and although we didn’t want to lose her, we could not continue to put her through nothing but pain either. The vet gave us the option to try having an exam done under anesthesia to see if there was a tooth issue that needed to be addressed. She warned us that since Tigger was elderly and had been under anesthesia just a little over a week before, there was a much greater risk that she would not wake up. We did not see any choice but to try.
Thankfully, the vet filed down the sharp tooth the previous vet had noted and Tigger did awake easily from the anesthesia. She started to recover after that and was back to herself again soon. I have never written about this before, because it was just such a painful experience to go through for all of us. I am not sure if the stress of the lightning strike played a part in Tigger’s illness or if all the lengthy repairs after the strike just kept us from noticing a problem sooner. I have no idea why after years with the one vet, the communication took so many seemingly wrong turns. I am writing about the experience now so that hopefully others won’t have to go through the same thing. Even if you have a vet you have loved who has been great in the past, if it suddenly seems that you aren’t being heard or helped, seek a second opinion. Your reward for acting to find another option might then be the same as ours, more time to enjoy with your rabbit. We were blessed with another year and half with Tigger after she recovered.
This weekend, a gallery of Tigger photos and next week Shadow’s stories begin …