Still relatively new in the “real veterinarian” role, I shuddered to see a pet rabbit–”Thumper”, of course—scheduled in the appointment book. However, I managed a real smile when I walked in the exam room and met “Sally”, the 8-year old primary rabbit caretaker, and her mother. Sally was a very bright, outgoing, talkative young lady . . . and Thumper was obviously her rabbit. For the past week, Thumper was not eating very well, and Sally was pretty sure he was losing weight.
Unfortunately, in 1982, veterinary medicine was not really “up to speed” on care of “pocket pets”—and that was particularly true for a certain new graduate working here in Boston. I subsequently learned the basics over my years in practice when I was seeing this group of pets—rabbits get Pasteurella infections (respiratory disease) and “hairballs”, guinea pigs have Vitamin C deficiency and overgrown molars, ferrets develop ovarian and pancreatic tumors—but my knowledge base was woefully deficient when Thumper came in that day.
I don’t remember many particulars . . . I discussed Thumper’s “history” with Sally, performed a physical exam, probably sent him home with some antibiotics and suggestions for foods to stimulate his appetite, felt pretty incompetent. A week or so later, the appointment book showed Thumper coming in for a recheck, “not doing well”. This time, he had stopped eating altogether, had a fever, weight loss, nasal discharge, and increased respiratory effort. I believe I knew enough at this point to suspect Pasteurella, we hospitalized Thumper for a short time, but he deteriorated rapidly and Sally and her Mom agreed that humane euthanasia was appropriate.
Not a great “case”; I didn’t feel like I had really done much to help Thumper . . . was thinking I’d probably try and avoid rabbit appointments in the future. Then I got a “thank you” note from Sally. The front page was the cutest crayon rabbit drawing you can imagine; the back page, in 2nd grade printing said “Thank you very much for taking care of Thumper. I know you did everything you could for him. We miss him. Sally”.
Ouch! Once I got over the feeling that someone was innocently sticking a knife in my back and twisting it around at random . . . I “hit the books”–read all I could about rabbits in journals, learned what I could from other veterinarians in my practice, went to “pocket pet” lectures at my CE (continuing education) meetings—I was going to be competent and ready the next time a “Sally” showed up with her much loved rabbit.