Lessons from a not-so-rabid rabbit: Rabies facts everyone should know


Exactly one week ago today, Snowball the bunny died.

And while that bit of information didn’t merit a front-page story in the local newspaper or find its way to CNN newsfeeds, it was a potentially catastrophic moment for one little 7-year-old girl and her immediate family.

Not just because Snowball was a well-loved family pet and not just because the death came so suddenly. The biggest cause for concern was the timing.

Just a day before, Samantha was playing quietly with the rabbit formerly known as Tinkerbell, feeding her grass and other green, leafy goodies. Moments later, Samantha screamed and came to the door crying — Snowball tucked snugly under one arm and a steady drip of blood coming from a finger on Samantha’s other hand.

It was the first time in Snowball’s 1 1/2-year existence that she bit anyone, but we figured it was a simple case of a finger being mistaken for a tasty carrot. I put Snowball back into her pen while Samantha received some doctoring from Mom.

Crisis over, or so we thought at that moment.

Twenty-four hours later the young and otherwise healthy Snowball was found paralyzed in her pen, dying minutes later. A quick Google search suggested that one of the first signs of rabies in rabbits is paralysis.

So our family foursome made the 15.5-mile trek from our rural Middleburg home to Evangelical Community Hospital’s emergency room. Doctors concluded, that while highly unlikely, it was smart to start a regimen of rabies shots until the bunny could be tested.

On Monday morning, I called the health office in Middleburg and was instructed to remove Snowball’s head and drop it off for shipping. As I carefully severed the rabbit’s neck with an old hunting knife, I couldn’t help from feeling horrible about the chain of events. Just a week prior to Snowball’s death, our two daughters were playing with the rabbit in the backyard, dressing her up in an American Girl tutu and shirt. They topped off the fashion moment with a pink ribbon hairclip placed carefully on Snowball’s right ear. It was a cute moment and we were quick to snap off a few photos for the family scrapbook.

After my makeshift surgical procedure, I buried the rest of Snowball’s body and my potentially contaminated rubber gloves as is recommended to avoid the possible spread of rabies.

Tuesday afternoon we received the results — Snowball was negative for rabies. While we don’t know why she died — and likely never will — the rabies scare was officially over. That meant no more shots for Samantha — and I didn’t have to worry as much the next day when I visited Snowball’s makeshift gravesite and found that something had dug up the carcass and carried it off to parts unknown.

The whole experience was a good reminder that rabies is a real disease that we all should take seriously — especially those of us who enjoy the Valley’s numerous outdoor opportunities. Some rabies facts we discovered during our rabid rabbit scare include:

  • In humans, rabies starts to manifest in flu-like symptoms, including general weakness or discomfort, fever and/or headache. There also may be itching or discomfort at the site of the bite, progressing within days to symptoms of cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion, agitation. The person may experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations and insomnia.
  • The acute period of disease typically ends after two to 10 days.
  • One of the scariest things we learned is that once a person starts to show the main symptoms of rabies, the disease is nearly always fatal in humans. This is why we didn’t hesitate in our trip to the hospital and why it is important that you seek medical attention anytime you suspect being infected with rabies.
  • Rabies is only found in mammals, and typically only spread after contact with spinal fluid or saliva. The most common mode of infection is through a bite.
  • Surpisingly, bats are the No. 1 cause of rabies in humans in the United States.
  • Any mammal that is acting uncharacteristically should be avoided — such as nocturnal animals (such as raccoons) that are suddenly active during the daytime. Animals that look sickly, move in an awkward fashion, are foaming at the mouth or drooling excessively or seem less scared of humans than they typically should be should also be avoided.

For more information on rabies, visit the Centers Disease Control and Prevention website at cdc.gov/rabies

~ by zaktansky on June 15, 2013.

One Response to “Lessons from a not-so-rabid rabbit: Rabies facts everyone should know”

  1. When I was young, I put a leash on my brother’s rabbit and was walking her around the house. She had a heat stroke. Pretty much instant death as this was. 😦

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