Amanda’s rabbit was thrown in at the deep end…………………
Holding my bunny in my arms, I offered her a piece of banana.
‘Come on, Heidi,’ I urged my grey-black continental giant rabbit. ‘It’s your favourite.’
But she wasn’t interested.
It was December 2012, and for the past two weeks, four-year-old Heidi had been off her food and not bouncing around like normal.
She’d been ignoring the play tunnels and giant hayrack in the room she shared with my other giant rabbits, Herman and Greta.
And now that she’d refused her favourite treat, I knew for sure that something was up.
Worried, I called the vet and went to the surgery the following day with Heidi.
Nothing showed up on her blood and urine tests, so I had to take her to a specialist rabbit centre the following day.
I was sick with worry, but after an MRI scan and an X-Ray, I finally had news…
‘Heidi has arthritis in her hips and knees,’ the vet explained.
My heart sank. I knew it was common for bigger bunnies to get arthritis, but had always hoped mine would be lucky enough not to suffer from it.
‘Can you do anything to help her?’ I sighed.
‘Painkillers twice a day will help,’ she explained. ‘And I’d like her to try hydrotherapy, too.’
‘Really?’ I smiled.
I’d heard of hydrotherapy – the use of water to treat different conditions – for horses and dogs, but not rabbits!
The therapy had never been used on a rabbit before in the UK, but the vet was adamant that paddling in shallow water would make Heidi weightless, allowing her to stretch her aching muscles, without putting pressure on them.
‘She’s a big rabbit,’ she reassured me. ‘She can handle it.’
So, two weeks after her diagnosis, in January this year, I took Heidi for her first session at a hydrotherapy centre in Milford-on-Sea.
At 3ft 2ins long and weighing 7.4kg, she had to be given a life jacket that was usually worn by small dogs!
Still, placing her in the water, I was shaking with nerves. Talk about throwing her in at the deep end!
Heidi wasn’t nervous, though.
‘Look, she’s a natural!’ smiled Linda Prove, who ran the centre, as Heidi wiggled her paws and paddled in the little pool.
She’d taken to it like a duck to water!
But there was one problem, Heidi kept shaking her head.
‘She’s got water in her ears!’ Linda said.
‘She needs a swimming hat!’ I giggled – but Linda had a better idea.
‘Some of the dogs who come in wear scrunchies in their fur,’ she said. ‘Heidi can put one around her ears to keep them out of the water!’
With a red scrunchie holding back her ears, Heidi sped around the pool like a pro!
She’d be in the fast lane in no time!
Seeing how much she enjoyed it, my initial nerves had gone and I couldn’t help but smile as I watched my bunny paddle.
After a five-minute swim, Heidi stayed in the warm pool for 30 minutes to relax her aching muscles.
Out of the pool, she was dried with a special hairdryer, before putting on an absorbent coat to soak up the water on her fur.
And when we got home, Heidi hopped into the garage that I’d had converted into a den for the rabbits and nibbled on some banana.
‘That’s my girl!’ I beamed.
Arthritis can’t be cured, so I’ll take Heidi swimming every week to keep her muscles moving and stop her joints becoming stiff.
She still has to have liquid painkillers twice a day, but the vets hope, with more time in the pool, we can lessen her dosage.
And she’s already back to hopping around like a mad thing.
Who’d have thought a bit of paddling could turn my run-down rabbit into the energiser bunny?!
Amanda Williams, 44, Christchurch, Dorset
See Heidi swim at: