Partial or Complete Loss of Muscle Control in Rabbits

Paresis and Paralysis in Rabbits

Paresis is defined as weakness of voluntary movement, or partial paralysis, while paralysis is the complete lack of voluntary movement.

Symptoms and Types

Four of the main types of motor dysfunction include:

  • Quadriparesis or tetraparesis - weakness of voluntary movements in all limbs
  • Quadriplegia or tetraplegia - absence of all voluntary limb movement
  • Paraparesis - weakness of voluntary movements in hind limbs
  • Paraplegia - absence of all voluntary movement in the hind limbs

Their symptoms may present suddenly or gradually. However, sudden onset of paresis/paralysis is common following an injury to the spine. In fact, many rabbits sustain a fracture or a dislocation of the spine just by suddenly jumping within their cages due to a startling event such as a loud thunderstorm, fireworks, or loud noise from unfamiliar people or pets in the home. Other symptoms associated with these conditions include:

  • Abnormal walking pattern (unable to hop or get up; dragging of affected limbs)
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Loss of hair, flaking over the head, shoulders, and tail due to inability to properly groom
  • Severe obesity due to lack of exercise


In rabbits, weakness may be due to the effects of organ or metabolic disease, obesity, or to direct damage to the nerves. If the nerves are injured -- either within the brain or spinal column -- they will not communicate properly with each other and the rest of the body. This can lead to to increased stiffness in the muscles, and hypersensitive reflexes. If the peripheral (outer) nerves are damaged, meanwhile, absence of muscle reflexes and decreased muscle tone is seen.


Your veterinarian will first need to confirm that the problem is weakness or paralysis by localizing the problem to either the lower or upper motor neuron system. Several tests will be conducted to determine the underlying cause of the motor dysfunction. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis, and an electrolyte panel.

Both voluntary and involuntary motor responses will be analyzed, with urinary and bladder function checked. X-ray imaging is an important diagnostic procedure for the discovery of this disorder's origins. Spinal X-rays will be taken to assess fracture or dislocation of a calcified disc, narrowed disc spaces, bony tumor, or vertebral malformation, and skull X-rays may show a dental disease, which, if chronic, can lead to weakness and chronic debility. Whole body X-rays may identify an underlying heart disease, tumors, kidney stones, or orthopedic disorders. In addition, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to evaluate potential brain disease. An abdominal ultrasonography will be done if an underlying metabolic disease (e.g., renal, hepatic) is suspected.

Since partial or complete loss of muscle control is most often linked to a trauma or diseased condition of the spine or nervous system, the most effective method by which to determine the location of a spinal cord injury, tumor, or infection is to take a sample of spinal cord fluid (cerebrospinal fluid [CSF]) for analysis. Your doctor will also need to get a clear view of the spinal cord. Using a technique called a myelography, which uses an injection of a radiopaque agent into the spinal space in order to improve visibility on X-ray, he or she will be able to view any apparent abnormalities in the spine. The veterinarian may also need to take a nerve sample, or a sample from the muscle tissue, for biopsy.

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