There’s nothing to remind us about mortality and the fragility of life that does so as well as the death of a family pet.
My youngest daughter adopted two rescue rabbits last summer. She settled them in, built an environment out of her room that was not just bunny-friendly but specifically for bunnies, worked through the bonding process carefully and thoroughly, monitored diets and any tiny potential health item or hazard that was possible to monitor. One of them has a long-term GI issue that will probably always be part of his life. It doesn’t seem like it affects his behaviour most of the time, but sometimes he gets a little gassy and his droppings are a bit more variable in size and shape than you normally expect for a house rabbit. The other had some kind of recurring skin infection that only happened on his chin and that we may have finally had licked. He was otherwise a healthy, normal rabbit.
Right up until he wasn’t.
Limping to holding one back leg up as he hopped to an abscess to a rampant systemic infection of three different anaerobic bacteria that put him into sepsis, all in the course of about three days. No clue of how it started and no diagnostic produced anything that could tell us. Multiple visits to the vet, both our own and an emergency vet to fight of GI stasis, across those three days that finally resulted in a crazy, desperate drive to the Ontario Veterinary College Hospital in Guelph. That’s where they figured out the sepsis and started what would be a tremendous amount of medical intervention for a 4-kilo rabbit.
Stabilization, a major surgery with another (though much less extensive) pending, days in ICU, antibiotics, a blood transfusion, pain medication, bandaging over much of the back third his body, most of that on the left side. Muscle atrophy, avoiding GI stasis, treatment and monitoring.
He spent three weeks in the hospital under COVID conditions so we could only do a virtual visit and only after they moved him out of ICU.
Muffin’s prognosis was never more than guarded, but the updates we got twice a day nearly always had him trending upward, even if only a little. He was still eating, still accepting affection, still trying to be a rabbit.
And then Saturday something changed. He started declining and that decline picked up pace until in the early evening we had a call that was the exact opposite of what we wanted to hear and he was going back into ICU. The vet didn’t know why, but his blood numbers were way down, his heart and lungs were working far too hard, and he wasn’t even trying to eat.
Less than an hour later, we got the worst possible call. As he was going back into the incubator and they were hooking up his IV, Muffin went into cardiac arrest and didn’t respond to CPR. He was gone.
He seemed entirely fine and healthy right up until he wasn’t.
Three weeks of intense veterinary care and he spend his final moments in an unfamiliar place, confused and probably afraid, and without his human nearby.
And we’ll likely never know what happened or why.
His bondmate has shown no signs of anything other than his own gastro issues and he lives in the same environment. My daughter has gone over everything with a magnifying glass and there isn’t anything Muffin could have hurt himself on or any way that the bacteria should have been able to get into his system. They don’t get to interact with any other animals in the house, even from a distance.
We don’t understand what happened. The hugely competent veterinary crew at OVC weren’t able to determine the cause.
We will never know.
My daughter is heartbroken. There are cracks in my heart for her and for Muffin.
The underlying lesson, maybe, is something I wanted my children to never have to experience directly, or at least not so soon. It’s one of the harshest things life can teach you. Sometimes, you can do everything right and it’s still not enough.
The old saw of tomorrow isn’t promised applies to loved pets and people both. Tomorrow isn’t promised and sometimes everything seems completely fine right up until the moment it’s the exact opposite. Life is fragile and we are all mortal, whether we like it or not. And sometimes things happen very, very quickly.
Take a moment when you can and think about the people and animals in your life. See if there’s anyone you need to reach out to, anyone you need to spend a little time with.
Because there are no guarantees. There never were.
Stay safe, and be well, everyone.by