I Brought a Dead Bunny Back to Life After 4 Minutes

With our patient in full cardiac arrest, we didn’t stop working on her for a moment, but the look on our faces was clear: We all believed she was gone.

Don't worry — there's a hoppy ending. By: 123rf
Don’t worry — there’s a hoppy ending. By: 123rf

Surgical patient: Bunny
Weight: 1 kg (2.2 pounds)
Procedure: Spay
Physical: Healthy
Additional info: Client has low-cost voucher

Reasons to spay:

  • It’s the right thing to do.
  • Female rabbits develop cancer in the reproductive tract.
  • Spaying early is life-saving.

This scenario is routine for my hospital. We do many rabbit spays and neuters, and we accept low-cost vouchers when many other veterinarians refuse to accept the vouchers or see rabbits.

Why? Rabbit surgeries are more difficult and carry more risk than similar surgeries on dogs and cats.

Many vets don’t feel comfortable with lovely little lagamorphs. I took a special interest in rabbits early in my career and keep up on rabbit medicine as a continuing education interest.

These rabbit surgeries still have their challenges. I sometimes wonder why I take this on, but I see a vision:

  • I want to be to hopping about heaven with furry bunnies.
  • We can all eat greens in paradise.
  • Kale is not just for hipster bunnies anymore.

Everything Was Going Smoothly

Induction and anesthesia on my little bunny patient went well. Great blood pressure and cardiac monitoring assured us all was normal.

Spay surgery ready to begin. I opened up the tiny little abdomen and searched for the minuscule ribbons of tissue and tiny freshwater pearls of ovaries. Her abdominal cavity was the size of a kiwi. Surgery done. All went well. Bunny good. On to the next patient.

Not So Fast…

My surgical tech was recovering Bunnykins in warm towels. She cuddled her while waiting for the typical little bunny body movements that signaled her surgical recovery was going well. The bunny was fine, fine, fine, breathing, all good.

Then not. She stopped breathing.

Rabbit spay surgery is difficult. By: milkisprotein
Rabbit spay surgery can be challenging. By: milkisprotein

No heartbeat. No breath sounds. Nothing. Nothing.

Begin the code. Breathe for her. IV fluids pumped up. Massage the heart. Nothing. My patient was in full arrest. Her little pink bunny mouth turned the color of clay. Continue chest compressions. Breathe for her through a tiny oxygen system. IV line in the tiny leg.

Seconds turned to a minute, then 2 minutes. It felt like hours, an eternity of lifelessness. Her tongue and mouth were the color of an old nickel.

Continue CPR. Don’t break the tiny ribs or push too much oxygen in and rupture a lung. No response. My stethoscope silent. No heart sounds. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

Come On, Little Bunny Body

Please don’t leave us. Wait, you’ve already left us, but come back. Come back to this earth. Take a breath. Let me hear a heartbeat. You can’t be gone. Let us bring you back.

We gave more rescue drugs. The possibility of not reviving the lifeless body became more and more real. We didn’t stop for a moment, but the look on our faces was clear.

We all believed she would not be resuscitated.

How Many Minutes Now?

Three minutes. Three and a half. Four minutes. I should call this. Turn off the surgical lights. Give up.

My staff looked at the little lifeless body with eyes welling up. There was a mix of compassion, pain and diligence on their faces. Screw it, just continue CPR. I kept my stethoscope glued to the teeny chest.

A sound? No. Dreaming. Can’t be a sound in that lifeless chest. Don’t believe it for a moment. My own ears have deceived me. This is not a feel-good movie. My stethoscope must have a gremlin in it. Possessed stethoscope. That’s not a teeny tiny heartbeat. So ridiculously faint. It couldn’t be real. I’m hearing things.

Wait. That heartbeat is real. I’m not kidding myself. REAL, it’s real. Keep the support going, ladies, we are going to bring this bunny back!

The heartbeat became stronger. Still no breaths. Come on. Breathe! Breathe on your own, gosh-bunny-damnit! Do it, girl. One minute, 2 minutes, 4 minutes, all eyes on that little chest. No breathing.

Wait, YES. That little chest makes its first movement. Bun Buns has a great heartbeat, and now she is breathing on her own. Out of cardiopulmonary arrest.

Go bunny, go! She is making it off life support.

Miracle Bunny

One hour later, my little patient was standing.

Shaky but upright, bunny stood on a heated water bed with tiny warm water gloves holding her steady and 3 devoted technicians with eyes fixed on her breathing and well being. Stronger and stronger she did become.

My worry now was brain damage. We revived her, but was she okay? Intensive care over the next several hours would give us our answer.

Holding her own body temperature up, this little Cracker Jack Munchkin began to chew on parsley and greens and run about her hospital hutch within hours of her arrest. She actually did better than most other bunnies recovering after a spay. Miracle bunny went home and did fine.

Life lessons learned or revisited from this bunny:

  • Do everything right and things can still go wrong.
  • Feel desperate and things can still go right.
  • Life is a beautiful thing and rejoice in every day.

Spaying bunnies for no money was the most rewarding thing I’ve done in a long time.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, and was last updated Dec. 17, 2018.