We asked vet Dr Carole Parsons of Pet Therapy Mobile Acupuncture to tell us about Frieda the rabbit who was faced with being put to sleep when her arthritis worsened and acupuncture was tried as a last resort

I love practising acupuncture and especially the ‘miracle’ cases that remind me why I do this job! Frieda is just such a case.

A lame rabbit

Freida, an 18-month-old female Continental Giant Rabbit first started to walk a little stiffly and odd in December 2020. Her owner, Jo, thought she may have injured herself out in the garden, but her vet diagnosed arthritis. Unfortunately early onset joint disease is not uncommon in this breed. She was prescribed an anti-inflammatory and Jo was advised to adjust her environment. Jo installed a ramp and a ‘crash mat’ so that Frieda – a house rabbit – could gain access to the sofa without having to jump on and off at floor level.

A turn for the worse

She responded to treatment really well at that point and Jo had no further concerns until six months later:

“Almost overnight she was unable to stand unaided.”

Jo, Frieda’s owner

Her vet took x-rays and confirmed that she had severe arthritis in her knees and hip. Freida was started on extra pain medication. Jo was told the prognosis was very poor, but she could consider acupuncture if the medication didn’t work. When she returned for a re-check a week later another vet advised that it would be kinder to euthanise Freida. However, Jo felt that Freida didn’t want to give up and decided to at least give the acupuncture a try in order to restore her quality of life.

A last resort for Frieda

Jo brought Freida to me as a referral. The picture below is of Frieda when she first came to me. She looked quite content at the front end nibbling away at her herbs. However, she had lost the use of her back legs almost entirely due to severe arthritis of both her knees and one hip. She could only drag herself along by her front end and was suffering from urine scalding to her hind legs as a result. At that point she was on three different classes of pain-relieving drugs and her dedicated owner was sleeping with her in the sitting room to ensure she didn’t get stuck and hurt herself during the night. This highlights the incredible dedication and sometimes the emotional burden many pet owners carry when caring for a pet with chronic pain or disease.

A cautious plan is made

Although I believe acupuncture is an amazing therapy, it doesn’t work for everyone and I am always wary of presenting it as a miracle cure. I didn’t want to give Jo any false hope, so I cautiously agreed to give Frieda an initial four session course. We agreed that if we saw no improvement within that time we would not continue and the kindest thing would be to put Frieda to sleep.

At her first treatment Frieda was quite sensitive to touch but tolerated the needling without a murmur as she munched away. After this initial session, her demeanour improved almost immediately and she slept very well for the first three days.

Was there really any change?

For the first couple of weeks after that I wasn’t sure I could see any difference. There certainly didn’t seem to be a significant difference in her mobility after the second session. I didn’t know whether Jo was just being hopefully optimistic when she reported small changes at home as I wasn’t seeing them in the clinic.

Frieda had good nerve function in her back legs and would respond to me pinching her toes but she did not have the strength or ability to bring those legs underneath. If I put them in the correct position she would keel over as soon as she tried to move forward. Following her third session, however, she was able to stand unsupported for a very short period – a major improvement. Her mum also told me she was brighter and attempting to move more at home.

Weight bearing returns

By Frieda’s fourth session, I had to agree that there was a noticeable difference! Instead of her legs splaying out behind her, Freida was actually bearing weight on her feet. In fact she maintained that normal position throughout the treatment. She even did one or two brief hops forward. “Ok, maybe we are getting a reponse,” I thought. We agreed to continue weekly sessions for another four weeks.

Binkying once more!

Imagine my surprise when Frieda’s mum sent me this video after her fifth treatment session:

Frieda loving life

Watching Freida running across the lawn at home and doing a little binky, I couldn’t really believe the difference! It was so rewarding to see.

Coming off the meds

Freida started physiotherapy on my advice to strengthen her core muscles, and continued to access both therapies regularly. This was so successful, she was able to be weaned off her medications completely until she passed away of an unrelated condition 15 months later.

A happy Frieda with her best friend Valentine

Jo’s testimonial

Frieda’s owner Jo said:

“I honestly cannot recommend acupuncture enough, and would advise any rabbit owner to at least give it a try. It was a last resort for us, we didn’t expect miracles but after the first six weeks Freida didn’t look back. She led a normal life, she was able to run really well when we needed to catch her to give her medication and she could jump up on the sofa from the floor (although we try to discourage her!) Although we did not expect a miracle we certainly got one!”

Jo, Frieda’s owner

Useful links

Other rabbit blogs

Acupunture blogs

Carole Parsons BVSc CertAVP(VetGP) MRCVS

Carole has been a practising general practice vet for nearly 20 years and a member of the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncture (ABVA) since 2016. Having experienced the efficacy of acupuncture for her own aches and pains she jumped at the opportunity to train in veterinary acupuncture in 2016 and now offers the benefits of a safe, effective drug-free treatment to the many pets she was seeing come in her clinic.

​Having treated canine, feline and rabbit patients over the years, Carole found the ongoing interactions with clients and the steady improvements she saw from treatment so satisfying that she wanted to enable more pets to have access to acupuncture. Consequently, she set up an independent mobile acupuncture service in 2021 so that wherever clients are registered they can access affordable acupuncture treatment for their pets in their own homes. See Carole’s website Pet Therapy Mobile Acupuncture and Facebook page for more information.

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The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website