General has Thymoma, Too: Two Buns, One Pet Store

Posted on February 19, 2012


General Bun Ears Lee & Eggplant

Thymoma in bunnies

General & Fluffy before the Thymoma

General Bun E. Lee was adopted from a small pet store on March 2, 2003, a year after we had adopted Fluffy from the very same local pet store. It’s tragic that this may be why they both have developed Thymoma, a rare condition that our vet had never seen before our buns. General is 8 years old and Fluffy was 9 when she was diagnosed.

According to the House Rabbit Society, “Thymomas are tumors that arise from the thymus, an organ that is part of the immune system and is found in the cranial mediastinum (a portion of the chest cavity). Thymomas are relatively rare tumors but have been reported to occur in several rabbits. The overall incidence in pet rabbits is approximately 8%; such low occurrence of thymomas in rabbits may be related to the short life span of rabbits, as thymomas tend to arise in older animals (of other species) as well as adult humans.”

Sadly, I’m very well versed in the understanding that the risk percentage for Thymoma is rising rapidly. Dr L, who performed the radiation treatment on Fluffy and General said that he had treated 12 rabbits in the last year and he’s seeing it all over.

PetMD also mention, “The causes for thymoma and thymic lymphoma are not well understood. There is no real data on the true number of rabbits that actually develop the disease, or whether a particular age, gender or breed is more likely to be struck with the disease than any other.”


Fluffy being brave at her first radiation treatment

Fluffy was diagnosed in February 2011, when we began to notice her eyes bulging when she looked down and her difficulty breathing. After taking x-rays Dr. K informed us on that late Wednesday appointment that he suspected Fluffy had Thymoma. He let us know that there were two options that we could pursue if we decided that is what we wanted. The first was that we could get the tumor surgically removed. It would remove all of the tumor, but it would involve removing the ribs to get to the tumor. Fluffy and General are so tiny it would be a very difficult procedure. Plus we’d have to find a doctor locally that could perform the procedure.

The second option, radiation would be less invasive. We could opt for radiation, which would take three sessions and could only guarantee that the tumor wouldn’t return for up to a year. There is also the issue that the radiation will hit the heart, but they avoid that as much as possible. The radiation level is about as intense the radiation from a microwave according to Dr. L. Both procedures cost about the same and the facility we were referred to is located in Culver City, CA.

Fluffy with Thymoma

Fluffy after her first radiation treatment for Thymoma

Here are the symptoms if you suspect your bun may have Thymoma as well:

  • Bulging of the eyes, usually resulting from the pressure of an underlying tumor within or near the skull; this condition is sometimes called “cranial caval syndrome” in rabbits and other animals.
  • Swelling around the upper torso, but especially in the head, neck and forelimbs (formally called cranial caval syndrome)
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle weakness, including around the esophagus, which may make eating and related activities difficult to perform

General’s front paw shaved for anesthesia

We also noticed that Fluffy and General got tired easily, had strained breathing where their noses clicked back and forth and Fluffy licked her dewlap a lot more. They continued to eat and drink normally but, when Fluffy’s eyes started to bulge out, even when we didn’t hold her, we knew something was wrong. If your buns have any of these symptoms I would urge you to ask you vet for a chest x-ray. Yes, they can be expensive but it could save your buns life. I’d also recommend signing up for a Care Credit card, it has saved us many times.

Many bunnies with Thymoma die because pet parents and vets think it’s just side effects of old age. Don’t make that mistake, the costs of the x-rays are around $130, the treatment for radiation can range anywhere from $1900-$2100.

Dr. L also informed me about a new treatment for bunnies, where they use CT scans and the cancer machines that are used on humans, on buns. The results are 100% eradication of the tumor..but it’ll cost you $13,000!

Fluffy’s tumor was significantly reduced according to her last x-ray before she went to the Rainbow Bridge, about 9 months after her radiation treatment. She was breathing normally again and her eyes no longer bulged. We were surprised that Fluffy didn’t suffer any skin irritations or fur discoloration from the radiation. Fluffy died in October 2011 from complications of pneumonia, GI Stasis and calcium in her kidney. We miss her so much.

Fluff e. lee

Our last photo of Fluffy – A week before she passed away

General finished his last treatment over a week ago and he got a clean bill of health, we’ll be taking him in for a check-up in three months. I’ll keep you updated on his progress!

General Lee

General at his last check-up