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Marley’s Mysterious Malady

May 7, 2013

Marley is an adorable little Lionhead that I adopted in 2009. I originally bonded him with Baxter & Scooter, but after a couple months of bliss, Baxter and Marley suddenly started fighting, and I couldn’t for the life of me get those two to “kiss and make up,” so I ended up bonding Marley with Calli & Oliver. Oliver passed away last year so it’s just Marley and Calli now. In the past six months before his illness was discovered, I noticed a couple differences in Marley, like he suddenly started loving salad after refusing to eat any fresh vegetables for 3+ years. And then I noticed he was allowing us to pet him, something he’d never tolerated before. I wrote off these changes as somehow having to do with Oliver’s passing. He always liked Calli much better than Oliver, and I figured he was just in a better mood because he had her all to himself.

But then mid-February, when I picked him up to groom him I noticed he was extremely thin. Under normal circumstances, I’d be mortified that I didn’t notice sooner, but Marley is so fluffy, I sometimes can’t even tell which end is which, much less notice if he is thin or not just by looking at him. And since he hated being picked up, I seldom did it except when necessary, like for grooming.

Marley022613_topMarley022613_sideSo I immediately took him to the vet. I assumed it would be a dental issue or a parasite. But it was neither of those things. So then we did blood work and x-rays. Blood test results were normal but the x-rays showed some sort of bizarre calcification throughout his abdomen. (Click on thumbnails to enlarge.) My vet then did an ultrasound and confirmed that the calcification/mineralization is in his liver and surrounding soft tissue. The urinalysis was normal, as was an ionzied calcium blood test. We also did an e.c. titer which was negative. It did indicate a high amount of inflammation, though, so we started him on meloxicam. But we were at a loss as to the cause of the calcification, which is certainly secondary to something else.

I consulted with a lot of bunny-savvy people all over the country, including quite a few exotic vets. My vet also consulted with other vets, and several bunny-savvy people emailed their own vets about his case. His mysterious condition has been of great interest. Lots of theories have been tossed around (everything from lead poisoning to cancer), but nothing has panned out or is able to be confirmed.


Marley, April 2013

It seems the most popular theories are cancer or some type of parasite migrating through his liver. We gave him the tapeworm shot, just in case. He also had a week of Ponazuril, just in case, too, even though his fecal was negative for parasites. We also treated him with antibiotics for a month, just in case there was some sort of infection that wasn’t indicated in the blood work. All along he’s also been getting daily sub-q fluids and probiotics, and of course as many calories as I can get him to eat. (Alfalfa pellets, calf manna, “Angel’s Mush,” and a variety of other high calorie foods.)

We did pretty much every test imaginable, other than a CT scan, which my vet felt would not be worth the expense. He didn’t believe it would tell us anything and would put Marley through unnecessary stress. Exploratory surgery is also an option, but it’s very risky, and my vet doesn’t think it would tell us it’s anything that can be treated anyway. He says this sort of calcification can’t be reversed. Other people who I greatly value their opinion advised against doing a CT scan or surgery for basically the same reasons my vet gave. So, sadly, I don’t think we’ll ever know what is causing this until we do a necropsy. Hopefully that won’t be anytime soon.

His normal weight is 3.5 lbs. He was down to 2.5 at that first vet visit after I noticed he was thin in February. Over the next three weeks he continued to drop weight at a frightening rate, getting as low as 1.8. But then his weight seemed to level out, and for the last two months, it’s been pretty stable, mostly between 1.9 and 2.0.


Marley & Me

In mid-March before he stabilized, I was starting to ask myself the big, awful question. As a last resort effort my vet gave him a steroid injection to help stimulate his appetite. (Of course we took him off the meloxicam first.) The improvement was significant. So now every few weeks he gets a steroid injection. He also started getting vitamin B injections around that same time, which he still gets.

At this point he is still acting pretty normal (except more receptive to being petted and handled), and doesn’t seem to be suffering. He’s weak, which is why I think he was allowing us to pet him initially… he didn’t have the energy to run away. But now I think he may actually have grown to enjoy it. Every once in awhile he’ll catch his foot on the edge of the litter box when he hops out (even though I replaced it with a low-edge box) and fall over. But he’s able to get back up and doesn’t seem distressed by it.

Last week we did follow-up x-rays, which indicated that the calcification has gotten denser, but has not spread.

Marley will turn five next month. When this all started I didn’t believe he’d live to see his fifth birthday, but I now believe he will, and beyond. (Knock on wood.) I have no hope of him getting better, but I do think he’s content and can live like this for awhile, as long as he continues to be stable and happy. And I’ll continue to everything for him that I can.

Here are a couple videos of Marley taken during his illness. As you can see, he still enjoys eating and begging!


Lastly, if you are interested in the test results, below are blood work/EC titer and the radiologists’ reports on the x-rays (I had the x-rays looked at by two radiologists).

Blood work:

Radiologists’ reports:


From → Scootie's Blog

  1. Jeni permalink

    Oh no, little Marley!!! Please keep eating, little guy. ❤ We adore you! Marley's mom–you take such good care of your bunnies. Please keep us posted…

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