Hydrotherapy to make Bunny the Calf lose his hops

Bunny the calf

With his favorite drink and the attention of the veterinary students, Bunny the Calf gets on the treadmill

She’s technically calf 6400 according to her ear tag, but everyone here at Harper Adams University calls her Bunny.

This is because she was born with a hind leg problem, so rather than walking she tends to hop.

Right now that won’t be a problem, but as Bunny grows from calf to cow he will get quite large and if he can’t bear his weight properly on all four legs he will find dairy life very difficult and will almost certainly not be a productive member of the herd.

Luckily for Bunny, Harper Adams has her own veterinary school and they were interested to see what could be done for the new calf on campus.

They chose to try to improve Bunny’s walk using hydrotherapy. This is a fairly common treat for people, dogs and horses, but as far as anyone knows Bunny is the first cow ever to get this treatment.

Over the past few weeks Bunny has been loaded onto a trailer and transported from the university dairy to the hydrotherapy center which is part of the veterinary school.

Here it is carefully maneuvered on a treadmill inside a glass box. Bunny would do anything for a bottle of her favorite drink!

The watertight doors at each end are sealed and then the box fills with water. Surrounded by four veterinary students who care for her, the treadmill slowly starts to work.

Water slows down Bunny’s movement and that means he can’t actually use his hopping motion, instead he has to walk. She has three short periods on the moving treadmill in one session and then returns to the journal unit to recover.

Having watched Bunny’s video before the treatment compared with her today it’s clear the hydrotherapy is working. She now has a more normal gait and her hind legs seem stronger and less stiff.

But Bunny is both lucky and unusual. He has a short commute from his dairy farm house to the treatment center since it is all part of the Harper Adams University campus. Most farmers facing a similar problem are unlikely to have the equipment, time or funds for a similar approach.

That said, the data Bunny is providing as the first cow to undergo this treatment will be really helpful. It could very well provide evidence that for some, probably more valuable, farm animal hydrotherapy is an option.

However, Bunny’s time in the tub is coming to an end. She is already older than many dogs, the usual users of the tub, and therefore will soon outgrow the equipment. However her treatment will continue on land and she should make good progress and become a happy member of the herd. And eventually she may pave the way for other large farm animals to receive similar treatment.

Hopefully by spring this will be a bunny that has lost its jump.

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