Hydrotherapy to make Bunny the calf lose his hops

With his favorite drink and the attention of the vet students, Bunny the calf launches onto the treadmill

Technically she has 6400 calves according to her ear tag, but everyone here at Harper Adams University calls her Bunny.

This is because she was born with a problem with her hind legs, so rather than walking, she tends to jump instead.

For now this won’t be a problem, but as Bunny grows from calf to cow she will grow to quite a large size, and if she can’t properly support her weight on all four legs she will will find dairy life very difficult and almost certainly will not be a productive member of the herd.

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

They chose to try to improve Bunny’s walking using hydrotherapy. This is a fairly common treatment for humans, dogs and horses, but as far as they can tell, Bunny is the first cow to have this treatment.

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

Watertight doors

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

The watertight doors at each end are sealed, then the box fills with water. Surrounded by four veterinary students in physiotherapy to take care of her, the treadmill slowly begins to move.

Water slows Bunny’s movement and that means she can’t actually use her jump move, instead she has to walk. She has three short periods on the moving treadmill during a session, then she returns to the log unit to recover.

After watching Bunny’s pre-treatment video versus her today, it’s clear that hydrotherapy works. She now has a more normal gait and her hind legs seem stronger and less stiff.

But Bunny is both lucky and unusual. She has a short commute between her dairy unit and the processing center, as it’s all part of the Harper Adams University campus. It’s unlikely that most farmers facing a similar problem will have the equipment, time or funds for a similar approach.

That said, the data provided by Bunny as the first cow to receive this treatment will be really helpful. This may well provide evidence that for some, probably more valued farm animals, hydrotherapy is an option.

However, Bunny’s time in the tank is coming to an end. She is already larger than many dogs, the regular tank users, and will therefore soon outgrow the equipment. However, her treatment will continue ashore and she should be progressing well and becoming a happy member of the herd. And in the end, she just might pave the way for other big farm animals to get similar treatment.

Let’s hope that by spring it will be a rabbit that has lost its jump.

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