As prey animals, rabbits have an inherent ability to hide symptoms. By the time one realizes that something is amiss, the condition may well have progressed to advanced levels requiring immediate medical assistance from a rabbit veterinarian.
Having reared and bought up more than a hundred bunnies, we have had our fair share of misses. From shock to panic to desperation, we have been through all the emotions that most rabbit parents go through at some point in their lives.
So, we figured that this was a great time to create a list of the most common health issues that might crop up in your bunnies from time to time and some tips on how to spot them early.
Below is a list of a few of the most common health issues, however, we still have much more information to add. While we continuously add more information to our site for you, we suggest this link for a more comprehensive list of health issues.
This information is not to be used in replacement of a certified Veterinarian. Every medication of any form has the possibilities of side-effects. Those side-effects, & the results of them, may vary greatly from rabbit to rabbit & all may be affected by various other elements such as other medications, foods, age & health, & other things. With this said, the statements here-in are not written as an absolute answer or guarantee; these are simply common treatments used by those who have experienced successful results with such, but in no way guarantee the same results for every situation. Furthermore, we do not claim to be vet’s, nor are we in any way liable or responsible for any results, be it positive or negative, due to the use of the information stated within. Use of any information offered is done so fully at your own risk.
(Please note: we are not and we do not in any way claim to be veterinarians; no information offered should be considered as that which has came from a professional veterinarian, and we are in no way liable for any information noted. We always advise contacting a veterinarian who is licensed and is experienced in rabbit care. Furthermore, all information contained within this section is without guarantee of success; all information is gained from experienced rabbit-breeders who have tried these home-treatments with successful results – however – note that what may work for one rabbit, may not work for all. *Any treatments noted that you choose to use, is done so at your own liability and risk!!!)
Cataracts, Head tilt, Hind limb weakness, Neck spasms, Paralysis, Renal failure, Scalding, Urinary incontinence, Collapse, Death
While most rabbits will come in contact with this protozoa at some point in their lives and can test positive for carrying the parasite, less than will 6% actually become sick from the disease and present symptoms. E. cuniculi infection by itself does not usually even threaten an animal's health. When combined with other problems that strain the immune system, however, its destructive capabilities are greatly enhanced
( Marinell Harriman in consultation with Carolynn Harvey, DVM and Cynthia Besch-Williford, DVM, PhD )
Rabbits pick up the organism via inhalation or ingestion of a spore form of the protozoa. Parasite can be ingested through contaminated water, food, soil, other animals or unsanitary conditions. Those rabbits under stress (poor environment and nutrition) and with poor immune systems will be more likely to show clinical signs once exposed to E. cuniculi.
Treatment aims to reduce inflammation and prevent formation of spores. If a diagnosis is made or clinical symptoms indicate E. Cuniculi to be the cause of disease, a 28-day course of oral fenbendazole, e.g. PanacurT or Safeguard, at 20 mg/kg once a day is the general treatment of choice, plus anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids. Safeguard or pancur can be purchased in the equine section of tractor supply for under $20 and the tube will last the full 28 days for treatment. Give a pea sized drop to a 5 lb rabbit. We suggest a twice yearly treatment as a preventative for symptoms. *This treatment and preventative suggestion is not a substitute for Veterinary attention, simply our non-medical professional opinion.
Coccidiosis is the most common disease in rabbits. Even with the best of care, a rabbit can still get Coccidiosis. It is a hepatic or enteric disease caused by protozoan parasites of the subclass Coccidia, genus Eimeria. It is important to distinguish between infection by coccidia, which is common, and coccidiosis or overt disease, which is infrequent. Most rabbits are infected with coccidian parasites at least once during their life, and wild rabbits may be infected their entire lives with several species of coccidia that continually cycle through them, yet do not develop disease.
Many rabbits that have this disease do not show any symptoms or clinical signs. They simply carry the organism in their intestinal tracts and pass it to other rabbits in their infected stool. But if they do show signs, they may have watery, mucousy, or possibly blood-tinged diarrhea that may be infrequent or intermittent (stopping and starting again). You may notice these other signs, as well:
Treatment of Coccidiosis in Rabbits. ... For intestinal coccidiosis, treatment is Sulfaquinoxaline is given in the drinking water for 7 days and then repeated after a 7-day interval. Other medications that may be considered are amprolium, salinomycin, diclazuril, and toltrazuril. We use Corid (Amprolium) which can be purchased at Tractor Supply. We also suggest using a good quality probiotic such as bene bac or probios as well as a high quality hay such as timothy or orchard hay while treating for coccidia. An electrolyte substitute such as Bounce Back may also increase the efficacy of the treatment. We suggest a twice yearly preventative treatment to help keep the coccidia levels at a minimum and lower risk of disease dymptoms
Additionally, disinfecting all cages, food and water holders and toys with a mixture of ammonia and water several times over a few days will help to kill the remaining protozoa.
* *This treatment and preventative suggestion is not a substitute for Veterinary attention, simply our non-medical professional opinion.
One very serious, fairly common health issue pet rabbits face is gastrointestinal stasis. GI (or gut) stasis is a potentially deadly condition in which the digestive system slows down or stops completely.
Bad bacteria then builds up in the intestines and releases gas into the system, causing very painful bloating and further decreasing a rabbit’s motivation to eat or drink. This compounds the problem because the rabbit will become more dehydrated and starved of essential nutrients and roughage.
The contents of the digestive tract will become more compact, and the rabbit will have an even more difficult time passing it through. The bacteria can also release toxins into the system which overtax the liver and can cause the organ to ultimately fail.
The slowdown of the digestive system can be caused by:
If your rabbit is demonstrating any of these symptoms of GI stasis, bring him/her to a rabbit-savvy vet immediately:
When you bring your rabbit to the vet, he/she will try to determine the cause of the slowdown. If there is an underlying condition, it is imperative to address it. The vet may take x-rays to assess the blockage and the presence of gas. If the vet has determined that the best course of treatment is to stimulate motility in the gut, he/she may administer the following:
It is also important to provide plenty of fresh hay and greens for the rabbit should he/she get the urge to eat. Providing particularly fragrant greens, like cilantro, may help entice a rabbit who is not overly eager to eat.
With these treatments, time, and patience, a rabbit suffering from GI stasis can make a full recovery. But it is important to recognize the symptoms early and take your rabbit to a rabbit-savvy vet immediately for these treatments.
There are several measures you can take to help prevent the occurrence of GI stasis. First, ensure your rabbit is getting a proper, hay-based diet. Consult our article What to Feed Your Pet Rabbit for a full list of appropriate foods. A hay-based diet is essential not only because it provides the fiber necessary to keep the digestive system moving, it also helps wear down a rabbit’s teeth which paves the way for better dental health.
In the event that you can not get your rabbit to a Vet for any reason, there are a few things that can be done from home to help your rabbit overcome GI Stasis
- Infant gas drops with simethecone such as mylicon can help relieve gas and associated discomfort.
-PUSH HAY AND WATER AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
-If your rabbit is not drinking on it's own, use a syringe (you can get one from a pharmacy or tractor supply and many pet stores) and give water to the rabbit using the syringe on the SIDE of their mouth, slowly, until they will drink on their own. It is important not to give through the front of their mouth straight in as this can cause aspiration. Give water every 20 or 30 minutes, as much as they can tolerate.
-If your rabbit is not eating anything on their own, Oxbow Critical care can be fed through a syringe. If you cannot get Critical Care food, disolve pellets in warm water until it fits through the syringe and feed that way.
- Laxatone, usually used for a hairball remedy in cats and dogs (rabbits prefer maple flavor) can be given to help them pass a blockage causing the stasis.
-Fresh Pineapple juice (not from a can) can be mixed with organic pureed pumpkin in a syringe to give a boost of glucose, fiber and help break up the blockage and get the gut moving.
-Water, water and more water!
-Cradling your rabbit, massage their belly gently but firmly in a downward motion for as long and as often as they will tolerate. This will help to stimulate the gut to begin moving.
-Give a probiotic such as benebac or probios to aid the gut flora. If you do not have any, but have another rabbit, you can disolve a cecotrope in warm water and feed by syringe to give your rabbit healthy gut flora and nutrients.
Heat can be very dangerous to rabbits. They are more susceptible to heat stroke than humans, so if you are feeling hot imagine how your bunny feels.
Here are the symptoms of heat stroke in rabbits:
If your rabbit exhibits any of these symptoms begin misting their ears with cool water and immediately call your vet. Never put your rabbit under cold water or into a cold bath if they appear to have heat stroke.
To help prevent this condition in your pet rabbit, there are several ways to keep your bunny cool as the temperature rises.
Using these tips and some common sense, you can avoid heat stroke. However, it is important to know the signs in case heat stroke does occur.
Ear Mites are undoubtedly among the most common health conditions that can occur in rabbits. That’s irrespective of whether you keep your bunny indoors or outdoors. The good news is that the condition appears to be a lot more serious than it actually is. It is easily treatable. Having said that, if left untreated, it can quickly progress into secondary infections of the middle and inner ear. In extreme cases, mite infestations can also progress to meningitis. So, like any other health condition, you might want to start diagnosis and early treatment for ear mites.
Ear mites are contagious. So the chances of your bunny picking up mites after coming into contact with another infected bunny are high.
One of the first symptoms of an ear mite infestation is intense bouts of itching around the ears, neck and head. The itching may be generalized or focused mainly around the ears. There will be scales on the inner ear which will eventually form thick crusted lesions. There may be hair loss and occasional peeling of the skin. If the infestation has penetrated into the inner ear, it may cause loss of balance or head tilt in bunnies. Mite infestations can also spread to other parts of the rabbit’s body especially the belly and the area that surrounds the anus.
Diagnosis involves taking samples of an exudate that is secreted from the crusted lesions. Your vet may then prescribe anti-parasitic drugs like ivermectin. Treatment also involves cleaning and treating the rabbit’s enclosure or hutch because the condition is contagious and can recur. Everything from the rabbit’s bed to utensils and combs must be completely disinfected before reusing. Never remove the crusts from the ears because it may expose the underlying skin which is prone to infections. Home remedies include using honey or vegetable oil to remove infestations in the early stages.
The best way to prevent mite infestations in rabbits is to avoid contact with other infected bunnies. Maintain healthy grooming habits that allow you to spot the infection early. Keep the rabbit’s environment clean and sanitized. Ensure that your rabbit has ample room. Ear mite infestations have also been linked to increased stress in rabbits. Keep your pet clean and happy to keep the pesky bugs away.
‘Ulcerative Pododermatitis’ also known as ‘sore hocks’ is a condition in which the sole on the rabbit’s rear legs get infected and inflamed. The condition is typically localized in the area of the rabbit’s feet which come into contact with the floor as the rabbit rests.
Sore Hocks can occur due to multiple reasons. But the most common one is a hard floor or wired floor often seen in low quality rabbit hutches. Excessive moisture can also lead to inflammation of the feet. If left untreated, the condition progresses to severe inflammation and can cause lesions filled with pus. In extreme cases, it can affect the connective tissue making it impossible for the bunny to rest or walk normally. It may also limit the supply of blood to the connective tissue leading to brittle bones and even bone death.
Sore Hocks can range from mild to severe and are usually graded depending on the severity of the condition. In grades I to III, the condition is considered moderate and the bunny will show signs of hair loss near the bottom of the rear feet. Swelling is rare but not unusual. In some cases, the skin will become excessively red and may form scabs and ulcers which can be prone to infection.
Grades IV and V are advanced stages which are usually characterized by pustules, abscesses and inflamed tendons. Bone marrow infection can occur leading to disability, imbalance and an abnormal posture.
The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the easier it is for the rabbit to recover fully from it. Diagnosis involves ruling out abscesses caused due to injury or fractures. Most vets may recommend an ultrasound to detect how advanced the condition has become. Rabbits that are diagnosed with bone infections will require undergoing an extended treatment that may take months. In early stages, the treatment revolves around pain management, reducing discomfort and inflammation. In the later stages however, surgical procedures may be recommended to remove dead tissue and prevent extreme infections.
Well, the good news is that sore hocks can easily be prevented. Ensure that your rabbit has a soft and dry surface to rest on. It must be free of excessive moisture, including urine and feces. Keep the rabbit hutch in a dry environment. Keep an eye out for early signs of infection. If the rabbit hutch has a wire floor, then cover it with a thick and soft layer of flooring.
Snuffles are one of those conditions that look innocuous enough to avoid the need for veterinary assistance. But in reality, this annoying upper respiratory tract disorder can leave your bunny gasping for breath and if left untreated, can quickly progress into other conditions like conjunctivitis, wryneck and imbalance.
What is worse is that almost every domesticated rabbit will be hit with a bout of snuffles at some point or the other. One of the reasons that it is so widespread is because the condition is incredibly contagious. So, if your bunny is out for their periodic vet visit and comes into contact with an infected bunny or even the nasal discharge, they are on track to get infected themselves and possibly infect their partners who share the hutch.
There are many different strains of the bacteria that cause snuffles. The symptoms that your bunny will display depend on the exact strain that has infected them. Some can be as mild as a runny nose with a watery discharge. In advanced cases, the discharge is thick, yellowish and has a mucous like consistency. This is followed by bouts of sneezing and snuffling during which the rabbit finds it difficult to breathe normally.
If left undetected or untreated, the infection progresses into the inner ear triggering a horde of unpleasant symptoms. Wryneck which is an uncharacteristic twisting of the neck is one of the conditions triggered by untreated snuffles. Rabbit parents often find it impossible to believe that the runny nose could have triggered something so severe in their pets. There have been cases in which untreated snuffles has triggered pneumonia in rabbits.
The normal mode of treatment is antibiotic therapy that may last for almost a month depending on the severity of the condition. But antibiotics and the digestive system in bunnies are not a great combination because it often ends up killing the healthy bacteria in the gut that aid digestion. So, vets usually supplement the healthy bacterial strains during treatment with antibiotics. Ensure that your rabbit has a healthy and nutritious diet during treatment. If the condition was not diagnosed early, then it may develop chronic sinus infections that take prolonged treatment to control.
There have even been cases in which the rabbit needed lifelong medication to keep the condition under control.
For a condition so prevalent among domesticated rabbit breeds, prevention plays a very critical role in ensuring that your pet is not infected with snuffles. If you have multiple pets and one pet is showing signs of an infection, then strict quarantine should be maintained until the infected bunny heals completely.
Any shared bedding, food, water and hutch should be cleaned and disinfected. Keep your bunny healthy and active at all times to prevent their immune systems from being suppressed or compromised. Stress can often trigger conditions like snuffles. If you are a rabbit breeder, then ensure that you select a healthy young rabbit that does not have any signs of a possible infection.