Rabbit Health

Rabbits are prey animals, and are genetically programmed to hide signs of illness as a protective measure. By the time you see symptoms, the problem is in an advanced stage. An immediate trip to a  vet at the first signs of illness or injury is strongly advised.

A method to monitor the health of your rabbit is to watch what goes in your bun and what comes out – and when. A feeding schedule with regulated amounts of food will tell you if your bun isn’t eating. Knowing your bun’s usual “output” is a reliable gauge of her functions. You can catch a hairball in it’s early stages by simply noticing the poops getting smaller and your bun eating less. A quick look every time you clean the litter-box will tell you what you need to know.

Do an all over body check – from the nose to the toes – checking for any injuries or lumps. It’s a great way to catch some problems early and they think they’re getting a spa massage.
Rabbits require annual vaccination.

Olive and Daisy

Olive and Daisy

Common health problems in rabbits – here are some basic health issues:

  1. The first health issue you should face is spay/neuter. Boys should be neutered as soon as the testes are fully descended, usually between 3 to 6 months of age. Girls should be spayed at 6 months of age. Behaviours such as spraying, humping, aggressiveness, destructiveness, poor potty habits, and biting are hormone related and can usually be stopped by spay/neuter. The cancer rate in unaltered rabbits is very high. Spay/neuter is essential to ensure your rabbit a long healthy life.
  2. Fur mites: Symptoms include scratching, shaking of the head and/or ears, fur loss, scabbing in the ears or on the body.  Your vet can identify these parasites, and treat. Lack of treatment can result in infections.
  3. Fleas: Symptoms include scratching, occasional hair loss, and fleas!
  4. Hairballs: Symptoms include lack of appetite, lethargy, audible stomach sounds, poops that are increasingly tiny, strung together by hair, or no poops at all. Rabbits lack the ability to vomit, leaving them unable to cough up their hairballs like cats do.
  5. I should mention pasteurella (Pasteurella multocida), an organism carried by all domestic rabbits. It’s non-transmissable to humans.There’s no vaccine against it. It can lay dormant for your rabbit’s lifetime, or pop up anywhere in your rabbit’s system at any time. Pasteurella is thought to be responsible for most rabbit infections. Antibiotics can cure specific infections but cannot eradicate the pasteurella itself.
  6. Respiratory infection: Symptoms include any of the following…sneezing/coughing, difficulty breathing, runny nose, runny eyes. If caught in the early stages, rabbit needs a trip to the vet for some oral antibiotics. Wait too long and it turns to pneumonia which needs injectable and sometimes oral antibiotics too. No care results in death.
  7. Snuffles: Symptoms include sneezing, thin discharge from the nose. Crusty, yellowed paws from pawing at the nose. May involve the eyes, which is Conjunctivitis. Both need a trip to the vet for proper diagnosis and the appropriate medications. Untreated snuffles leads to pneumonia. Untreated conjunctivitis can result in blindness and spreading of the infection throughout the facial/head area.
  8. Olive


    Urinary tract infection: Symptoms include urinating in inappropriate places, straining to urinate for long periods of time, leaving dribbles of urine here and there. Your vet will do the appropriate tests and prescribe the right antibiotic.

  9. Ear infection: Symptoms similar to ear mites – scratching, shaking of head/ears, bad smell in ears, loss of balance if it travels to the inner ear. Get her to the vet fast, as left untreated can cause permanent damage such as head tilt.
  10. Head tilt: Symptoms are loss of balance and the rabbit’s head angled at a sideways tilt. The inner ear controls balance, so head tilt buns sometimes roll uncontrollably when they try to walk.
  11. G.I. Stasis: Symptoms include loss of appetite, small or no poops, loose or watery stools, sitting in a hunched “pain position”. This is a complete shut-down of your rabbit’s digestive system. Some causes are lack of food (or not eating) for 12 hours or more, stress, lack of exercise, injury, dehydration, poor fibre content in the diet, or an underlying medical problem.This is a life-threatening condition and needs immediate and aggressive medical treatment.
  12. Stomach obstructions: Symptoms are similar to G.I stasis or hairball, and x-rays may be needed to properly diagnose. Blockages can be caused by stasis, food that has clumped due to lack of hydration or the ingestion of any non-natural materials. Treatment will depend on the location and size of the obstruction.
  13. Malocclusion: In simpler terms, crooked teeth. Symptoms are drooling and inability to eat. The front teeth can grow in different directions, sometimes looking like walrus tusks. This can also cause the molars to grow unevenly due to bun’s inability to grind food properly. If left unchecked the bottom teeth can even grow through the roof of the mouth.
  14. Abcesses
  15. Cancer: Spay and neuter can at least eliminate the high risk of cancer in the reproductive organs of both males and females and we cannot reccommend it strongly enough..
  16. Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi), a protozoan parasite: Like pasteurella, your bun can host this and never become symptomatic. Symptoms include the loss of use of the front or back legs (or both), head tilt, eyes “scanning” back and forth, blindness/cataracts, lack of coordination, and major organ failure.
  17. Fly strike: Symptoms include lethargy, seizures and shock from maggot infestation. Any bun can get fly strike, but outdoor buns are at greater risk. Buns with dirty bottoms from loose stools attract flies, the flies lay their eggs on the rabbit, the maggots feed on your rabbit’s flesh. If not eradicated quickly your rabbit will die.
  18. Rabbits need to be vaccinated every year.  We have a new combined vaccination covering both Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease. Both these rabbit diseases are very common in Ireland and every year we see fatalities.

If you have any concerns regarding your rabbit’s health please feel free to phone any of the Anicare Veterinary Hospitals.






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